Asahel Preston

Contributed by Alice Horner

Early Recollections Of Asahel Preston


Note: These Early Recollections were notes for a speech given by Asahel Preston, probably to an Illinois audience, and maybe to the Carroll County Old Settlers Association. Asahel Preston was the youngest brother of Samuel Preston (the one born in 1818 who lived in the Old Grout House on Preston Prairie, Carroll County, Illinois). The notes were given to Florence L. Downing Horner by Grace Preston of Mapleton, Minnesota, who was born September 14, 1897 and died January 20, 1998. She was a daughter of George Bliss Preston and Caroline Kate Stroebel Preston of Blue Earth County, Minnesota. George Bliss Preston was a son of Asahel Preston and Hannah B. Jarman Preston. Florence L Downing Horner and Grace Preston corresponded during the 1980s and possibly afterwards. All notes in the text were written by Alice Horner.

My parents, Samuel and Elizabeth Preston, were born and resided in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Reading and hearing of the vast fertile prairies of Illinois, in the spring of 1835 came West by the lakes, landing at Chicago, which was but a small beach. (Note: This word is hard to read and might not be beach.) Then they settled at Princeton where the subject of this reminiscence was born August 25, 1835. I was a very puny, delicate child, Mother having the fever and ague to that degree she could not nurse her offspring. Some remarked that I could never be raised.

Father, hearing of Government land and better opportunities farther north in Carroll County (then Jo Daviess), the following year in June went and took a claim which was half way between Savanna and Cherry Grove, a distance of 16 miles without a house. Father, Bro. Samuel, Uncle Dolphus (Mother’s brother) built the body of a log house 24 x 28 feet, with fire place made of large flat stones. The chimney was made of split sticks filled with clay mortar, with chopped hay to make it stick. The hearth was laid with flat stones that reached well out into the room.

(Note: “Uncle Dolphus is Gustavas Adolphus Gunn, born about 1790 in South Hadley Massachusetts and died about 1871 in Bureau County, Illinois. His sister was Elizabeth Ingram Gunn, Asahel Preston's mother. The log house described was Samuel Preston’s original log cabin.)

As my brother, Samuel, wrote a Pioneer history of Carroll County, will copy his account of the move from Princeton to our new home. As our home was a half-way place, Father kept hotel for a number of years. Some nights the house would be full to running over with guests. As this was soon after the Black Hawk Indian War, many a lone Indian has slept on the hearth rolled up in his blanket. In the fall and winter of a night we could hear the howl of the prairie wolf. In the spring of the year, we could hear the prairie hen say Bang Dee.

In the pioneer days if one thing above another was looked forward to with interest by the young, it was the molasses pull. The next was the district Spelling School. In my boyhood days I was very sickly and had a run of fever almost every year. And the ear aches and gatherings I had in my head was almost unbearable. It is no wonder that I am not hear at the present time. (Note: This may be a little joke.)

My father died when I was fifteen years old, in August. He had been in the woods and ate of mandrakes or May apples, which set him into a cholera murbus which took him off in a few days. Howard Few Smith, having married my sister, Ellen, and living at Como 30 miles away, was running his father’s large grist mill. (Note: Como is in Hopkins Township, Whiteside County, Illinois.) At 18 years of age I entered the mill to learn the miller’s trade. Was to work three years at $50 a year the first two years, then $100 the third year; my brother-in-law was to board me. What do the boys of today think of that?

Then was when I first learned to chew the filthy weed. In those days farmers raised a soft and hard wheat. In order to set the mill stone, we had to know what kind of wheat we were grinding. So when I went by the hopper, would take a chew of wheat. One of the millers told me if I did not stop, that would kill me. So I took up the habit of holding tobacco in my mouth. Must tell you one incident that happened when there. After being in the mill, I would run the mill to 120, then shut down and call the head miller as I went home. The mill being run by lever over shaft water wheel. I tried to shut the gate but could not, so made up my mind that something had got under the gate. I took a little open lamp and went through the basement, where there was cog wheels, belts, pulleys, etc. In getting out the obstruction, some water spattered on the light. It almost went out, just a small speck left, the situation dawned upon me in an instant. If the light had gone out I no doubt would not have been here at the present time. As I had the fever and ague the first year, I thought best to quit.

The next summer worked for Bro. Samuel on the farm in Carroll County for $12 per month. In April 1855, before I was 20 years old, I left home with a family for Chatfield, Minn. When at Dubuque, Iowa took passage on the steamboat “War Eagle” for Winona. On this boat is where I first met the late George McKee. He was attractive on account of his jovial disposition. Landing at Winona in the evening, stayed until morning. Then with others started afoot for Chatfield via St. Charles, 40 miles. At Chatfield then found friend from Carroll County. Boarded at log hotel for $4.00 per week. I and another young man built a kiln and tried to burn lime. After about a week of burning night and day, the stone proved not to be lime stone. Our labor and wood gone and nothing to show but a board bill. Then we went back into this hill with another kiln of good blue lime stone and did fairly well.

Must tell you when the first lime kiln, went to the Ral River to get water and found a good silver watch, found the owner, he gave me $5.00. After the foregoing, worked at odd jobs such as tending mason hauling slabs and building slab houses. etc. After July 4, hired out to a man and hauled freight from Winona to Chatfield. Prior to this was stricken very sad by hearing of the death of my brother, Levi, at West Union, Iowa with the Asiatic cholera. He had left Carroll a short time before I did. (Note: I found a note Florence L. Downing Horner made referring to the same Levi Preston. She indicates Levi Preston hadn’t actually settled in West Union, Iowa; he’d gotten that far walking West from Carroll County, Illinois and got sick with cholera there and died there. He is buried at the Edgewood Cemetery, Edgewood, Delaware County, Iowa.)

In the fall Rezin Everts came to Chatfield seeking a new home. (Rezin Everts was an early settler in Carroll County who married to Sophronia Preston, Asahel Preston’s oldest sister.) As I had been east 15 miles into Winona County with the man I was teaming for to get pine timber for to make shingles of, we went there and made claims. Then I returned to Illinois with him. I, having a piece of timber land as my portion of Father’s real estate, which was sold for $500.00, I bought a yoke of oxen and doubling teams with Mr. Everts, his oldest son (Edd) 5 years younger than I, with a load of household goods, started for Minn. We were on the road a little over 2 weeks. The Everts family came by boat.

The winter following was a very cold, severe one. Two to 3 feet of snow, 40 degrees below zero most of the time. For 64 days never thawed the frost off of the windows. I shot 5 deer this winter. Pheasants were in the woods and grouse (a species of prairie hen) were plenty. Mr. Everts and self made and hauled rails. In the fall of ‘56 returned to Illinois to be gone a short time; was taken sick and stayed until spring. During the holidays visited relatives at Princeton. Saw the house where I was born. This was the winter of the big crust. The deer were about all killed off. It was said the Norwegians on their skis killed them with clubs. (Note: This reference is apparently to Minnesota.)