Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

Riding His Circuit

Page 115

In the pioneer days there were no roads, the prairie grass was as high as a man's head, and paths were the only guides the pioneers had. Cartright would travel all day without passing a cabin of the hardy pioneers. It was easy to travel through the timber, but the prairies were not then settled. When he would come to the edge of the timber the cabins would end. The he would strike across the prairie from one point of timber, and would have to go by sun or some other natural course. Sometimes night would overtake him and he would camp out. Think of that, ye ministers of these latter days who ride in pomp and splendor in palace cars and get four times ad much for doing half the pioneer preachers did!

They had these routes through the timber belts marked by blazing. They would take a line of trees in a row, and with an axe scalp the bark on the right side about four feet from the ground, so that a traveler could always have a half dozen scalped trees ahead of him. So Cartright traveled by paths through the prairies from point to point and through the timber by scalped trees, not meeting a fellow traveler from ten to twenty miles. During those miles of solitude he had time to think up a good sermon, for it is when alone that the best thoughts of man come to him - there being nothing from the outside world to distract his thoughts. One reason why he performed so much work was his strong and hardy frame; for it is a fact that a strong and vigorous frame produces strong and vigorous thought; a short face, narrow between the eyes, indicate a narrow mind and feeble thoughts. Give me a preacher like Cartright - one of vigorous frame and intellect. Cartright wore a 7 hat. It was only a hat made by the home hatters, and weighed double that of the hats made now. The body of his hats were always a quarter of an inch thick, with a rim 5 inches wide, the crown eight inches high, and the nap one-half inch long, heavily lined with silk. The hat he wore when I first knew him I think lasted him twenty-five or thirty years.

He was nothing if not friendly; no man or boy escaped his attention. Full of wit and good humor, he could entertain a crowd of one or one hundred. When he thought he was right no earthly power could persuade Cartright to abandon a principle. He was like Henry Clay; he would rather be right than be president. I will relate an incident which will illustrate this: On a certain occasion he met an interesting family, the father of which was a drunkard. The family joined the church and the old man was also friendly. They met one time at a store. The drinking man called for cherry bounce. He sweetened it for Cartright, out of pure love for him, and invited the preacher to drink with him. Cartright refused, and told the man that he had given up the practice. The man then told Cartright that if he did not drink with him he would be no friend of his or of his family, and that he would never go to hear him preach again. Peter told him that it was all in vain to urge him, that his principles were fixed and that he would not violate them for man or mortal. The man then flew into a rage and cursed and abused him. Peter walked off and left the man in his glory. He never forgave Cartright, made his family leave the church and lived and died a drunkard.

Transcribed by: Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors