Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
Old Settlers' Day
The attendance at the twenty-eighth annual reunion of old settlers of Menard county, held in Tallula on Wednesday, was not so large as those of former years, many doubtless being kept away by the unpropitious weather. Rain interfered seriously with the exercises, both in the morning and in the afternoon. Addresses were made by Rev. H. P. Curry, of Petersburg, and T. G. Onstot, of Forest City. Both were of a reminiscent nature and were especially interesting to the old timers. The rocking chairs for the man and woman who had resided the longest in the county, continuously, were awarded to W. C. ("Top") Green and Mrs. Mary Beekman.
Rain brought the exercises to an abrupt close in the afternoon, and secretary John Tice's necrological report and other features of the program were omitted.
Following is the synopsis of Mr. Onstot's address:
Fellow Citizens and Old Settlers of Menard County: I feel highly honored to be with you today. I suppose I am one of you. In fact, I am a "Snow Bird" - born in Sugar Grove in 1829, while the Indian wigwams were still among the Salt Creek bluffs - cradled in a log cabin on a farm now occupied by Henry Marbold, my father having settled there in 1825. My first recollections of life are of Old Salem, which was then called New Salem, and which was then the central city of what is now Menard county. The mill on the Sangamon river, built by Cameron and Rutledge in 1824, was one of the first improvements in the central part of the county.
The early pioneers were composed of two classes. The first were God fearing men and no sooner had they built their cabins and cleared a few acres of ground than they erected a log schoolhouse with a clapboard roof, for the education of their children and for holding religious meetings. This audience, composed mostly of third generation, know but little of the hardships and privations your fathers and grandfathers underwent. Your mothers and grandmothers were as great heroines as your fathers and grandfathers were heroes. I shall call to your memory many names worthy of mention; many whose names are worthy to be written high on the scroll of fame. Many of these are no more with us to help celebrate this day, but the good influences of their useful lives and good examples are with us.
Clary's Grove, with Little Grove on the north, was among the first settled. You will recollect George Spears as an early settler. He built the first brick house in the grove and was an influential citizen for many years.
Near by Spears lived Robert Conover. His first wife died in an early day and he married again and moved near Petersburg.
"Uncle Jimmy" White will be remembered by the first settlers. He had a large family of sons and daughters. Guthrie White was one of the finest preachers in Central Illinois, but he got to fighting the Catholics and virtually butted his brains out against a stone wall. The people once elected Uncle Jimmy to the legislature.
John Kinner was a son-in-law of White. He had the finest bellflower apples in the county, but I never liked his way of bringing them into town. He had them tied up in two bushel sacks to keep us boys from sampling them. Isaac Bell was another son-in-law of White. Other noted men in Clary's Grove were Theodore Baker, William Beekman, John Haley Spears and William Spears. A little farther north lived Jesse Gum, a little old man who always came to town in an ox cart. "Uncle" Jesse had a large family of boys. John B. Gum died in Havana six years ago. He built a hotel in Petersburg and was county surveyor at an early day.
A little farther north Joe Watkins had settled, away back in the "twenties." He was a very large man and you could always find him sitting on his front porch. He had a race track east of his house.
The early settlers did not make prairie farms, but would build their houses in the edge of the timber and make a clearing. I well recollect when the open prairie ran from Rock Creek north to Oakford; when hundreds of cattle ranged the open prairie; when a farm could be opened without grubbing.
Concord, three miles north of Petersburg, was settled before 1830. Samuel Berry, James Pantier, Jack Clary, Reason Shipley, Jack Armstrong were the first to cast their lots in this locality. The Cumberland camp ground to which the surrounding country would move bodily once a year for a week's outing, will be remembered. James Pantier was an eccentric character. He was a faith doctor and could cure snake bites and mad dog bites.
Another prominent citizen near Concord was James Short. He was the man that bid off Lincoln's surveying outfit and then made Lincoln a present of it. Short's father was a Revolutionary soldier. East of Concord lived my uncle, William Sampson, who came from Virginia. He had eight boys. Hannah Simpson, his wife, once killed a deer. She was making maple sugar and had heard the hounds for an hour on the track. She saw the deer coming towards her and stepping behind a tree with an axe, as it ran passed she dealt it a heavy blow and killed it.
Russell Godby lived farther north. He was of the old Virginia stock and a Jackson Democrat, and was always chosen chairman of Democratic meetings.
A few miles east and we come to Sugar Grove, the home of Bill Engle. He was a great talker and trader. Bill never let any man get ahead of him.
Charles Montgomery was an all-round man and could do most anything. My father once had the toothache for a week and there was no doctor nearer than Springfield. He took a hammer and punch and set it against the tooth and told Charles to knock it out. Charles did not want to try it, but was persuaded to do so. Drawing back for a good lick he struck my father a hard blow on the chin. After he got over his fright he tried again and knocked the tooth out.
Among the early settlers at Sugar Grove were the Alkire, Power, Propst and Meadows families. South of these, Jake Williams, John and Jeff Johnson, the Kincaids, Riggins, Rankins and Rodgers. These were pioneers of character and integrity. Most of them have long since climbed the golden stairs, but their children are chips off the old block and have taken up the battle of life where their fathers laid it down.
We now cross the river and come to "Wolf." Wolf is bounded on the north by Purkapile branch, on the east by the Sangamon river, on the south by Rock Creek, on the west by the road to Springfield. It was called Wolf as far back as I can recollect.
The early settlers of Wolf were the Tibbs, Wisemans, Hornbuckles, Purkapiles and Kennedys. They made their farms in the barrens when as good prairie land as there is in the county was still vacant.
One of the great yearly gatherings was the Rock Creek campmeeting. Elihu Bone was the largest camper. I have seen him feed 150 for dinner and go to the stand and announce that he had plenty left.
Two of the greatest men of that early day were Abraham Lincoln and Mentor Graham. Lincoln came to Salem in 1831. There he lived for seven years. He was like Moses, preparing himself for the great mission he was to fill in after years. My father kept the village hotel from 1833 to 1835 and had Lincoln for a boarder, during most of the time he lived in Salem. Lincoln followed surveying, kept grocery store and was postmaster. He succeeded Samuel Hill as postmaster. Hill kept whisky for sale and the women who went to the postoffice complained that Hill would wait on his whisky customers first and keep them waiting for their mail; so they go up a petition to have Hill removed and Lincoln appointed in his place. Lincoln grew up among the rowdy class, but never acquired their vices, though Herendon's life of him would convey the impression that he was immoral and an infidel and a man of low tastes and habits.
Mentor Graham taught school within the bounds of Menard county for over fifty years and no doubt educated more men, who made their mark than any other; and so I think Uncle Mentor ought to occupy a high place in the hearts of old settlers. There are other men that deserve mention, among them Billy Green, the grandfather of the present Green family, who settled on his farm in the "twenties," Hugh Armstrong and Ned Potter. Armstrong died before 1840, while Ned lived to be an old man.
Levi Summers lived west of Salem. The central man in the community was old Tom Watkins. He lived in a large brick house and kept about a dozen race horses. The last time I saw him was when the Chicago & Alton railroad was being built through west of his house. He was much excited. "The plagued railroad," said he, "is running through my grove and cutting down all my young walnuts." His son, "Little Tom," as we used to call him, was a soldier in the Mexican war.
From 1830 to 1840 Salem was in its glory. Samuel Hill's store was the place of gathering. On his front porch politics were discussed. Once a week Peter Cartright came to town. He was a politician then. He defeated Lincoln the first time for the legislature, in 1846. Lincoln beat him for Congress.
One of the prominent settlers of Salem was Dr. John Allen. He came from the east in 1832. He was a prominent member of the Presbyterian Church. His first work was to form a temperance society and he found his worst opponents among church members, most of whom had their barrels of whisky at home.
Another center of interest in Salem was the carding machine, run by Hardin Bale. The motive power was a large wheel forty feet in diameter. It stood on an incline of twenty-five degrees and a couple of oxen on it could run all the machinery. Martin Waddle was the hatter; Robert Johnson was the wheelright; Joshua Miller was the blacksmith; Henry Onstot was the cooper; Alex Fergesson was the shoemaker.
Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson