Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group

Clark County Illinois
Genealogy and History


Chapter 16
  Dolson Township


The History of Crawford and Clark County
W. H. Perrin, O. L. Baskin & Co., 1883

Transcribed by Kevin Ortman and Barbara Ziegenmeyer


Three quarters of a century ago this section was a wilderness undisturbed by the enterprise of the white man. Its history begins with the year 183S, when the first settlers made their appearance, and the influx of population, which commenced with the dawn of that year, ceased not until all the vacant land was taken up and improved. The inducements which invited immigration to this part of the country were all that the most exacting could demand, or that nature in her most pleasant moods could offer. Forests of the finest timber, streams of flowing water and broad stretches of fertile prairie lands, were considerations not to be overlooked by the pioneers in selecting homes for themselves and their posterity.

Dolson is situated in the northern tier of townships, and originally included within its area forty-five square miles of territory, but in the year 1859 four and a half sections were taken off the southeast corner and used in the formation of Auburn township. It is bounded on the east by the townships of Douglass and Marshall, on the south by Auburn and Martinsville, on the west by Parker and Westfield, on the north by Edgar County, and forms part of two congressional towns, the northern part being known as town 12 north, range 13 west, and the southern half as town 11 north, range 13 west. The country presents a pleasant diversity of surface and soil, with prairie and woodland in about equal proportions, the timbered districts being confined to the eastern and western parts, where the land in many places is considerably undulating and broken. The luxuriant forest growth which once covered these portions of the township has largely given way to meadow land and grain field, save where each farmer's woodland gives token of what the country was before disturbed by the innovation of the settler. The timber consists of the varieties common to this part of the State, and, at the time the first settlements were made, was entirely devoid of undergrowth, owing to the prevalence of fires, which swept over the country in the fall of every year. Dolson prairie, from which this division derived its name, occupies the central part of the township, extending from the northern to the southern boundary, and presents one of the finest agricultural regions to be found within the limits of the county. Its surface is gently undulating, and was originally covered with a dense growth of tall grass, which attested the fertile quality of the soil beneath, which was not brought into cultivation until several years had elapsed from the date of the first settlement, on account of its wet, slushy nature, and the prevalent belief that it was totally unfit for farming purposes. In time, however, this delusive belief was dispelled by the enterprising settlers who first turned over the tough sod, and who were rewarded for their labors by ample crops, produced from the rich soil, a soil, which, after more than forty years of constant tillage, still retains all of its original fertility. The soil of the woodland differs very materially from that of the prairie, being principally of a light, clayey nature, and not so well adapted for general farming. But it is fertile, nevertheless, and well calculated for wheat and the other cereals usually grown in this part of the State, and produces many fine varieties of fruit, in abundance. North Fork which affords the principal drainage of the western part of the county enters the township in section 7, flows almost due south along the western boundary and receives in its course a number of small tributaries, chief among which is Slater's Branch. The latter stream has its source near the central part of the township?, passes through parts of sections 5, 8 and 17, unites with North Fork in section 18, and affords ample drainage to that part of the country through which it flows. The principal stream of note in the eastern part of the township is Mill Creek. It crosses the northern boundary in section 21, flows through an irregular channel in a southeasterly direction and leaves the township from section 13. A tributary of North Fork in the southwestern part, known as Blue Grass Creek, completes the list of the more important water-courses of the township. Water is everywhere easily accessible. Springs abound along the streams, while in other portions of the township, no special difficulties have been experienced in securing good wells. The soil is the chief resource, and as an agricultural district, the township was first sought by the early settlers. Such a country generally attracts hardy, enterprising immigrants through certain and thrifty rewards it offers to well-directed labor. The early pioneers brought families with them and came to found homes and fortunes, and to gain both by industrious and thrifty lives; frugality and industry were the cardinal virtues of the pioneer farmers who first felled the forests and turned the prairie soil of Dolson. Years of self-denying effort made up for the price which the settlers paid for their lands where their descendants now live in comfort and plenty.

The first permanent settlement in Dolson, according to the most reliable testimony, seems to have been made in the north-eastern part near the present village of Clarksville, as early as the year 1828, by three immigrant families from Kentucky. The heads of these families were John Drake, William Rogers and William Smith, all of village erected cabins and improved small patches of ground in the same locality. Drake settled temporarily on apiece of land lying south of Clarksville a part of which he improved and on which he lived for six years, when he sold the improvements to Daniel Lycan, who entered the land. A son, John Drake, was born the year after the family moved here, which was the first birth in Dolson, two years later Mrs. Drake died. This was the first death that occurred in the township. Drake afterward purchased land and resided in the township until the time of his death in 1847.

Rogers remained where he originally settled but a short time, when he moved further south and improved a small farm in the southwest quarter of section 1, which he entered in the year 1833. He occupied this place about one year, when he sold it to Daniel Elledge and moved to Martinsville. From the latter place he went to Texas, where he died a number of years ago. William Smith settled the farm where J. G. Lycan lives, to whom he sold his improvements, in the year 1834. He was a man well calculated for a pioneer, and raised a family of stalwart sons, who partook of his adventurous nature to a great extent. Among these son was William or " Snorting Bill " as he was more familiarly known in the early history of the country and who figured prominently in the pioneer settlements of Dolson. He was an eccentric character and spent the greater part of his time with a tribe of Indians, who had a village a short distance north of the little settlement. He seems to have been a great favorite with the "redskins " and adopted their style of dress and conformed to their manners and customs of living, but for no good purpose, as he secretly despised the race and never let an opportunity of sending one to the " happy hunting grounds" go by unimproved. After several of their number had unaccountably disappeared, the Indians began to suspect foul play on the part of the whites, and made strenuous efforts to discover their secret enemy. Bill was not suspension by his savage companions. He took an active part in the search, and was instrumental in averting the indiscriminate vengeance which the Indians proposed to wreak upon the settlement. Bill's father, who had long suspected him of belief the cause of the trouble, at length charged him with it, which Bill would not deny, neither would he plead guilty. This so enraged the old gentleman that he determined to exercise his parental authority in such, a manner as to extort a confession. Accordingly he procured a ramrod which he applied so vigorously over the shoulders and back of his undutiful son that it was soon reduced to Splinters. Bill bore the cruel punishment with heroic fortitude until a second rod was obtained, when be acknowledged that the last he saw of the missing redskins, " they were lying on the ground unable to get up." He afterward became a great athlete and fighter and was never better satisfied than when engaged in tests of physical strength, or a rough and tumble knock-down. Becoming dissatisfied with the tame life in this part of the country, he went further west, and finally made his way to Texas at about the time of its struggle for independence. He joined the patriot army, participated in many of the hotly contested engagements of that war, and fell with the noted David Crockett at the taking of the Alamo.

The next in the catalog of early settlers were Isaac and David Murray, two brothers, who came to the county in the spring of 1830. They selected sites for their homes in the northern part of the township, where the first named entered two hundred and fifty acres of government land, a portion of which he sold to his brother a short time afterward. Isaac was a bachelor, and a man of fine business talents and considerable wealth. He expended his means in improving his land, and soon had a fine farm under successful cultivation. A few years later he erected a carding machine on his place, which he operated very successfully for a number of years. This mill was a very primitive affair, operated by horsepower, and, during the time it was run, did a flourishing business, having been extensively patronized by the early settlers of Dolson and surrounding townships. David Murray, like his brother, was a man of considerable enterprise, and was highly respected in the township which he was instrumental in settling. His death occurred in the year 1880.

From 1830 until 1834 no other settlements were made within the present limits of Dolson. During the latter year the following persons made entries in the township: Henry Doughty, in section 35; Henry Harrison, section 34; and Ralph Haskitt, in section 26; all of whom were non-residents. Daniel Elledge, to whom reference has already been made, was probably the next settler; he immigrated to this State from Kentucky in the year 1833, and purchased land of William Rogers, one year later. He afterward entered fort)' acres of land adjoining his farm, and in time became the possessor of considerable re;d estate. He was a preacher of the Christian church, and conducted the first religious exercises ever held in the township at his own residence. He resided in Dolson until the year 1847, at which time he sold his property to a man by the name of Sudors, and moved with his family to Iowa. DeLiney Kidwell located in the township about the same time as the foregoing, but made no entry of land until the year 1835. He improved a farm in sections 5 and 6, which he sold to a man by the name of Blackburn, in the year 1845. Among the settlers who came in prior to 1835, were William Spencer and Hiram Taylor. Spencer settled east of Dolson Prairie, in section 23, but made no permanent improvement. Taylor improved forty acres of land lying in sections 21 and 22. He was a man of intelligence, and was the first justice of the peace elected in the township after its organization. J. G. Lucan and Reason Wilson both settled in the township about the year 1831, the former in the northeastern part, on section 1, where he still lives, and the latter on section 21, where he entered an extensive tract of land, on which he resided for about thirty years, when he sold to Isaac Claypool and emigrated to Missouri. During the year 1830 the following persons selected lands in different places throughout the township: Alfred McCracken, Peter Bartmess, James B. Downs, Edwin Brown, William Brown, Allen Stewart, John I.earns, Peter Barrick and Reason Richardson. James Ennis arrived in the township in the spring of 1830, and located near the central part on section 4. He was a native of Kentucky, a man of sterling integrity, and gave character to the community in which he lived. The farm on which he originally settled is at present owned and occupied by Elisha Heath. Jacob and Benjamin Bartmess came about the same time, and soon after were joined by George Bartmess. The first named settled east of the prairie, and proved a valuable accession to the little settlement, owing to his skill as a mechanic. He operated the first blacksmith shop in the township, repaired wagons, worked at the carpenter's trade, built chimneys for the settlers, and was equally proficient in a number of other trades. In later years he added the medical profession to his many other accomplishments, and was widely known throughout the county as a "steam doctor." Benjamin located alarm in section 27, while George settled west of the prairie, where he lived until the year 1857. In this year came George Lee, who settled near the northeast corner of the township, in section 30, where he afterward laid out the village of Clarksville; he sold the land in 1867 and emigrated to a distant State. Others came from time to time, to gladden the hearts and share the burdens of the little frontier community.

It is not possible, at this time, to learn all the particulars of their coming, or even their names. Among- those who came prior to 1840, were Harrison Husted, Amos Daniel, George Phelps, Norton Lawrence, John H. Bean, Elzy Neal, Alexander Williams, Elias Halliard, Ira Harding, Wesley Low, Alfred McClure, John McClure, Moses Stark, William Fitzgerald, Eli Covington, Enoch Redman, J. G. Zimmerman, James Schreech, William Comstock, Levi Comstock, William Morris, George Metcalf, James Cunningham, Perry Metcalf, George Coons, Eliphaz Gray, James B. Downs, Philip Boyer, John Covinging [sic], Stanford Nay, John Farrell, Samuel Keys, John Matthews, William Murray, Nahum Sargent, James Lowry, Charles Welch, Perry Welch. Ryan E. Welch, Sperry Claypool, Robert Welch, and many others whose names were not ascertained J. It may be said that the greater number of these settlers were from the States of Ohio and Kentucky. Several came from the older settled portions of the country, and a number undoubtedly came in who afterward became dissatisfied with the country, and removed further west, or went back East. By 1840 the township was quite well settled up and improvements were pushed rapidly forward, and industries Kogan to rise as the demand for various articles nearer home was created. As early as 1S38, a small horse mill was erected in the northern part of the township, but by whom, was not learned. It was a very rude affair, but did a good business for a mill of its capacity, and was in operation about six years.

Christian Clapp built a water mill on Mill Creek about the year 1840, which proved a very successful enterprise. It was extensively patronized, and, during the first two years after its erection, was kept running almost constantly, in order to supply the great demand for flour and meal. An addition was afterward built to it, and machinery for manufacturing linseed oil attached. The last venture, however, did not prove very remunerative to the proprietor, and the enterprise was soon abandoned. The mill was kept running for about twelve years.

The first roads through Dolson were mere trails made by the Indians, and afterward traveled by' the settlers until they became recognized as highways. Several of these crooked roadways were in later years regularly established, and are still traveled. The first road legally laid out was the Auburn and Westfield road which crosses the southern part of the township in a northwesterly direction. It was established in the year 1835, and is still one of the leading highways of the western part of the county. The Robinson or Grandview road was surveyed about the same time. It passes through the central part of the township from north to south, and intersects the Westfield road in the western part of section 21.

Among the early highways is Charleston road leading from Darwin to Springfield.

It traverses the northern part of the township in a northwesterly direction, and was laid out and established by' William B. Archer in the year 1840. Like the other divisions of the county Dolson is well-supplied with good roads which intersect each other at various points throughout the township.

The little hamlet of Clarksville which hardly deserves the dignity of a village, is situated in the eastern part of the township and dates its history from the year 1851. It was a cherished thought of George Lee, to be the founder of a town, coupled with the desire of a speculation, which he thought could be realized out of the venture. The out growth of these desires was the village, which was surveyed and platted by James Lawrence, county surveyor, in January of the year referred to. The town is situated on the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section 36, and commands a very beautiful location. Its close proximity to the city of Marshall, and absence of facilities, prevented business men from locating in the village, and consequently its growth has been very slow. The first house was a dwelling erected by John Myers, who ran a shoe shop in the village for a number of years. Reason Beadle erected a store building shortly after the town was laid out, which he stocked with a general assortment of merchandise. He did a good business lor five years, when he sold to a man by name of Kline who in turn disposed of the store to Mr. Stevenson, the present proprietor, after having run it a short time.

In the meantime a small grocery store or "gin mill," rather, was started by Joseph Cartwright who erected a small building for the purpose. He continued his business against a popular pressure for five or six years, when he closed out his stock and sought other enjoyment. In the year 1878 a drug store was started in the village, by Ryley Wealan, and is still in operation. Two stores, one wagon-shop, one harness-shop and a shoe shop comprise the present business status of the town. About twenty families compose its population.

Schools are the offspring of civilization. They are unknown among barbarous people, and are found numerous and perfect in the degree of their removal from the savage state. Among the pioneers of Dolson were a number of men who took a lively interest in educational matters and schools were established in an early day.

Opinion is somewhat divided as to when the first school was taught and where the first house was built. It is known that Reuben Warner taught a term as early as the year 1839, in a little log house which stood in the western part of the township in section 8. The building was about sixteen feet square, and like all the early school-houses of pioneer times was furnished with rough puncheon benches, a wide board desk for writing purposes., and the inevitable wide-modified fireplace in one end of the room. The structure was erected by the neighbors who turned out en masse for the purpose, and there were probably not five dollars in money expended on the building. Among the families who sent to this school were the Kidwells, Coons, Ennises and Welches. The building was in use for school purposes about ten years when it was torn down and replaced by a more comfortable and convenient structure. The second school-house in the township stood about a half mile north of the one mentioned which it resembled in both its construction and furniture. Another early school building stood in the southwestern part of the township, and was constructed alter the usual pioneer model. As the years went by, these rude log buildings disappeared, and in their stead neat frame houses wore erected. There are at the present time eight good school-houses in the township, in which schools are taught from six to eight months of each year.

In the year 1882, there was paid for teachers' salaries in this township the sum of $1,903.26.

The early religious history of Dolson is involved in some obscurity, and it can not be determined with exactness who preached the first sermon in the township. Pioneer missionaries of the Methodist church held services at the residence of George Goons at a very early-day. A flourishing society was afterward organized, which is still in existence and known as the Dolson Methodist Episcopal Church. They have a good building a short distance southwest of Clarksville.

The United Brethren held services at different places in the township in an early day, but dill not organize any society. Among their preachers were John an 1 Ephraim Shuey and a man by the name of Briley. The Baptists have a large congregation near Clarksville and sustain a good church. They have a good frame building and report their society in a flourishing condition.


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