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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
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Chapter VI. Reminiscences and Anecdotes.

Reminiscences and Anecdotes — First Settlers — Cut Silver Money — The Owls and Boys — Grass-hoppers — A Cyclone — The Contract — Conclusion.

In the spring of 1822, my father visited me at Springfield, and on his return to Kentucky I accompanied him six miles. Here we met a family consisting of a man named Anderson, his wife, and three children. He was coming to hunt a tract of land the government had given him for services in the war of 1812. He said he had come all the way from New York on foot, camping out at night, and only rode short distances when they met empty wagons. His wife carried the babe and a bundle, and he the plunder. When they got to Illinois they had to wade an overflowed bottom, and when the water was over the depth of the little boys they would keep their heads above water by holding to the tail of his coat until they got out. I told him he would find his land on the other side of the Illinois river, and no person living within forty miles of it, and that he would have to stop with us until a settlement began in the vicinity; that we could locate him where we located all new comers, in our mud-daubed court house, until the settlers helped build him a house. Years after, he moved to his land, made a fine farm, and raised a respectable family.

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Many of the first comers from Kentucky and Tennessee moved with one-horse wagons to haul the plunder, the families walking and camping out. Many came without a dollar, but by raising corn and selling it to those who came later were enabled to buy land at the first land sales. Most of the deserving got rich.

Our nearest mill for grinding corn was at Belleville or St. Louis, one hundred miles, and the nearest post-office Edwardsville, eighty miles.

The first settlers practiced every economy. The women spun, wove, and manufactured most of the wearing apparel; the men made their caps for winter wear out of coon and other skins, leaving the tails for ornament.

In the early days of Kentucky what little money we had was silver. We had no banks. Change was scarce, but we had an easy way of making it. If a man had a dollar and wanted to pay fifty cents, he would cut the dollar into two pieces; in like manner, the halves and quarters would be cut. We used leather purses to keep the sharp points of the silver from cutting our pockets.

In 1817 the legislature chartered a batch of banks and cut money went out of circulation. When I emigrated to Missouri in 1818 I had more than one hundred dollars in this mutilated silver, which I changed into bank notes, and soon paid them out in Missouri for land. It was well I did, for the banks soon bursted.

In the early days of Springfield, sixty years ago my wife's sister Clarissa, John Williams, and Philip Latham were going to school together. She was the youngest of the few girls in town. She told Phil. to

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say to the young men that when they saw a candle at her window they might know the girls had congregated in her room, and they would find a welcome and have a jolly time. Latham, on seeing the signal, would attract attention by calling out, "Boys, the candle is lit!"

In the fall of 1820 I explored the entire western part of Missouri bordering on the Indian Territory, more than a hundred miles beyond the settled part. A few men had been up in the spring and had raised small patches of corn and garden stuff without fencing, and had just moved up. Here I saw the first grasshoppers I had ever seen. The air was filled with them, as high as the eye could see; the ground was soon covered, and by next day all vegetation was eaten up. Although they have frequently made their appearance since, I believe they have never come below the border counties in Missouri.

On the 18th day of May, 1883, the day I reached my home in Springfield from my sojourn in Florida, a terrific cyclone started two miles south of Springfield. Its track was northeast, sweeping from their foundations several farm houses, leaving scarcely a vestige; two men were killed and several persons badly crippled. It struck my farm two miles east of town, and passed through a forest of lofty young timber, mostly white oak, which I had been nursing for more than fifty years. When I entered this land it was open woods of lofty white oak, from which the rails were cut to fence my farm. The fires being kept out, it grew up into a dense forest of white oak and other timber, the bodies being from 40 to 50 feet high; it had trimmed itself, and was a sight to look at. I was fond of it. After the cyclone

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passed, there was not a large tree left standing; they were torn up by the roots, or twisted as a withe; it made me sick to look at it. More than 4000 cords of wood were destroyed. It struck the corner of my brick house, blew down one chimney on the house and one on the kitchen, blew down my smoke house, wood house, and work shop; it blew down more than four miles of my fencing, and one-half the rails could not be found.

Now, to draw the contrast. From the date of my birth, in 1796, to the present year, 1883, one can but wonder at the progress made in everything. Then, there were but thirteen states; now, thirty-eight. Then, there were but few places west of Virginia called towns, except Lexington, Ky. The district where I was born and raised was heavy timber, and all the implements we had to work with were of the rudest kind. Our chopping axes were made by our blacksmiths, and were very rough. It took two men the most of a day to grind an axe to an edge, one to turn the grindstone, the other to hold the axe; they made slow headway. In clearing ground for corn, the timber was felled and cut into convenient lengths to roll and carry to heaps for burning. The neighbors would collect at each other's cabins to help roll and carry the logs. This was called log-rolling. Everything was done by main strength. The heavy lifting made men stoop-shouldered and old at forty and fifty. Our hay-forks were made out of forked sticks; the hay was raked into rows with hand rakes. Our wheat, what little we raised, was cut and bound by hand, and threshed out with a flail or tramped out by horses. It was separated from the chaff by pouring it down from an elevation, allowing the

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wind to blow the chaff away, or by two men with a sheet winnowing it. This had to be done a number of times before it was clean enough for the mill. In the spring we prepared our corn ground for the plow by cutting the stalks with a hoe, picking each stalk up by hand and piling them into heaps to be burned. There seemed to be no ingenuity to lessen or lighten labor, hardly to so much as use lever power to aid in heavy lilting. This state of affairs continued until about the year 1830, when inventive minds began to make machines to do much of the work for us, by which it is now done more perfectly than we can possibly do it by hand. We can now take one of these machines into a harvest field, and it will cut, bind, thresh, and clean the wheat for the mill in a flash, acting like a thing of life. They can even talk for us, or transmit our voices to a long distance. We can all see what a revolution invention has brought about in so short a time; and it seems as though it would be no great wonder, in view of what it has done and is doing, if something was invented that would do to some extent our thinking.


I have just returned to my home in Springfield, Ill. The most of the foregoing was written the past and present winter of 1882 and 1883, while sojourning at my winter home in Florida, on Indian river, with Mr. Armour, at Jupiter inlet, and the lighthouse. I have decided to print what I have written in book form. The occurrences and incidents mentioned, beginning almost ninety years ago and running down to 1883, will, I hope, prove interesting to my kindred and others who may read them, although somewhat awkwardly expressed.

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Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
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