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

Old Fashioned Barbecues

Page 189

Away back in the "forties" it was customary once a year to celebrate the Fourth of July. We did not then have as many important days as now. The Constitution and the immortal Declaration of Independence meant something then. There has been so many startling events since that I fear we have forgotten the truths that our fathers taught us, but our Government was founded with a Declaration of Sovereign Rights, and God grant that we may never forget the grand lives found in these important Magna Chartas. And the people met once a year to talk over the heroic deeds of their fathers, to sing patriotic songs and to have a good time. Generally several weeks before the Fourth of July a subscription would be started. One person would contribute a two-year-old heifer, another a fine shoat and some turkeys, one person a few loaves of bread, some a dozen pies and so it would go till a dozen beeves and a dozen shoats and everything else would swell the eatables so that the multitude could be easily fed.

Then a number of men to cook the meat would be named. I recollect that Jim Clemens, who lived near George Spears, was generally commander-in-chief. Long trenches about three feet wide and two feet deep, would be dug, in which fires would be placed the day before and on the morning of the Fourth would be nearly red hot. The beef would be put over the fire, hanging on long iron rods in quarters. The pigs would be fixed the same way and the cooking would begin. General Clemens would give orders to his subordinates to turn the beef and pork every five minutes and a large jar of melted butter was on hand, well melted, and each cook had a swab with which he could baste the meat while it was cooking. The farmers' wives would arrive with their share of the bread and pies and cakes and a number of tables would be arranged to accommodate the crowd.

About 1 p.m. everything would be ready. The seats were properly distributed and the citizens from all over the country had begun to arrive. The marshals, with their red sashes, were galloping around town with all the style of warriors. Andy Moor, of Indian Point, was a military man. With his old dilapidated silk hat, with a red plume about eighteen inches high, marshaled the marshals with as much dignity as a Roman general and would land the delegation at the speaker's stand, where some Springfield orator would deliver an oration. It was sometimes the silver tongued E. D. Baker, and sometimes the lamented Thomas L. Harris. Before the oration the Declaration of Independence was read.

This was an important part of the program, because the reader was to read it loud and clear, so all could hear it, as he read:

"All Governments derive their consent from the governed," or "All men are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These immortal truths were believed in and was the base on which the structure was built.

At the dinner, which was always conducted in good order, some old venerable divine invoked the blessing on the repost. The orations gave the orator some standing in the community.

I recollect once in 1842 attending a celebration in Clary's Grove, in Robert Conover's pasture, which was equal to any held in Petersburg. Being in a good settlement the farmers contributed liberally to the dinner. After it was over toasts were in order, one of which I recollect, as follows:

Should British lion ever roam,
Beyond his beaten track;
The American Eagle, with beak of steel,
Will pounce upon his back,
Pick out his eyes and cry: "'Tis fun!"

In those early days there were two old soldiers, who had fought for their country. One was Daddy Roger, who lived in Wolf, and the other was the father of James Short, who lived north of Petersburg. These old persons were always at the barbecue and were accorded a seat of honor on the speaker's stand and at the tables.

Barbecues have had their day. They belong to the old dispensation. They were a kin to campmeetings and regimental musters. After dinner was over then many of the men got drunk or engaged in running or jumping or feats of strength. There was a cannon out of the shaft of the Talisman that was six inches thick and five feet long, with a two inch bore that weighed five hundred pounds. This tested a man's strength to shoulder it, and very few could do it. I have seen Conover Gum and some of the Bond boys nearly strained their gizzards out in trying to shoulder it.

It was the custom of the country boys, before they went home, to go in swimming. They always rode their three-year-old colts. The always found water below the water works to swim their horses and so the time was taken up at the barbecue till sundown and all then departed for home with the satisfaction of pulling the tail of the eagle and helping to make him scream.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors