Salt Creek Township
The original survey of this township was made in the fall of 1823, and was designated Township 20 north, Range 6 west of the Third Principal Meridian. It contains thirty-six sections, each a mile square, except the tier of six on the north side, which are fractional, as is usually the case. Section No. 36, in the southeast corner of the township, is divided by Salt Creek, which meanders through the southeast part, cutting off about one-third of the section. The northern part of the township is a high rolling prairie, once marred by numerous basins or ponds, but now almost wholly drained, and in a good state of cultivation. The south and west parts of the township are more broken, and the south part, which includes Salt Creek Bluffs, very much so. Big Grove extends along these bluffs, at an irregular width of from one-fourth of a mile to a mile and a half, at the south side of which the pioneer settlers made their primitive and crude homes. Lease's Grove, in the northwest part of the township, was originally small, containing an area of about 200 acres, which area is now materially contracted by clearing off the timber for cultivation of the land; and the same means have very materially contracted the area of Big Grove.|
The soil of the township is productive of all cereals and fruits indigenous to the climate, but the principal crop is corn, as in all the eastern part of the county. In the earlier days, winter wheat yielded a sure and abundant harvest, as it was usually the first crop after the sod was broken. Corn, in those days, required but little cultivation, and, after planting the corn, the pioneer usually occupied most of the time thereafter until harvest, breaking prairie, scattering corn along every third furrow. Corn planted in this way produced a large amount of fodder, and the earlier planting a good yield of corn, but the later planting was generally caught by the autumn frosts, and was not good feed. This was marketed for distilling purposes, and from this fact originated the term, "sod-corn whisky," which used to be applied to the bad and chemically adulterated grades, as an expression of contempt.
The first entry of land in this township was made August 12, 1829, by Leonard Alkire, of Sugar Grove, and was a tract of 120 acres in the southwest quarter of Section 34, contained in what is now known as the Knox farm, but was not improved by the first purchaser, nor until more than twenty years later. August 17, 1829, William Hagans entered 120 acres, west half of the southwest quarter, Section 33, and southeast quarter of the southeast quarter, Section 32, now known as the Charles L. Montgomery place. Here, near the site of the present brick residence, Hagans built a rude log hut, and, with his family, became the pioneer settler of this township, and of what is now eastern Mason County.
June 12, 1834, James C. Hagans entered the forty-acre tract of land now owned in part each, by James P. Montgomery and George H. Short, and built a hut where the latter's house now stands.
June 15, 1837, John Hagans entered the forty-acre tract where J. P. Montgomery now lives, and built a hut near the site of the present residence. A few years later, however, they all sold out to Ephraim Wilcox, and moved away to further Western wilds, and were lost to the knowledge of those who lived after them here. As early as 1830, a family named Slinker, "squatted" on a piece of land up in the grove northwest of the places just referred to, but tradition has but few words of remembrance of them or their habitation, and nothing of their place of migration.
In 1830, Leonard Alkire bought a large lot of land in Sections 33 and 34, and held it, as was termed by the settlers, as "speculator's land," without making any improvements upon it.
In 1830, Robert and William Hughes entered the land now the farm of M. Vanlanningham, which Daniel Clark, Sr., purchased and settled upon in 1835, and where the old gentleman died in 1853, and was buried near the house in which he lived, and which is still there, though the first house he lived in there was a log hut. His three sons are still living; Alfred, in Crane Creek Township; Daniel, in Mason City, and William, in Dubuque, Iowa.
In 1833, a man named Lease settled in the northwest part of the township, at a grove which, from his settlement there, took the name of Lease's Grove, which name it still bears. Soon after this, Samuel Blunt, George Wilson and the Moslanders settled there, and formed a little isolated band or neighborhood in and around the beautiful grove, from which improvement, farther and farther out into the prairie on all sides the Third School District in the township was gradually formed and extended. In connection with the Wilson family, referred to above, it is proper here to state that his son, Orey, committed suicide by hanging himself to the limb of a tree, in 1852, which was the first case of deliberate self-destruction in the township, and the last. The news of the rash act was received by the sparsely settled county with horror, and, for years after, the scene of the tragedy was a place of dreadful interest, and the belated and solitary citizen who passed along the road by it after night did so with light and elastic step, and numerous "hair-raising" stories of suspended ghosts became current in the course of time.
To return to Big Grove. In 1835, Isaac Engle entered the forty-acre tract which is now owned and occupied by W. F. Auxier, and built a log hut on an elevation about forty rods southwest of where the dwelling now stands, as a monument to the site of which primitive landmark a stately locust-tree stood until a few years ago, when that, too, fell a victim to the rapacious ax of the modern inhabitant. This place was purchased, with other tracts adjoining, in 1837, by Edward Sikes, Sr., who, with several other families, came out from Ohio and settled in the grove. A few years later, Mr. Sikes built the substantial frame house which now is on the place, and planted out an orchard of delicious fruit now every year, although the hands that planted them have been in the grave nearly a quarter of a century. In the old log house on this place, the first school in the township was taught, in 1838, by one of the daughters of Mr. Sikes, now Mrs. S. D. Swing, of Mason City, who, soon after, settled with her husband as pioneer at Swing's Grove, in Mason City Township.
In 1835, Michael Engle entered an eighty-acre tract, now known as the Hume place, and built a log hut about fifty yards west of K. M. Auxier's house, nothing of which now remains, but the place where the well has been filled in can yet be distinguished. In this well a child of John Carter, who later occupied the house, fell and was drowned, the summer of 1849. In 1837, Kinzey Virgin moved out from Ohio, bought this place with other adjoining tracts, built a hewed-log house where the barn now stands, and settled down in his new and rather wild and romantic home. He was a man of considerable enterprise as a stock-raiser and accumulated this world's goods quite rapidly, but was peculiarly unfortunate with his family of children, but one of whom ever lived to reach the years of majority, and that the youngest, and but a babe when he himself died in 1852, six children, and all but the one, having preceded him to the grave, and the wife following two years later. Though a man somewhat reckless in his habits and profane in conversation, he held it a sacred duty to have a funeral sermon preached for every one of his children that died, and what was something remarkable, John L. Turner, the "little Baptist preacher," of Crane Creek, officiated at every one of these occasions, and also at that of the father and mother. The latter, "Aunt Eliza," was one of Nature's noblewomen. The silent grief and heart pangs which many circumstances pierced like a dagger her very soul, were buried there and without a word of reproach or complaint, forever. She was universally beloved and honored for her inherent goodness and nobility of nature. The same year, 1837, George T. Virgin settled a quarter of a mile further west on the place now owned and occupied by Kinzey M. Virgin, son of Abram Virgin. George was more of a domestic nature, and employed his time and energies in making home pleasant, not caring so much for stock nor for acquiring all the land joining him. He was a large, corpulent man, of Herculean strength, and, as is usually the case with such persons, sedentary in his habits, enjoying life as he lived and letting the future take care of itself, though not by any means shiftless and improvident. His wife, however, whom everybody called "Aunt Alcy," was a prodigy of ambition and neatness, and so far as her dominion extended, she "hewed to the line." No sacrifice of personal comfort or demand of labor was too great for her to make for the sick and distressed, and of her it may truly be said, she "went about doing good." To accommodate the people in that vicinity who had to depend almost entirely upon Havana, twenty miles away, for their groceries, Mr. Virgin fitted up a room of his house, about 8 x 10 feet, and kept a small stock of coffee, sugar and the very few other kitchen necessaries of that day. When the demands of the community required it, he moved his store into a log house on the side of the bluff, about fifty yards east of the house as it now stands, Where he added a general assortment, that is, a general assortment for those days, which was far within the limit of the present day. When this became too small, he built a storehouse at the foot of the bluff, southeast of the graveyard, which, after a few years, was moved to the little town of Hiawatha, of which farther on. Mr. Virgin's unfortunate death in January, 1855, occurred as follows: The family had been using a preparation of corrosive sublimate to poison vermin, and kept it on the mantel with other bottles of medicine and liquids, such as they had frequent occasion to use. In the night, Mr. Virgin, having some pain from colic, to which in a light form he was frequently subject, got up and went to the mantel to take a swallow of camphor, which was always kept in that place. He thought he knew the bottle well enough to select it without a light, as he had often done before, but by some strange fatality, he took a swallow from the bottle of poison instead of the camphor, and, although the mistake was discovered immediately and medical aid secured as soon as possible, the deadly drug resisted all remedies and he died a week after. The widow died of cholera at the old homestead in 1873. They had no children.
The same year, 1837, Rezin Virgin, another of the brothers, entered and improved the place now owned and occupied by Edwin E. Auxier. In the course of a few years, Rezin Virgin, another of the brothers, entered and improved the place now owned and occupied by Edwin E. Auxier. In the course of a few years, Rezin entered quite a considerable tract of land on the north side of the grove, and, marrying the widow of Ephraim Brooner, one of the early settlers of Mason City Township, improved his lands and settled down out there, in a log house on the south side of a large pond. From here, he moved to a house on his farm about a mile further northeast, where he died in 1872, and his widow a few years later. Rezin was a man of great energy, though physically weak all his life, and one of the most peculiar and eccentric persons in the whole country, on account of which he was known far and near. No one that had become even casually acquainted with him could ever forget "Uncle Reze."
Abram Virgin, the other of the four brothers, the same year (1837) settled up in the eastern part of the grove in a log hut, as was the prevailing type of architecture in those days. He engaged in stock-raising and agriculture, and went through the hardships and deprivations common to those times. In 1853, he was afflicted with a mental malady that made it necessary to confine him in the Insane Asylum, at Jacksonville, for awhile. He was soon, however, restored and "clothed in his right mind," and returned home, where he lived and directed the affairs of his farm until he died of the scourge of cholera, which swept through this section in 1873. His wife was also stricken down of the dread disease, but lived a helpless, bedridden invalid until 1877, when she died also. She, "Aunt Betsey," as she was familiarly called, was the friend and helper of the sick, afflicted and distressed. They had a family of several children, five of whom are living in the vicinity of their youthful days.
A year or two later, Abner Baxter, John Young, Ira Halstead and Ira Patterson settled down in the southwest part of the township. Mr. Young died in 1848, and his widow in 1862. Of their children, William became an extensive land-owner and stock-dealer, and made valuable improvements on his farm, on the north side of the grove from the paternal homestead, where he died in 1865, leaving a widow (now the wife of J. H. Lemley) and several children, the oldest of whom, of the boys, Thorstein, now being married, occupies the home place.
Ira Halstead was a blacksmith and a Methodist minister, and about twenty-five years ago, moved to Wisconsin, where he still lived when last heard from. Ira Patterson was a Justice of the Peace, a school-teacher, and went to Oregon about 1850, and was appointed Territorial Governor there a few years afterward. He is one celebrity of the pioneer days of this township that it is well to rescue from the ever-increasing obscurity of tradition. The place where he lived was a hewed-=log house at the foot of the bluff below the mouth of Salt Creek, later known as the Will Henry Hoyt place.
On the place next adjoining this on the east, the Armstrong family settled in 1854, too late a date for a pioneer special mention, but historical from the fact that "Uncle Jackey" and "Aunt Hannah," as they were familiarly called, furnished a home to Abraham Lincoln when he was a young man, and it was by the light of their fire Lincoln stored his mind with much of its fund of general information, in the reading of such books as he could obtain; but this occurred in Menard County, and will appear in its proper place in the history of that county. But the gratitude of Mr. Lincoln continued with this family as long as he lived, and was manifested in various ways, even after he became President of the United States.
In 1857, William (Duff), who now occupies the old homestead, was indicted by the grand jury of this county as one of the parties to a murder committed at a camp-meeting held in the grove near George Lampe's place, of which hereafter, and Lincoln, then a prominent lawyer in Springfield, voluntarily defended and cleared him, without fee and as a token of gratitude to the old mother, who had then become a widow by the death of her husband, about a year before.
In 1841, John Swaar settled on a forty-acre lot, the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 35, in Salt Creek bottom, bottom, from whom "Swaar Ford," on the creek south of that place, took its name. A few years later, he moved to a forty-acre purchase which he entered, on the north side of the grove, where he built a log hut on the site of the beautiful and spacious farm residence he and his family now occupy. By industry and frugality this family has acquired an extensive body of land, and deal largely in stock. Mr. and Mrs. Swaar are now the only living representatives of the pioneers of this early day that have lived in the township continuously from that day to this, and with the exception of the Clark brothers, and, perhaps, a very few others, none of whom are now residents of the township, they are the only representatives of adult age of that time, living. John Auxier, and his brother Eli, who came out with the party from Ohio in 1837, married, several years later, and settled on the north side of the grove; John, on the place now composing part of D. W. Riner's body of land, and Eli on a forty-acre tract north of it (which is now owned by George Swaar), where he died in 1848. His widow is still living, but in feeble health, with her son, Rev. E. E. Auxier, down near Salt Creek. John Auxier, to accommodate his propensity for feeding stock and enlarge his landed possessions, bought a large body of land at the east end of the grove and built a log house on top of a high bluff, a quarter of a mile south of where the M. E. Church now stands, where he died in 1857. His widow and children now have all removed to a farther western country.
As a pioneer of the prairie, John Y. Lane settled west of where Mason City now stands, in 1851, building a hut of poles, prairie grass and canvas, where he and his family spent their first winter and summer in this township. He was then well advance in age, but was a Tennessean, who fought under Old Hickory Jackson in the war of 1812, and was inured to hardships from his youth. He was somewhat impetuous and visionary, and when the first line of the Tonica & Petersburg Railroad was surveyed near his place, in 1856, he and William Young prepared to lay out a town, and Mr. Lane built a large frame house which he designed for a hotel, and which he was unable to finish. That house now stands northwest of the West Side Schoolhouse in Mason City, and was moved there in 1872, by Jeremiah Skinner.
About 1847, John L. Chase, who lived in the southwest part of the township, and was a very efficient business man, was appointed Postmaster, by which the post office was removed from Walker's Grove, but still retained the name of Walker's Grove Post Office. Here all the eastern part of the county received and sent out mail, which was carried on horseback, one a week, and from Petersburg; that is, once a week when the crossing at Salt Creek bridge would permit, which was only about half the time. Sometimes there were three and four weeks that we would be totally shut out from all mail communication on this account, even down as late as 1856. Often, some anxious person would take the chances of swimming the sloughs on horseback, and bring the mail over in a grain-sack, locked with a cotton string. Mr. Chase died in 1856, and William Warnock, Jr., who, in partnership with William Young, kept a country store at the farm of the latter, was appointed Postmaster, soon after removed it, with the store, to Hiawatha, where the office was suspended in 1858, upon the location of one in Mason City.
In 1854, George Young erected a steam saw-mill a quarter of a mile south of Big Grove Cemetery, and, the following year, Edward Sikes, Jr., moved the George Virgin store-building, of which he had now become the proprietor, to that place. Several dwelling-houses were soon after erected, and a flouring-mill added to the saw-mill, when the place was given the romantic name of Hiawatha. John Pritchett, who afterward became a prominent hardware and grain merchant in Mason City, and is now a commission merchant in St. Louis, started a blacksmith-shop. Dr. William Hall, a good physician, located there for the practice of medicine, and when the first line of the Tonica & Petersburg Railroad struck that place, in 1856, the most extravagant hopes of the people seemed about to be realized. But the railroad went four miles farther east; Mason City sprung up, and -Hiawatha went down, and now not a vestige of the village remains to be seen.
The old "Timber Schoolhouse," or Virgin Schoolhouse, was the voting-place for the two townships, now Mason City and Salt Creek, until 1857, and was known as "Salt Creek Precinct." The election of 1856 will never be forgotten by any one who was an eye-witness to the scenes of that day at this place. With politics at fever hear, and barrels of whisky as fuel to the political fire, no words can adequately describe the hurrahing, quarreling, fighting and confusion of that day, from early morn until dusky eve.
At this schoolhouse, religious meetings were frequently held, and the stronghold of Satan was stormed upon the tactics of border warfare, that is, upon the theory that there is more terror to the enemy in noisy demonstration than in means of effectual destruction. Sinners were held "breeze-shaken" over the yawning abyss of the preacher's most vivid imagination, and the mighty oaks bowed their majestic heads to the thunders of Sinai, and one unused to such demonstrations would think the "heavens were rolling together as a scroll." In 1857, a camp-meeting of three weeks' duration was held in the grove about a half-mile southwest of George Lampe's place, at which Elder Peter Cartwright made his last visit to this section. About three-quarters of a mile southwest of this, and, on the ridge a quarter of a mile east of where Michael Maloney's house now stands, was the inevitable grog-shop that was always to be found as near the sanctum sanctorum of the camp-meeting as the law would permit. Here it was that the first and last murder in the township was committed, for which William (Duff) Armstrong and James Henry Norris were indicted at the following term of Court, and for which the latter served a term of eight years in the Penitentiary at Joliet, and the former was acquitted-defended by Abraham Lincoln, as we have before stated. The name of the murdered man was Metzker, a citizen of Menard County. It was done about 9 o'clock at night, by being struck on the head with the neck-yoke of a wagon, which fractured his skull, and from which he died next day. Dr. J. P. Walker, now of Mason City, conducted the post mortem examination.
Dr. J. P. Walker settled in the west part of this township, at the place now owned and occupied by George McClintick, in 1849, and pursued the practice of medicine, and carried on his farm until 1858, when he moved to Mason City. Dr. A. R. Cooper settled on the farm now occupied by William McCarty about the same time, but removed a few years later. About the same year, Dr. John Deskins built a hut and located a half-mile east of George Lampe's place. He built his house in the side of a ridge, so that the earth formed three sides of his domicile; but, embedded in the earth as it was, a tornado, in 1852, swept it away and scattered his goods for miles around, though, as by a miracle, none of the family were seriously injured.
The 29th of May, 1850, is a memorable day with the old inhabitants of this township, on account of the violent hailstorm which devastated growing crops, killed small domestic animals, and frightened the people terrible. This storm came from the northwest, and left is marks of violence upon the trees so that they were not outgrown for years after. Beautiful fields of wheat were left as desolate as a barren desert, and fruit-trees were stripped of foliage and fruit. Sheep, pigs and chickens were slain by hundreds with the cold shot from Heaven's Artillery.
This township contains two church edifices, built about ten years ago, one is Big Grove, and the other at Lease's Grove, both owned by the Methodist denomination. A third building, by the Christian denomination, is in course of construction at Big Grove.
The principal cemetery, and the only one in the township controlled by a regularly organized Board of Trustees, is at Big Grove, and has been used as such since the earliest necessity of such a place. It is a beautiful location, well cared for, and, with its monuments and headstones, from a distance looks like a miniature marble city set upon a hill. There are several other burying-grounds in the township, but most of them have been abandoned, as to future use as such.
The Havana extension of the I., B. & W. R. R., now the Champaign, Havana & Western Railway, runs diagonally across the northeast corner of the township; but there is nor railroad station, or town or village of any kind within the boundaries of the township.
The first school district organized in the township was down in the southwest part, and is now District No. 1. The house was built of hewed logs, and was generally known as the "Chase Schoolhouse." Several years ago, a new frame schoolhouse was built about a half-mile northwest of the site of the first, and is now known as the "McCarty Schoolhouse." The second district was organized in the east part of the grove, and is District No. 2. The first house here was in the timber, near the north side of the grove, about a quarter of a mile southeast of the "John Auxier Pond." It was a log house, of course, and was known as the "Virgin Schoolhouse." The original building burned down in 1849, and was succeeded on the same site by a frame, which was used as the district schoolhouse until 1863, when the old house was abandoned and a new one built about a mile further east, which is now known as "Mount Pleasant Schoolhouse." The third schoolhouse was built at Lease's Grove about 1850; was also a log house, but, several years ago, was abandoned, and a new house built about a mile east of the old site. The next, in District No. 4, was built in 1854, on a high elevation, three-quarters of a mile west of the present site, and was known, as the present is known, by the name of "North Prairie Schoolhouse." The next, in District No. 5, was built in 1855, and was designated as the "Knox Schoolhouse." Other districts were organized and school-houses built soon after, until the township is well provided with public school facilities. The present Board of School Trustees is composed of the following gentlemen: Robert A. Melton, Elias Hull and L. C. Agnew. H. C. Burnham, the present incumbent, has been Township Treasurer for the last ten or twelve years, whose last statistical report is as follows:
The names of the gentlemen who have officiated as Supervisors of the town since the adoption of township organization, in 1862, are as follows: Selah Wheadon, now residing in Kansas; Jacob Benscoter, now residing in Mason City; A. H. Fisher, now residing in Logan County, two terms; J. A. Phelps, who died a couple of years ago, in Nebraska, two terms; C. L. Montgomery, who died in Greenview, Menard Co., in March of this year, two terms; A. Thompson, three terms; A. A. Blunt, three terms; H. C. Burnham, present incumbent, three terms; L. C. Agnew, one term.
The present township officers are: H. C. Burnham, Supervisor; D. W. Hillyard, Town Clerk; Joseph Silvey, Assessor; J. P. Montgovery, Collector; Robert A. Milton, Michael Maloney and C. C. Dare, Commissioners of Highways; H. C. Burnham and Joseph Silvey, Justices of the Peace.