HISTORY OF DOUGLAS COUNTY, IL
CAMARGO CITY AND TOWNSHIP.
F.A. BATTEY & CO., PUBLISHERS, 1884.
BY H.C. NILES
REPRODUCED FROM THE ORIGINALS AND CONTRIBUTED
LARRY M. BURMEISTER,
“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education, than education without common sense.”
ORIGIN OF NAME, AREA, ETC.
The township takes its name from the city of Camargo in Mexico, and was suggested by Col. J. B. McCown, who honorably served in the war with that country. This political subdivision, under the old Coles County jurisdiction, was called Albany Precinct, and took in the west half of Township 16 north, Range 10 east, all but the west tier of sections in Township 16 north, Range 9 east. It extended two miles further south than at present, and contained about seventy-three square miles of territory, but was reduced at the time of township organization in 1868 to smaller dimensions, and still further decreased in 1882 by surrendering twenty-one sections of land to the new township of Murdock. The present area includes all of Township 16 north, Range 9 east, except the west tier of Sections 1, 2, 8 and 4, of Township 15 north, Range 9 east, and Section 6, Township 15 north, Range 10 east; is bounded on the north by the county line and Champaign County, and on the west by Tuscola Township; on the south by Bowdre, and on the east by Murdock, and now contains thirty-five Government sections of land, or thirty-eight and twenty-three one-hundredths square miles, and the number of acres according to the United States survey is 24,443.72. Mr. Joseph B. McCowan was one of the Commissioners appointed by the County Court to divide the county into political townships in 1868, the old arrangement having been ill-proportioned and inconvenient.
Camargo enjoys the honor of being the very oldest settled portion of
Douglas County, the very first house built in the county having been raised in 1829 by John A. Richman. Mr. Richman lived to be over eighty, and even at that age would hardly deign to ride a horse, but would gird himself with knife and tomahawk, and, gun on shoulder, step over to the Okaw timber, a distance of ten or twelve miles, about as coolly as present citizens would walk a mile. He came from West Virginia in 1827 or 1829—the best evidence is for the latter year—and there was not another family of whites then living within the present limits of the county. “The house that Jack built” is yet standing north of the railroad, about a half mile west of Camargo Village, and its exact location is the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 33, Township 16 north, Range 9 east. The land now belongs to Iles.
G. W. Henderson came to the neighborhood in 1844 without other capital than his right arm and his heart and head. He died in 1882, leaving a very valuable estate in farm and other lands. William Watson was in the State Senate at the time of making the new county. Alexander Bragg came to the State in 1835. He served in the Mexican war in 1846, and is one of the largest land owners in the township. Not having the advantages of a socalled education in the schools, he is a remarkable exponent of business acumen and retentive memory.
EARLY LAND ENTRIES.
The first entry of land in the township was the northwest quarter of Section 35, Township 16, Range 9, by Harrison Gill, the father of George C. Gill of Camargo, a prominent insurance and business man. This was in 1830, and in February, same year, John Hammett entered the east half of the southwest quarter of Section 14, Township 16, Range 9, and in 1831 other large bodies of land. William Bradshaw, May 13, 1831, took the west half of the northeast quarter of Section 27, Township 16, Range 9, and in the same year, in April, Thornton Sargent took fourteen forty-acre tracts in Section 33, Township 16, Range 9, equaling 560 acres; Erwin Elmore, February 5, 1836, entered the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 11, Township 16, Range 9. In 1838, April 23, N. B. Martz took Lot 1, northeast quarter of Section 2, Township 16, Range 9. The greatest number
of the entries were made in the years 1852 and 1853, it appearing that there was a check upon land entries in the State pending the selections by the Illinois Central Railroad of the lands donated to that corporation.
THE SCHOOL SECTION.
In those years, the sixteenth section in Township 16, north, Range 9 east, was taken up by various parties, the Hammetts taking half of it. Section 16 in every township was by law set apart for the use of schools, and was required to be divided into lots. Why this requirement was made is unknown, as the regular descriptions would have answered every purpose, and doubtless have prevented some confusion. This section was divided into sixteen lots, beginning at the northeast corner. The northeast quarter of the northeast quarter being Lot 1; the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter was made Lot 4, etc., ending with Lot 16, which was the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter. All of these sixteen sections were not lotted alike, some of the lots containing eighty acres, and some as large as 160, and there seems of record in Douglas County no authority for this lotting other than the naming of them in certain conveyances, where, however, the number of the lot as well as the subdivision of the sections are usually given. The school lands were all sold too early; some were disposed of at a price as low as $2 an acre. They are now worth $50.
The Hammetts, William S. and James R., lived in a tent the first winter, and were visited by numbers of Indians who would call and sit around the fire. Their general conduct was such as to leave the impression that they were honest, and although the family was at their mercy, nothing was stolen, and there was no fear for personal safety. However, one or two battles with Indians from the Upper Embrarrass are spoken of as having occurred; one, perhaps with Government Surveyors, near the creek in Coles County.
Mr. Harrison Gill came from Kentucky on horseback, and, in company with his Uncle Robert, visited the Indians at Hugo, in Bowdre Township. His uncle told the “boss” Indian that Gill was about to enter land
and wanted a wife; upon hearing which news, the “ladies” at once gathered around the candidate for matrimonial honors, as if they meant business, and Mr. Gill only got out of the dilemma by claiming to be a poor hunter, by reason of which he would make a sorry husband. A few items of aboriginal lore will be found in the notes on Bowdre Township. The two winters immediately succeeding the arrival of these early settlers were the hardest known in the history of the State, that of 1831-32, being known as the winter of the great snow. The milling of the neighborhood was done principally at Eugene, Ind., a distance of forty miles.
Camargo Township is traversed from north to south by the Embarrass River, the head of which is a few miles further north in Champaign County. This, like the head-waters of most prairie streams, and some citizens, is very often “very dry,” and at the very first chance gets “very full,” varying from “nothing at all, to a raging canal,” from four to six rods wide, coming up in a night and going down in a day, and sometimes when feeling well, comes booming down stream with an irresistable armor of ice upon its bosom, to which the most of the heretofore constructed bridges have now and again yielded. Permanent bridges have not as yet found much favor in the county, but the people cannot much longer defer the inauguration of more expensive and more durable ones. The river gives most excellent drainage to the greater part of the township. Two drainage districts under the statute have been established in the south part, under the direction of the Highway Commissioners. One of them, which afteward was included in the new township of Murdock, was called No. 1, contains about 2,000 acres, at an expense of $2,500; No. 2, lying in the southeast corner of Camargo, has about 3,000 acres, costing $3,000. The surveying was done by Davis.
Long Point, sometimes called the Jordan, enters the township at the northeast part and becomes an affluent of the Embarrass in Section 2, Township 16, Range 9. This water-course, which is partly artificial, will at no distant day be the great drain for the north part of Murdock and Newman Township.
One-third of the area of the township is within the original timber limit, which grew adjacent to the river, as is usual here. Many fine tracts of timber yet remain, but also, many clearings. The value of the timber, or, in other words, the price at which it is held, is much less than it was twenty years ago. Good timber was held as high as $75 per acre, and $50 was a common price; it was used, after building with it, and for a long time, almost exclusively for fuel first, and then fencing. As the country grew older, saw mills were introduced and native boards appeared; but, since the multiplication of railroads leading to the easy transportation of foreign fencing and coal, timber land was depreciated, until good prairie is full as valuable. Some large farmers use foreign planks, or hedges, for fencing, and burn coal exclusively, many of them having not an acre of timber. The long-mooted question as to whether the timber is decreasing, or the reverse, within the original limit is not as yet decided.
The St. Louis Branch of the I., B. & W. Railroad crosses this township in an east and west direction, coming in on the west side and near the middle of Section 32, Township 16, Range 9, and runs upon a straight line until shortly after passing the village of Camargo, in Section 35, where it deflects to the south about twelve rods, and continues at that distance from the middle line of the section till it leaves the county. It has a substantial bridge, 130 feet long, on the west side of the village at the crossing of the Embarrass River, which resisted the ice-floe of the winter of 1882, while the wagon bridge, 150 feet north of it, gave way. The township took stock in the railroad under its former name, I. & I. C., to the amount of $15,000, payable in fourteen years, with ten per cent interest, and the bonds were refunded in June, 1880, being placed with Preston, Kean & Co. of Chicago, at six per cent interest, which transaction was negotiated by Charles G. Eckhart, Esq., of Tuscola.
CITY OF CAMARGO. CREATION AND DEVELOPMENT
The original town of Camargo was laid off in November, 1836, by Isaac Moss, being surveyed by Joseph Fowler, and was called “New Salem.” Mr. Moss made an addition in 1840; the name was then changed to “New Albany,” the voting precinct being known by the name of Albany, and finally, when, upon the suggestion of J. B. McCown, the name of the precinct was changed to Camargo, the village accepted the same name. It is the most ancient village in the county, antedating Tuscola, Arcola and Newman, and even time-honored “Bourbon,” which was laid off in 1853. Camargo, with her 1836 record, leading Bourbon by seventeen years. This village in the long years preceding the advent of the east and west railroad, languished and was long considered finished; the final completion of the road, however, gave it somewhat of an impetus, that may end in some distinction, it being the place of residence of some of the leading men of the county, and the starting point of several of its most successful business men.
The town proper comprises an area of about eighty acres, which is the south half of the northeast quarter of Section 34, Township 16 north, Range 9 east, and is almost precisely six miles distant and east of the center of Tuscola City.
STRUGGLE FOR THE COUNTY SEAT.
The village of Camargo, from its central position, had claims to the honor of being the county seat, which were strongly advocated, and which could not very well be ignored. She had no railroad, but everybody said she would have one at no distant day, the I. & I. C. having been chartered in 1852, and the route through the village selected and staked out, and further encouraged by the almost annual appearance of engineer corps along the line through which, amongst other things, the interest was kept up. Pending the selection of a shiretown, Camargo was made county seat pro tem. The election returns of the county seat
contest were stored at the place, and rumor had it that interested parties, obtaining access to the tickets, procured a set of scales, and upon ascertaining the “weight” of each package of votes, took special care that their favorite point should have superior heft. The first meeting of the county court, presided over by James Ewing, of Arcola, as Judge, and John D. Murdock and Robert Hopkins as Associates, John Chandler, Clerk, a special term was held April 28, 1859, up-stairs over Coleman Bright’s store, and here it was ordered, amongst other things, that a special election be held May 30, 1859, as between Tuscola and Arcola, which rival towns, whose vote had not been considered in the first canvas, were found to embrace the choice of the people, upon which occasion Tuscola won.
ANCIENT PRAIRIE TRAVEL.
The new officers all met here to get their commissions. The county was almost covered with water, and the County Surveyor, being a small man, was mounted upon a horse about sixteen feet high, and sent from Bourbon to Camargo “by way of Arcola,” at which latter place the owner of the horse had a message to deliver, and told the surveyor it was “on the way,” so it was—the way he went; he did not know any better. As there were no prairie fences, or roads, he went straight from Bourbon to Arcola and straight from Arcola to Camargo, across the prairie, with a general direction from his advisors, at Arcola, to keep the northeast wind in his face, which he proceeded to do as far as possible; but as the aforesaid northeast wind came on that occasion from all points of the compass, he accordingly got lost, as was to be expected. The wind was like old Uncle Jack’s compass, which somebody gave him to use in the woods; no matter how he held it, it would diddle-daddle to the southwest every time.
Camargo Lodge, No. 440, A., F. & A. M., was instituted October 18, 1865. The charter members were James T. Orr, A. Salisbury, R. E. Carmack, Dr. A. K. P. Townsend, George C. Gill, Martin Rice, W. C. Campbell, R. C. Patterson, J. T. Helm, J. R. Henderson and H. G. Russell. The first officers were: Orr, W.M.; Gill, Secretary; Carmack, Treasurer.
A commodious lodge was dedicated, October 2, 1875. An R.A. Chapter was instituted, U.D., November 9, 1865. The institution of the lodge was assisted by Tuscola Masons in 1865, who came out “by land” for the purpose, the railroad having not yet appeared.
The first church built in the village was put up by the Methodists, and we are informed was erected as early as 1850, at a cost of about $500. It was eventually sold, and the present brick built.
THE COUNTY’S NAME.
W. D. Watson, of this township, was at the time of the formation of the new county, 1859, in the State Senate, and a Republican. The proposed county was of that faith, so estimated, and the petition for the new county asked for the name of “Richman,” that of the first inhabitant. Others favored the name of “Watson,” and the subject of a name was always introduced at the meetings, often under considerable excitement, which finally yielded when the advocates of the various other names became convinced that the bill could not pass under any other name than that of Douglas. Dr. Pearce and others strongly opposed the name, and only gave way on the solemn promise of the opposition to assist in having the name changed after the institution of the county. Camargo being central, had much to do with the new county meetings. The original bill before the Legislature contained errors, and had been passed by both Houses before the discrepancies had been discovered; only three days of the session remained, and Dr. J. W. McKinney went to Springfield, wrote out the supplementary bill, adding eighteen sections of land, between 10 and 12 o’clock in the morning. The bill was finally signed by the Governor at 4 o’clock and the Doctor had a copy of it in his possession, and was on his way home by 6 o’clock P.M. of same day. A more particular history of the formation of the new county will be found under its proper head in this volume.
SOME PROMINENT CITIZENS
Coleman Bright came to Coles County, now Douglas, in the
year 1859, and began his experiences here as a retailer of merchandise through the country. He afterward settled down to a mercantile business in Camargo, and in about 1860 moved to Tuscola, or at least transferred his interests generally to that place. Here he remained a citizen as the senior member of the dry goods firm of Bright & Jones until his death, which occurred July 20, 1881. He, during the last eight or ten years of his residence in Tuscola, took life comfortably, being in easy circumstances. He was active in a quiet way in all public matters; prominent in the formation of the county, and was a Democrat.
James R. Hammett was active in the interests of the new county of Douglas, and also one of the directors, for fourteen years, of the east and west railroad. G. W. Henson, Charles Brewer, John Brown, Martin Rice, John D. Murdock, Alexander Bragg and W. D. Watson were of the first arrivals; C. Brewer came in 1855 ; John Brown arrived in 1838, and was elected Associate Judge of the county in 1865; Martin Rice, a resident of the State since 1849, and of the county since 1853, actively assisted in the new county business, and was a member of the first political convention held in it. From the second year of township organization, he represented the people as Supervisor continuously until 1877, and again in 1879. He died at his farm in 1883, at the age of sixty-one years, leaving a large estate. Mr. Rice was one of the people. He began with the early settlers, and fought the wilderness, and with his compeers conquered, believing in progress and in keeping up with the times. The impress of his candid and emphatic but genial character upon most of the old and new institutions of Douglas County cannot be erased.
A proposed town or village was laid out in November, 1837, and vacated in February, 1845; its situation was on Section 35, Township 16 north, Range 9 east, about a mile east of the site of Camargo village, and was probably intended as a rival of that institution, which, as stated, was laid off in 1836. It was recorded as “New Boston;” the exact location cannot now be given, and its rise, progress and decadence can now only be guessed at, as it died of a-borning, and “Since it is so soon it’s done for, We wonder what it was begun for.”
The population of Camargo Township, according to the enumeration at the ninth census, 1870, was set down at 1,808, and at the tenth census, 1880, it became 2,089, an increase of 281 in the decade. But as the township was shorn of about twenty-two square miles of territory when Murdock was organized, these figures do not show the present number of inhabitants, of which an approximation only can be had at the present writing, which has been compiled from the best authorities at command. We therefore deduct from the census of 1880 the number 873 as the probable loss of the township to Murdock, finding that the list of personal tax payers in 1883 numbers 304, which, multiplied by four, makes 1,216, the probable inhabitants in the latter year, multiplying by four being based upon the proposition that families average four members. The State estimate is five and one-third to the family. Arcola Township gives in her highest vote, compared to her population, six and six-tenths persons to every voter.
As to THE PREVAILING POLITICS
of Camargo, no reliable data seem to be available, the more especially since territory was surrendered to Murdock. The Supervisors, as to political preferences, have been about equally divided, and this was the case even in the old times when Camargo was called Democratic.
THE TENTH CENSUS.
The census of 1880 was taken by George W. Ritter, the Government enumerator. He found thirty-seven Siders and thirty-six Smiths.
Tile factories, two in number, have been established in the township, that of R. C. Patterson, one mile southwest of the village of Camargo, being established in 1877, and Joseph R. Hammett’s, three miles north, was established in 1883. The plant in each is worth about $6,000, and they have a combined capacity per day of about 8,000.
On the farm of R. C. Patterson, on the Embarrass River, in Section 33, Township 16, Range 9, is a fine fountain of living water, widely known as Patterson’s Spring, and, offering the inducements of ample shade and water, is a favorite place of resort for celebrations of all kinds,
which, from numbers, have necessarily an al fresco requirement. This spring issues from the bluff of the river, about twenty feet above low water. It has never been known to fail, or materially fail, in the amount of its discharge in forty years, or since the first settlement of the county. It flows, at about the rate of 700 gallons per hour, pure and palatable water, with a uniform temperature of fifty degrees Fahr. This spring was carefully examined and reported upon in 1877, when an effort was made to secure the site of the Eastern Insane Asylum for Douglas County, and a sample of the water was forwarded to Dr. Haines, of Chicago, whose report was, as to its superior qualities, very favorable.
This township, in the public service of the county, has contributed liberally of her citizens. John D. Murdock was one of the first county board of Judges, having been elected in 1859, and re-elected in 1861 Mr. Murdock has since been voted out of the township by the creation of Murdock Township. John Brown was in the same position in 1865. William H. Lamb, formerly a merchant in the village of Camargo, was made County Clerk in the fall of 1865. He was the Commissioner to transfer to the new county all the records of Coles which belonged to the new territory, a work, consisting mainly of five large volumes, which was performed most correctly and efficiently. P. Watson was called to the sheriffalty in November, 1860, and S. S. Irwin was Superintendent of Schools from 1861, serving two years. John C. Parcel was elected County Clerk in November, 1869, and served four years. The Supervisors of the township have been G. W. Henson, the first, in 1868; F. Hesler, 1870; Dr. J. W. McKinney, 1871-72; Martin Rice, 1869 to 1877, and again in 1879; John T. Irwin in 1878; John E. Bagley, in 1880, also in 1882, 1883 and 1884, being the present officer, and R. C. Patterson served in the same position in 1881. Thomas S. Wyatt was elected Sheriff of the county in the fall of 1880, and again in 1882.
The notable high-handed and desperate robbery of Mr. William S. Hammett and his household occurred on the night of June 8, 1870. The family had retired. Mr. H. was aroused by a knock at the door, and upon
opening it was instantly seized by two armed and masked men, who demanded silence and money. Mr. H. being not only unarmed and but partly clothed, taken by surprise, with a loaded pistol pointing directly at and close to his heart, which might at any instant have been discharged by the trembling hand of his guard, after carefully weighing the chances concluded to surrender, a prudence that is commended by men who have been in the army. He was held strictly under guard until the villains had obtained watches and jewelry to the amount of $250, and a little money. They had taken care to fasten the door of a room occupied by some work hands, and having accomplished their purpose with dispatch, released Mr. Hammett, and disappeared with great haste in the darkness.
The Assessor’s valuation in 1883, of personal property in the township is $92,222; lands, $252,825.
Whether a perfect history of Douglas County will ever be written, depending as it does upon circumstances, is a matter that “no fellow can find out.” There are persons who, for twenty years, have earnestly worked to that end, but the business part of such a worthy scheme has placed a sea of fire through which they cannot pass.
While it is perfectly natural for the average intelligent reader of what purports to be a history to observe that all is not given, he ought to “put yourself in his place,” for it “goes without saying” that there are a hundred men and women in the country who will cheerfully “soar to the infinite and dive to the unfathomable,” for $2 a day and found, and be glad of the job.
The present scheme for a history is the best yet offered, and for thoroughness and research, caps all previous efforts. Yet a mass of interesting material remains on hand for future treatment, which cannot be made available at this particular juncture, but all of which some day will appear in print, even though, like this, written by nobody in particular.
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