We shall, in this chapter, give as clear and exact description of pioneer life in this county, as we can find language to picture it in, commencing with the time the sturdy settlers first arrived with their scanty stores. They had migrated from older States, where the prospects for even a competency were very poor, many of them coming from Kentucky, for, it is supposed, they found that a good State to emigrate from. Their entire stock of furniture, implements and family necessities were easily stored in one wagon, and sometimes a cart was their only vehicle.
As the first thing after they arrived and found a suitable location, they would set about the building of a log cabin, a description of which may be interesting to the younger readers, and especially their descendants, who may never see a structure of the kind. Trees of uniform size were selected and cut into pieces of the desired length, each end being saddled and notched so as to bring the logs as near together as possible. The cracks were "chinked and daubed" to prevent the wind from whistling through. This had to be renewed every fall before cold weather set in. The usual height was one story of about seven or eight feet. The gables were made of logs gradually shortened up to the top. The roof was made by laying small logs or stout poles reaching from gable to gable, suitable distances apart, on which were laid the clapboards after the manner of shingling, showing two feet or more to the weather. The clapboards were fastened by laying across them heavy poles called "weight poles," reaching from one gable to the other, being kept apart and in their place by laying piece of timber between them called "runs," or "knees." A wide chimney place was cut out of one end of the cabin, the chimney standing entirely outside, and built of rived sticks, laid up cob-house fashion, and filled with clay, or built of stone, often using two or three cords of stone in building one chimney. For a window a piece about two feet long was cut out of one of the wall logs, and the hole closed, sometimes with glass but oftener with greased paper pasted over it. A doorway was also cut through one of the walls, and the door was made of spliced clapboards and hung with wooden hinges. This was opened by pulling a leather latch-string which raised a wooden latch inside the door. For security at night this latch-string was pulled in, but for friends and neighbors, and even strangers, the "latch-string was always hanging out," as a welcome. In the interior, upon one side, was the huge fire-place, large enough to contain a back-log as big as the strongest man could carry, and holding enough wood to supply an ordinary stove a week; on either side were poles and kettles, and over all a mantle on which was placed the tallow dip. In one corner stood the larger bed for the old folks, under this the trundle-bed for the children; in another corner stood the old-fashioned, large spinning-wheel, with a smaller one by its side; in another the pine table, around which the family gathered to partake of their plain food; over the door hung the ever trustful rifle and powder-horn; while around the room were scattered a few splint-bottomed chairs and three-legged stools; in one corner was a rude cupboard holding the table ware, which consisted of a few cups and saucers and blue-edged plates, standing singly on their edges against the back, to make the display of table furniture more conspicuous.
These simple cabins were inhabited by a kind and true-hearted people. They were strangers to mock modesty, and the traveler, seeking lodgings for the night or desirous of spending a few days in the community, if willing to accept the rude offering, was always welcome, although how they were disposed of at night the reader may not easily imagine; for, as described, a single room was made to serve the purpose of kitchen, dining-room, sitting-room, bedroom, and parlor, and many families consisted of six or eight members. Soon finer and more costly buildings were erected. Mr. Swan in his History of Canton describes the first frame building erected in that city as follows:
"The first frame house erected on grounds now within the present city limits
was built for Deacon Nathan Jones, in the spring of 1830. Isaac Swan was the 'boss carpenter,' and was aided by
the deacon. This building is still standing, on the south side of Jones street, between Wood and Lewistown streets,
and is now occupied by Mrs. Dean. It is a two-story frame house. The frame, of the 'old-fashioned' variety, was
built without any sawed stuff; the joists and studding being split out of heavy timber, the sills and plates hewed,
and the weather-boarding of split boards, shaved. The weather-boarding was not jointed, but the ends of the clapboards
were shaved thin and lapped. The roof was laid with split and shaved oak shingles. The floor, door-frames, corner-boards
and stairs, were alone of sawed lumber. When the carpenters had finished their work, Mrs. Jones took the job of
painting, and did quite a respectable job, too, painting it Venetian red. This house was considered the most stylish
in the country. As Deacon Jones was Postmaster and kept the postoffice at his house, it became the place of resort
for the most intelligent of the pioneers, who would congregate here and discuss educational and religious topics.
This building was not on the original town plat, however, being then considered out of town. The first frame erected
on the original town site was built in 1831, and was the property of Joel Wright. This building was, in fact, but
an addition to an already existing cabin. Isaac Swan was also the builder of this. It was occupied by Mr. Wright
as a store-room, and was situated on the southeast corner of Wood and Illinois streets. This building is still
standing, but has been removed from its original site, and is now standing on First street, between Illinois and
Cole streets. It was occupied until recently by David Will, as a wagon-maker's shop."
SELECTION OF HOMES
For a great many years but few thought it advisable to attempt farming on the prairie. To many of them the cultivation of the prairies was an untried experiment, and it was the prevailing opinion that the timber would soon become very scarce,—a fear soon proven to be without foundation. Another obstacle that was in the way for a great many years, was that no plows suitable for breaking the prairie land could be had. The sod was very much tougher then than it was in after years when the stock had pastured the prairies and killed out the grass to some extent. It would be astonishing to the younger residents to see the immense crops of prairie grass that grew upon the fields which are today in such a high state of cultivation. It grew in places six to twelve feet high. It was these immense crops of grass that furnished the fuel for the terrible fires that swept over the prairies during the fall. Then, again, there was so much of the prairie land that was considered too wet to be ever suitable for cultivation. Many of the older settlers now living well remember when farms that are now in the highest state of cultivation were a vast swamp. There was another drawback in the settlement of the prairies, and that was the great labor and cost of fencing. But the principal reason for locating in the timber was that many of their cabins were poor, half-finished affairs, and protection from the driving storms was absolutely required. The timber also sheltered stock until such times as sheds and out-buildings could be erected. That the time should soon come when intelligent, enterprising farmers would see that their interest lay in improving prairie farms, and cease clearing fields, when there were boundless acres presenting no obstacle to the most perfect cultivation, argues nothing in the policy of sheltering for a time in the woods. In regard to the pioneers settling along the timber, we often hear remarks made as though the selection of such locations implied a lack of judgment. Those who are disposed to treat it in that manner are asked to consider carefully the above facts, when they will conclude such selection argued in their favor.
Clearing of timber land was attended with much hard labor. The underbrush was grubbed up, piled into heaps and burned. The large trees were in many cases left standing, and deadened by girdling. This was done by cutting through the bark into the wood, generally through the " sap," all around the trunk.
Not the least of the hardships of the pioneers was the procuring of bread. The first settlers must be supplied at least one year from other sources than their own lands. But the first crops, however abundant, gave only partial relief, there being no mills to grind the grain. Hence the necessity of grinding by hand power, and many families were poorly provided with means for doing this. Another way was to grate the corn. A grater was made from a piece of tin, sometimes taken from an old, worn-out tin bucket or other vessel. It was thickly perforated, bent into a semi-circular form, and nailed, rough side upwards, on a board. The corn was taken in the ear and grated before it got dry and hard. Corn, however, was eaten in various ways.
Soon after the country became more generally settled, enterprising men were ready to embark in the milling business. Sites along the streams were selected for water-power. A person looking for a mill-site would follow up and down the stream for a desired location, and when found he would go before the County Commissioners and secure a writ of ad quod danmum. This would enable the miller to have the adjoining land officially examined, and the amount of damage by making a dam was named. Mills being such a great public necessity, they were permitted to be located upon any person's land where the miller thought the site desirable.
John Coleman established a mill north of the Fairview bridge. This mill was celebrated for "making haste"—and meal—"slowly." It was said that it ran so slow that the dogs were in the habit of chewing in two the band while the mill was running, when Coleman would call to Jerry, who drove the team, to know what was the matter; and Jerry would respond that the "dod-durned dogs had chewed the band in two again." Jacob Ellis erected a water-mill between Canton and Lewistown about 1824, which did a good business. He erected another mill near Canton, on Big Creek, about 1829-30.
The wild animals infesting this county at the time of its settlement were the deer, wolf, bear, wild-cat, fox, otter, raccoon, wood-chuck or ground-hog, skunk, mink, weasel, muskrat, opossum, rabbit and squirrel; and the principal feathered game were the quail, prairie-chicken, and wild turkey. Several of these animals furnished meat for the early settlers; but their principal meat did not consist long of game. Pork and poultry were soon raised in abundance. The wolf was the most troublesome animal, it being the common enemy of the sheep. It was quite difficult to protect the sheep from their ravages. Sometimes pigs and calves were also victims of the wolf. Their howlings in the night would often keep families awake, and set all the dogs in the neighborhood to barking. Their yells were often terrific. Says one settler: " Suppose six boys, having six dogs tied, whipped them all at the same time, and you would hear such music as two wolves would make." To effect the destruction of these animals the county authorities offered a bounty for their scalps; and, besides, big hunts were inaugurated for their destruction, and " wolf hunts " are prominent among the memories of the early settlers. Such events were generally turned into a holiday, and everybody that could ride a nag or stand the tramp on foot joined in the deadly pursuit. A large circuit was generally made by the hunters, who then closed in on every side, driving the hungry wolves into the center of the corral, where they were despatched [misspelled]. The return home with the carcasses was the signal for a general turn-out, and these "pleasure parties" are still referred to by old citizens as among the pleasantest memories of early life in Fulton county. Many a hungry wolf has been run down on the prairies where now is located a town or a fine farm residence. This rare old pastime, like much of the early hunting and fishing the pioneers indulged in here, departed at the appearance of the locomotive.
During the early settlement of this part of the State, one of the prevailing customs of the pioneers was "bee-hunting." Often a small company would travel many miles into a wild, unsettled country, in search of the sweet, flavored honey of the wild bee. Large trees containing many gallons, and often a barrel, were frequently found by bee-hunters. The little, busy bees would be carefully watched as they flew heavily laden with the richest extract of the flowers that were purely native and unknown to the present generation. They always took a "bee-line" for their homes. This was a correct guide to the sturdy hunter; who had studied with care the ways of the bee and by their knowledge took advantage of the little insect. Once on the trail, good bee-hunters were almost certain to capture the rich prize. After the bee-tree was discovered it was no trouble to get possession of the honey. The tree was felled, and the hunters would rush for their booty ere it was lost by running out upon the ground.
[Excerpt from the Section on State Laws in the 1879 History of Fulton County, page 1084]
Bees, while unreclaimed, are by nature wild animals. Those which take up their abode in a tree belong to the owner of the soil in which the tree grows, if unreclaimed; but if reclaimed and identified they belong to their former owner. If a swarm has flown from the hive of A, they are his so long as they are in sight, and may easily be taken; otherwise, they become the property of the first occupant. Merely finding on the land of another person a tree containing a swarm of bees and marking it, does not vest the property of the bees in the finder. They do not become property until actually hived.]
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS
The pioneer was more freely and heartily social with his friends, and cold toward his enemies, than we seem to be at the present day ; and he showed what race he belonged to by his efforts to establish religious, philanthropic and educational institutions. The young folks, we have no doubt, found many ways of robbing old Time of loneliness. It would be unfair to suppose them, especially the ladies, destitute of fashionable aspirations, but the means for gaudy display were very much circumscribed in those days. The male attire consisted chiefly of buckskin, or homespun cloth,— we might add home-woven, the loom being far more common in or near their rude huts than the piano or organ. They were not, however, destitute of musical taste, and many of their vocal performances would compare favorably with our present choirs. We may safely say they sang with the spirit. Most of the ladies, also, wore homespun, which they manufactured from wool, flax, cotton, and the bark or lint of the nettle, colored with such ingredients as nature provided, without the aid of art. A few even adopted buckskin. How many yards of the latter article were required for a fashionable dress in those times, or in what particular style it was cut and trimmed, we are not informed, and must leave the ladies to draw their own conclusions. These dresses certainly were durable, and shielded the wearer in out-door exercises incident to the planting, attending and gathering of crops, in which pursuit the ladies in all new countries assist.
Another of the prevailing fashions was that of carrying firearms, made necessary by the presence of roving bands of Indians, most of whom were ostensibly friendly, but like Indians in all times, treacherous and unreliable. These tribes were principally Pottawatomies. There were also in the northern part of the State several tribes of hostile Indians, ready at any time to make a murderous, thieving raid upon the white settlers; and an Indian war at any time was an accepted probability; and these old settlers today have vivid recollections of the Black Hawk and other Indian wars. And, while target practice was much indulged in as an amusement, it was also necessary for a proper self-defense, the settlers finding it necessary at times to carry their guns with them when they went to hoe their corn. In some instances their guns were stacked, in the field and the laborers worked for a certain distance around them, and then moved the guns to a certain position and again proceeded with their work.
These were only a few of the hardships incident to pioneer life, which was largely
made up of privations, inconveniences and dangers. They had few labor-saving machines and no reliable markets.
Even communication by letter with their distant friends and relatives was rendered difficult for want of proper
mail facilities, and sometimes for the want of money to pay the postage on the letters sent to them,—the postage
then being twenty-five cents for a single letter, many of which remained in the office for weeks on account of
the inability of the persons addressed to pay the postage.
PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
The early settlers were not entirely without preaching. Says an old pioneer on this subject: "The ministers of the Gospel of the Savior of the world hunted us up and preached to what few there were; therefore we did not degenerate and turn heathen, as any community will where the sound of the gospel is never heard. I shall not give their names, though sacred in memory, for they were not after the fleece, but after the flock, because they had but little to say about science and philosophy, but spoke of purer things."
Though struggling under the pressure of poverty and privation, the early settlers planted among them the school-house at the earliest practicable period. So important an object as the education of their children they did not defer until they could build more comely and convenient houses. They were for a time content with such as corresponded with their rude dwellings, but soon better buildings and accommodations were provided. As may readily be supposed, the accommodations of the earliest schools were not good. Sometimes school was taught in a small log house erected for the purpose. Stoves and such heating apparatus as are now in use were unknown. A mud-and-stick chimney in one end of the building, with earthen hearth and fire-place wide and deep enough to take in a four-foot back-log, and smaller wood to match, served for warming purposes in winter and a kind of conservatory in summer. For windows, part of a log was cut out in either side, and may be a few lights of eight-by-ten glass set in, or just as likely as not the aperture would be covered with greased paper. Writing benches were made of wide planks, or likely puncheons, resting on pins or arms, driven into two-inch auger-holes, bored into the logs beneath the windows. Seats were made out of puncheons, and flooring of the same material. Everything was rude and plain ; but many of America's greatest men have gone out from just such school-houses to grapple with the world and make names for themselves, and have come to be an honor to their country. Among these we can name Abraham Lincoln, our martyred President, one of the noblest men ever known to the world's history. Stephen A. Douglas, one of the greatest statesmen of the age, began his career in Illinois teaching in one of these primitive school-houses.
James H. Murphy, who taught school at Canton in an early day, will probably remember the time he was asked for a holiday by his scholars and he refused to grant it. The following morning four of his scholars, J. L. Murphy and three Fenton boys, went to the school-house quite early, entered, locked and barred the door, and refused the teacher admittance when he came, unless he would grant them the desired holiday. He expostulated, but the boys were obdurate. He resorted to the chimney, covering the top to smoke the boys out, but this proved useless. Finally he broke through a window and effected an entrance, when the boys pitched into him and proved the stronger. They bound him with ropes, yet he would not promise the holiday. At last they threatened to duck him in a pond that was near unless he promised. This was to severe for him; so he yielded and gave the school the holiday.
But all these things are changed now. We no longer see log school-houses. Their places are filled with handsome frame or brick structures, which for elegance and beauty of design rival those of older-settled countries; and in place of the "masters," who were "looked up to" as superior beings, and were consulted on all matters of law, physic and religion, there are teachers of liberal culture, intelligent and progressive, many of whom have a broad and comprehensive idea of education, and regard their labor as something more than teaching merely in order to make a living, —more than a knowledge of a great number of facts in the universe of mind and matter. It means culture, the educating, developing and disciplining of all the faculties of the human mind. It is the comprehension of the entire being of man; and the school or teacher who takes charge and care of the young should provide the means and methods for carrying forward the process in all departments of their complex natures, physical, mental and spiritual.
The earliest settlers of the county went to St. Louis with what little produce they had to sell, and the merchants bought all their goods in that city. Soon, however, Peoria became a market, and produce was wagoned to that city and from there sent south on the river. There was at that time no sale for corn, or comparatively none, and wheat would bring but a small price; so that really there was no impetus given to the raising of grain of any sort, except for home consumption, until the advent of the railroad. At that time improvement began. The great resources of the county which had scarcely supplied more than home demand were then turned to supply the wants of thousands. That occasion, the advent of railroads, was the commencement of agricultural development. It was the commencement of the manufacturing institutions the county can now boast of; it was the building of her thriving cities and towns; indeed it was the beginning of progress.
One of the earliest steam-boats in the Illinois-river trade was the steamer "Exchange," which plied between St. Louis and Peoria. She was familiarly known as "the Shingle Weaver," so called from the fact of her carrying upon her hurricane deck a machine for cutting shingles, which was operated by the machinery of the boat, cutting whenever the boat was in motion. Shingle timber would be obtained at the wood-yards along the river, and market found for the manufactured goods either at St. Louis or Peoria. This boat was an especial favorite with the people of this county, many of whom would, when desiring to take a trip by river, wait for her coming, and most of the early stocks of goods were shipped on her; she also carried most of the county's "beeswax" and other products to their market.
"When the first settlers came to the wilderness," says an old settler, "they all supposed that their hard struggle would be principally over after the first year; but alas! we looked for 'easier times next year' for about ten years, and learned to bear hardships, privation and hard living as good soldiers do. As the facilities for making money were not great, we lived pretty well satisfied in an atmosphere of good, social, friendly feeling, and thought ourselves as good as those we left behind when we emigrated West."
CHILLS AND FEVER
One of the greatest obstacles to the early settlement and prosperity of this county was the "chills and fever," or "ague," or "Illinois shakes," as it was variously styled. This disease was a terror to new comers. In the fall of the year everybody was afflicted with it. It was no respecter of persons; everybody shook with it, and it was in every person's system. They all looked pale and yellow as though they were frostbitten. It was not contagious, but was a kind of miasma floating around in the atmosphere and absorbed into the system. It continued to be absorbed from day to day, and week to week, until the whole body corporate became charged with it as with electricity, and then the shock came; and the shock was a regular shake, with a fixed beginning and an ending, coming on each day, or each alternate day, with a regularity that was surprising. After the shake came the fever, and this "last estate was worse than the first." It was a burning, hot fever and lasted for hours. When you had the chill you couldn't get warm, and when you had the fever you couldn't get cool. It was exceedingly awkward in this respect; indeed it was. Nor would it stop for any sort of contingency. Not even a wedding in the family would stop it. It was imperative and tyrannical. When the appointed time came around everything else had to be stopped to attend to its demands. It didn't even have any Sunday or holidays. After the fever went down you still didn't feel much better. You felt as though you had gone through some sort of collision and came out not killed but badly demoralized. You felt weak, as though you had run too far after something, and then didn't catch it. You felt languid, stupid and sore, and was down in the mouth and heel and partially raveled out, so to speak. Your back was out of fix and your appetite was in a worse condition than your back. Your head ached and your eyes had more white in them than usual, and altogether you felt poor, disconsolate and sad. You didn't think much of yourself, and didn't believe other people did either, and you didn't care. You didn't think much of suicide, but at the same time you almost made up your mind that under certain circumstances it was justifiable. You imagined that even the dogs looked at you with a kind of self-complacency. You thought the sun had a kind of sickly shine about it. About this time you came to the conclusion that you would not accept the whole State of Illinois as a gift, and if you had the strength and means, you picked up Hannah and the baby and your traps, and went back "yander " to Injianny, Ohio, or old Kaintuck.
"And to-day the swallows flitting
Round my cabin see me sitting
Moodily within the sunshine,
Just inside my silent door,
Waiting for the 'ager,' seeming
Like a man forever dreaming;
And the sunlight on me streaming
Throws no shadow on the floor;
For I am too thin and sallow
To make shadows on the floor—
Nary shadow any more!"
The above is no picture of the imagination. It is simply recounting what occurred in hundreds of instances. Whole families would some times be sick at one time, and not one member scarcely able to wait upon another. One widow lady on the Illinois river informs us that she lost nine children from this dreaded disease!
To witness the various processes of cooking in those days would alike surprise and amuse those who have grown up since cooking stoves and ranges came into use. Kettles were hung over the large fire, suspended on trammels which were held by strong poles. The long-handled frying-pan was used for cooking meat. It was held on the fire by hand ; or, to save time, the handle was laid across the back of a chair. This pan was also used for baking short-cake. A better article was a cast-iron spider, which was set upon coals on the hearth. But the best thing for baking bread was the flat-bottomed bake-kettle, of greater depth, with closely fitting cast-iron cover, and commonly known as the " Dutch oven." With coals over and under it bread and biscuit would quickly and nicely bake. Turkeys and spare-ribs were sometimes roasted before the fire, suspended by a string, a dish being placed underneath to catch the drippings.
The agricultural implements used by the first farmers here would in this age of improvement be great curiosities. The plow used was called the bar-share plow. The iron point consisted of a bar of iron about two feet long, and a broad share of iron welded to it. At the extreme point was a coulter that passed through a beam six or seven feet long, to which were attached handles of corresponding length. The mold-board was a wooden one split out of winding timber, or hewed into a winding shape in order to turn the soil over. Sown seed was brushed in by dragging over the ground a sappling with a bushy top. In harvesting the change is most striking. Instead of the reapers and mowers of to-day, the sickle and cradle were used. The grain was threshed with a flail, or trodden out by horses or oxen.
The men were not called upon to endure alone all the hardships and labor of frontier life. The women also had their physical labor to perform, and much of it was quite arduous. Spinning was one of the common household duties. This exercise is one which few of the present generation of girls have ever enjoyed. The wheel used for spinning flax was called the "little wheel," to distinguish it from the "big wheel" used for spinning yarn. These stringed instruments furnished the principal music of the family, and were operated by our mothers and grandmothers with great skill, attained without pecuniary expense, and with far less practice than is necessary for the girls of our period to acquire a skillful use of their costly and elegant instruments.
The loom was not less necessary than the wheel. Not every house, however, in which spinning was done had a loom ; but there were always some in each settlement who, besides doing their own weaving, did some for others. Settlers, having succeeded in spite of the wolves in raising sheep, commenced the manufacture of woolen cloth; wool was carded and made into rolls by hand-cards, and the rolls were spun on the "big wheel." We occasionally find now, in the houses of the old settlers, one of these big wheels, sometimes used for spinning and twisting stocking yarn. They are turned with the hand, and with such velocity that it will run itself while the nimble worker, by her backward step, draws out and twists her thread nearly the whole length of the cabin. A common article woven on the loom was linsey, also called linsey-woolsey, the chain being linen and the filling woolen. This cloth was used for dresses for the girls and mothers. Nearly all the clothes worn by the men were also home-made. Rarely was a farmer or his son seen in a coat made of any other. If, occasionally, a young man appeared in a suit of "boughten" clothes, he was suspected of having gotten it for a particular occasion, which occurs in the life of nearly every man.
Not until the settlers had supplied themselves with the more useful articles of clothing and with edibles of various kinds, did wheat bread become a common article of food. It is true they had it earlier, but this was only served on extra occasions, as when visitors came, or on Sundays; and with this luxury they would have a little "store coffee." "The little brown jug" found a place in almost every home, and was often brought into use. No caller was permitted to leave the house without an invitation to partake of its contents.
PLEASURES OF PIONEER LIFE
The history of pioneer life generally presents the dark side of the picture; but the toils and privations of the early settlers were not a series of unmitigated sufferings. No; for while the fathers and mothers toiled hard, they were not averse to a little relaxation, and had their seasons of fun and enjoyment. They contrived to do something to break the monotony of their daily life and furnish them a good, hearty laugh. Among the more general forms of amusements were the "quilting-bee," "corn-husking," "apple-paring," "log-rolling" and "house-raising." Our young readers will doubtless be interested in a description of these forms of amusement, when labor was made to afford fun and enjoyment to all participating. The "quilting-bee," as its name implies, was when the industrious qualities of the busy, little insect that "improves each shining hour" were exemplified in the manufacture of quilts for the household. In the afternoon ladies for miles around gathered at an appointed place, and while their tongues would not cease to play, their hands were as busily engaged in making the quilt; and desire was always manifested to get it out as quickly as possible, for then the fun would begin. In the evening the gentlemen came, and the hours would then pass swiftly by in playing games or dancing. "Corn-huskings" were when both sexes united in the work. They usually assembled in a large barn, which was arranged for the occasion; and when each gentleman had selected a lady partner the husking began. When a lady found a red ear she was entitled to a kiss from every gentleman present; when a gentleman found one he was allowed to kiss every lady present. After the corn was all husked a good supper was served; then the "old folks" would leave, and the remainder of the evening was spent in the dance and in having a general good time. The recreation afforded to the young people on the annual recurrence of these festive occasions was as highly enjoyed, and quite as innocent, as the amusements of the present boasted age of refinement and culture.
Mr. Swan in describing the pioneer dwelling and habits and customs, says:
"The furniture of the cabin was as primitive as the occupants. In one corner—perhaps in two or three corners—were the bedsteads. These were your genuine/cottage bedsteads, made by boring one hole, say four feet from one corner of the cabin, into a 'house-log,' another hole, say six feet from the same corner, on another side; opposite these holes was set an upright post, usually a section from the body of a peeled sapling; in this post two holes would be bored at any desired height, and at right angles with each other; poles were inserted in these holes, making in this manner a square frame; over this frame was laid a covering of clapboards, or, as some denominated them, 'shakes,' and on top of this platform the bed was spread. The chairs were not exactly chairs, but three-legged stools or puncheon benches. The cupboard was literally a cupboard, being a puncheon supported by pins driven into holes in the house-logs at some convenient corner. The boxes which had held the family dry goods while fit route to the new country generally furnished the table, and a trough or troughs the meat and soap barrels. Hollow logs sawed into sections and provided with a puncheon bottom furnished a receptacle for meal, potatoes, beans, wheat, 'and sich like truck'—to use the pioneer vernacular. The table was bounteously supplied with 'samp,' 'ley hominy,' 'corn pone,' honey, venison, pork, stewed pumpkin, wild turkey, prairie chicken and other game. Wheat bread, tea, coffee, and fruit—except wild fruit—were luxuries not to be indulged in except on special occasions, as a wedding or gala day. 'Samp' was quite a frequent dish. It was made by burning a hole into some convenient stump in the shape of a mortar; this hole was filled with corn and pounded by a large pestle hung like the old-fashioned well-sweep pendent from a long pole, which was nearly balanced on an upright fork. This pole had a weight attached to one end and the pestle to the other; the weight would lift the pestle, while manual force was expected to bring it down. When the 'samp' was pounded sufficiently, it was washed and boiled like rice.
"The traveler always found a welcome at the pioneer's cabin. lt was never full; although there might already be a guest for every puncheon, there was still room for one more, and a wider circle would be made for the newcomer at the log fire. If the stranger was in search of land, he was doubly welcome, and his host would volunteer to show him all the 'first-rate claims in this neck of woods,' going with him for days, showing the corners and advantages of every 'Congress tract' within a dozen miles from his own cabin.
"To his neighbors the pioneer was equally liberal. If a deer was killed, the choicest bits were sent to his nearest neighbor, a half-dozen miles away, perhaps. When a 'shoat' was butchered, the same custom prevailed. If a new-comer came in too late for 'cropping,' the neighbors would supply his table with just the same luxuries they themselves enjoyed, and in as liberal quantity, until a crop could be raised. When a new-comer had located his claim, the neighbors for miles around would assemble at the site of the new-comer's proposed cabin and aid him in 'gittin' it up.' One party with axes would fell and hew the logs; another with teams would haul the logs to the ground; another party would 'raise the cabin'; while several of the old men would 'rive the clapboards' for the roof. By night the cabin would be up and ready for occupying, and by the next day the new-comer was in all respects as well situated as his neighbors.
"Saturday was a regular holiday, in which work was ignored and everybody went to town or to some place of general resort. When all were together in town, sport began. Of course whisky circulated freely and every body indulged to a greater or less extent. Quarrels were now settled by hand-to-hand encounters; wrestling-matches came off or were arranged for the future; jumping, footracing, and horse-racing filled up the interval of time; and everybody enjoyed the rough sports with a zest unknown among the more refined denizens of the present good city of Canton.
"The fleetest runner among the pioneers was Stephen Coleman; the champion wrestler was Daniel Babbett; while at fisti-cuifs the belt was contested for between Stephen Coleman and Emsley Fouts. Coleman and Fouts were nearly equally matched, and on several occasions waged desperate war, with varying fortunes, until they held their last great battle, which will never be forgotten by the pioneers. It was on election day, in the fall of 1831. For weeks before it was understood that they were to fight. On election day, accordingly, they met on Union street, in front of Tyler's Tavern, and, surrounded by an immense crowd of their respective friends, proceeded to settle their difficulty. The fight was fierce, long, and bloody. Coleman, it was claimed, struck Fouts before he was entirely divested of his coat, and by this means began with the advantage in his favor, which advantage he was able to maintain until Fouts, after a gallant struggle, was forced to yield. Coleman's friends raised him on their shoulders, and marched with him a triumphal march to the public square and back.
"Fouts was defeated, but, as he believed, not fairly, and he determined to renew the contest on another occasion. This was also understood, and the final struggle was looked forward to by the settlers with even more expectant interest than the first. Accordingly, a few weeks later, one Saturday, Fouts came to town for the purpose of meeting Coleman. He stopped at Dickey Johnson's, where he left his coat and put himself in fighting trim. Johnson accompanied him to town and acted as his friend and second. Fouts soon met Coleman, and informed him that he had come to town expressly to settle their little trouble. Coleman began to draw his leather coat, but before it was off Fouts took the same advantage Coleman had taken in the previous fight, and struck him. This advantage was all he desired, and vigorously did he follow it up. Coleman was not easily handled, however, and soon was stripped and in fighting trim. The fight was a desperate one, and it was soon apparent that neither would acknowledge defeat. Fouts, however, had so well followed up his advantage that Coleman's friends parted them, and ever after neither could be induced to attack the other.
"Foot-racing, jumping, and wrestling were also indulged in on Saturdays,
and among the pioneers were men of fleet foot, strong arm, and sinewy limb. John Anderson, a saddler who worked
for Bryant L. Cook, was credited with the fleetest foot prior and up to the storm of 1835; while Alexander Cumming,
a brother-in-law of Jacob Weaver, was said to excel all others in jumping. In 1830 and immediately succeeding years
John Scurlock and Abram Putman were the champion runners, and Putman the champion jumper. Occasionally the sport
would be varied by a horse-race, while whisky and jokes were freely indulged in. Some of these pioneers were rare
old jokers, too. The point of their jokes would some times rub a raw place in their victim, but for that so much
Source: The History of Fulton County pub. in 1879 by C. C. Chapman, pages 318-332.
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