Illustrated Atlas Map of Menard County, Illinois 1874|
Published by W.R. Brink & Co., of Illinois
The Early Settlement Of The County--Its Pioneers--Early Agricultural And Horticultural Matters
After the admission of Illinois as a State in 1818, immigration commenced to flow steadily into the Sangamon country, and during the half-decade immediately succeeding quite a number of settlements were formed within the present limits of Menard County. The first of these settlements was that of the large and respectable family of Clarys, who settled at what was subsequently known as Clary's Grove, in the southwestern part of the County, in April, 1819. Solomon Pritt also settled about the same time on Section 3, Township 17-7. There were doubtless a few additional settlements made during the year 1819, but the names of the pioneers we were unable to learn.
The early settlers, many of whose names appear below, for the most part, from the South; and came through the then vast wilderness to this "land of promise" in rude wagons and on pack-horses. The famous Sangamon country had been explored by some half-dozen venturesome spirits as early as 1815, who were struck with the exceeding fertility of the soil.
In presenting the following list of the early settlers of Menard County, we have been almost wholly dependent upon the memory of the sons of pioneers, the few of the latter now living being so far advanced in years as to be incapable of remembering names. The following is a list (so far as we could learn) of those who were citizens of what is now Menard County previous to 1835. There are doubtless many left out who should have appeared, but the fault is with the memory of our informants, who rank among the foremost and brightest-minded men of the County.
Of the Clarys there were William, Zachariah, John, Sr., John, Jr., Riall, and Robert; Absalom Mounce, Pleasant and William Armstrong, C. L. Montgomery, James Meadows, Jacob Boyer, John Jenison, J. Hill, Roland Grant, Wm. Engle, John Berry, Coleman Smoot, L. Alkin, Sr., Matthew Holland, Charles Reavis, Isaac and John Colson, Julius Simmons, Thomas F. Dowell, John Higginbottom, Bartlett Conyers, Jacob Heavinner, Thomas Plasters, Daniel Atterberry, James Watkins, Josiah Crawford, Joseph Watkins, Charles and John Bell, John Armstrong; Elijah William, and John Jones; Jacob and Spencer Merrell, Squire Hall, Elijah Watkins; Robert, Jesse, Royal, Hugh, and John Armstrong; Henry Armstrong, Alexander and Isom Reavis; E. P. James, and John Robinson; Jonathan and Matthew Lounsberry, Amos Ogden, Jacob Brown, Jesse Miller, Isaac White, Sr., James and David Pantier, William and James Rutledge, Obadiah and James Short, Noah King, Thomas Baker; Alexander, Nathaniel, and J. Latimoor; Samuel and James Berry, Vaughn and William Thomas, Charles Hymes; Isaac, Jr., and Herman White, R. McDole; Morris and Matthew Hutches, Bennet Torrey, James Reynolds, James and George Hudspeth, Moses and William Hart, John Cameron, John Pentacost and family; Hamilton, Elliott, and John King; the family of Knowles; William and John Brewer; Robert, Walter and James Brackin; Jesse Hornback, Solomon Taylor, David Onstott, Alexander Crawford, Michael Killion, William Sampson, Benjamin Day, George T. and Noble Sampson, Samuel Rodgers, Abraham and John Hornback, Francis and Joseph Raybourn, Elijah Scott, John Moore, Sr., John N. Moore; Robert, W. F. and Frank White; William Short, James Williams, Allen Turner; John, Walter and William Turner; Matthew Rodgers, William Estill, Sr., Harry Riggin, and his son A. K. William Johnson; John, William, and George Alkire; Joseph and Samuel Powell, N. Probst, George Blaine, Ward Benson, Charles L. Montgomery, Enoch Smith, William Day, Martin Higgins, Alexander Barnett, Samuel Music, Jacob and George Borders, William and John Rubey; James, William, Sr., William, Jr., and Mathias Yokum; Gideon, Sr., Gideon, Jr., Flinn; Tarlton Loyd, David S. Taylor; Jacob, David and Solomon Miller; Joseph and Isaac Cogdell; Edmund Royal, and Elijah Potter; William Green, and his sons, William G., L. M., and J. G. Green; Solomon Spear, George Spears, Robert Conover, Cyrus Kirby, Bolin Green, John Pemberton, John and James Peropile, Oliver and Jackson Canterbury, Aubury A. Rankin; Elihu, Thomas, Robert, William and John L. Bone; Kennedy, Arch, Caldwell, Edward, and Thomas Kincaid; James and John Williams, William Short, William and Henry Clark, Presley and John Curry, Benjamin and Ephraim Wilcox; John Baker, and his sons, Jesse and Henry Baker; Enoch Abraham and Dr. Primm; the family of Overstreets; William, Henry and Cyrus Hoheimer; William Gideon, who pushed a wheelbarrow through to California in 1850; Samuel and John Tibbs and families; Benjamin and John Wiseman, John Van Winkle and his father, Marshall and John Duncan and families; David, William, Lee, Nelson, and George Batterton; James and Josiah Goldsby and families; Zachariah, T. J., and A. Q. Vance; Aaron, Elijah, Charles, John and W. C. Gevigna; A. M. and A. R. Houghton; Ezekiel, J. E., and M. B. Harrison; Thomas, L. B., Joshua and John Wynne; Michael and Henry Keltner; Samuel, Thomas, Asa, Nelson, John, and Jesse Combs; Isaac Foster, James Black, Sr., and his sons, John, Samuel, and James Black; James Purviance; Jacob, Abraham, Hardin, Lewis, Fielding and James Bale; Travis Elmore, Sr., and his sons, Julius, Travis, Johnson, Elijah, and Thomas Elmore; Cornelius and Edward McCarty, Matthew and Henry Holland, George Curry.
There are many incidents of interest connected with the several careers of the pioneers mentioned above which would prove of interest in connection with this sketch, and which we would be pleased to publish if our space permitted. Among the sketches furnished the compiler is the following from that well known, hale, and highly respected pioneer, Chas. L. Montgomery. This gentleman writes to us as follows: "I settled in Sugar Grove early in the spring of 1820. James Meadows and Jacob Boyer, with their families, settled in the east end of Sugar Grove April 5, 1820. Accompanying them were two old bachelors by the names of John Jenison and J. Hill. Roland Grant and family came in 1822. During the latter year the first schoolhouse was built and a school taught by James McNabb, who had just moved into the country. The first marriage in this vicinity was John Jenison to Patsy McNabb; the second marriage was Wm. Engle to Elizabeth Alkin; the first church was the Lebanon (Presbyterian) Church at Indian Point, and John Berry was the first minister. Sugar Grove was then a favorite resort of the Potawatamie Indians, who made sugar there annually. Our nearest mill in 1820 was at Alton, on the Mississippi River; John Jenison and James Meadows were the first to visit this mill from my section, and it then required seventeen days to make the trip. The first mill in this section was built by David Onstott, on the place where Coleman Smoot now lives. The first Justice of the Peace was Harry Riggin. The first orchards were set out by Jacob Boyer and L. Alkin, in 1825. There are now but four persons living who came to Sugar Grove in 1820, viz: Alexander Meadows, his two sisters, and myself. The great snow of the century commenced on Christmas-day, 1830, and continued for several weeks. The snow lay from three to four feet deep on a level throughout this section of the State. Stock of all kinds suffered to an extent unprecedented in our annals, and a large portion of the wild game with which the forests then abounded were starved or frozen to death. Then, on the 27th of May, 1850, came the great hailstorm, laying waste everything in its path, and greatly injuring the growing corn, grass, etc. Many wild hogs, birds, etc., were killed. Twenty-seven sheep were killed in one flock in this section."
During the pioneer period of the County comparatively little attention was paid to agriculture. Like frontier communities generally, hunting was the principal means of subsistence, and the skins of wild animals were frequently the principal articles of commerce and exchange. A little corn was grown, and some occasional wheat and potatoes; but aside from these, other grains and vegetables seem to have been little used. Hay grew abundantly on the high prairies and on the bottom lands, the forests furnishing not only an abundance of game, but large quantities of mast; consequently, cattle and hogs could almost winter through without the products of manual labor to assist them. There seems to have been a distaste for agricultural labor among the pioneers; and when we reflect upon the kind of agricultural implements with which they were compelled to labor, we can freely pardon much of the aversion of those hardy men. The old-time "wooden moldboard" plow merely rooted up the surface, and was evidently hard to hold; and the team that drew it was, doubtless like the country, half wild, and harnessed with "gears" made by the farmer himself. The wheat was reaped with a sickle, threshed with a flail or by the tramping of horses, and winnowed by a sheet; which last operation Governor Reynolds tells us was the hardest work he ever performed. The grain being cleaned or husked, it was necessary to grind in a hand-mill, when the band-mills run by horse-power were not accessible; or, in case of corn, to grind it on a grater, or best it in a mortar. The conversion of the meal obtained at such an expenditure of labor into bread, was not a less laborious and expensive process, in a day when stoves, ovens, and even baking-pans were unknown, and when yeast-powders were among the things of the future.
During the pioneer era, twenty acres was considered a good-sized farm. The soil, then strong and fresh, produced remarkable crops even with the indifferent culture to which it was subjected. From the early settlement of the County up to the "deep snow" of 1830-1, cotton was extensively cultivated, and proved profitable. Cotton-gins were then in operation at Springfield, Athens, and on Rock Creek. After the deep snow, however, there was quite a perceptible change in the seasons, and cotton culture was almost wholly discontinued. The forests abounded in wild game of every description, much of which was destroyed the winter of the deep snow--the snow being nearly four feet on a level throughout the country. Honey-bees were also quite numerous. It is related that honey was often used as a substitute for soap.
The first orchard of the County was set out by Solomon Pruitt, in 1819, on Section 3, Township 17-7. Moses Hart set out a peach orchard in 1820, on what is known as the David M. Pantier place. Samuel Berry also set out an early orchard, as did David Onstott and William Sampson. Some of these early trees are still bearing fruit.
The earliest mill erected of which we have any record was a horse-mill, erected by David Onstott as early as 1820, near the mouth of Salt Creek. This mill was subsequently improved by James Meadows, who substituted a tread-mill. Edward Reavis put up a mill in Clary's Grove in 1821. James Robinson and Absalom Mounce were also pioneers in the milling business.
After 1835 there was a marked improvement in the agriculture of the County. Hunting and sporting were less frequent, and agriculture became henceforth the permanent occupation of the rural population. During this period, the grain-cradle and fanning-mill were introduced. Commercial flouring mills began to be erected, and the introduction of steamboats on our western waters gave an impulse to trade, and made farming more remunerative, or, at least, a more ready-money business than it had hitherto been. Farming upon the prairies, which seems to have been rather avoided by the first settlers, also gave a great impetus to agriculture, as it greatly diminished the expense of opening a farm. About this period cultivated grasses were introduced. The period embraced within the three decades succeeding the organization of the County in 1839 has witnessed remarkable and gratifying changes in our agriculture. Orchard-planting became more general, and the system of improving, by grafting, the finer fruits was introduced. Improved domestic animals were brought into the County, and the highest perfection attained in stock-rearing. During this period the great railway system that now girts our State was perfected, largely increasing the growth of our more perishable commodities by facilitating their transit to market.