Illustrated Atlas Map of Menard County, Illinois 1874|
Published by W.R. Brink & Co., of Illinois
was born December 24, 1785, on the south branch of the Potomac River, in the State of Virginia. When a few years old he emigrated to Bath County, Kentucky, where he remained until a man grown, when he emigrated to Madison County, Ohio, where, at the age of twenty-one, he married Katharine Davis, who was also a Virginian. Like nearly all of the early pioneers of those States, Mr. Alkire was in humble circumstances, or rather very poor. He and his young wife, when their fortunes were blended together, as were their young hears, were only able to furnish their rudely constructed cabin, which was of their own architecture, with a clap-board table and a few three-legged stools, and a half-bed to sleep on, with a few pewter plates and a long-handled gourd to drink water out of from the brook. But their determined spirit and indomitable will led them on to subdue the wilderness and better their fortune, which by untiring industry and economy they were soon enabled to do. Mr. Alkire, a few years after his marriage, conceived the idea of buying up and collecting together of his neighbors a herd of young cattle, and grazing and feeding them to a fit condition for the Philadelphia market, which enterprise he successfully engaged in, making several successful trips, which were attended with much toil and danger. The Ohio and other large streams had to be swam. Mr. Alkire at one time made his return trip homeward at the rate of eighty miles per day on horseback, carrying the cash which he received for his drove (principally in silver) in his saddle-bags. In swimming the Ohio River, while perched on his hands and feet on top of his saddle, his sturdy and fleet roadster was stemming the rapid current with great power and speed, when upon nearing the opposite shore he suddenly went down; but with a terrible struggle for dear life he finally succeeded in safely landing his precious freight on terra firms, when Mr. Alkire made the discovery that his saddle-bags (filled with silver) had drifted back by the force of the current, and remained suspended by the stirrups, the whole weight resting on the hocks of the noble animal and cramping his movements, thus jeopardizing his life as well as the life and hard-earned treasure of his master.
Mr. Alkire pursued his avocation of farmer and stock-dealer for about fifteen years, when, hearing frequently repeated stories of the marvelous beauty as well as fertility of the Sangamon River country in Illinois, and not being fully satisfied with his present location, he resolved to see that country for himself. The whole route lying through a sparsely-settled country, in fact much of it being a complete wilderness, well mounted on his now famous roadster, his leather saddle-bags containing a small amount of lunch and a considerable amount of cash, he bid farewell to his family, striking out alone for the new Eldorado, plodding on over hills and plains, through swamps and prairies, swimming rivers, etc., often passing a whole day and night without seeing a single human habitation, himself and horse passing the night fasting, courting repose in some grove or thicket by the wayside, with no living creature near save the hissing serpent or howling wolf. But the determination of the man was quite equal to the task. He passed down through the Sangamon River country until opposite to the Sugar Grove, when, hearing that place favorably spoken of, he turned aside to see for himself. When he entered the Grove on the south side, in a short time he approached the bluff of the little stream that passes through that grove, and, upon obtaining a favorable view of the surrounding country, he stopped his horse and viewed the landscape with a critic's eye. When fully comprehended, he shouted out at the top of his voice, "Hurrah for Old Kentuck! the garden spot of the world!" Crossing the little stream, he soon came to the cabin of Mr. James Meadows, one of the first white men to set up his wigwam in Sugar Grove, who had been located in the place for three or four years, having once or twice during that time made the round trip to St. Louis and return in his canoe, in order to obtain the necessary supplied for his family. Mr. Meadows had a few acres of land under cultivation, basing a pre-emption right to the surrounding lands on his improvement. Mr. Alkire was highly pleased with the surrounding country. He soon struck a bargain with Mr. Meadows for his little improvement and claim. He then bought several other little improvements, with the accompanying claims. He then returned to his family in Ohio, when he sent his young man (Mr. William Engle) with a team to make a crop for him, and do some other improvement for the comfort of his family on their arrival at their new home. Meanwhile, Mr. Alkire made an advantageous sale of his farm in Ohio, and arranged for the removal of his family in the fall, Mr. Engle returning with his team, and assisting in the removal of the family to their new home in Illinois, which was effected in a large four-horse wagon and a light two-horse wagon, taking with him several head of well-bred cattle for breeding purposes, which proved afterward to be of great advantage to the county. Mr. Alkire's arrival at his new home was in the fall of 1824. On the opening of the public land sales at Springfield, by the United States Government, Mr. Alkire attended, entering his several purchased claims with considerable other lands, thus accruing an indisputable title to the "garden spot of the world!" Here he continued to put forth his energy in subduing the wild country before him, fencing, breaking, planting, etc. In the fall of 1828, he built himself a comfortable two-story brick house, which was probably the first brick structure in what is now know as Menard County, which was a great novelty to many young people, who, though nearly grown, had scarcely ever seen a brick, let alone a brick house. About his time, Mr. Alkire was appointed Road Supervisor by the County Commissioners of Sangamon County, his district covering a territory which was probably nearly twice as large as Menard County. He was ordered to open a public road from near the mouth of Salt Creek to Havana on the Illinois River. The most serious difficulty in the way of travel was known as Crane Creek Swamp. Mr. Alkire collected together all the able-bodied men for a considerable distance round, and proceeded to that place with wagons, teams, and provisions, tools, camp equipage, etc, where he set to work making rails in the nearest forest and hauling them to the swamp; then he would cut a quantity of the tall swamp grass, which grew in great profusion and luxuriance all round the borders of the swamp, with which he spread a thick bed on which to place his rails, to prevent their sinking down out of sight in the soft muck, which was of such a soft and peculiar character that a man could stand on a square of the bridge, when finished, and shade one-fourth of an acre of the surrounding surface. After Mr. Alkire would lay down a few yards of his road-bed with grass and rails, he would then secure the rails from floating away with the water by placing a heavy pole on each end of them; and then, by driving huge forks of trees down astride of his poles, would thus secure all in proper position; then he would cover the rails with a coat of the grass; then with a sort of rudely constructed hand bearer, they covered the whole with a coat of sand to the depth of several inches. He thus proceeded with section after section, until the whole work was completed for the distance of near one-fourth of a mile. This road made a safe and easy passage over the swamp for many years, without repair. This was about the first bridge of any importance that was built in Mason County, and a work of considerable note. About this time horned cattle had accumulated in this part of the country to an amount beyond the necessities of the community, when, writing letters to some of his old drover friends in Ohio, and representing the opportunity as a favorable one for them to embark in, they soon sought him out, and commenced a trade with the people in this part of the country which proved highly remunerative to all parties for many succeeding years. Mr. Alkire continued in raising and dealing in cattle, making it and farming his especial business, which eventually made him one of the wealthiest men in the County. Mr. Alkire was liberal to a good degree with his hard earnings, blessing the poor with his assistance, and patiently awaiting for the payment of the frequent sums of money he was called on to loan to his poor neighbors, thus aiding them in securing for themselves a little home; contributing largely to the cause of religion, inculcating in the minds of his family the worth of honest industry, making the love of truth and fair dealing, with frugality and economy, the main points in the character of the true man. As his family grew up to manhood or womanhood, and wished to set up business for themselves, the kind-hearted father, with a liberal hand, divided out his wealth, both in lands and money, and property of whatsoever kind, leaving but a mere maintenance in the hands of his sons for himself and wife. Eventually, on the 1st of November, 1872, his wife, the companion of his joys and sorrows, departed this life. Being left alone, he repaired to the house of his eldest son (Milem), where he has a comfortable room provided, and is now enjoying reasonable health, at the advanced age of eighty-nine years.