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Boone County History

Source: "The Past and present of Boone County, Illinois : containing a history of the county, its cities, towns &c., a biographical directory of its citizens, war record of its volunteers in the late rebellion, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, general and local statistics, history of the Northwest, history of Illinois, constitution of the United States, map of Boone County, miscellaneous matters, etc., etc."
Chicago: H.F. Kett & Co., 1877

Submitted by K. Torp

The physical geography of Boone County is not remarkable, the general face of its surface being not dissimilar to that of the counties by which, it is immediately surrounded. The townships of Spring and Flora, and all that part of the county south of the Kishwaukeeis, properly speaking, (Skattuck's Grove excepted,) a treeless prairie-not level, however, but a series of long, low, undulating rolls, and low ranges of hills and ridges. In some places there are swales and sloughs of limited extent, between moist marshes and black, fat meadow lands. A few trees skirt along Coon creek in the southwest part of the county, and scattered patches of timber in one or two other places relieve the level landscape. A broad, rich comparatively level prairie, these sections still preserve some of that primitive beauty from which Spring and Flora townships derived their names. In the report of Prof. A. H. Worthen, State Geologist, published in 1873, he says of this section: "Before the busy, teeming millions of the sons of toil swarmed over the fertile West, prairie flowers, in spring-like beauty and autumnal glory, bloomed where now the glancing plow-share turns the spring furrow, and the golden-ripened wheat fields dally with the fugitive winds. The purple and golden clouds of flowers that used to lie on these prairies are now no more; but in their place, the tasselled Indian corn waves its head, and men are growing rich from the cultivation in useful crops of these old flower-beds of nature."

North of the Kishwaukee the country changes in appearance, becoming more rolling; and, although still good for agricultural purposes, the soil becomes thinner and lighter colored. More streams are found. These are "margined with hills, to some extent, and hilly barrens. There are wide stretches of rather light timber and brushwood that extend for miles along these streams and over the intervening highlands. Occasionally a better grove of timber may be found. Small prairies, prairie openings, and long stretches of prairie still exist in every direction." The same general remarks apply to this portion of the county, except that wet and swampy land, in which many of the streams of the county take their origin. The northwestern part of the county has considerable prairie, as well as much wet land; the northeastern has more timber, and is higher and dryer, and on towards the "Big Foot" prairie, in Wisconsin, contains good farming lands.

The timber for the most part consists of black, white, burr, red, yellow and some other rarer varieties of the oak, black walnut and butternut, shell bark and common hickory, cotton wood, sugar maple, honey locust, sycamore, water and slippery elm, haw, dogwood, common poplar, white and red ash, red cedar, white pine, linden or basswood, common swamp willow, and a few other shrubs and plants. The groves in this part of the county are made up principally of the common black and white oaks to he met with in the poorer-timbered regions of northern Illinois. The alluvial lands skirting the larger streams are the only places where many of the above species of trees are to be found.
For the most part the county is well watered, and most admirably adapted to stock raising and agricultural purposes, for which it has become so noted, her products being second to no county in the northwest in proportion to her size. The Kishwaukee enters it on the east, not far from the centre of the eastern line of Bonus township, and crosses in long, easy-flowing curves, entering Winnebago County at the village of Cherry Valley. The water is reasonably clear and of moderate current. Coon Creek comes in from the southeast, and falls into it near the centre of Bonus township. On the north is the Piscasaw, which discharges its waters into the Kishwaukee above the Big Thunder Mills, a short distance east of Belvidere. Beaver Creek comes in at the northeastern corner of the county, flows in a direction west of south, and joins the Kishwaukee a short distance above the village of Cherry Valley. Some smaller streams, having their sources in the township of Manchester, find their way towards Rock river.


For many years the settlements in Illinois were thus confined to the more southern part of the state, but about the years 1832-3, the beautiful valleys of Fox and Rock Rivers and their tributaries began to attract attention in the New England and more northerly of the Middle States, and a tide of immigration set in from that direction. These immigrants brought with them that thrift and economy, enterprise and judgment, that had enabled them and their fathers by closest industry to make an humble living among the rocks and timber, the hillsides and mountain tops of their native states. Here, on these rich prairies-lands free from rocks and boulders, already cleared and waiting for the plow, with half the toil expended, would produce fourfold more than could ever be realized in the lands left behind. Thrift, prosperity, and independence have followed their steps and rewarded their energy. Almost every house is a palace in finish and surroundings. The wild prairies of less than half a century ago have been reduced to a garden of beauty and made to blossom with the rose. "Want is comparatively unknown, and intelligence and refinement prevail.
Less than half a century ago, the eight townships composing the county of Boone were a part of the unbroken wild of which we have written. But naturally grand and rich, the territory it embraces could not long tail to attract the attention of immigrants, and in 1835 a few settlers found their way hitherwards, and settled clown in the immediate vicinity of the town of Belvidere. At that time there were but two organized counties in this part of the state, Jo Daviess and Cook. They extended from the Lake on the east to the Mississippi on the west.
In this part of Illinois, as in all other parts of the state, and, in fact, as is always the practice in the settlement of new territories (unless there are peculiar local considerations), the first settlements were invariably made along the rivers or creeks, or in groves of timber. Rock River, a stream of attractive beauty and great power (if fully developed) for manufacturing purposes, had drawn to its rich lands a sufficient number of settlers anterior to this date (1835) to render them ambitious for a county organization, and at the session of the legislature at Vandalia, in 1835-6, an act was passed creating the county of Winnebago, and defining the boundaries as follows:

Commencing at the southeast corner of township number 43, range number 4, east of the third principal meridian, and running thence west to the said meridian; thence north. along the line of said meridian to the southeast corner of township number 46, in range number 11, east of the fourth principal meridian; thence west to the dividing line between ranges numbers 7 and 8; thence north along said dividing line to the northern boundary line of the state; thence cast along said boundary line to the northeast corner of range number 4, east, of the third principal meridian; thence south to the place of beginning.- Approved Jan. 10, 1836.

After the passage of the act creating the county of Winnebago, and sometime previous to the organization, Charles Reed had occupied a tract of land on the west side of Rock river, and about two miles above the present site of the city of Rockford, by covering it with an Indian "float." He named his place Winnebago, and sought to have it made the county seat. About the same time Germanicus Kent, Dr. Haskell, Selden M. Church and Daniel S. Haight, and some others, had also taken claims where the city of Rockford has since grown up. They, also, had county seat aspirations, and between them and Mr. Reed a rivalry sprang up that, suffice it to say without entering into details, resulted finally in fixing their county seat at Rockford and establishing the county of Boone.

At the first election in Winnebago county, Aug. 1, 1836 (before the erection of Boone), Simon P. Doty was elected County Commissioner for the Belvidere district, and William E. Dunbar and Thomas B. Talcott for the other two districts into which the county had been divided. The first meeting of the County Commissioners' Court was held at the house of Daniel S. Haight (called the Rockford Hotel). Don Alonzo Spaulding was appointed as Clerk of their court. At that session of their court the Belvidere precinct was established, and an order entered providing for the election of two Justices of the Peace and two Constables therein. James Sayne, John K. Towner, and Charles Payne were appointed to be judges or inspectors of the election. The time of holding the election was set for Saturday, Aug. 27, 1836, and the house of Simon P. Doty named as the place of holding the election, which, for a number of years, continued to be the voting place in the Belvidere precinct. At that election, John K. Towner and John S. King were elected Justices of the Peace, and Mason Sherburne and Abel Thurston chosen as Constables. These were the first civil officers elected in what is now Boone County.


The first Monday of May, A. D. 1837, was a day of interest to the people of "Belvidere precinct." The county of Boone had been established, and by the election of county officers they were to be enrolled among the other fully organized counties of the State and clothed with " all the rights and privileges" of the other counties. In those days printed or written ballots were not in use, but citizens voted viva voce. The polls were opened with great eclat, and midst jest and good nature, the election con-tinued until the hour provided by law for closing the polls in the evening. Milton S. Mason, Cornelius Cline, and John Q. A. Rollins, were elected County Commissioners, Simon P. Doty, Sheriff, and John Handy, Coroner. On the 3d of May, the County Commissioners elect met, and organized the first Commissioners' Court held in Boone County. Milton S. Mason administered the oath of office to Cornelius Cline and John Q. A. Rollins, and Mr. Rollins administered the oath of office to Milton S. Mason. Dr. Daniel 11. Whitney was appointed and qualified as clerk of the Commissioners' Court, and the transaction of county business commenced. Belvidere precinct was divided, and an additional precinct established, called the Lambertsburg precinct, taking in all the territory embraced in the four north townships of the county, and so named in honor of two brothers, James B. and Jeremiah Lambert, who had taken claims in what is now Leroy township. At this session it was also ordered that John K. Towner be and he is hereby appointed County Treasurer for the county of Boone" (no Treasurer having been elected). Benjamin Sweet was appointed School Commissioner and Agent for the inhabitants of Boone, and Erastus A. Nixon, David Caswell, and George D. Hicks, were appointed trustees of the school lands in Congressional township 44 north, range 3 east of the third principal meridian, and William Dresser, John K. Towner, and Milton S. Mason, were appointed judges of all elections to be held in Belvidere precinct.
The erection of road districts and appointment of road supervisors appears next on record, and a further order providing that all county roads should be "opened fifty feet in the clear, and that each able-bodied man should work on some road five days in each year." This constituted one day's work for the court, when it adjourned without day.
Thus it may be assumed that the history of Boone County, as an organized body, dates from May 3, 1837-the date of the first meeting of the County Commissioners' Court, or in less than two years from the time when the first white settlements were made at Belvidere and Shattuck's Grove, in what is now Spring township, in 1S35. If previous to that time there were any white settlers here, their identity is lost. No records are to be found of their presence, and hence it is concluded that the first settlements date from June or July of that year. When Simon P. Doty and Dr. Daniel H. Whitney arrived here, in August, 1835, they found Archibald Metcalf and David Dunham, encamped in a shanty on the west bank of the Kishwaukee (Indian for Sycamore), about eighty rods below where the State street bridge in Belvidere spans that stream.
A note on a county map, published by Messrs. William McVickar and D. Kelsey, in 1858, under the heading of "First Settlers of Boone County, A. D. 1835," gives a list of the settlers at that period, saying that "Oliver Robbins and Brothers made the first claims in Boone County. Archibald Metcalf, David Dunham, Timothy Caswell and family, Charles H. Payne and family, John K. Towner and family, Cornelius Cline, Erastus A. Nixon, Erastus Shattuck and family, John Handy and family, Simon P. Doty and wife, Dr. Daniel H. Whitney, Charles Watkins, Abel Thurston, Milton S. Mason and family, David Elliott, Asahel Daggett and family."
The same authority gives the population of the county in 1858 at 12,860. Oliver Hale, of Bonus township, who settled at his present residence Oct. 1, 1836, is of the opinion that the list of settlers here in 1835, as quoted above, is not fully correct He cites Christopher Payne and family as an addition that ought to be made. When Mr. Hale came, he found Mr. Payne occupying a claim of several thousand acres on Squaw Prairie, of whom he bought one claim of 400 acres. Payne had settled there in the fall of 1835. Mr. Andrew E. Moss, who came in May, 1836, makes a further correction by adding the names of David Caswell and family and Moses Blood and family. Mr. Hale is now a man of nearly eighty years, but is remarkably well preserved, intellectually and physically, and has a clear memory of the scenes and incidents of those early days, and his statements may be taken as conclusively correct. Mr. Moss, while a younger man by some years, has always been a close observer, and carries in his mind the names of all the pioneers he found here on his coming, in 1836, so that at least two families are added by their corrections. These families represented a population all told of only thirty-seven persons, as reported by a census-taker in the latter part of October of that year. In 1840, the population had increased to 1,705; in 1850, to 7,624; in 1860, to 11,678; in 1870, to 12,942; and is now estimated at 14,000. Real estate at that date was not taxable, by reason of the non-expiration of the three years' exemption from taxation alter purchase or entry. In 1850, the assessed valuation of real and personal property was $828,714; in 1860, $1,511,376; in 1870, $1,790,218.

Until about 1840, the increase by immigration was comparatively slow. After that period, until the government land was all taken, the immigration was large and rapid. In September, 1836, the government surveyors established the township lines, and during the following winter subdivided them into sections. The lands were not open to sale or entry, however, until October, 1839. The lands in Boone county were divided between the Galena and Chicago land districts. The lands in range 3 comprised a part of the Galena district, while those in range 4 belonged to the Chicago district, and were subject to purchase or entry at that office. From the time the lands were opened to purchase and entry, claims were rapidly confirmed.
Who made the first purchase or first entry, has long since been forgotten, and there are no records immediately accessible that will supply the data to justify an opinion on this subject.

Between 1835 and October, 1839, when the land in this district was opened to sale, claims had been taken in almost all parts of the county. In this time a good commencement had been made towards reducing their wild sward to farm tillage, and in most cases they were yielding large enough returns to maintain the families occupying them, in comparative comfort, and in some instances they had been so productive and remunerative as to yield a sufficient surplus to enable their owners to provide against the day of purchase or entry, thus making their claims pay for themselves. From 1835 to 1840-41, might justly be called the "log cabin" age. But alter the latter date the log cabins and shanties began to give way to a better class of houses, and prairie barns, with their grassy coverings, went down, to make room for more pretentious and convenient structures. Now, in 1877, there is scarcely a quarter section of land in the county that does not boast its large and handsome brick or frame residence, with tastefully arranged grounds, fine large barns and substantial fencings. The ox-wagon has given place to more modern vehicles, and fine carriages and well-trained horses are among the possessions of a large majority of the citizens. But little land, as compared with many other western counties, was entered for speculative purposes. The largest, and it may be said the only lands so purchased, was by William Taylor, as agent for the Aberdeen Bank of Scotland, in 1839. That agency purchased very largely in the counties of Winnebago, McHenry and Boone, 4,640 acres of it being selected, in different sections, in Boone. But that and all other lands so purchased long since passed into the hands of actual settlers and sturdy farmers, who, by cheerful industry and prudent economy, have made homes of which any people might be justly proud. Taylor, the agent referred to, some time after he made the entry, was going down the Mississippi river on the steamboat ''War Eagle," and when near St. Louis was drowned from the boat. It has been said he jumped into the river, but there were no reasons to justify a suspicion of suicide.


In 1835, when the first settlers came, post-offices were unknown in the bounds of what is now Boone county, and for a large district of country outside. That was long before the days of cheap postage or the prepaid system, and for many months when a settler went to Chicago, the nearest post-office, his pockets were filled with quarters to pay the postage on letters from friends and relatives in the "old homes." Ottawa was the nearest point for milling purposes until a mill was built at the Napier settlement, now Napierville. Later, a mill was built at Belvidere, stores and trading places were licensed, and gradually the hardships of pioneer life gave way before the advancement of civilization and the better things of more modern achievements. Indians had never been troublesome to the settlers, except as beggars, and soon after were all removed to new hunting grounds on the plains and prairies of the further west-to Iowa, and afterwards to Kansas, and a future opened out before this people that has grown brighter and brighter, until the brightest hopes of the hardy and sturdy pioneers of 1835 are left deeply shaded. Many of these early settlers have been gathered with their fathers on the brighter shores of the Great Beyond. A few are left awaiting the summons to join those who have gone before, but who shared with them the hardships and privations incident to pioneer life in this country of the Kish-wau-kee, erst the home of the Pottawatomie chief, Big Thunder, and his people. But all those who have gone before and all those who are waiting the summons to follow, made noble records for honesty, morality, industry, and all else that goes to make up noble lives. A record is left their descendants that will serve as a beacon light to guide them in paths of peace, pleasantness, happiness, and prosperity.


At the first term of the court, commencing on the 25th of April, 1839, that being the Thursday after the fourth Monday in that month. Judge Dan. Stone presided. Seth S. Whitman, who had been previously commissioned by Judge Stone, served as clerk, and H. C. Walker (now a merchant in Belvidere), was the Sheriff. There was but little business, and that nearly all of a civil character. The docket for that term only shows four cases of a criminal character-assault and battery cases, etc., all appeal cases from the different Justices of the Peace. Only forty-one cases had been docketed, and were disposed of in three days, the court adjourning on Saturday, the 27th of April, until the next term in course, April, 1840. "When that term came on, Sheldon L. Hall appeared as prosecutor on the part of the people, Judge Stone again presiding. Mr. Walker had resigned the office of Sheriff, and was succeeded by 13. F. Lawrence. The Sheriff of Winnebago County appeared in open court and presented Martin Thompson, who had been indicted by the Grand Jury of Winnebago County for passing counterfeit money and sent here for trial, he asked for and obtained a continuance. This case was not disposed of until April, 1841, when he was found guilty and sentenced to the Penitentiary for one year, one month of which was to be spent in solitary confinement. The charge upon which he was indicted was for passing a two-dollar counterfeit bill. He was not regarded as a bad man, and after his conviction, he was taken out to the residence and farm of Albert Stone, who was then Sheriff, where he was kept at work some two or three weeks, until Mr. Stone could get ready to take him to Alton, he was fully trusted, and allowed to go unattended all about the farm. Converging with Mr. Stone about the case, during the writing of this book, he said he had the most implicit confidence in Thompson's faith and honesty, and believes if he had told him immediately after his conviction to go where he pleased until a certain day, and then meet him at Peril, from whence in those days travel to Alton and St. Louis went by boat, his prisoner would have been there. Thompson was never manacled or handcuffed, and when he was turned over to the Warden of the prison, the Sheriff told that gentleman that the prisoner was not a bad man, that he would make no attempt to escape, and that he could be fully trusted around the open yard and gates of the prison. The Warden expressed surprise to see a convict brought to the doors of the prison unfettered by handcuffs and shackles, and remarked that it was the first instance of the kind in his experience as Warden. Thompson served out his time, and subsequently came back to the county and called to visit the Sheriff who had treated him so kindly. That was the first conviction in the Circuit Court of Boone County.

Returning to the September (1840) term of the Circuit Court, we find that the first application for citizenship was made at that term. Charles McDougal, now living in Belvidere, was the applicant. The application was placed on record, and the necessary papers ordered to be issued.

At the same term of court the first divorce case was disposed of, and the marriage relations between Rosiel Campbell and his wife, Sally J. Campbell, declared to be dissolved.

Since that time to date (September, 1877), a period of thirty-seven years, there have only been forty-nine convictions for criminal offenses, as follows:
Forgery, 1; larceny, 32; burglary, 7; rape, 2; manslaughter, 3; counterfeit ng, 2; mayhem, 1; robbery, 1. Nearly one-half of these convictions were for crimes committed in other counties and sent here on a change of venue, or for crimes committed by transient persons passing through the county. The criminal docket shows fewer cases, perhaps, than any other county in the State, or probably in any county of any of the adjoining States-a fact that speaks volumes for the intelligence, morality, virtue and honesty of the people.
At a special term of the Commissioners' Court, held on the 15th of April, 1S39, the jail built by Simon P. Doty was inspected and accepted, and the keys handed over to the Sheriff, H. C. Walker, who was directed to procure two sets of shackles for hands, and put a ring, bolt and chain for the use of said jail." The north room of Simon P. Doty's residence, which had previously been designated as a jail, was given up, and the new jail put in order for the "reception" of such as might be sentenced to incarceration within its walls. The first use made of the new jail for the purposes for which it was built seems to have been between April and June of that year, two persons having been incarcerated therein, one of them a notorious character and horse-thief, and the other on a similar charge, but a charge made without sufficient grounds on which to sustain an indictment or conviction. The facts in the case were that he had hired a horse to ride to Rockford, but went beyond and was gone longer than the time he specified, and the owner of the house, becoming uneasy, went in pursuit, he met the man coming, back, but preferred a charge of horse-stealing against him, and had him arrested and put in jail. "When his case was called for trial at Rockford, where it had been transferred, and the circumstances stated to the court, he was acquitted. The other character, giving his name as J. H. Hartwell, was taken to Freeport, and thence to Galena, for safe keeping, but, a desperado by nature and education, and used to all sorts of jails and prisons in all parts of the country, the West Indies included, if his story was to be believed, and used to breaking out of jail as often as he was put in, he did not remain long in the Galena prison, but laid a plan and carried it out by which himself and some half dozen other scapegraces got away. From that day to this, he has never been seen or heard of in this part of the country. While confined in jail here he managed to break out once, but was soon overhauled and taken back, and in a few days thereafter taken to Freeport, and thence to Galena, for "saferkeeping." How safely he was kept has been shown.


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