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

Anecdotes of Menard

Page 217

After the mill was built at Salem it was a big thing, and people came from fifty miles around, and sometimes waited a week for their grist. Such was the patronage given to the mill, that a town was demanded, and so, on the thirteenth day of October, 1820, Rueben Harrison, surveyor, layed out the town of Salem. The owners were John Cameron and James Rutledge, and they improved the town by building each a log cabin, and for a decade the town had an interesting history, but now nothing remains to mark the buildings but a few cellars, but the history of Salem will live as long as the memory of Abraham Lincoln endures. At the time Salem was laid out there had never been a postoffice in the county, the people getting what little mail they then received from Springfield, then a mere village. About this time Dr. John Allen came from the east. He was a Christian gentleman and stood very high in his profession. He soon had a Sunday school started in a log cabin that stood across the branch near the grave yard.

Abraham Lincoln came in the summer of 1831 on his return from a trip down the Sangamon river. This was his first trip to Salem, though he had passed down the river early the preceding spring. There is a story of Lincoln boring a hole in a flat boat to let the water out while the boat was fast on the dam. The boat was loaded at Decatur with pork in barrels and some live hogs. The boat ran with such force upon the dam that the bow ran over and was clear out of the water and the water in the boat ran forward, so by boring a hole in the boat at the front it was lightened up and ran over the dam.

Mr. Offit bought a stock of goods and hauled them from Beardstown to Salem, set up a store, and engaged Lincoln as clerk. This was Lincoln's advent to Salem.

Salem now began to build up. There was Jack Kelso, the hunter and fisherman; Jonathan Miller, the blacksmith; Henry Onstot, the cooper, and Robert Johnson, the wheel wright; William Berry, the grocery keeper, and others whose names are not mentioned. Lincoln raised a company for service in the Black Hawk war. No member of that company is now living, though many of their sons are still in Menard county. They never saw any fighting. Black Hawk had sold his reservation in Iowa, and white men could not wait for the details of the sale to be consummated and had rushed in to get the best lands, and Black Hawk was going to hold the lands until the treaty was complied with. When Lincoln was elected to the legislature in 1834 he set out on foot with only one suit of homespun clothes. Lincoln was a popular man with all classes of people.

The next settlement of any note was Concord, four and one-half miles north of Petersburg. The settlement was all made in the timber. Ten or twenty acres of land would be grubbed out and fenced, while the finest prairie land in the world was ready for the pioneers plow without grubbing it. I don't know why this was done unless they thought they would freeze to death on the prairie.

The young man of the present day has but little conception of the manners and costumes of the early settler, and it is strange how such a complete revolution could have been made in the last half century. It would be impossible to give the youth of today a just conception of the clothing, the dueling and diet and social costumes, everything having undergone a complete revolution. It may truthfully be said that the cabins of the early settlers were but little in advance of the three-faced camp of the first pioneers, the house, being of hewn or rough logs, the cracks filled in with mortar made of clay mixed with straw. If the floor was made of anything but earth trampled down until it was hard, it was made of puncheons split out of a straight grained tree and bout four inches thick. It was hewn out with an axe and then laid down on stumps of round oak and not nailed down and then crevices large enough for the children to run their feet through. The roof was covered with shakes held down with weight poles. For a fireplace one whole end of the house was taken, the lower part was lined up with stone or clay for five or six feet. About a cord of wood was necessary for a file. A buckeye back log and then a fore stick about half as large set on dog irons filled in with kindling wood. There was no such thing as matches in those days, and it was a customary thing to borrow fire at the neighbors to start a fire or per chance the old flint rock would be brought into use to strike a fire with. The upper part of the chimney would be built with sticks laid in mortar. This would often get on fire in the day, but would be put out before going to bed. The door would be made of boards nailed or pinned together, so dear reader, you have some idea of the houses your ancestors lived in. A buck string was attached to the latch and allowed to hang on the outside, hence the old saying, "you will always find the latch string on the outside." As cook stoves had not been invented, a flat oven and a skillet were the utensils, which, with a teakettle completed the cooking outfit. The skillet was used to fry the meat in while the oven was set on a bed of coals, and the house wife would take a gallon of corn meal and mix it up stiffly and mould it into shape by changing it from one hand to the other, and then tip it into the oven, patting it to the desired thickness. About three of these corn cakes would fill the oven.

When the lid of the oven was covered with live coals and the dodges baked hard enough to knock a Texas steer down, the imprints of the fingers would be left on the corn cakes. This made the dodgers a legal tender. Lye hominy was also an article of diet which no well regulated household could afford to dispense with. Sugar was unknown except where the sugar trees abounded. Honey was found in the timber everywhere as the bees held undisputed sway. Preserves were made with honey from grapes, crab apples, etc., but they were only opened when company came, and then we also had biscuits, but corn bread, honey and hog was the chief diet.

The clothing was of the simplest kind in early days. The men wore pants of buckskin, caps of coon or fox skins, while the feet of both sexes were covered with the moccasin. Cotton goods were very scarce and difficult to get. The men raised flax and rotted and broke it, the women would then spin and weave it and make it up into garments. It was almost useless to have sheep on account of the numbers of black and gray wolves that roamed the timbers and prairies, and would destroy the whole flocks of sheep in a single night. So after they began to raise hemp and flax the people began to appear in a better garb. This made good underwear, also towels and tablecloths. When the people came to this new country they brought an immense lot of clothing with them that lasted for several years. In an early day it did not take as many widths of cloth for a dress as now. I have known a farmer to buy a bolt of factory cloth and have it colored orange, and then have it made up for his family. Girls from five to sixteen all had an orange colored dress with three widths or so in it. If a girl had to jump a branch, she had to take into consideration the width of her dress. The boys had a pair of pants made out of tow linen, with a suit of flax for Sunday, and the boys from eight to twelve years of age had no other clothing than a long tow linen shirt. In the winter they were supplied with buckskin pants, moccasin shoes, and sometimes a blue jeans coat. After sheep began to be raised by the settlers, a flannel and linsey was woven for the women and jeans for the men. While dye stuffs were scarce, walnut bark was used which made a butternut color which is still used in the South. Everybody did their own spinning, and if a person wanted to hire a girl, the first question asked was "How many cuts can you spin?" A dozen cuts was a day's work, though there were girls that could go from fifteen to twenty cuts a day. Not every family had a loom, as it took up too much room, unless they had an outhouse for the loom. You could hear the weavers go whack - whack - during the fall and winter all over the country. Boots were a luxury that few indulged in. I never had a pair of boots until I was twelve years old, and then it was only by accident. I was the first boy in Petersburg who had a pair. In summer time boys and girls went bare-footed, and in Menard county boys had stone bruises on their feet nearly all summer. It was mostly in the heel of the foot about a quarter of an inch under the skin. A gathering of matter resulting from a bruise would commence sometimes. A razor would be used to pare down the skin so as to open the bruise. I have seen boys with a stone bruise on one heel. On the other foot there would be a stone bruise on the toes, and the poor boy would have to navigate on one heel and one toe.

The agricultural implements were fully up to everything else. There were no steel clipper plows, only a wooden mould board for breaking up the ground, that would not scour a rod in a quarter of a mile. A paddle had to be carried with the plow. The corn was cultivated with the hoe or bull tongue, or a very rude kind of shovel plow. All planting was done by marking off two ways with a shovel plow and then dropping and covering with a hoe. All teaming was done with ox teams, and it was no uncommon sight to see four to six yoke hitched to a large plow.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



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