General Features, Etc.
When the first settlers came, the prairie, stretching back east from the river, presented to the eye a grand and imposing scene. As far away as the eye could reach, the tall, blue-stem prairie grass was waving in the autumn breeze like a boundless sea. This, with the myriads of flowers of all hues and colors interspersed, awakened feelings of admiration which the finest landscape gardening fails to inspire. Nature had wrought a work which the finest landscape gardening fails to inspire. Nature had wrought a work which art can never equal. Many of the flowers planted and nourished by the hand of Nature's God far surpassed in delicacy and beauty those of rarest culture of to-day. Every fall, the whole face of the country was swept over by fire, the flames of which would reach high up toward the heavens, the swoop down, reaching a hundred feet ahead, taking into their grasp the tinder-like material. None but those who have seen our prairie fires of twenty or thirty years ago can comprehend their magnificent grandeur. At the date of the earliest settlements, game of all kinds abounded in plenteous profusion. It was by no means an uncommon thing to see herds of deer ranging in numbers of from seventy-five to one hundred, and their course was plainly marked by the parting of the tall grass. Oftentimes would they approach within rifle-distance of the pioneer's cabin, and many the fine fat buck or juicy doe that paid the forfeit of its life for this act of forwardness. Oftentimes, too, would they put the husbandman's labor to naught by completely destroying his patch of "garden-sass" in a single night. Wild geese, ducks, cranes and other water-fowls were here in abundance, and were not a little source of annoyance to the early settlers in the destruction of their crops. Sometimes, an entire field of wheat would be destroyed in a few days by flocks of geese, as the biting of the geese seemed to poison the tender plant and utterly destroy it. The wily wolf and artful fox came in for their share of depredations, in robbing hen-roosts, pig-sites and sheep-cotes; and what a wolf didn't know about howling wasn't worth knowing. When Abel Maloney, who has already been mentioned as one of the earliest settlers, first came, he brought with him his two oldest boys, William and John, together with some little stock. After erecting his log cabin, he returned to Menard County for his companion and the rest of the family. The boys were left to take care of the house and look after the stock. William, who now resides in the village of Manito, thus relates his experience: "Soon after my father left us, a continuous rain set in, by which the Sangamon and its tributaries were so swollen that he was unable to return until after the lapse of four long weeks. During that period, we looked upon no human face save that of each other. At night, we would take the geese, ducks and chickens, along with the dogs, into the cabin and securely bar the doors, preparatory to trying to sleep. As soon as the twilight began to deepen, the wolves began their orgies. Between the squealing of the hogs and the howling of the wolves, night was rendered hideous and sleep seemed to be forever divorced from our eyelids. Indeed, we sometimes feared, from the vigor with which they howled around our cabin and scratched at its rude door, that they might effect an entrance and make mincemeat out of our poor little bodies ere the coming of the gray morning in the east should force them again into their secret coverts. Not a hog was left out of the number brought, on my father's return. You may imagine we welcomed the old folks right heartily when they did put in an appearance." Coon Grove was so named from the vast number of coons found there in an early day. The same authority states that, when they came in 1841, "the woods were full of 'em." Many of the trees were hollow, and had beside them Indian ladders (saplings with the limbs cut off some distance from the body), and holes chopped into the trees-evidently the work of the Indians, made in their attempts to catch "old Zip Coon." At certain seasons of the year, Mr. Maloney states that they were wont to go, about sunset, and drive them from the fields like droves of sheep. The were very destructive to crops near the grove. While the early pioneers of this section were exempt from many of the graver difficulties with which the settlers of other portions who had preceded them by a decade or more of years were forced to contend, yet theirs was by no means a life of ease and luxury. Homes were to be provided, farms to be made, and implements necessary to their successful cultivation to be procured. Money with them was scarce, for, generally speaking, they were men of limited means, who had left the more densely populated portions of our own country to try their fortunes in the great and growing West. Their milling was done, oftentimes, fifteen to eighteen miles away. Their principal trading was done at Pekin, Mackinaw, Delavan and Havana. At these points, they sold their products and laid in their supplies of dry goods and groceries. In times of high-water, they would take their grists to Spring Lake by ox-team, and from thence in skiffs down through the lake, up the river, and thence, through Copperas Cree, to Utica, in Fulton County, rowing a distance of eight or ten miles. If a plow needed repairing, it must needs be carried to Pekin, Mackinaw or Havana. It took all summer to raise a crop, and all winter to deliver it.|
If we may credit the statements of their descendants, the early settlers of this section were not men of deep religious convictions. Although the invincible circuit-rider was among them at an early day, we hear of no general religious awakening until comparatively a recent date. An unfailing indication that the Sabbath Day had dawned, was to see the women equipped with fishing-tackle, the men with their guns and accouterments, all parties moving out headed toward Spring Lake. Here the day was passed in pleasure-seeking and merry-making. Sometimes the men would stake off a race-course, and, attired in a garb which was rather an abridgment of a Hottentot's costume, would indulge in foot-racing. We are by no means to conclude from this that they were savage in their dispositions, for none more hospitable to the stranger, or the one in need, could be found than the early settlers of Manito. It was simply their way of having sport. Fighting and quarreling were almost unknown amongst them; and if a friendly fisticuff sometimes occurred, the combatants generally left the battle-field good friends. They did not forget nor neglect the early educational interests of their children. Consequently, we find them at an early day in their history building a schoolhouse, and maintaining a school by subscriptions. The first schoolhouse in the township was erected near the site of the present residence of William Starritt, in Coon Grove. It was constructed of round logs, notched down at the corners, and was chinked and daubed after the approved pioneer style. The building was sixteen feet square, had one window of three light, 8 x 10, and a door of entrance. It may have been a little dark for purposes of study on a cloudy day, but it was certainly admirable adapted to weak eyes. It was covered with clapboards, and when it rained drops came down about as well inside as out, though not quite as fast. Stephen W. Porter is given as the first Solon who directed the footsteps of the aspiring youth of Manito up the rugged steeps of science. The second school building was a hewed-log house, erected in the limits of the present village of Manito. Miss Adeline Broderick and Mrs. Rachel Ott were among the first teachers in this house. At present the township has seven school buildings, each a neat frame, supplied with the more modern improvements for the comfort of the pupils. From the Treasurer's last report to the County Superintendent, we find the principal of the township fund to be $2,963; amount of tax levied, $1,925; value of school property, $2,100; number of scholars under twenty-one (including color), 178; between six and twenty-one, 195; males between six and twenty-one, 130; females, 139; highest wages paid male teachers, $50; highest paid females, $55; total amount paid for school purposes, $1,316.50; males between twelve and twenty-one unable to read and write, 2; cause, neglect of parents and willful neglect of child.