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

Old Salem on the Hill

Page 148

The plat of Salem is correct, as the old settlers will testify, as Mrs. Hill had it in her scrap book, and as it was published in 1892. It was of her that J. McCann Davis got it and published it in his writings in McClure's Magazine for December, 1895, without giving me the proper credit.

No. 2 on the bluff was where Offit and others kept store, when the store was taken possession of by the rowdies, and Radford was glad to get an offer for it from "Slicky Bill" Green, and Green then sold it to Lincoln and Berry. It is here where the three trees grew up out of the cellar, which Governor Palmer at the last year's Chautauqua said were planted by Lincoln, which was one of the many mistakes the Governor made, as the trees, by the size of them, cannot be over twenty-five years old, and it was twenty-five years after the house was torn down before they were sprouted. Some tall scenes were enacted at this house while standing. It was here that the rowdies put old Jordon in a barrel and rolled him down hill into the river. We suppose he thought "Jordon was a hard road to travel." A post stands within a few feet of the cellar with an inscription as the place where Lincoln and Jack Armstrong had a wrestling match, which is doubtful; as if such an occurrence had happened it would have been up in the town. The old house has had a history, and though it was a small, unpretentious building it will pass down in history as the building where Lincoln sold goods. The actors have all passed away. "Though they may forget the singer, they have not forgotten the song."

No. 3 is where Jacob Bale lived. He was a Kentuckian by birth, and had a large family. Hardin Bale was the eldest boy, while Henry and William were younger; Fannie was the oldest. She became the wife of James Summers; next was Sophia, then Mary Jane, and Susan, the wife of John Sampson. The Bale family was one of the prominent families of Salem for nearly twenty years. Jacob was a man of not much education and finally became a preacher, we suppose, because his brother, Abraham, who came from Kentucky in 1843, was also a preacher. Jacob's house was the last to be moved away. The well still stands. It was walled with rock and is now covered with old railroad ties, and is in a good state of preservation, and is called "Jacob's Well." Abraham had a voice like a lion. He had a habit when preaching of grasping his left ear with his hand, then leaning over as far as he could and lowering his voice. He would commence to straighten up and his voice would raise to a high key. He would pound the bible with his fist and stamp the floor, and carry everything before him. He created excitement in the first years of his ministry in Salem. He was a Baptist, though not of the hardshell persuasion. Hardin was Jacob's son, and was a natural machinist, and for a number of years ran the carding machine in Salem. The power was an incline wheel forty feet in diameter, and oxen were used instead of horses. The cogs were made out of hickory wood. I think Jacob Bale's family are all dead, except Susan, the wife of John Sampson.

No. 4 was a store house. On the north side of the street at the head of the hollow, where the road came from the north, is where Lincoln kept store with Bill Berry and where since, and later on, McNamar did business. The spot is still marked by the cellar. I recollect seeing the house full of shelled corn before it was torn down. I suppose the corn was shipped down the river by flat-boat. I don't know how the corn was shelled, as it was before shellers came around. The houses on the diagram were all on the street that ran east and west. There were a number of small houses south of the street and east of the Hotel row. Herendon lived in one. He acquired some notoriety by shooting and killing his wife. Whether accidental or on purpose the people were about equally divided in their opinions. He was fooling with a loaded gun and it went off and killed her. There was Nelson Altig and Napoleon Greer, a justice of the peace, and Johnston Elmore and Alex Trent. I recollect going to Elmore's once for some sauerkraut. Mrs. Elmore was taking it out of an old churn and a long yarn string came out of the churn. She said it was some of the ravelings of Clara's stockings which she had on when she was tramping it in the churn. Clara afterward became the wife of Abraham Bale. The vacant spot of ground south of the road and east of Jacob Bale's, was used for horse racing and gander pulling, a sport that has gone out of date, and if it should now be attempted those engaged would be indicted for cruelty to animals. Men would often run foot races on this ground, and even repair there to fight out their quarrels.

No. 5 was the two-story log tavern. It was built in 1830 by James Rutledge, and kept by him till 1833, when Henry Onstot, my father, became landlord for two years. It was the stopping place for travel from the east through Havana and the western part of the state. It was 16x30, with an ell 16x20, and was two stories high. Abraham Lincoln boarded at this hotel all the time he lived in Salem. I well remember him as a marble player and a quoit pitcher. He could plump the middle man nine times out of ten, and kept the small boys running after marbles. He was a jolly, good-natured fellow and followed surveying after he quit merchandising and the postoffice. I have often seen him shoulder his compass and start out and be gone for two weeks. He would stay at Jack Armstrong's sometimes for a week or so. After father moved out Nelson Altig kept it for some time, and the last landlord before it was torn down was Michael Keltner. He had a lot of big girls, among which was Catherine, a large buxom girl twenty years of age. About this time Tarlton Lloyd, a rich widower, aged sixty, lived on Rock Creek, and as is the usual case with old widowers, was looking around for a young wife. Catherine thought it was a good chance and set her cap for him. It was a marriage of convenience and the day was set for the wedding. Keltner was poor, but the neighbors all helped, and a grand dinner was set and a large number of guests invited. Long tables were set. My mother helped cook. Keltner reasoned that Lloyd would probably live ten years then leave Catherine a widow of thirty, and then she would have a good home, a fat dower, and be comfortable the rest of her days, but the best laid schemes often fail. Catherine died at forty years, and Lloyd didn't die till he was 104 years old. An incident happened at the wedding that I shall never forget. James Hoey, of Petersburg, was master of ceremonies, and attempted to carve the turkeys with a tight pair of gloves on his hands. One old gobbler, that was rather tough, while he was sawing away on it, slipped off the dish on the floor, where two small dogs went to fighting over it. As there was a number of turkeys left, the dogs were allowed to have it.

I thought when I commenced writing of Salem, that one small article would do, but it appears that when I commence to write a spirit of inspiration hovers over my pencil.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors