Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
In the early settlement of Menard County there were natural divisions that preserved their identity. East of the Sangamon River there were New Market, Lebanon and Athens; west of the river was "Wolf County," which was bounded on the north by Rock Creek, on the west by Springfield road, on the south by Purkapile branch, and on the east by the river. In this territory lived a population from Kentucky. There was Case Pemberton, the horse trader; it was as good as going to a circus to go past his house in trading season. Horses by the dozen could be seen, awaiting their turn for a "swap." He lived there many years, then moved to Mason County, and finally to California, where, if yet living, I have no doubt he is still trading horses. Jack Pemberton, a brother of Case, was constable for a long time. Afterwards he moved to Mason County and died near Forest City many years ago.
There was Isaac Schick, who cleared off a farm in the center of Wolf, when he could have got a good farm in the prairie without clearing it. He had a large ox team and a plow with a wooden mould-board that could turn over just what the yokes on the oxen could bend over.
There were the Tibbses, the Wisemans, the Duncans, the Hohimers, the Hornbuckles, and others whose names sixty years of time have obliterated from my memory, though it is good.
These were the original settlers. They were a kind people and would divide their corncake with a friend. They were fond of the shooting match and the "muster" which was held once a year; and at house-raising or any gathering the Wolverines were always on hand. They would come to Petersburg in good humor, but after filling up on whisky were ready for a racket among themselves, though preferably with outsiders. "George, you have torn my shirt," said little John Wiseman to Greasy George Miller. "Yes," said George, "and I can tear your hide, too!" A ring would form at once and twenty men would pound each other till one would cry "enough," and that would settle the matter of the torn shirt.
At Clary's Grove and Little Grove were the Gums, the Watkinses, the Dowells, the Arnolds, the Bonds and the Kirbys. They would come to Petersburg on a Saturday afternoon, twenty-five or more in a body, "strapping big" fellows, bare-footed and riding their three-year-old colts barebacked. On they would come with a dash, single file, whooping and yelling, "Jess" Kirby in the lead. A band of Comanche Indians could not give the warwhoop more lustily than "Jess" and his gang. After riding around the court house square several times they would face up in front of the saloon and get their breath; then one of the crowd would challenge the world in saying that his "hoss" could beat any other "hoss" that ever made a track in the 'Burg for Sto. This was a bluff. They had no intention of running. Then they would tie their horses to the hitchracks and do their trading, which consisted mainly in getting something to drink or a plug of "terbacker."
About this time the boys from the north would begin to arrive. The Clarys were in the majority. Bill Jones and Royal Armstrong had a lot of boys and in a short time they would arrange a wrestle or a jumping match, or some amusement that required an exhibition of physical strength. Or, perhaps, they would match a horse race to come off the next Saturday on Joe Watkins' track. The bets rarely exceeded ten dollars.
The next thing in order was to go in swimming at the old Elm tree, which was a short distance above the bridge. There was almost any depth of water there, and the boys would take their three-year-old colts in the river to break them. A horse is at disadvantage when in water over his depth. The boys would take one in, several of them would get on his back, others would cling to his mane and some to his tail, and by the time they let him come out they could do almost anything with him. This sport would last a couple of hours and then, back to town. Every man to his horse and after galloping around the square "Jess" Kirby would strike for Tanyard Hollow with a warwhoop and a yell, and the Grove boys were gone until the next Saturday. The Wolf and Sandridge boys were not under such good control and went home as they pleased.
I often wander what kind of men these pioneer boys made. Have their lives been spent in dissipation, or have they made men of honor and integrity, whose children rise up to call them blessed? Many of them I have never met since boyhood, when we were all reckless. Some of them, I know, have been among Menard's honored and respected citizens.
Family feuds were common in the early days. Over some imaginary wrong or insult one family would become arrayed against another family and it required only a spark to kindle a flame. I recollect two families, one by the name of C_____, the other by the name of W_____, who had for years been nagging each other. One day in the "thirties," at Salem, the quarrel was renewed. W_____ said: "Let's go across the river and settle it, once and forever; and let no person go across with us." C_____ agreed to the proposition. The crowd went to the river and not a man was allowed to go over with the combatants. They stripped and fought like beasts till both were down; then those who were on the Salem side of the river thought they should be parted, so the went over and made them shake hands, and they were friends from that time. W_____ never saw a well day afterwards and died in a year or so as the result of injuries received in the encounter. This incident is given to show the kind of civilization that was predominant in those days, though many of the old citizens never had to contend with its barbaric customs. Only those who trained in that class were subject to its conditions.
As Governor Palmer said at Old Salem Chautauqua last August, the horserace, the gander pulling and the shooting match had to give way to the Chautauqua. In coming years, when the old citizens of Menard shall annually assemble on these consecrated grounds with their children and their children's children, they will have cause to bless the new order of things.
Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson