Jackson County, Illinois

John Rice Crain died in the West: Recalls Early Days

Story by Kent Keller 03 Jan 1929, donated by Peg Luthy

A pioneer of pioneers of Illinois passed to his reward on December 29, 1928, at Roy, State of Washington, where interment took place Monday, the 31st.  This Crain family, four brothers of them, Thomas, Squire, Joel and James, came from Georgia to Kaskaskia in 1799 and settled east of the Kaskaskia River being among the first to come into that section following the long continued and bitter Indian War in which so many settlers had lost their lives in Illinois. These Crains settled north and east of where Chester now stands. The settlement in which they joined followed the trail from Fort Massac to Kaskaskia. There were two of the trails. The start of one from Fort Massac making a wide swing to the north before turning decisively to the west. About five miles west of where Marion now stands this trail divides. The old branch runs along the easiest ground to the ancient crossing of the big Muddy. Just above the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, the old road from Murphysboro to Ava, thence along the north side of the breaks of Little Kinkaid, on the south side of Coses Creek to Shiloh Hill, Wine Hill, Randolph, Fort Gage, and Kaskaskia. This old trail was originally used by the Indians. It followed the high ground. The water-shed of the Ozark uplift. The entire way from Fort Massacre, as it was called in the early days, to Kaskaskia, the only crossing of any water being at the rapids at the old ford at Murphysboro. The Indians boasted that they could go from one place to the other without wetting their moccasins, it really being quiet easy to jump from one rock to another at low water at this old ford.

The north trail ran near to where Herrin now stands, thence swinging north and west to where DuQuoin, Denmark and Steeleville now stand joining the other trail near where Randolph now stands. This trail was in the prairie all the way and was the one used most when carts and finally wagons came into use. But in very early times a military road was opened by the French following the general lines of the old Indian trail, but making such cut-offs as the use of horses permitted. This road was marked each mile on a tree. the numbers of the miles were burned into the tree with irons and then painted red. Uncle Nimian Smith in about 1870 while cutting a tree on his land adjoining the south side of Ava, opened up one of these marks as he took off the first large chip. The figures and the red paint were very plain, and had been covered over in the natural growth of the tree. It was over this military road that George Rogers Clark brought his little army and captured Kaskaskia on July 4th, 1778, and made certain that ll the territory north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi River should be a part of the United States when the treaty of Peace granting our independence was finally made.

It was along these trails, as later also along the Shawneetown trail that Illinois received it’s first settlers. This remained true till well after the end of the War of 1812. These people came mostly from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and still later from Tennessee and Kentucky. Most of these later having themselves come from these older states. Kaskaskia was the center of civilization in the Mississippi Valley until after the close of the Revolutionary War. It remained so for Illinois, being the capital of the state till the establishment of the new capital at Vandalia in 1818. Kaskaskia was the seat of the government land office from the beginning of American control. So to Kaskaskia all the settlers came, and from there branched out because there the best information about the new country was available. All the American settlers had settled between Kaskaskia and Cahokia because of the greater security against attack by the Indians. Not till 1785 had anyone ventured to build a house between Fort Massac and Kaskaskia. In that year a few took up land on the east side of Kaskaskia River just above Fort Gage. But four years later the Indian War came on and they drew back across the river to the vicinity of Kaskaskia.

The Crains were followed shortly by the Barrow, Crosses, Burkes, Bradleys, Bilderbacks, Whites, Webbs, Sheldons, and others at Shiloh Hill on the old Indian trail over which Joshua Brandley had footed it from Fort Massac to Kaskaskia looking for a brother, William, in 1796. So the old pioneers, the Crains, naturally settled along the trail. This family has branched out all through this central settlement, mostly in Southern Illinois. James Crain located near where the old trail crossed Gravel Creek. To him five sons were born. Benjamin, Joel, Friend, West and Harrison. Friend Crain, the third son, was born here in 1809. When Friend Crain married, he moved back along the north trail and settled near Denmark, in Perry County. Here four sons were born to him, John Rice Crain was born March 23, 1838, followed by George, Sandy (still living), and Thomas.

John Rice Crain got his name from John Rice Jones, the first lawyer who ever settled in Illinois. He came to Kaskaskia in 1790, and became noted as a lawyer. John Rice Crain moved with his father, while still a boy, from Denmark to a farm near Creekpaum Church. He grew up as the other boys did in pioneer times without much opportunity except for hard work. But the opening up of all this country was the great and never to be forgotten service which the pioneer men and equally the pioneer women rendered to their time. the last of them who devoted their lives to this service to Illinois are rapidly passing. It is therefore especially met that as each one of these passing along the trail and crosses the river, again shall have recounted the lives that he and his ancestors led for those now living and those though countless yet to come, in this land which their hands made fruitful.

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