EARLIEST HISTORY OF ALEXANDER COUNTY
Illinois Genealogy Trails
AS WRITTEN BY BARTLETT CONYERS (1798-1887)
MAY 31, 1881
Donated by Terry Conyers
The following narrative was published in the ARGUS-JOURNAL NEWSPAPER, 1881. Bartlett Conyers' parents, James and Mary Conyers, were the first settlers in the area in 1805. The town, America, was built on their first homesite. America is now in Pulaski County.
Your request that I would furnish you some reminiscences of early life in Illinois is, I think, a reasonable one, when I take into consideration the fact that I came to Illinois when the population of the United States was not more than double that of Illinois today.
I was born in Livingston County, Kentucky, in the year 1798, and was said to have been the first white child born in the county. My father, James CONYERS, emigrated to this state in the year 1805, and though I was but seven years old, I can recollect of him killing buffaloes in Kentucky. Illinois had not at that time acquired an independent existence as a territory, but all that part of the country was then called Randolph County. We made our first halt and went into camp where Cairo now stands. It was then nothing but a wilderness. Heavy timber extended in every direction, and wild game, such as turkey, deer, bear, wolves, and wild cats were very plenty. I have killed a good many bear as well as other game in the vicinity of Cairo. I recollect on one occasion, I went out hunting and had only two balls for my gun; the first shot I killed a very large bear dead in his tracks, with the second ball I slightly wounded another. Although I was but sixteen years old, I thought I could kill him with my hunting knife, so I followed him up and went into the fight in earnest, but after a short tussel in which neither of us got much hurt, I beat a hasty retreat. The bear retreated at the same time I did, but from some cause went in the same direction and only a few feet behind me; but I soon got out of his way. I then cut a good stout club and followed him up, but was more cautious. I soon came up with him and after a little manouvering hit him a fair lick right on the forehead. I expected to see him fall; but all the effect it had was to cause him to take right after me again. In this way we continued the fight for at least one hour, when I accidently hit him on the back of the head, which knocked him down. For the first time my knife came in good play and I soon finished him.
I might relate some incidents that would be interesting, having spent about five years hunting on the frontier, a part of the time entirely alone as far as white people were concerned, having only Indians for my associates and bed fellows; but I suppose you want to know who were the early settlers of what is now known as Alexander and Pulaski Counties. My father, James CONYERS, located twelve miles from the mouth of the Ohio in 1805. America was built where he settled. There was no other white family living in that country at that time. The Indians were very friendly and were frequently at our house.
The next man to settle there was Jessie PERRY. He settled two miles above America. No one else now came for about two years. The nearest settlement was about forty miles off, being up about Jonesborough. We had no communication with the outside world, there being no post office nor mail carriers. Our meal was pounded or ground in a little hand mill. If we wanted meat, a deer, bear, or turkey could be had, or fish if we preferred it. Our food was plain, but the kind that makes people strong and healthy. Flour and sugar could not be got, and coffee was unknown in the western world.
In the year 1807 Thomas CLARK settled and built his house on the mound where Mound City now stands. A man by the name of HUMPHREY was the next to come. He settled where Caledonia now is. Solomon HESS next came and located at the mouth of what was afterward called Hess Bayou. A man by the name of KENNEDY, I now forget his given name, was living on CLARK's place near the mound at the time of the massacre. George HACKER was the first to settle on Cache River, stopping there I think in 1806. His place was about six miles from the mouth of the river. John SHAVER settled there soon after him. Rice SAMS and William SAMS located there a year or two before the War of 1812. These were all that had settled in that wilderness prior to the war of 1812. Up to this time and for several years afterward we had no elections, neither did we pay any taxes, which is very different, I suppose, from what you are doing there now.
The war now caused emigration to that country to cease for several years. The Indians became very troublesome, so much so that for self-protection it was necessary that the citizens should come together. My father's house was accordingly selected as the best place to make a defense. It was accordingly changed to a block house, and the settlers nearly all "forted" up there. The Indians had a regular crossing about one mile above our house, and it was here that old TECUMSEH crossed the Ohio River when he went South to incite the Creeks and other tribes to go to war. The crossing was at a mouth of a little creek about one mile above America.
Thomas CLARK remained at the mound until February 1813, when he and his wife, KENNEDY and his wife, and their son about twelve years old, William PHILLIPS and Miss PHILLIPS, his sister, were all massacred by the Indians. John SHAVER was there at the time and received a very bad tomahawk wound in the forehead, but succeeded in making his escape and brought news of the massacre to our fort. A company of men, of whom my father was one, then went to the mound and buried all the victims that could be found. William PHILLIPS and his sister having got into the river, were not found for some time afterward. He was found holding fast to a root, where he had jumped in, while she was found a half mile below lodged in a drift pile. None of the bodies were mutilated except that of Mrs. KENNEDY and she was found to have been most terribly treated. Being pregnant, she was disemboweled, the infant taken and hung upon the corner of the house. A company consisting of twenty-five men, mostly from Missouri under the command of a Mr. TUCKER, followed the Indians, but owing to a snow storm lost the trail and had to return. John CONYERS, father of Perry CONYERS, now living in Pulaski County, was of the number. Mr. HUMPHREY was afterward shot through the shoulder, but succeeded in getting to the fort, where he recovered. Upon petition of my father a company of rangers was now sent down from Fort Massac and quartered at our house, which made us feel pretty safe.
Now, Mr. Editor, as to Cairo, allow me to say that it was not there in 1822, but I found it there in 1881. Though I have frequently said that it was impossible to build a town at Cairo, the magnificence of your present city compels me to say that the impossibility has been accomplished. The first and only man that I ever knew to live there was Drakeford GRAY. His house was built on posts on stilts, and during a high water period it took fire and burned down. A boat happening to pass at that time took off the people, or they would have perished.
In concluding this already too long letter I will say, but not with egotism I hope, that I have lived under the administration of every President of this great nation except that of Washington. The patents which I now hold for my land were signed by President JACKSON, I having settled here in 1828. I have seen the population of our country increase from five million to fifty million. I saw the first steamboat that ever plowed the waters of the Ohio River on its first trip. Railroads, telegraphs and nearly all the machinery now used in agriculture have come into use in my day. I have certainly lived in an auspicious age.
May 31, 1881
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©March 2006 Anna Newell