Jackson County, Illinois
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ILLINOIS (I AM WILLIAM CAROL DAVIS)
Contributed by: Brenda Oetjen
I was born in Tennessee near Nashville in 1818. The family Bible containing our ages was carried away by Mary Harris my father's sister, who was married to Cribbs Harris and moved to Missouri, so I really don't know just when I was born. I know that Christmas day was my birthday, and I think the year was 1818 is when I was born.
My mother's maiden name was Nancy Youngman. My mother first married a Mr. Austin, father of John Austin, who was the father of Henry Austin of Kinkaid Township.
John had two sisters, Mary and Alyra. Austin died and then my mother married Willis Davis. There were five children by this marriage, myself, Amanda, Becky Ann, Margaret, and Jane. Amanda married Oliver Cross, Becky Ann died young, Margaret married a Mr. Belchy of Missouri, and Jane married Henry Purdy of Tuttle Prairie. My grandfather Davis was named Amos Davis. About the time my father moved to Illinois, my grandfather moved to the eastern part of the state. He had two brothers, James and Aaron. In those days we did not pay much attention to places and dates as they do now. There were no railroads in those days and not much anything else. I was seven or eight years old when my father moved to Illinois and settled near Sand Ridge.
James Davis, grandfather's brother settled on what is now known as the Tom Davis place at the foot of the bluffs in the Mississippi bottoms. Our family came a little higher up and built a little log house at the foot of the bluff about two miles from where the Kinkaid runs into Big Muddy and northwest. It was a small cabin like pioneers built all over the country.
FREE LAND, FREE LIVING
We came from Tennessee in wagons, I was just big enough to ride a horse, we camped out at night along the road. The Indians were still in this country when we came here, but left a short time afterwards. There was no land entered in this country at that time that I know of. It was a good many years after that when the entering of land took place. They did not need any land in those days, except enough to make bread, because you could kill enough game for all the meat you wanted. We raised our own cotton, picked the seed out and carded it by hand, and spun and wove it by hand. Caps were made out of coonskin. Buckskin was tanned, sometimes with hair on and sometimes with it taken off, and made into hunting jackets and coats. At that time, when we first came here everybody wore Indian moccasins, made of buckskin, and the men and boys wore buckskin breeches. The remainder of the clothing was made out of cotton we raised ourselves. Many fancy coats and jackets were made out of buckskins, especially handsome cuffs, carved, fringed and finished according to the tastes of the wearers.
KING CORN AND MILLING IT
There was no wheat raised for a good many years after we came here, we ate cornbread entirely. Much of the bread was made of meal pounded in a mortar. The mortar was made by cutting off a block of wood from a big log, stand it on end a good deal like a butcher's block, except there were no legs under it; a fire was then built on top of the block, burning it out dish shaped until you got it as deep as you wanted it, then the fire and charcoal was scraped out, you put corn in this hole and crushed it. A small maul was used for a pestle; this was made out of a pole about six inches in thickness and for the first foot full size, then the pole was whittled down so as to make a handle, and with that pestle mortar you lit in on the corn and crushed it up into a meal. The meal was sifted with a hand sieve, the coarse and unground part put in the mortar and crushed again.
OLD MILLS HE KNEW
The first mill I ever remember seeing was built by a man named Cline near Rockwood. The next mill I saw built was by a Mr. Rendleman, it was a horse mill. The Rendleman mill was an improvement over the other one. You always went to mill on horseback, taking the corn behind you, and when you got there you got off your horse and hitched him to the mill and ground your own corn. The mill owner would take one-seventh of the corn as toll. They used regular stone burrs a good deal like the modern ones, only not dressed so well, and the meal was not ground so fine as it is now by any means.
BOWERS WONDER PLANT
The next mill I remember was built by John Bower; it was a water mill and was built on Kinkaid creek about three miles from Brownsville. At this time a little wheat was being raised and this mill ground both wheat and corn; it also ran an up-and- down saw and sawed lumber. This was considered a great improvement at that time and was hailed as a great industry. This mill also bolted flour, that is, separated the bran from the flour. After that, old man Criley built what was afterwards known as the Criley mill, but this was a long time after the Bower mill was built. This mill was also operated by water power from Kinkaid creek, and was originally built as a cotton gin and not as a mill. The Criley mill was comparatively recent compared with the old days. Of course that is a long time ago for you young fellows; my recollection is that the lumber from the Criley mill is the same that was afterwards brought up to the old Bob Cheatham place and was used for building the old Cheatham home.
YE OLDEN MAIL CARRIER
In those days the mail was carried overland from Kaskaskia to Cairo, and a man named Berry Harris had the contract. I remember mighty well, when I was twelve or fourteen years old, I often made trips for him. It took all week to make a round trip. We would leave Kaskaskia early Monday morning and would not get back until Saturday night. I remember this experience very clearly how on my first trip to Cairo I was put to bed with a man who seemed to be bothered with night-mare; he kept me awake the whole night by his jerks and kicks and finally threw himself out of bed onto the floor.
This mail route extended from Kaskaskia to Brownsville, thence to Jonesboro thence to Cairo. The entering of land had then begun and I have seen Harris have as much gold and silver in his saddle bags as a good man could carry, taking it to Kaskaskia to enter land with. The Illinois bank currency was no good and they would not accept it. Missouri money was alright and you could enter land with that.
CAIRO JUST A SWAMP
At that time, when I made trips to Cairo, there was not a house within several miles of Cairo, but just one continuos swamp with no settlements, and it was very difficult to get through on horseback. There was no such thing as goobers. In those days; about all the lawing there was was in disputes about hogs and horses and if some fellow took more than his share, they would have a lawsuit about it. There were scarcely any lawyers in Jackson County, and most of the lawyers came down from Kaskaskia on Sunday to attend court at Brownsville during the week and would start back on Friday or Saturday. They usually got down to Brownsville Monday morning after stopping at my fathers house on Sunday nights.
We always saw them going back the latter part of the week. There was an astray pen at Brownsville, and if a man found any stock and did not know who the owner was, he brought it there and put it in the pen for public inspection; and if the owner came he had to prove ownership as they do now. There were great numbers of wild hogs in those days and they were considered common property.
AT THE OLD COUNTY SEAT
They used to have muster days at Brownsville twice a year; we boys had a company and John A. Logan was our captain. On those mister days and during court and on Election days everyone came to old Brownsville. There was a great deal of sport on such occasions. The sport consisted of jumping, wrestling and fighting. Fight? Of course they fought. If two fellows would fall out they were expected to fight fair and square, just fists and skull; you never saw anyone draw a weapon in those days; to draw a weapon of any kind was considered to be the act of a coward and if any one undertook it everybody would join in and hit him with whatever came in handy. Generally, in order to avoid any crowding, the fighters would go into the astray pen where no one could bother them and the spectators would gather around the pen and watch the fight. They would go at it "hammer and tongs" until one was whipped, then they would shake hands, everybody laughed and thought nothing of it; they were not arrested or anything of the kind. The man who would not fight when he had to was of no account. Nobody was afraid to fight; nobody could get badly hurt anyhow with fists; they would get bruised up some of course.
LOGAN WHIPS THE WIDOWS SON
Oh, yes I knew John A. Logan and his brothers as well as I knew anybody; I played with them many a time and saw them fight. John was never so bad to fight, but when he was pushed into it he could fight, and don't you forget it. I recollect there was a boy 15 or 16 years old who undertook to run over Tom one day, and John, a'stepping in, took Tom's part. I tell you that were some fight, but John gave him a good dressing. The boy that John licked was a widow's son and after the fight was over the boy's mother came down and John went up to her and apologized for giving the boy the licking he deserved, because he felt sorry for his mother. I knew John Logan's father, Dr. Logan very well; he used to practice all along the bottom, he and old Dr. Conrad Will. Dr. Logan used to wear his hair 18 inches long, plaited. John A. looked very much like him. John A. was elected representative about 1839; they called Logan "Black Jack". For the next four years old Dick Bradley was elected. Both men were dark complexioned and they called Bradley "Black Dick", so they sent word from Springfield and wanted to know if there were any white men down there.
GATHERING THE SHEATHS
When I was a boy I hoed corn many a day for $.12 1/2 per day. When they first began harvesting wheat a man received $1 per day for cutting and the binders received $.75 per day. The first wheat I ever saw cut was when I worked for Tom Davis; he had five acres and that was considered a mighty big crop then. Reap hooks were mostly used in cutting wheat, but there was a man by the name of Davis who lived down in the Shannon settlement came here to help; he had a little mowing scythe and it was a beauty. I remember we boys had to carry water and we kept the water and the whiskey in the shade of a mulberry tree. The wheat was laid of in squares and after cutting a square the man would come over to the old mulberry tree and take a drink of whiskey and water. When not carrying water we boys piled up the bundles for the shockers; I went over to where this fellow laid his scythe down and I just itched to get a hold of it; so I watched my chance, and when I thought no one was looking, I picked up the cradle and lit into the wheat, making a pretty good lick. An old fellow named Cockran saw me and hollered "Go ahead boy, that's a good lick." I lit it again, as I felt highly encouraged by what he said, and I jerked a finger out of the cradle. I laid the cradle down and the owner came up and wanted to whip me; old man Cockran told him he would put a new finger in and it wouldn't cost him a cent, but the owner wanted to whip me anyway. The old fellow said, "No, whip me first." The owner sold the cradle the same day to Wis Crain for $3. The cradle was considered a great invention at that time. The first mower or reaper I ever saw I bought at Rockwood; after I bought a harvester, and then bought a self-binder.
I remember when I was a young fellow I took a trip to New Orleans with a cargo of staves. That was the year of the big flood, 1844. The staves were made at Swallow Rock bend, on the Big Muddy. I had lots of fun on that trip, but the exposure brought on a severe attack of rheumatism and my feet are crippled today from the effects of it. I have seen all the great inventions from the railroads to the airship and have witnessed the development of this state from it's small beginning to the great commonwealth it is today.
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