Incidents Of Pioneer Days
The first school ever taught in this township was in the winter of 1846-47, in a log hut, near the county line, about a half-mile north of the site of New Holland. The name of the heroine who was destined to become immortal in history by this circumstance was Miss Sarah Ann Stephens, who afterward became the wife of Randolph Robins, and died in Kansas a few years ago. However insignificant and crude this school, it was the beginning of what is now justly and really the grandest and most prominent feature of our society, and of which we shall write in full and detail in its proper order. But at this time it is due the pioneer school teacher to say that he, she or they will be remembered in history with unfeigned gratitude for the labors and toils of these early days. The pioneer teacher who had to contend with the almost untamed spirit of the wild girls and boys of this wilderness, submit to being barred out of the schoolhouse on Christmas and New Year's mornings, until compromised with a "treat," trudge through the snow and driving storm for miles, in "boarding around among the scholars," collect his money after his term was ended, in such installments as he could get, is deserving a prominent place in history. |
Settlements now began to increase rapidly, and the log huts dotted the prairie with the habitations of the aggressive pioneers farther and farther out into the boundless wilderness of grass, hitherto the undisputed home of the deer and wolf. The former ranged together in herds of sometimes over a hundred, and the latter had cities of dens in the favorable location, where they held their nocturnal orgies of yelps and howls. Those prairie wolves were usually harmless, except as to domestic animals, for which they manifested a disastrous fondness, and they were especially partial in the selection of the tender meat of lambs and pigs, when it was a matter of choice with them. But, under certain conditions of hunger, and favorable circumstances of advantage, they would show a disposition to attack the human family, illustrative of which is the following incident, which occurred about the year 1848: "John Auxier, who had been to Pekin with a drove of hogs made up by himself and several of his neighbors, and who had remained behind, as was the usual custom, until the hops were slaughtered and weighed, started home on foot late in the afternoon. In assisting in the slaughter, he had received a cut in the arm, which bled considerable, and in crossing the sand ridge, which is now High street, Mason City, the wolves scented the blood, and immediately set up their characteristic howl, which was well understood by the pioneer to "mean blood" of some kind. This midnight declaration of war and no quarter, served to quicken Mr. Auxier's steps, and until he reached home on Salt Creek bluff he could hear the yelps and howls of his bloodthirsty pursuers as they gained upon, but, fortunately did not overtake him.
Those hog-driving expeditions to Pekin, and Bath in the west part of this county, were always made in the winter, and usually at the coldest and most disagreeable time of winter, but, notwithstanding the excruciating suffering from the cold, when the party got "thawed out" by the log-heap fire in the pioneer's cabin at night, they were as jolly a set as ever "cracked a joke or played a trick." All the innate mischief and pent-up devilment of their inherent and individual natures came to the surface on such occasions, and the nightly convivialities of the party would surpass the wildest conceptions of this sedate and long-faced generation.
In those days, going to mill was one of the dreaded burdens of our people. With the exception of a small horse-power corn-cracker, owned by Alexander Meadows, at Sugar Grove, there was no mill nearer than the Mackinaw, in Tazewell County, about twenty miles distant, and its regularity being dependent upon the stage of water, and its capacity deficient, a trip to mill meant any space of time from two days to a week. The people would borrow breadstuff of each other until the whole neighborhood was exhausted of the supply, and then they would each put in a "grist," and two or three teams would go together to mill, taking turns.
The administration of justice and execution of the laws in those days were done with the best intentions, but in a way that would be regarded very "irregular" nowadays. The Squire usually made up his decisions from his ideas of equity, and did not cumber his mind much with the statute law. Robert Melton's court was the scene of many amusing legal contests, and during the residence of Dr. J. G. H. Smith at Swing's Grove, from 1848 to 12850, who was notorious for litigation, this court was kept in almost constant session. One ludicrous incident is thus related: The prominent Constable in this section at that time was William Taylor, "Crooked-Necked Bill Taylor," as he was familiarly known. One day, while he and Dr. Smith were riding across the prairie together, the Doctor proposed to straighten Taylor's neck, and without the use of knife or any operation that would cause him pain. Taylor told him if he would do so, he would give him the pony he was riding, which offer was accepted by the Doctor, and the pony delivered into his possession that evening, and the time, a few days on, was fixed for the operation. When Taylor presented himself at the appointed time, the Doctor took out his knife and was preparing to restore the perpendicularity of his patient's head, by cutting into the contracted side of his neck. This Taylor objected to, and a wordy and stormy conflict between physiological and anatomical science and the legal points of a contract ensued. Taylor preferred a crooked neck to one half cut off, and demanded his pony. This demand was peremptorily refused, and Taylor went to Squire Melton's and commenced a replevin suit against the Doctor to recover his pony. On the day set for the trial, the whole neighborhood turned out to hear the case, for they knew there was "music in the air," from the known character of the contestants. Preliminary to going into trial, the parties went out and engaged in a pitched battle with such knives and clubs as were conveniently at hand, after which they compromised the matter.
However wild the country and those pioneers, those people, with but few exceptions, were actuated by a spirit of justice and right as between man and man, and with these few exception, appeals to the law were unknown in their business transaction and settlements. Sometimes, unavoidable and honest differences arose with reference to the ownership of cattle, but these were usually amieably and satisfactorily settled without the intervention of courts. These disputes were unavoidable from the fact that when grass came on in the spring, everybody would turn his cattle out to ream and grow, and, as was often the case, the owner would not see them again until feeding time in the fall. In this interval, young cattle would grow and change color almost beyond recognition.
In those days, and even down to the first half of the decade from 1850 to 1860, wild game was plentiful. Deer and turkeys were here in large numbers, and wild geese and sand-hill cranes abounded in immense numbers, and were a devouring pest to the farmers, whose crops, the young wheat and ripening corn, in the fall, afforded food for countless thousands of these feathered foragers. They would retire to the ponds and creeks at night, and in their flight to the fields in the morning, and return to the "watering places" in the evening, the very heavens would seem to lower with a massive feathery cloud, and the quawking and screeching made a discord that could not be surpassed by a united convention of all the bedlam inmates on the continent.