Lee County IL


An interesting volume of local history that we haven't said much about is the book that took the place of a window.

The book is "recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County," published in Dixon in 1893. It was compiled by the Lee County Columbian Club - an organization devoted to sparking interest in the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago that year.

The introduction to the book reveals the club had hoped to offer a window for display in some part of the exposition. It was to be a three panel window, the center showing Father Dixon's cabin, with pictures of Father Dixon and Black Hawk, flanking it.

The club found "insurmountable difficulties" prevented the creation of the window, so in its stead, the group decided to publish a volume of papers on county history to send to the exposition as its exhibit.

Thats how a club which hoped to buy a window (which probably would have been of temporary interest, or, at least, limited in interest) produced a book which tells many interesting details of pioneer life in the county.

The following selection from the book concerns the Gilmore family which settled in Wyoming Township in 1835.


Near the close of a cold, rainy day, on the fourth of June, 1835, on the hill about half way between Pawpaw and Melugin's Grove in this (Lee) county, a geam of two horses, facing west, became exhausted and refused to go any further. In the wagon were Mrs. John Gilmore and five children, the eldest being nine years old, and beside the team, the husband and father, and a friend, Mr. William Guthrie; rain was falling steadily, night was approaching, and the only house between them and Dixon's Ferry, was that of Xachariah Melugin, three miles away. A consultation was held and Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore and the children started on foot in an endeavor to reach the shelter of Mr. Melugin's house, which they did, late at night, drenched with the rain and thoroughly exhausted. Mr. Guthrie remained with the team and help being sent to him they were brought in the next day.

Guthrie had passed over the counry as a soldier in the Black Hawk war, and it was owing to this enthusiastic description that this beautiful sopt was chosen for their future home.

They were true pioneers, and within a few days a claim was selected, the walls of a log cabin 12 feet square and seven feet high were erected and covered with shakes, held in place by "weight poles," and the family moved in. No door, window, chimney or floor, but it was the foundation of a happy, prosperous home..

A puncheon floor was soon added, a "stick chimney" and a shake door, and soon the little cabin was made hospitable and comfortable, but when it was finished not a board or wall or a pane of glass had been used in its construction. In this cabin, on the eighth of November, 1835, was born to Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore, a son, W.W. Gilmore, who later became a Compton merchant.

Soon after this event, finding that work (to be paid for in provisions) could be had at Ross' Grove, 20 miles from home, Mr. Gilmore left his family, and accompanied by his friend, Guthrie, went to Ross' Grove and worked most of the winter. They came home on Saturday night on foot, often carrying a part of their week's wages on their shoulders, and walked back to their work on Monday.

The Indians had not yet been removed, and day and night they swarmed around the little cabin begging, and often impudently demanding food, which, from her scanty store, Mrs. Gilmore was unable to supply. She has often said that she suffered more from fear of the Indians that winter, than from all other causes comained.

Sometime in the fall of that year, Mr. A.V. Christeance and wife had erected a cabin about a mile distant and were living in it. About Christmas there came on one of those terrible sleet storms, and the ground was soon covered with one continued glare of ice. About midnight the family awakened to find the cabin filed with stifling smoke. The stick chimney had taken fire and the house was in great danger. Mrs. Gilmore was alone with her children, hastily dressed herself and tried to put out the fire.

The spring of water was some 20 rods away and everything so covered with ice that she could walk only in her stocking feet, and in this way went several times to the spring and brought water, but did not gain on the fire.

In this emergency she started her nine-year-old boy after help. Mr. Christeance, the nearest neighbor, was a mile away, through the woods with only a dim path, which was easy enough to follow in daylight, but in a dark and bitterly cold and stormy night is was doubtful if the boy could find the way, or endure the cold if he did. But it was the only chance, and whistling for his faithful dog he started. He later called that midnight tramp one of the most perilous experiences of his life. But he succeeded and returned iwth help, and by their united efforts the house was saved, though greatly damaged.

Game was plentiful, but ammunition was scarce. During the first winter a party ofhunters camped near the grove and killed a great many deer, which they hung on the trees until they should get a wagon load. One day Mrs. Guthrie, in passing through the grove, came upon a large buck hung up, and after considering the matter a little, she shouldered it and carried it home. She used to say that she always felt a little guilty in appropriating the venison, but it seemed to be a matter of necessity...

William Guthrie located a claim in 1835 at what was afterwards known as Guthrie's Grove, near his friend, Gilmore, and in the fall of 1836 was married to Miss Ross, at Ross' Grove on Indian creek, a distance of 20 miles. Transportation in those days was a matter of serious difficulty, but the wedding was an event that must be duly celebrated. So Mr. Gilmore yoked his best pair of oxen to the wagon, took his wife and the younger children, two lady friends and the groom, and by making an early start accomplished the journey in a day.

The wedding was celebrated with real new country hilarity, and the bride and groom returned to the cabin which he had prepared. Mrs. Guthrie used to say that they commenced housekeeping with her wedding outfit - a straw tick, a tea kettle and a frying pan.

The struggle for life was sharp, and sometimes the larder was nearly empty, but when spring came and the flowers bloomed, the hardships of the winter were soon forgotten.

Written by Rebecca Gilmore Frost
Source: The Dixon Evening Telegraph by Staff Writer, Roger Thompson

William W. Gilmore

The website of Sherron Guthrie (Rootsweb) notes that William Guthrie and Matilda Ross were married 18 August 1836 in Ross' Grove, Dekalb Co IL. William was born 01 March 1796 and died in Compton IL 17 October 1863. Matilda was born 01 Mar 1817, the daughter of Joseph & Mary (Hunt) Ross. Matilda died 09 May 1886 in Melugins Grove and is also buried in the Melugins' Grove Cemetery. They had a son named David born 4 Mar 1844 (Another website says 1848) who later moved to Bedford Co IA where he met and married Eunice Easter. Some time later they moved to Woodward Co OK. Sherron also says of William "Wm's dad died in Ireland when his son was a mere child. Wm was adopted by Capt. Rainer, a nobleman of Cork. William emigrated to America at 19 yrs. arriving in NYC where he clerked in a store for a year. He then made his way to Pittsburg, PA. where he enlisted as a soldier (5 yrs) in the Black Hawk War. Traveled thru Chicago, making his way westward and utilized his land warrant by securing land in the vacinity of Guthrie's Grove, in Lee Co., Ill."


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