PawPaw is the southwest corner town of De Kalb County. Most of its surface is occupied by rolling prairie, some portions of it rather flat, yet none so much so as to render it unfit for the plow. There is no waste land in the township, and its deep, black soil, resting over a subsoil of clay, is extremely productive. The Big Indian Creek and its tributaries, which run through the township in various directions, furnish a good supply of pure, running water. Ross Grove, Coon Grove, and a portion of PawPaw Grove, lie in this town, and supply its inhabitants with a considerable portion of their fencing and fuel. These, and other natural advantages, attracted those seeking homes in the West at a very early date.
The first settlers in this township arrived in the autumn of 1834. David A. Town came first, and was soon after joined by Edward Butterfield and Benjamin Harris. In the family of Mr. Harris was his aged father, Benoni Harris, a Methodist clergyman, who immediately began to preach the doctrines of the Cross to the few scattered settlers, who gathered together from great distances, coming on foot, on horseback, and with ox teams, to hear the word.
A plain marble slab, erected on the east side of PawPaw Grove, and bearing Masonic emblems, marks the last resting place of this pioneer minister in De Kalb County. He died at the age of eighty-four. His wife, Thankful, whose remains repose beside him, was the first white person buried in this town.
In the summer of 1835, several additional families moved into the township, among them David A. Town, Mr. Baldwin, and Mr. Ross, who first settled and gave name to Ross Grove. PawPaw Grove took its name from the abundance of pawpaw apples found there, and which grow there to this day a fruit small, juicy, and luscious, found nowhere else in this vicinity.
At this grove the celebrated Shabbona, chief of the Potawattamies, with his tribe, was accustomed to make long stays. The old inhabitants say he about divided his time between this and Shabbona's Grove. Here was their burying ground for common Indians, and the place where, between two half logs, dug out in the center, they stood up their noted dead in the crotches of trees. Here, too, lived the chief Alabonsie, concerning whom but few of the oldest citizens knew anything, and they but little, as he soon disappeared.
For some services in the Indian war, the government gave a reservation at this grove to one Le Clair, a half-breed Frenchman. Most of this is in Lee County.
Game was found quite plentiful at that early date. Deer, prairie wolves, wild cats, and an occasional bear, with wild turkeys, geese, ducks, and prairie chickens, were the principal species.
The first white child born was Caroline, daughter of Russell and Roxana Town, in the spring of 1836, now the wife of James Kern.
PawPaw Grove has the reputation of having been, during early times, one of the principal rendezvous of the horse-thieving and counterfeiting fraternity. Wyram, or "Bogus," Gates, John Bryant, Bill Rogers, and one Webber, with others, who resided at a small grove west of PawPaw, gained, by means of the suspicious circumstances which surrounded them, the reputation of belonging to that gang, and of procuring by these means those large amounts of money which their neighbors saw them to possess, and knew no other way to account for their possessing.
A citizen relates that, coming on horseback from the north, he endeavored to relieve his lonely way by overtaking two horsemen in advance. But the faster he rode, still faster rode they, till the pursuit became a chase, and they hid in the woods. The horses were next day found in Gates' barn, the men arrested, tried, and sent to the penitentiary, from whence they soon escaped.
Bill Rogers was a marked character. He was bold as a lion, tall, and straight as an Indian. He sometimes acted as detective of criminals, and sometimes, it is said, in the character of principal. An exciting story is told of his arrest of a huge, powerful Negro, who had hitherto defied all efforts to capture him. Rogers met him on the prairie, when both were unarmed, and after a fight, lasting over an hour, succeeded in pinioning his arms, handing him over to the officers, and securing the large reward offered for his capture.
Rogers was the contractor to remove the Indians from this country to their new homes west of the Mississippi. Five or six years ago, an early citizen of this County, crossing the plains to California, was astonished to meet him far beyond civilization, dressed in Indian costume, and mounted on a wild mustang with long hair and beard as white as snow, still hale and hearty, and still a pioneer.
All of this class of population moved from the grove, farther to the west, upon the approach of the refining influences of civilization.
Ten or twelve years after, two of the new settlers discovered on the prairie a buried deposit of some eight hundred dollars in silver coin, which it was surmised had been hidden there by one who had been many years imprisoned in the penitentiary.
In 1850 the township organization was adopted, and the first town meeting was held at the residence of Shadrac Basley. Sixty votes were cast, and Pierpont Edwards was elected Supervisor; George V. Miners, Town Clerk; Stanley Ruggles, Assessor; W. J. Merritt, Collector; William Shepardson and Daniel Rexford, Justices of the Peace. The Supervisors subsequently chosen were:
Pierpont Edwards in 1851;
William Shepardson in 1852 ;
Pierpont Edwards in 1853 ;
Willam Shepardson in 1854;
Robert Hampton in 1855-56-57- 58-59;
Alonzo Dole in 1860-61;
Robert Hampton in 1862- 63-64-65-66-67;
and K H. Powers in 1868.
Hon. William Shepardson and Hon. Robert Hampton have represented the district in the State Legislature.
As the population increased, and the poverty usually accompanying new settlements began to disappear, and after the broad prairies had, to a considerable extent, been converted into farms, the people began to turn their attention to their educational interests. Accordingly, in the summer of 1854, a building was erected at South PawPaw, standing on the line, one-half in De Kalb and one-half in Lee County, for a seminary.
A kind of rivalry sprang up at East PawPaw, so that, during the same summer, a similar building was also erected there. Soon after, the same spirit erected a third building at West PawPaw, in Lee County. So there were three seminaries, occupying the three angles of a nearly equilateral triangle, the sides of which were about two miles. Of course, they destroyed each other, by dividing the patronage that should have been received by one ; and all ultimately became common schools.
Later, in the summer of 1866, a second seminary was built at East PawPaw, which is now (1868) in operation as such.
The first church was built at Ross Grove, by the United Presbyterian church, in 1861. There are at present three in the town, a second one near Ross Grove, and the third at East PawPaw.
The population of PawPaw in 1855 was 944 ; in 1860, 1007; in 1865, 954.
PawPaw sent 186 men to crush out the slaveholders' rebellion. Most of them went into Captain Terry's Company, of the One Hundred and Fifth Infantry, into the Fourth and Seventeenth Cavalry, the Fifty-Second, Thirty-Fourth, Seventy-Fifth, Eighty-Eighth, and the One Hundred and Second Infantry regiments. They were men who did the hard fighting, and but a single pair of shoulder-straps was awarded to the soldiers of the town.
Of the fifteen citizens of PawPaw who went out in Company I, of the Fourth (Colonel Dickey's) Cavalry, five, who were of the best men of the place, gave their lives to their country. Three of these were of the highly respected family of Hydes, and each left a wife and two children.
Lycurgus Hyde was killed on a reconnaissance in Tennessee; Elliot L. Hyde was killed at Coffeeville, Mississippi, December 5th, 1862; Edwin Thomas, brother-in-law of the two former, died at Pittsburg Landing, two weeks before that great battle. Other members of that regiment, who died martyrs to the cause, were Henry Doty and Henry Jones.
John Densmore Dole, of the Thirty-Fourth Infantry, fell at the battle of Stone River, December 31, 1862, a rebel bullet piercing his brain. He was a youth of fine promise, who left his preparation for college at the call to arms, and after doing gallant service as a brave soldier, gave his life to his country. His body was recovered, through the entreaties of his mother to General Rosecranz, and was buried by Spartan Lodge of Odd Fellows, at PawPaw, February 10, 1863.
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
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