Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
Some Early Settlers
Among the early settlements at New Market, Bellard was the center. It competed for the court house. On the north side lived Russell Godby, a strong old Jackson Democrat, of dignified appearance, a man of good common sense. At all the Democratic meetings he was always elected chairman. He settled on the farm on which he died. The farm south of Ballard's was entered by my uncle, David Onstot, in 1824. He sold out to Coleman Smoot at an early day and moved to Taney county, Mo., giving up some of the finest land in Illinois for the mountainous county in Missouri. Uncle Dave was a restless spirit, and when he had half a dozen neighbors in half dozen miles, he said the county was getting too thickly settled up for him and he did not propose to be crowded out, so he emigrated. He had some enterprise and built a horse mill, run by an incline wheel. The reason he gave for moving to Taney county, Mo., was that cattle could run out all winter without feed, the county being in the southern tier of counties. He made a trip back to Illinois in 1844, and was much surprised at the improvements in Menard county, and I think would have been glad could he have gotten back. Coleman Smoot lived on the farm till he died. His house was on a beautiful ridge next to the timber. He had a large orchard of fine apples and raised many hogs and cattle for market, and was considered in good circumstances, though he never gave up peddling apples. The last time we saw Coleman Smoot was at Camp Butler. He had a load of apples and a barrel of cider. The soldiers thought a rich man like Smoot ought to give them the apples free of charge, so when he was driving up a hill in the camp, they pulled out his end gate and his apples all run down the hill. He did not stop to pick them up but drove home with his barrel of cider. Smoot made a trip to St. Louis every spring, taking his bacon and surplus produce and bringing back his groceries and goods. He lived to a good old age. His son, William, was his only child. He built on the hill east of the old home, and still lives there.
A half a mile west, past the edge of the timber, was one of the first settlers, William Sampson, another uncle of mine, an eccentric old man. His house was a place for all the movers that were going north from Menard to Mason. They always aimed to get to Sampson's to stay all night. I don't think he ever charged them anything, so his house was a popular resort. I think I speak in bounds when I say that as many as forty persons have stayed all night at Uncle Billy's. It was pretty hard on Aunt Hannah to make beds all over the floor for such a large crowd and also feed them, but Sampson had a large amount of bread and meat and this crowd kept it from spoiling. Besides Sampson was a great talker and could learn a lot of news from these travelers. He had eight large stalwart boys and two girls, which made him a large family. He had come from Virginia in an early day and had first settled on the west side of the river near Shipley's, but after marrying, moved on the east side of the river where he lived till it got too thickly settled for him. He then moved down near Greenview. We said Sampson was eccentric. A little anecdote will illustrate. He had a neighbor by the name of Rodgers whose wife died. Sampson and Rodgers were great friends, and at the funeral Sampson and his friend had been imbibing a little too much, and while filing up the grave Rodgers gave Sampson a hunch and told him to get in the grave and tramp it. Sampson jumped down in the grave and commenced to tramp the dirt. The shovelers took him by the arm and helped him out. He was heartily ashamed of his work and it was a by-word in the community for a year, "Get it and tramp it."
James Estill settled north of Sampson, and the place is known yet as the Estill place. About half way to Petersburg and Indian Creek. This stream supplied power to a mill that both sawed lumber and ground meal. It was down in the hollow. The road both in the east and the west came down a very steep hill. The hill on the west must have been one hundred and fifty feet high. I once took a grist of corn there on horseback and when half way down the sack and I slipped over the horse's head.
One of the old stand-bys of the country is Gus Riggins, first a school master, then circuit clerk for eight years. He lived to be an old bachelor, marrying when fifty years old. He has since resided on his farm, a well educated and intelligent man well versed in the affairs of the county, state and nation, fluent in conversation and an old time Democrat. He has for sixty years followed the party through adversity and prosperity. Defeat only seamed to strengthen him in his principles. His name is a guarantee for integrity and honesty.
A little farther south one of the solid men in his day was Nicholas Tice, a small, heavy set German, the father of John Tice. He always rode a sorrel mare, with a slit in the face. He was a funny little old man and the boys in Petersburg always had lots of fun with Mr. Tice. He would sometimes get a little jubilant, but was always in a good humor. A little farther south lived Andy Branson, a great talker. He would go to Salem Mill, riding on a grist of corn and on the way he would stop at my father's shop and talk the hat off your head. I recollect a case of absentmindedness he showed. He came riding on his sack of meal, with his saddle tied on behind him. Father bought a bushel of his meal. He then put his saddle on his horse and the sack on the saddle and started for home. In half an hour he came trotting in a great hurry up to the shop door, calling out to father, saying: "Henry, Henry, I forgot my saddle." When he saw he was riding on it he rode away, somewhat crestfallen.
In the early days the mail was carried from Petersburg to Athens on horseback once a week. The Brooks boys carried it. It was as slim affair, as there were no papers printed then. The Illinois Journal and the State Register were the only papers in Springfield. Athens was in a rich country, but before the black diamonds were discovered, it did not assume much importance, as the farmers around there went to Springfield to do their trading. We well recollect being in Springfield in 1835 and the little brick court house, with its cupola covered with tin, and ponds of water where the old state house stood. How changed Athens is now; surrounded by the best population in Menard. Go to any country and the quality of the land determines the character of the people.
A few miles brings us across the river into Wolf, the moth of Rock Creek. The inhabitants of Wolf were from Kentucky and Tennessee and were wolfish in their nature when collected in large bodies. There were the Tibbs, the Wisemans, the Pembertons, the Hornbuckles, the Hohimers and the Duncans. The boundaries of Wolf were Rock Creek on the south, Sangamon on the east, Purkapile Branch on the north and the Springfield road on the west. Most of the early farms in Wolf were made in the barrens, as the timber was then called. Isaac Smerck, we recollect as the first settler, came from the lead mines in 1832. He brought $2,000 in clean cash and entered one hundred sixty acres of this grub land, and with a large ox team brought his land into cultivation. Any brush that the yoke could bend down the plow could break up. Smerck could have entered one thousand five hundred acres of the best prairie land in the country, but he thought that a man could not live on the prairie. His soil was only a few inches thick. Smerck had an ox that, when he was being unyoked, would jump back as quick as lightening. One time he struck his master in the face with his horn and came near killing him, and he was not able to work much after that. Smerck had a large lot of relatives on his wife's side that ate him out and he moved to Mason county, but they followed him up and he had to feed them as long as he lived.
Jack Pemberton will be remembered as a fat, jolly man. We weighed two hundred and fifty pounds and was constable. He was a great story teller. After he moved to Mason county he was elected to the legislature. When the county seat was moved to Petersburg, old Man Purkapile lived on the southwest corner and was a noted character. He was the father of James and George Purkapile. Being the seventh son, he was supposed to be endowed with curative powers Many children were taken to him to be cured of the rash and he, by simply blowing in their mouth, would effect a cure. Shirley's mill, near the mouth of Rock Creek, did a good business, and when there was water enough sawed lots of lumber. The old Menard House, in Petersburg, got its lumber from this mill, and many a grist of corn that made the dodger for the good housewife, came from Shirley's mill. But time has obliterated the last vistage of the mill, and not one stone has a been left of the dam or mill. There were a number of families by the name of Miller that lived in Wolf, so many that they were distinguished by some title. One that was larger than the rest was known as Greasy George Miller. They were all good fighters. On the Springfield road, running south, were the Nances, the Winns and the Goldbeys. James Goldbey was the first sheriff of Menard county and was a very influential citizen as long as he lived. The Nances were also above average intelligence. Mrs. Parthena Hill was a sister of Thos. Nance, while the Winns were a noted family. L. B. Winn was elected to the legislature after he moved to Petersburg. These pioneers have long since moved to the Silent City and the second and third generations have taken their places.
Rock Creek was early settled with an energetic lass of people, the Cogdals on the west end of Springfield road. Thee were Elijah and Isaac Cogdal. Isaac was an all around man. He had a large stone quarry and burnt lime. He furnished the stone for the foundation of the old court house in Petersburg in 1842, and all the lime that was used in an early day. Isaac Cogdal was quite a noted politician and was always up for some office. He was a Whig. He had the misfortune to lose one arm in making a blast. He was a tall, good looking man, while his brother, Elijah, was a man of not much force, but a good citizen and a law-abiding man. West of Cogdal's lived Osborne, a farmer in good circumstances. Robert Conover married one of his daughters for his second wife.
We now come to Blacks. He had a number of girls and boys. His oldest daughter married Lige Taylor. Her name was Beckey. Sam was one of the boys. We were acquainted with a man by the name of Stephenson who lived near old Tarleton Lloyd. We cannot refrain from giving an incident in his life, though perhaps we have mentioned it before. The first Mrs. Lloyd, having died in due time Lloyd thought he might take another wife. So he fixed his affections on Catherine Keltner, of Salem, whose father kept the old tavern. She was a buxom lass of twenty summers, a good worker. Though the Keltners were very poor, but respectable the marriage created great excitement and their neighbors contributed largely toward the wedding feast, some a few chickens, some a turkey, some a fat pig, some flour, until enough was brought in to make a royal dinner, and then the women brought dishes and helped to cook the dinner. The Keltners were high glee and they reasoned like this: Lloyd is sixty and may live fifteen or twenty years more, while Catherine is twenty and may live fifty years. At Lloyd's death Catherine will have a good home left her and plenty to live on. The argument looked very plausible, but alas, Catherine died at the age of sixty, after having raised a large family, while Lloyd lived to be one hundred and four years old. The Lloyd family appeared to be long lived, as some of the children of the first wife are still living. Near Lloyds lived Milo Wood, a harnessmaker. He owned a small farm and had a number of boys. Alex. one of his sons, was also a harnessmaker. Mack Woods, another son, went to the Mexican war and after his return was elected coroner. After he was qualified, James Taylor, who was sheriff died, and Wood was then sheriff, but in settling up the accounts they did not pan out, and Wood was deposed from office.
We now come to the noblest Roman of them all, the Rev. John M. Berry, who did as much to civilize and christianize the central part of Illinois as any other living man. Tall and well formed, he stood like Paul among the prophets, head and shoulders above his brethren. He was a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, well versed in the doctrines of his church. Old John Berry, as he was familiarly called, worked hard on his farm six days in the week and on Sunday preached when he could get an audience. He was a great friend of Abraham Lincoln, and he was the cause of Lincoln taking his son into partnership, but Bill Berry turned out bad and became a drinking man and gambler, and died a total wreck. This nearly broke his father's heart, and while he still preached, he always wore a solemn look and was seldom seen to smile. West of Berry's was the Rock Creek camp ground. As we have written that up in another part of this book, we will let that suffice.
Elihu Bone lived near by. He deserves more than ordinary mention. He had a large family of girls and boys. Jack Bone, his oldest son, is still alive, though near ninety years old. He bought and marketed cattle in early days and sold his cattle in the St. Louis market. He has been in the Chicago Stock Yards at Chicago for forty years, but is now retired. Jack did not resemble any of the Bone family, being of medium height and dark complexioned, while the rest of the boys were tall and light complexioned. Several of the boys had red hair. Most of the boys settled around their father. Robert's house was close to the camp ground. He was an influential man. Elihu Bone once represented Menard county in the legislature, with credit to himself and his constituents. Elihu Bone was a very conscientious man, and though living in a community where rowdyism was rampart, he never had any lawsuits or difficulties with his neighbors. In his dealings he was always conscientious and upright. The country would have been better off if all the early settlers had been men of Elihu Bone's character. There were the Combs, and the Yokums and the Pennys that lived on the south side of Rock Creek. Coming north we find old Billy Green, the father of a large family of Greens.
Ned Potter was one of the earliest pioneers of the country. He was a large, jolly fellow. He had a good sugar camp and Mrs. Potter's maple sugar was legal tender for all debts, public or private. The timber in this locality was nearly half sugar trees. A little farther north was Felix Green, who was the oldest of the Green boys.
Who in Menard county has not heard of Levi Summers and his grammatical style of talking? He murdered more of the English language than any other man in his day and his sayings are repeated in the county to this day. He had a large family, mostly girls. Fanny married Henry Balls, Esther married Hardin Bale, but Uncle Levi always bet on his son, Jimmy. About half a mile west lived one of the best known men in Menard county, Cousin Mentor Graham, who taught in nearly every district in the county after it was organized. He was a peculiar man. The writer went to school to him, first at the Baptist Church at Felix Green's; next in Salem, then at the house east of his farm. He taught over fifty years. If Cousin Mentor took a liking to a scholar, he fared well, if not, the scholar had a hard time of it. Cousin Mentor believed in governing a school by force. He always kept a lot of good switches on hand would often call up a scholar and make him holdout his and, with his rule, lay on the licks until the scholar would beg for mercy. Graham was well versed in the common branches of the English language. Graham raised a large family, mostly girls, who married well and settled in the county. North of Grahams was Tom Watkins, but as our account of him will be found in another part of the book we will give him a rest.
Across the prairie, west, we make a jump, as the prairies were not settled in pioneer days. George Spears is the central figure. He built a brick house before we were born. Spears was one of the early settlers. As soon as the howling wolf had left the grove or some time before and ere the Indian yell had died away, the hardy emigrant had pitched his rude cabin and was ready for the battle. The early fathers were a brave and hardy race. Spears was a man well fitted for a new country, strong in body, cool in judgment. He was not at a loss to settle all the questions that might arise. Spears had a large family, who, in turn, raised large families. Robert Conover was another man of influence. He was a close neighbor of Spears'. In his latter days he bought the Bennett Able place near Petersburg. Then there was the Bells, several of them, Abraham, Isaac, Silas, James: these were have named were all good, sober, reliable citizens, who gave character to the grove. There was the Whites, old Jimmy White was the oldest of them. He was elected to the legislature one term. He was honest, but eccentric. If he had a bill to introduce, he would make a short speech, telling what an advantage it would be to the country. The members of the early legislature were made up of honest farmers, while today it is composed of third class lawyers and bummers, who would sell their grandmothers for a mess of potatoes.
John Kinder lived near where Tallula is now located. He was not a large farmer, did not own more than one hundred and forty acres. He was a son-in-law of White Kinner and depended a great deal on his orchard. He had the finest Bellflower apples in the county and always brought the to town in sacks to the great disgust of the boys, who could not sample them.
Col. Judy is an old citizen of great energy and has a great reputation throughout Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri as an auctioneer of fine stock. North of Clary's Grove we come to a little old man, who was the central figure in Petersburg in the "forties" - Jesse Gum. He had a large tract of good farm land and raised a large number of big boys, big stalwart fellows, that could throw a two-year-old Texas steer over the fence by the tail, but Uncle Jesse's best hold was peddling. He had a cart and a small yoke of oxen. His main articles of trade were honey and sweet potatoes. Uncle Jesse always endeavored to impress the people with the idea that honey and sweet potatoes were mightly scarce. After he had sold out his load and trade a little he would take his seat in the cart, and the black steers would head for home without a driver. A little further north lived Uncle Johnny Watkins, Gaddie Davis, Joe Watkins and Lige Jones, more familiarly known as Snag. There were three of the Jones boys, Lige, Bill and John. Old Snag always called his wife Fattie. Lige Jones was a good neighbor, but a very profane man and addicted to the use of liquor. His team finally ran away and killed him. The Jones were all tall, good looking men, and were fighters, though Gaines Green, when only a boy, whipped Bill Jones at a race at Joe Watkins' track. John Jones was a fiddler and ground out the music of the cat gut at many a dance in Menard county He finally moved to Iowa. The Jones could always be found at Petersburg.
Tom Dowels was a quiet man and had the respect of his neighbors. He did not farm very extensively, and had plenty of boys to do his work. Then in the same community lived the Bonds and Arnolds and the Arterberrys. Old Daniel Arterberry was a tall, raw boned man, who had a tremendous grip in his hand, and if you were not careful in shaking hands with him, he would crush every bone in your hand. He had such powerful strength in his hand that he made every fellow afraid of him. Daniel Arterberry was well known all over the county as a good law-abiding citizen. There were numerous families of the Arterberry's and to this day the village of Arterberry derives its name from some of these descendants.
We will now swing around to the Miller's Ferry, where, in 1846, lived Peter Elmore. He was a jolly, good natured old fellow, unlettered, and could neither read nor write, but gathered up what information he could from his surroundings. We often stopped with Uncle Peter over night as a half way house between Havana and Petersburg, and always found him in an inquisitive mood. "Where have you been?" said he. We told him "out to Springfield." "Is the legislater sitten?" he would ask, and then we would tell him a long story about what they were doing, and Uncle Peter would say, "The Lord deliver us." Miller's Ferry, where Uncle Peter lived, was once surveyed for a town and was called Huron. My brother, R. J., has a plat of it in Abraham Lincoln's own handwriting and prizes it very highly. The town looks fine on paper, though there was only one house in it in its earliest days. K. Watkins is now the sole owner of Huron, "and is monarch of all he surveys."
Concord was settled in an early day. Samuel Berry, a brother of John M. Berry, James Pantier, William Rutledge, Reason Shipley, Jack Clary and Rile Armstrong were the first settlers. Jack Clary first settled at Clary's Grove, but was living at Concord as far back as I can recollect. He had a large family of boys, of which Rile Clary is the oldest. Samuel Berry lived south of Concord Church, was a very religious man and could exhort as well as any of the preachers. He was a very solemn man, and seldom laughed or cracked a joke. William Rutledge was one of the large family of Rutledges. His son, McGrady, died two hears ago. He was over eighty years old. Reason Shipley lived north, near the Sangamon River. George Kirby lived a few miles farther than Squire Masters. We met Kirby and Masters two years ago. They were both eighty-six and were both strong for that age.
Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson