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

My First Pair of Boots

Page 196

In early times there were plenty of tan yards. Hides were not sold then as now. A man would kill a beef in the fall and take the hide to the nearest tan yard for tanning. Near the tail the owner of the yard would scrape off the hair and with a suitable instrument put the man's name on the hide. By soaking the hide in lime water the hair would be loosened and could be scraped off. Then the tanner would work on the fleshed side till it was ready to be put in the vat, filled up with white oak bark, and the water let on, and after laying all summer, would be worked till it was finished leather. It took one year to make leather by this process. Now, I understand, leather can be made in two or three weeks.

There were two tan yards in Petersburg run by James Anno and his brother Pollard. John Bennett bought them out. There was nothing striking about a tan yard, except grinding the bark. This was done with a large wooden wheel made of solid timber, about six feet in diameter and eighteen inches thick, and the surface filled with wooden teeth. The wheel was fastened on a shaft. A horse at the other end of the shaft turned the wheel. Bark would be laid around the circle and the horse would grind the bark till it was fine. Alternate layers of bark and hides would fill the vat, which was six or eight feet deep, and thus the hide was tanned.

There was in every community a man who made shoes. Alex. Fergesson of Salem, was the man for that community. I have seen my uncle, Wm. Sampson, who had eight boys and two girls, come to Fergesson's with a couple of tanned hides and measures for all the children, and in a couple of weeks come back with two bushel sack and get shoes.

I believe I was the first boy in Petersburg that had a pair of boots - red top boots. A. D. Wright had a pair of boots made to order and they were too small for him to wear. So one day he offered to sell them to me. I was then twelve years old. I told him I would like to have them though they were rather large for me. He had three cords of wood, hackberry and elm, corded up against a fence and he proposed if I would cut one end off for stove wood and leave the other end for the fire place, I should have the boots. I took him up, quick. I was three weeks doing the job, but was the only boy in town with a pair of red top boots. I had every boy in town helping me cut that wood before I got it done.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors