History of Coles County, Illinois

By Charles Edward Wilson

© 1905
Transcribed by Kim Torp and Judy Anderson

Chapter 2


When Columbus discovered land upon his first voyage in 1492, he thought he had reached the Indies. Hence he called the inhabitants Indians. Later, when the truth was learned about those islands, they were called the West Indies to distinguish them from the older known Indies. But the name "Indian" clung to all native people of this continent, whether upon islands or the main land. And so it came that all those numerous copper-colored savage tribes, found west of the Atlantic Coast, were denominated "Red Indians."

It is related that, when Marquette first saw Illinois Indians, which is supposed to have been somewhere near the mouth of the Des Moines river, he made the inquiry, "Who are you?" They replied, "We are Illini." The term "Illini" has been translated as meaning "men," or "perfect men" - a name which they took to distinguish themselves from the Iroquois nation, whom they designated as "Beasts," on account of their many cruel invasions of the western tribes. Under this general term were grouped various subdivisions or tribes of Indians, either living on what later came to be recognized as Illinois soil or federated with them.

INDIAN TREATIES-- On August 13, 1803, General William Henry Harrison concluded a treaty at Vincennes with the Kaskaskias, who represented the Kaskaskias, Cahokias, Michigamis and Tamaroas of the Ancient confederacy of the Illini. By this treaty these tribes gave up all their claims to nearly nine million acres of land in the southern portion of what is now Illinois. Subsequent treaties were made in 1803 with the Shawnees and Piankashaws; in 1804 with the Piankashaws and Sacs and Foxes; in 1809 with the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies, and in 1818 with the Peorias, Illinois and Kickapoos.

EASTERN ILLINOIS TRIBES -- Most, if not all, of these tribes had, at various times in the years gone before (owing to the varying fortunes of war among themselves), roamed over and laid claim to the lands of which what is now Coles County was a part. By these various treaties all Indian claims to lands in the greater portion of Illinois were extinguished. Few Indians were here when the first settlers came, and they did not tarry long thereafter. Scattering bands came and went until after the Black Hawk War. A large band came and camped awhile on the Kickapoo Creek just after the Black Hawk War ended, then vanished. For what purpose they came is not known. It may have been to gather up relics which had been previously "cached" by them in the vicinity; or from a sentimental standpoint--for the Indians were possessed of such sentiment in spite of their savagery--it may be conjectured that they came to take a last look at the home of their childhood, or, perhaps, to make a farewell visit to the graves of some distinguished chiefs, or venerated ancestors. The Kickapoo Indians were placed upon a reservation in Kansas after the close of the Black Hawk War.

The Indians found here were all friendly. The worst they did to the white settlers in this region was occasionally to steal and take away a horse. Evidences of the years of their occupation of this land were plainly visible on the Kickapoo and Indiana Creeks, and in Morgan Township. They were mostly of the Kickapoo tribe, as the first explorers found numerous villages of that tribe about the Dead Man's Grove, and on the Kickapoo and Indian Creeks. The Winnebagoes and Pottawatomies were, however, also represented in this section at an earlier date.

There undoubtedly were one or more "brushes" in this county with the Indians between 1815 and 1820, by the government surveyors and their attendants, and also by some of the "Illinois Rangers," from Fort La Motte, on the Wabash River. The writer was shown, when a boy, places in large trees from which bullets had been cut, along the hillside about three-fourths of a mile west of the old Blakeman's Mill, where he was told by old settlers that a battle had been fought between the Indians and "Rangers."

FIRST SETTLERS--Coles County, in its beginning, might almost have been called a colony of Kentucky, so many of those first comers being from that State, and most of those who came from Indiana and from Crawford and Edgar Counties were originally from Kentucky. Tennessee was second with a large number of representatives. Their means of transportation hither were necessarily primitive and rude. Oxen were their main stay, and many put their household goods in a wagon with the women and children, while the men and boys plodded along on foot behind the "slow but sure" ox-team.

Some had horses to pull their wagons and some came to the county on horseback, with their goods upon pack horses, and, perhaps after all, they traveled easiest, as there were, so to speak, no good roads-- only tracks or "traces" over the prairies and through the forests. Most of those who came early were not burdened with much goods. Some of them led along a family cow; some drove a few sheep to start their flocks for wool, as the family must be clothed. The spinning wheel and the hank-reel were a necessity, and if possible, they were brought although nearly every man was a mechanic and could turn out such necessities when required. The necessary cooking utensils and the ax, and frow and the auger, made up the bulk of the baggage. On arrival the first duty was to provide shelter--in other words, to establish a home.

Man has three relations in his intercouse with his fellows: First, his family and home life; second, his civil relations as a citizen; third, his religious affiliations and the various forms of purely social intercourse. Let us look briefly at the Coles County pioneer from these standpoints.

PIONEER HOMES--The home was set up in, or upon, the border of timber and near water, because wood and water were daily necessities and because those first homes were "timber" homes. The "raising" of the log cabin may be described as follows:

Trees were selected as straight as could be found, of suitable size and tapering as little as possible, so that the diameter of each end of the log would be nearly the same.

These were cut down, the limbs removed and then measured with the ax-handle; every ax-handle had a two-foot measure on it, and cut the proper length to make the house of the size wanted (which was usually from 16 to 20 feet square), and then they were hauled to the spot selected and unloaded upon four sides of the location, in sufficient number to make each of the four walls. The end of the logs were notched with the ax, so that the logs would lie closely together when placed in position, and these notches in each log fitting over the log below tied the building, so that it stood strong and firm. The logs were pushed up on poles, or skids, by main strength. When the cabin reached the required height, the four last (or top) logs were often made two or three feet longer than the rest, thus forming a projection. Then the logs were each made shorter at two ends of the building thus carrying up the gables. Upon the top of the gables was placed the "ridge pole." The roof was made of clapboards which had been rived or split out of straight-grained logs, of suitable length with a frow. The clapboards were usually three or four feet long, of such width as the size of the log would make, and would average one-half to three-fourths of an inch thick. They were laid in courses upon small logs or poles, that reached from gable to gable, and were then weighted with other poles to hold them firmly in place. The cracks between the logs were "chinked" with small sticks, and then thoroughly plastered with wet clay, which became dry and hard, thus keeping out the wind.

The chimney was built on the outside of the house, the logs being cut to form the generous fireplace. At the bottom flat pieces of timber were used, and above the fireplace it was built of split lath, the whole thoroughly and generously coated with wet clay to prevent the house catching fire. Stones were used for the hearth and the backs and jambs of the fireplace, if they could be had, and if not, then sod thoroughly covered with clay.

An opening was cut in the logs for the door of the proper size, the upper and lower logs being cut only half through. Jambs were next pinned to the ends of the logs, to hold them in place, and also to form a frame for the door. The door was made of split boards, rived out of suitable straight grained "board trees," in the same manner as clapboards were made.

The boards were fastened with wooden pins to cross pieces, and the whole hung on wooden hinges. A wooden latch was put on the inside of the door, and this was lifted (so as to unfasten the door) from the outside by a string or leather thong, which passed through a hole made above the latch. The door was "locked" by simply pulling in the string. From this device came that poetical form of giving welcome to friends by saying, "You will find my latchstring out". A window was made for this primitive abode by cutting through one log and opening two or three feet long, leaving it open in the summer, and covering it with white cloth or greased paper in the winter. Charles Morton is said to have brought into the county the first glass windows. The floor was made of puncheons laid on small poles. Sometimes the earth alone was considered sufficient for a floor. It became hard and smooth by use, and made, when fully protected from water, a comfortable floor, which rats could not undermine.

I have alluded to the instrument called the "frow" used for splitting out clapboards, puncheons, etc., and as this is an implement the present generation never sees, it is proper to describe it: It consisted of a long, rather heavy blade--perhaps eighteen or twenty inches long and three or four inches wide--provided with an "eye" for the handle at one end, set so that the handle formed a right-angle with the blade. This handle was held in one hand and the blade set upon the end of the timber to be split, in the proper position to make a board of such thickness as desired, and the back of the blade was struck with a wooden mallet and driven into the log like a wedge; then, if necessary, the hammering was continued upon the end of the blade that projected beyond the timber until the board was split off.

I have also used the expression "board trees." That was what the pioneers called the trees that were straight-grained, so as to be split easily. They knew when they felled a tree whether it was straight-grained or otherwise, and if it was a walnut or white-oak tree and the grain was straight, it was kept to make clapboards, puncheons, door-jambs, split "lath," etc.

If the weather was warm the settlers generally camped out until the house was ready. If they arrived late in the fall they often shared a cabin with some previous settler, or planned some such make-shift as did pioneer William Ewing, who came in 1829. He asked permission of James Ashmore, who had settled previously on Section 33 in the Town of LaFayette, to use his pole sheep pen. This pen he cleaned up and occupied with his family until his own house could be raised. It was not a thoroughly comfortable winter home, but it had a roof, and when the cracks were stopped up, it kept out the rain and snow, and that was enough for the time being.

When the house was built it had to be furnished with a bed and a table and some chairs. The bed was made by setting up one post at a proper distance from a corner of the room, and by fastening a pole or split piece of timber to the post and to a log of the wall at the proper height, form a rail for the side of the bed; then, in the same manner attaching the end rail. Upon these supports were placed split boards and on them was laid a straw or prairie grass "tick." If the householder had a feather-bed, it was place upon the straw tick. If the feather-bed was not at hand the straw bed sufficed, and upon it was spread the bed covers of coarse, home-woven woolen or linsey-wollsey blankets.

A dining table was made in some such simple manner as, by crossing two sticks or small poles and fastening them together with wooden pins for one end of the table, and similarly providing for the other end, place upon them smooth-split clapboards. Stools were made for seats, with three and sometimes four legs. This was the most primitive manner of supplying furniture. Many of the settlers, however, were able to make chairs of small poles and white oak strips or hickory bark bottoms, which had backs to them and were quite comfortable. Carpets were a later luxury, and were woven of rags cut out by the women from worn-out clothing or scraps of goods of any kind.

Dishes were either pewter or such common ware as was to be had in the stores that had been started in the older settlements. Some few, however, had brought along some of the finest porcelain or "china" ware that could be obtained in the larger towns back in Kentucky or Tennessee, and these were cherished with sacred care, and only brought out for use when some distinguished company was to be entertained.

Piggins were used to bring the water from the stream or spring, for drinking purposes, and the long-handled gourd was kept conveniently near from which to drink the refreshing draught. When the well was dug and the sweep, with it's "old oaken bucket," put in operation, the gourd was always hung near by, that the thirsty might drink and be satisfied.

The good woman of the home, whose work was never done, prepared the meals at the open fireplace, cooking her "corn pone" in an iron "oven," which was simply a deep skillet, having long legs and a cover made with turned up edges. Hot coals were raked out upon the hearth, the oven set upon them to heat; the corn meal was mixed to the proper consistency with water or milk and seasoned with lard, molded with the hands and dropped into the oven. The cover was put on and live coals placed upon it, the turned up edges preventing the coals from rolling off. If the oven had been broken on the rough journey from the old home, the johnny cake was made in the same manner of the same materials, and cooked upon a "Journey board," set up in front of the open fire at such an angle as to catch the radiation of heat to the best advantage. Sometimes in their season pumpkins were stewed and mixed into the corn dough, and the palates of the pioneer family were tickled with delicious pumpkin bread. Then, at "hog killing time," when the sharp air of approaching winter made the appetite keen, the cracklings left after rendering out the lard were judiciously jumbled into the corn pone mixture, and the sturdy youngsters of the household reveled in and fattened upon "crackling bread."

Wheat bread and biscuit were baked in the same manner, but wheat flour was a luxury that was not readily to be had by the earliest settlers. A tin "reflector" was a later invention to take the place of the board for baking johnny cake and biscuit, and when, in about 1838 to 1840 Charles H. Nabb brought into old Richmond a "step stove," all the women for miles around came to view the new-fangled contrivance for use in cooking. The step stove was the first form of stove made. It had the front part above the firebox lower than the back part which was above the oven, and so received its name from its shape.

"Hog killing time" each fall or winter was a period of activity for all the men, women and children in a neighborhood. Neighbors helped each other in the killing and cleaning, and then the family kept up the work for days afterwards, rendering the lard, making sausage, salting and pickling and smoking the meat. A smoke house in those days was a necessity to every family.

Then the soap-making days added variety to the good housewife's life at least once a year. Every family had an "ash hopper," as well as an "ash house" for storing the ashes to be used in supplying the hopper. Upon this water was poured daily and, after filtering through the ashes, came out good, strong lye. When enough lye had been saved up, it was poured upon the pieces of fat meats, bones, etc., that had been saved, and the mixture boiled for hours in large kettles, until a year's supply of good soft-soap was made. This was the cleansing material for bath, laundry and toilet use, and its natural odor was never spoiled by the addition of violet or lavender or such artificial perfumes.

Work was the constant order of the day for old and young. There was always something to do, and recreation was mainly on a change of labor.

DOMESTIC LIFE AND INDUSTRIES--Old Mrs. Monson, of Lerna, formerly a Mrs. Chowning, a daughter of John Gordon, who was an early "Goose Nest" settler, told the writer that she could not remember when she began to do housework; and she said that her experience was no exception to the rule among the children in the settlement. Flax was raised by the early settlers to make their sewing thread, their shoe-thread, and from which to weave their towels, tablecloths and material for clothing. I cannot take the space to explain what a long, laborious task it was then to prepare flax for spinning. Then the spinning! Mrs. Monson says she "held the distaff" when the merest child, and to spin the fine thread for use in sewing, she had to constantly wet her fingers upon her lips in order to hold firmly the thread. She had often continued at that task, she said, until her mouth would become raw and sore from the constant friction upon her lips of her labor-roughened fingers.

Clothing was mostly home-made in every process, from the sheep's back or the flax in the field to the finished garment. The men wore woolen shirts and jeans for outer garments in winter, and either the same but less in quantity, or "tow linen" in summer. Soft wool hats were the rule (and they lasted long) or caps made of the skins of coons, foxes or wolves, for winter wear. It was not uncommon to see a man dressed entirely in deer skins. And, for trousers, the skin of the deer was almost a necessity to the active man. The thickets briers and undergrowth in the timber soon tore to pieces such garments as were made of woven materials. Buckskin was a constant necessity about the settler's home for a variety of uses.

The women had woolen or linsey and cotton-goods home-dyed, usually in different solid colors, for dresses. Socks and stockings were knit by hand, and shoes and boots for both sexes were home-made, and made for strength and not beauty.

Almost every man had a kit of shoemaker's tools, and every settlement had its tanner of hides, who tanned for his neighbors on shares, or took his pay in return labor of some kind or in produce.

When the family was thus housed, the head of it, with the boys of all ages, began the improvement of the land upon which he had made his claim. If timber land was to be plowed, it must first be cleared. If (as was very often the case) some prairie land was included in the claim, then the prairie must be broken. Ox-teams were usually used for that purpose, hitched to what was called a "barshare" plow, having a wooden moldboard, though an improved plow called the "Cary" soon came into use. One man had to hold the plow handles, while another managed the team. The sod was tough and four (sometimes five) yokes of oxen were required to pull the plow.

Then seed time and harvest time began in Coles County.

In winter all men and the larger boys chopped wood for fuel and made fence posts and rails--not many posts but very many rails, for the "old worm fence" made of rails was the standard fence--and a man was not considered a thoroughly skilled workman in that line, unless he had from one hundred and fifty to two hundred rails "between his shoulders" for every day's labor.

I have barely touched upon the principal features and occupations of the pioneer's home life. Newspapers were seldom seen and libraries were not varied. A few school-books for the children, the old family Bible, and possibly a few of the old classics, or other literary works, were brought along by those families which had previously possessed them in their Eastern or Southern homes.

In his relations to the world and the little community as a citizen, the pioneer was almost invariably hospitable, and had his "latch-string out," at all times, to his neighbor and to the stranger who passed that way. Furthermore, he was possessed of the rugged principles of honor, and the taking of another's property by stealth or otherwise was almost unknown among the early settlers. When such a thing did occur and the thief was found with the goods, these sturdy pioneers made the country too uncomfortable a place for him to remain, and he soon left for parts unknown. It was the unwritten, but almost universal, rule to respect and protect each other's rights in every particular.

COLES COUNTY LANDS--In the western part of Coles County some of the land was "Congress land" when the first settlers came, and was not yet subject to entry. The surveyors' field notes had been lost or destroyed, and it was about 1831 before these lands could be entered. F.A. Allison says he heard the older men say that the surveyors got on a drunk up near the Okaw, and accidentally burned their field notes so that they had to resurvey some of the land. Settlers, therefore, made claims to certain tracts for the purpose of entering them under the public land act, as soon as they were placed upon the market. For another to get in ahead of such a squatter and "enter him out," was an offence to those principles of fairness and right which govern the people, and which could not be allowed to pass unnoticed and unpunished. The man who thus entered another out was ostracised. He could get no help from neighbors in time of need. They ceased to visit his family. The "passed by on the other side," if they met him upon the road.

They turned their backs upon him if they saw him at the blacksmith shop or the tanner's, and the blacksmith and tanner were too busy to do his work. Some of the younger pioneer bloods even went farther and tore down the offender's fences, dropped dead dogs in his well and, in other ways, made his life uncomfortable. The result was the same as with the common thief. He soon pulled up stakes and left for regions where his record was not known.

Dealings with each other were mostly in barter. While many of those settlers brought some money with them--some a few hundred and the most opulent of them perhaps one or two thousand dollars--yet, speaking generally, money was a scarce article. The kinds of money were mostly silver pieces, of Mexican smaller coins and the Spanish "milled" dollars. A little paper money (United States bank notes) circulated, and what gold there was consisted almost entirely of English sovereigns.

There was not much in the way of public business to engage the attention of the pioneers. Candidates for office were not "button-holing" them at every turn of the road and invading their homes to solicit votes. There were no offices, and the leader, gifted by natural ability and education, came to the front--not the professional, self-seeking politician, as now.

Any matters of public or neighborhood interest were settled in the "town meeting" way, by a gathering of the settlers at the house of some one most conveniently located, and who usually was a man of influence among them. The fundamental republican principle that the majority should rule was fully respected.

EARLY RELIGIOUS MEETINGS--Those who came here to make their homes were not adventurers and soldiers of fortune, but most of them had strong religious convictions and beliefs. Some had been under the influence of one creed, and others held to the teaching of another set of doctrines, but at first they made common cause in their church affairs. In warm weather they held meetings in the shady woods by some pleasant stream. In winter, services were held at the home of first one and then another. These services were held as often upon Sunday as a preacher could be had; or, in the absence of a preacher, they were conducted by some settler who could lead.

There were many among them who, if they could not take a text and preach a logical sermon, could "exhort," or "give an experience," or lead in prayer, or "line a hymn" and lead the singing. There were not song-books to hand around to the congregation, but the leader would arise with his old "Missouri Harmony," containing the music written in "buckwheat" notes, and announce some familiar hymn. He would then read in solemn, monotonous tones the first two lines and lead the congregation in singing them. Then the next two lines would be read followed by singing, and so on until the hymn was finished. And the leader did not announce, as ministers so often do now, that the "first, second and last stanzas" would be sung. But they sung it all, no matter how many stanzas there were.

Services did not close in half an hour, in order that some influential parishioners should not miss their dinners, but lasted anywhere from two to three hours, owing to the zeal of the preacher in charge of the meeting. The congregation stayed through the services. None of them would show such disrespect to the preacher and the cause as to leave, except temporarily, in the midst of a sermon. The babies were not left at home with a nurse or servant. The mother was the nurse, the chambermaid and the cook. When they went to church they closed the cabin door and all of the family, from the least to the greatest, usually went along. The youngsters may occasionally have required a little fresh air and exercise, and the babies needed taking out for a few minutes; but if this going out and coming in disturbed the preacher or the worshipers, they didn't dare to say so.

As the number of settlers increased, they began in the early 'thirties to have camp-meetings in the summer or early fall. To these camp-meetings came people from many miles around, bringing their whole families and camping out for weeks, or as long as the meeting lasted. At first these meetings were usually cold and the proceedings rather quiet, but as the meeting continued and the preachers' vigorous words and pleadings began to take hold of the unregenerated, there would be shouting and other manifestations of emotion by both sexes, although the women were most affected. Often many would be crying aloud for mercy and for pardon from their sins, while at the same time others would be shouting praises and hallelujahs, because they had found peace to their souls. Women would become hysterical. They would scream at the top of their voices, and in the enthusiasm of overflowing emotion, embrace all who came near them, men and women alike, sinking down at last from sheer exhaustion; and, when that occurred, the preacher would request some of the good brethren to carry them to their tents that they might recuperate. As such times the meetings were continuous from early morn until late at night, preachers, exhorters and other leaders relieving one another by taking turns in the conduct of the services.

The young people were not always as deeply affected as appeared to their elders. These gatherings were oases in a desert of monotony and drudgery to them. The boys and girls could mingle freely, go together to the spring or creek for water, wander back and forth about the camp on meaningless errands when the shadows of evening came on, and say to each other those meaningless things which meant so much. In other words, it was one of the few opportunities afforded the young men and maidens to do as they have done since the world began, and will continue to do until time shall be no more.

The old "Sawyer Camp Ground," as it was called, started in the early 'thirties in Wabash Point, had a pulpit made by Uncle Hiram Tremble, a pioneer Methodist preacher. It was made as the houses were built, without nails. Pulpits, even in churches, were made high above the congregation in those days. This was an elevated platform, constructed of six or eight inch trees for posts, mortised to the end and side-pieces which supported the floor of the pulpit. The floor was of puncheons, and it had "walls" about four feet high, of the same material all around, so as to make an inclosure, with a door at one side for the preachers to enter. There was room in it to seat eight people. After this camp-meeting was abandoned, Mr. Frank A. Allison said that his father got the pulpit, and, with several yokes of oxen dragged it to his home, where it served for many years as an oat bin.

As heretofore stated, most recreation for those people was simply a change of labor or a coming together to labor in a social way.

House raisings were frequent, for as each newcomer came, he must have help to raise his cabin. Everybody came to assist in putting the logs in place, and there were opportunities for tests of strength in handling a log. These pioneers loved all feats of strength or agility, and the best lifter, or foot-racer, or wrestler, or rail-splitter, or fighter was each, in his class, a hero. A feast of good things to eat was provided, and generally a jug or so of the old fashioned pure white whiskey "on the side" at these house raisings.

For the women there were quiltings; another opportunity to evade the drudgery of their own homes, and to labor for and with their neighbors. The same liberal supply of eatables was furnished at the quiltings. For the young folks corn-husking or corn-shelling parties were given when the "red ear" of corn was sought for with diligence.

But not all amusement was of that kind. Dancing was the favorite, then, as it is to-day; and dancing was had whenever a fiddler could be found. The cabins did not make good dancing halls, for even if they had the size, the floors were not as good to dance upon as nature's carpet; and so, under the shadows of the trees with the moon trying to peep through the foliage, they danced until the fiddler was exhausted. It was the fiddler, and not the dancers, who succumbed first. If a fiddler was not to be had, the young folks would have parties and play "wee-villy wheat" and "kissing games" of various kinds. Or, if the school-teacher was accessible, they would sometimes have spelling schools (or "bees"), with the teacher to give out words form "Webster's Elementary Spelling Book."

If there was a religious revival on hand, the youngsters would, out of respect to the prevailing sentiment, meet together and sing the songs out of the old "Missouri Harmony."

FIRST SCHOOLS--The first schools were exceedingly primitive in their methods. All schools were private and the teacher charged a tuition or fee for each "scholar" (as they were called), of anywhere from $2.00 to $3.00 per quarter. Public schools, supported by general taxation, were not well established until about 1855. In many cases the schools were held at the teacher's home. Very soon, however, log school houses were here and there erected by the joint labor of the settlement. These houses were built in the same manner as the dwellings, and provided with an extra large fireplace (sometimes one at each end of the room), in order that all the children might get up close to the fire and "thaw out," after a long tramp on foot to school in severe weather. For a child to have no further than a mile or two to go to school was to be greatly favored. Many children went daily four or five miles on foot, taking their noon luncheon with them.

The first school houses had puncheon floors and puncheon benches for seats. The teacher only was provided with the luxury of a desk, and that was simply a puncheon table. He would use it mainly to "set a copy" on each pupil's slate or copy-book, so that the child might endeavor to reproduce the teacher's chirography. It is proper to state that many of these teachers were most excellent penmen, and the few old letters written by these early settlers, which are still preserved, show that penmanship was an art more thought of in those days than it is to-day.

Teaching was mainly personal. Each pupil was in a "grade" by himself. If a teacher had ten or fifteen pupils he was satisfied, and they were of all ages. A few text-books sufficed, and the teacher furnished many of them

Children were as full of the unregenerated spirit of the "old Adam" then, as they are now, and the teacher kept a good sized switch or two on hand for emergencies. Parents expected him to wield the rod whenever occasion demanded it; and he was not slow in taking advantage of the occasion.

The writer listed to a conversation between F.A. Allison, son of the pioneer William Allison, Ambrose Y. Hart, son of pioneer Silas Hart, and Bluford Sexson, son of pioneer James Sexson, all of them now about eighty years of age (or nearing that point), in which the following incident was related as occurring in the 'thirties at the old school house built about 1830-31, on the north part of Section 11-11-7, in the town of Paradise.

The teacher, named Banker, was a man of ample form, and before school was taken up he was seated at the old puncheon table laboriously "setting a copy," and leaning forward so that his trousers were well stretched over the most muscular part of his anatomy. Ambrose Hart and Daniel H. Tremble, son of pioneer Hiram Tremble, through the open door, caught sight of him in this attitude. There was a whispered "council of war" between the two boys, and then Daniel drew from his pocket a large hickory popgun. He loaded it with a good sized, well chewed paper wad, and stepping up quietly behind the preoccupied teacher, he fired at the most bulging part of his ample figure, and then, with Ambrose, his ally, fled to the woods. But the boys learned fully the truth of the old adage, "He that fights and runs away, may live to fight another day." Another day came, but it was the teacher's inning.

It was a frequent prank of the boys at that school to come quietly up to the school house and, catching the teacher absorbed in some problem or other school-work, throw big stones on the house above his head, whence they would roll with a great clatter down the clap-board roof to the ground. At such times the teacher would come running out, thoroughly angry, but only to find no boys in sight. The trees and thickets around would hide the culprits, who were almost bursting with laughter.


REMINISCENCES OF SCHOOL LIFE.-- The following letters, written by I.H. Johnston, son of pioneer Abner Johnston, to J.W. Walker, son of pioneer Samuel Walker, both of whom had seen and been a part of such scenes and doings as have been related, shed further light on the lives of the young people in that time when Coles County was in its infancy:


"Charleston, Ill., April 12, 1889

"Jonathan W. Walker, Esq., Lerna, Ill.,

"Dear Wils:

I have been reading the newspaper and, after getting through with that, my thoughts seems to turn to the days of my boyhood, particularly to that portion of them which was spent at the old Dryden school-house, and to the pioneers who built it. While that has been over a half century ago, I remember them very distinctly. At that time there were in the settlement called Muddy Point and immediately around the school house two old men--and, as well as I remember, only two--old Grandfather Gammill and Grand-daddy Keller, as they were familiarly called. Then those generally called "uncles" were: William Jeffries, Thomas Jeffries, Alfred Alexander, Alfred Balch, Abner Johnston, John Gannaway, Isaac Odell, James Glenn, Reuben Williams, Stephen Ferguson, Samuel Walker, Joseph Glenn, John Whetstone, John G. Morrison and William Dryden. Uncle Billy Dryden lived nearer the school-house than any of the others, hence the name Dryden school-house.

"All of these grand old Christian pioneers, with one single exception, John G. Morrison, have passed away. Nearly all of the above-named came to that settlement about 1830. The first thing done after building something to live in was to club together and build that school-house.

"The building was located about the geographical center of the settlement and at the southwest corner of Uncle Billy Dryden's six-acre field. The house was 24x18 feet, 8 feet high to the square and built of good substantial logs that had been hewed. The logs were about eight inches thick and would face, on an average, about one foot.

"Our teachers were a Mr. Thayer, Mrs. H.A. Tucker and Stephen Bovell, the uncle of the late Rev. Stephen Bovell of Ashmore, Ill. Mrs. Tucker, the "Yankee School Marm," was the favorite of many of the class and particularly so with me. Stephen Bovell probably would have been my favorite had it not been for the licking he gave John J. Gannaway and myself, on account of our breaking the switches at spelling school one night. I say licking, but that word doesn't convey the idea; it was a thrashing. The thing used to thrash us with looked more like a flail, and was of the same kind of timber that our fathers used when they thrashed out a grist of wheat.

"There are a great many incidents recurring to me which awaken pleasant recollections of those boyhood days.

"I believe that you and myself are the two oldest of our class who are still living. Our class of boys were your brothers, James N. and A.A. Walker; John, Isaac and Azariah Jeffries, sons of Thomas Jeffries; William and John G. Jeffries, sons of William R. Jeffries; John H. Whetstone, Benjamin G. Glenn, William Glenn, Joseph and Myron J. Ferguson, John J. Gannaway, George B. Balch, John W. Alexander, George Odell, James F. Johnston (my brother), W.E. Adams, who did not live in the settlement, but boarded with his uncle, Alfred Balch, and Sam Van Meter, who boarded with Uncle Billy Dryden and paid his board by cutting wood and feeding an old gray horse that had a stiff neck, and doing other chores.

"Of this class of boys James N. Walker became one of the leading and most prosperous farmers and stock-raisers in the country. Alexander A. Walker still resides in the old neighborhood and is a successful and intelligent farmer. John Jeffries resides in the settlement yet, not more than a quarter of a mile from where he first saw the light of day. Azariah Jeffries, who, I believe, was the youngest of our class, is still living on the farm where he was born and has represented his county in the State Legislature. Isaac Jeffries died from the effects of an accident received while getting off a train at Mattoon some thirty years ago. William Jeffries left the county about forty years ago. He is still living and is a successful farmer in the State of Wisconsin. John G. Jeffries, who still resides near where he was born, is an excellent citizen and a prosperous farmer. John Henry Whetstone ("Bud", as we called him) is living in the State of Kansas and has been nearly everything in a business way. While he lived here he was a farmer and merchant; in Kansas he is a town-builder and trader generally, and, whether a financial success or not, the world is better by his living in it. He could make the most wonderful track in a melting snow that I ever saw, unless it was my own. Benjamin B. Glenn also went to Kansas. He is still living and is a hustler. William Glenn went, in an early day, to the State of Texas, and I have lost track of him. Joseph M. Ferguson still resides near the old homestead. He is a quiet, good citizen and a success in life. Myron J. Ferguson, a brother of the former, died several years ago. During his life he became on one of the largest farmers and stockraisers in the county and was connected with two banks in Mattoon. John James Gannaway, more familiarly known among the boys as "Slab," is still on this side of the "River Styx." He has always been a hard working and successful farmer. George B. Balch, who died recently, needs no comment from me, as he is fresh in the memory of all the class. He was more of a success in the literary line than in the financial and was a poet of no ordinary ability. John W. Alexander's achievements were in the mechanical line. He never learned any trade, but could, and does now, make anything that is wrought out of iron. He is still living and resides in Ottawa, Kan. I have lost track of George Odell, but I think he is alive and probably living in Kansas. Alexander F. Snowden went to Missouri about thirty years ago, and I have lost track of him, too. J.F. Johnston died many years ago. William E. Adams, who died recently in Charleston, was a complete success in all his undertakings except financially. He was among the best of orators, a good lawyer, and was Judge of our County Court. He was also Clerk of the County Court. And last, but not least, of the class that graduated at the old Dryden school-house was the redoubtable Dr. Sam Van Meter. He has attained a national reputation in his profession and is a financial success as well. He is also a theologian, and if he belonged to the Methodist church and was a little younger, I think he could beat Sam Jones on the preach.

"One of the most pleasant recollections of our boyhood days at the old school-house is that of our spelling schools. You will remember we had them every two or three weeks, always at night, and the whole school was sure to be there. We would appoint two of our number captains to choose for the two sides. They would usually pitch a stick or a cane from one to the other. The one it was pitched to would grip it and then they would each put hand over hand until the end was reached. The last one that could hold the stick got first choice in choosing. I became an expert in gripping the stick, so that I would always get first choice if the other fellow pitched the stick to me. There was always something about the first choice I didn't understand, and that was, if the captains were boys their first choice was always a girl, and if the girls were captains they seemed to think that some boy was the best speller. Now, Wils--honor bright--could you tell why this was so? It didn't take long to make the first choice, but after that they would look carefully all over the room trying to select the best spellers, for you know it humiliated the captain who got defeated.

"Another one of the memories of the old school-house that was not so pleasant as the spelling school was what is now called the "Illinois mange." Before we were educated up to the present standard my recollection is that we called it itch. Our mothers were the doctors for this disease, and you will doubtless remember the remedy for it. You will also remember that the seats in the old school room would seat about ten to the seat, and that there was always one of more afflicted with the itch. When all were seated, the door shut, the big fireplace filled with wood and the room got hot--Oh my!

"Our games were mostly bull-pen and town-ball; the last was the forerunner of our modern baseball. You will remember that none of us cared much about playing bull-pen when Samuel Van Meter was on the opposite side. He wasn't particular where he hit the fellows with a wet ball, and they would generally rather that an ordinary boy should hit them with a club than take the chances of getting hit with a wet ball from Sam. Well, after the thrashing given Gannaway and myself by our teacher Bovell (I believe that is the way we kept time and dates that particular winter), Sam became our sympathizer, and when we went into a game of bull-pen, Sam always managed to get on the opposite side to the one the teacher was on, and made a specialty of throwing wet balls at him and his bull's-eye watch until he smashed it--accidentally, of course.

"You know that we were always taught to never tell tales out of school. I still adhere to that injunction; therefore, will not say anything about John Gannaway taking his father's old rifle gun about half way to the school-house every morning for about a week after "the thrashing," with the avowed purpose of shooting Bovell; but he always managed to leave the gun about a quarter of a mile away from the school-house under a log by the side of the path and would take it home at night. Your old friend,

"Isaiah H. Johnston"


Charleston, Ill., April 22, 1889

"J.W. Walker, Esq.:

"In my letter to you of April 12th I did not say all I wanted to about our class at the old Dryden school-house. I wanted to say something about our books and the manner of teaching. The books we used were the New Testament, Webster's Elementary Spelling book, Pike's Arithmetic, and most of us had copy books. The first thing in the morning after the master called "books" (we had no bell to ring) was prayer by the master; then all who could read were put in a long row to read from the Testament. Each one read a verse, beginning at the head of the row, until the lesson or chapter was read. Then all went to the spelling book and each one would, during the forenoon, recite a lesson from that. You will remember there were short reading lessons interspersed throughout the book. Then some one would try to write a few lines in his copy book with a pen made out of a goose or gander quill, and finally we would wind up the half day by everybody getting in a long row and standing as straight as we could by the benches to spell. This would be repeated in the afternoon, and whoever left off head at night went foot next day. Every head-mark was tallied in favor of the one getting it until the end of school (which was never more than three months), and the one who had the most head-marks got some kind of a prize.

"I want to refresh your memory a little about that old spelling book. In the back part of it was what we called grammar. It had, I think, all the words that were pronounced alike, but spelled differently and had different meanings. The master would give us a lesson in grammar, and when time came to recite he would pronounce (we called it "giving out') thus: "Air, a fluid"; "are, plural of am"; "write, to make letters with a goose quill"; "right, not wrong"; "wright, a fellow that made our spinning wheels"; "rite, what a squire would say when he married somebody."

"As I said before, the master would give out one of these words at a time and give the definition of it. If you missed, some little girl below you would be sure to spell it correctly, and down you would go.

"Then again, there were words spelled alike, but which had different meanings, such as "ear, the organ of hearing"; "ear, and ear of corn", etc. This last one was called a hard one, for we would forget about the ear that made the souse and the ear that made the hominy being spelled the same way.

"You and I didn't know there was any other grammar at that time, and so far as studying it, I don't now know. But if anyone would ask us if we were grammarians we would tell them yes, of course. Sometimes some smart Aleck would ask us the question, "What is grammar?" and we would answer promptly: "Air, a fluid"; "are, plural of am"; "sight, to see; site, the place where the old school-house was built; and cite, to call us in;" and, with a somewhat haughty air, would say: "This sir, is grammar as taught by Uncle Noah himself."

"The ciphering didn't amount to much, as I have stated. The arithmetic used was Pike's. I never knew Mr. Pike and don't care now to make his acquaintance, for he was a blarsted Englishman, and his book was filled with pounds, shillings and pence. Some of us had slates and others pieces of slates. One good-sized slate properly cut in pieces would make four slates for some. You will notice that I have but little to say about ciphering, and the reason is I know but little.

:About the time our education was completed a fellow came into the settlement to teach geography. His mode of teaching was to write on a large piece of paper the names of all the States and their capitals, as Maine, Augusta; New Hampshire, Concord; Vermont, Montpelier; Massachusetts, Boston, etc.; then the rivers, lakes and territories, and then we would sing them off to the tune of "Whang Doodle", with variations.

"There were no store clothes in the country then except occasionally a blue calico dress. Our mothers and sisters made all the clothing for the family. The clothes for winter were made of home-made jeans, all wool and a yard and a quarter wide. The breeches (now called trousers) and "wammus" were colored in the ooze boiled out of the bark of oak or walnut trees. The shirt was very often left white. The breeches were made similar to what they now are, with the exception of the front part. Instead of being buttoned up the front as now, there was a flap; it covered an opening about four by seven inches in front with two large metal buttons sewed on the breeches in a place that would meet and fasten to the upper corners of the flap. The "wammus" was made similar to the way the shirt is made now, except that it was opened in front all the way down. It was made large enough to go once and a half around the body, and a large brass button fastened the collar tight around the neck. There was a belt about two inches broad made the size of the body and sewed fast behind; there were also two brass buttons sewed to the belt in front. Our hats were common home-made wool hats; our caps were of 'coon, fox or wolf skins. The girls' clothing--well, I thought I could describe them, but I don't think I can do them justice, as I never examined them very minutely. Our shoes (when we had any) were all made alike and looked like they had been made over the same straight stick, no rights nor lefts. The shoe worn on the right foot one day we would have to put on the left foot the next day to keep it from running down. The only way we could tell a boy's shoes from a girl's shoe was by the size, and very often then be mistaken.

"About the time we were getting to be called big boys, some fellow came into the settlement and began talking about science and astronomy and several other outlandish things. He told us the sun was ninety-five million miles from Muddy Point, and all sorts of infidel stories. He also told us that this very old earth we are now living in, was round like a ball and went whizzing around and over and over in the "air" (a fluid), without anything to rest on once every twenty-four hours, but nobody ever fell off. You will doubtless remember it didn't take long to shut up that kind of a sacrilegious fellow, for our daddies would quote a sentence or two from Father Joshua, and that settled it. Here is the quotation: "Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thus, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hastened not to go down about a whole day." This was a clincher and Mr. Infidel had to close up. Of course, we were all for Joshua at that time, but I fear some of us, at least, have become skeptical on this point.

"You will remember that we were of the second class of boys. I don't mean that we were second-class boys by any means, but that there was an older class, among whom were Samuel K. Gammill, James and David Jeffries, Albert and Nat Dryden, J.F. Snowden and Tom Fancher. One of this older class of boys, David Jeffries, fell in with the scientific astronomy idea. He believed that the earth revolved on its axis and rolled over every twenty-four hours. He pretended to have no patience with those who believed differently. The other boys quoted Joshua and told him they guessed Joshua knew more about the status of the sun, moon and earth than he did, and about the only reply that he made to them was that "Joshua was an old fogy." Oh, but it made my blood boil to hear him speak so sacrilegiously.

:By and by, Dave got so smart--or thought he was--that he began teaching school. He claimed that anybody had a right to be a school-master if he could get the pupils. I went to school to him a while, and if there was anything wrong in my getting off the Joshua track on to the scientific astronomy track, Dave was to blame.

"About this time there was an event in the history of the settlement. One of the older class girls married, and I believe it was the first wedding in the settlement--at any rate, it was the first I ever attended. The high contracting parties were Samuel K. Gammill and Betsy Dryden. Everybody in the settlement was invited, and, of course, all were there.

"Uncle Billy's house was double--one log cabin built about eight feet from the other, end to end, with poles placed from one to the other after it was built up the proper height, and all covered under one roof with clapboards. There was a door in the south side of each house, one in the west end of the east room and one in the east end of the west room; there was a fireplace in the extreme end of each, the space between being open, with a puncheon floor. You will remember that was rather a small place to entertain so many guests.

"Well, everybody was nearly crazy to see the bride, but she was not to be seen by the public until the time arrived for the ceremony to take place. In one corner a room four or five feet square was partitioned off with quilts and sheets for the bride to dress in. When the groom came he was admitted, and they both remained there until time for the ceremony to take place.

"The ceremony over, congratulations were in order, and everybody who could get near enough kissed the bride. Refreshments were then served, and Oh, my! I thought the older folks would eat for a week. Think of a boy of about twelve years of age, who was reasonably hearty and at that time very hungry, having to wait two hours, late in the day, with so many good things in sight; light wheat bread, salt-rising bread, corn pone bread, pumpkin pies, pumpkin butter, ginger cake, sweet cake, crullers, ham, spring chicken (not spring chicken, but chicken in the spring, as this was the 28th of April, 1840), and everything else good to eat that could be had in the country. When it came my time I can assure you that I did all that was expected of me in the eating line--and a great deal was expected by those who knew me.

"I would like to describe the bride's trousseau, but she is still living and I might get myself into trouble. I am not so bold about this as about the master who thrashed John J. Gannaway and myself, for he has been dead almost a quarter of a century. But I will say that she was neatly attired in a robe of white muslin or "jaconette," trimmed with the same material, and looked awfully sweet.

"At that time of the year the flowers that were obtainable were sweet-williams, violets and red-buds, but later in the season there were all kinds of wild blossoms. It think the bride had a few of these pinned to her dress somewhere between her waist and collar.

"And speaking about blossoms and things, reminds me of the love-letters the other boys would write to the little girls--I believe they called them love-letters. I will refresh your memory with a sample of a boy's letter, if written in the winter--and they were mostly written in the winter months, as we had no school at any other time.




"My Dear Lucy Abigail:--When this you see remember me. I am going to spelling school next Friday night. Our folks are going to kill hogs Saturday and are going to meetin' Sunday at Uncle Joe Glenn's. I wish you would come to our house for dinner. We are going to have soda biscuits, fresh sausage and coffee. Maybe I'll go home with you.

"Jane is about well of the whooping cough.

"The rose is red, the violet's blue;

Sugar's sweet and so are you.'

"Yours truly,




"My Dear Slab:--When this you see remember me. I got your letter. I am afraid you are soft soping me, but I sorter like it anyhow. I'll be at spelling school. Our folks killed hogs last Saturday. We had some awful good sausage and crackling corn bread and sassafras tea, sweetened. One of our old ewes has got twin lambs and one of them is black with a white face. Ain't that funny? Can't tell about going to your house for dinner. Would like to, but will have to ask Mammy. You letter was awful sweet and

"If you love me as I love you

No knife can cut our love in two."




"The body of these letters would vary according to time and circumstances, but the beginning and ending were the same.

"Fond memory paints the scenes of other years, Green be their memory still, And bright amid those joyous scenes appears, The school-house on the hill. And on the playgrounds happy children still Shout as in days of your. But, Oh, those days! Alas for us, dear friend, Are gone forevermore."



Of those named in the letters who were still living when the letters were written (in 1889) nearly all are now gone. Mr. Johnston is still enjoying a hale old age and has at his command a large fund of stories of those days of "Auld Lang Syne."

David Jeffries, one of that "older class of boys" who so readily yielded to the scientific arguments, is living still at the age of eighty-five years in Janesville, Wis., one of its most prominent and honored citizens.

HUNTING-- Hunting was, to those hardy pioneers, not only a diversion but a business. Meat must be had, and the best meat, and that most easily obtained "without money and without price," was that of the deer and turkey and other wild game. Every settler had his rifle, powderhorn and bullet-molds, and most of them were "dead shots." Moreover, the rifle was taken along wherever they went. Deer were so plentiful that one had not far to go before bringing down a fine fat buck or doe, and small game was everywhere about. In the spring and fall, as the water-fowl went north or south, they lingered long on the sloughs and ponds and many a fine bird came upon the table of the expert marksman. A favorite manner of getting quails and rabbits was by setting traps. Prairie chickens were very numerous and were considered fine for the table.

Another social diversion for men and boys--organized not only for sport but to rid the county of, perhaps, its worst pest--was the wolf-hunt. Word would be passed around that on an appointed day all who desired might meet at some settler's home and organize a hunt for that animal, which annoyed and damaged the settlers more than all others combined--the prairie wolf or coyote.

At the time and place agreed upon came all who could (young men and old) on horseback, and each provided with his gun or a long, stout stick and his dogs. They would then scatter out into a wide circle and gradually ride toward a common center, which was usually a prominent grove or high piece of ground, driving the wolves before them. As the circle grew smaller the wolves would try to break out and escape, when they were shot or chased until cornered or exhausted and clubbed to death or killed by the dogs. These affairs were highly exciting and, year by year, the wolves grew less in numbers.

In another manner business was combined with pleasure. Wild honey was one of the luxuries that the pioneers found here in abundance, and, to find it, required some practice and skill on the part of the bee-hunter in search for the trees that contained it.

A good "bee-day" was a nice, clear day in the summer or early fall, when the bees were out. The bee-hunter wandered among the wild blossoms where the bees were at work gathering the material for their delicious food, or set a bait of something sweet to attract them.

He would then watch them until one of the little workers had accumulated his load, when it would rise in the air, and after completing two or three circles above the head of the watcher, would suddenly shoot off in a "bee-line" for its hive. The hunter would then start in the direction taken by the bee, and, following, look carefully at the trees as he proceeded, scanning their trunks for a hole or crevice, and when he saw such a place in a tree would observe carefully to see if bees were going in or out. When the right tree was found it was marked with the hunter's private mark, and, at the proper time, he would return, chop down the tree and despoil the bees of their winter's food.

Index for text portion of Coles Co. 1905 History

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