Embracing an Account of the Settlement
and Early Progress - Compiled and Published by Mr. Henry A. Ford in
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
Country Settlements in Putnam
This settlement lies in the great bend of the Illinois river near Hennepin, having on one side the belt of timber which skirts the stream, and toward the east extending out upon the great prairie which stretches almost uninterruptedly to the Wabash. In the north-eastern part of village of Granville is situated, and Florid in the southwestern. The country comprised by it is among the most fertile and beautifully diversified in the State, and landed property commands superior prices.
This region was settled in 1829-30, and increased more rapidly in population than any other part of Putnam county. The early settlers were plain, intelligent farmers and mechanics, for the most part emigrants from Ohio, with some from Pennsylvania and New England.
Among them were Jas. G. Dunlavy, Smiley and Nelson Shepherd, the Willises, Thomas Gallaher, Sr., Wm. M. and James G. Stewart, James A., Joseph, Hugh and John E. Warnock, George Ish, John L. Ramsey, Sam'l D. Laughlin, and John P. Blake. The first church erected in Putnam Co. was put up in the Grove in 1830 - a little, rude log building in the wilderness, whither the pioneers and their families for many miles around repaired fro the worship of God. Here, in the season of Indian difficulties, there was an appearance of the warlike mingled with the devotional, as many settlers carried their guns to meeting, to guard against surprise from the savage foe.
A strong religious sentiment pervaded the entire community; and the settlement was named Union Grove, in token of the peace and harmony which reigned there, and which it was hoped would abide forever within its borders.
The first school in Putnam was taught near the Grove by Mrs. Martha Ramsey, in the summer of 1830; and another in the autumn of the next year, by John P. Blake, who received $20 per months, and "boarded round." The log church was replaced in 1837-8 by a large brick building - an unusually good one for that early time, in a country settlement. It is occupied by the Presbyterians, who formed the original church. In 1838 the settlement comprised about sixty families.* It is now among the most densely populated sections of the State.
*(?) Register and North-western Gazetteer, May 19, 1838.
This prairie takes its name from the semi-elliptical shape given it by the winding of the creeks in the vicinity, and the consequent encroachment of forest upon the prairie. The beauty and fertility of this region attracted settlers at an early date, many arriving before 1830, after which it filled up with considerable rapidity. In 1834 it was referred to as already "overspread with fine farms."* The village of Caledonia and the quondam town of Putnam were laid off upon it a year or two afterwards; and Magnolia is but a little distance from the settlement, which is now a dense one.
The principal early settlers were Asahel Hannum, Jeremiah Strawn, David Boyle, Daniel Gunn, Isaac and Geo. Hilderbrand, Lemuel Gaylord, the Glens, and others. The first post-office in the county was established here, which was kept at Mr. Boyle's during the early part of 1831. A school was also kept the previous winter, by Geo. H. Shaw.
One of the most daring of the many robberies committed by the notorious "banditti of the prairies" in 1844-5, occurred on this prairie during the night of June 9th, 1845, at the house of Jeremiah Strawn. From its circumstances, and the evil fame and tragic fate of some of the participants, it has achieved unwonted celebrity, and calls for lengthened notice.
*Peek's Gazetteer of Illinois, (1st ed.) 203.
The Daring Robbery of Jeremiah Strawn
The thieves that were to attack Mr. Strawns house, and had their plans all laid for that purpose, were a little disconcerted by a man named Bridges being arrested and sent to the penitentiary. This Bridges was the captain of the band that was to commit the deed, and to prepare the way one of the number must first go and view the house, as they never ventured until they knew what they had got to encounter. Accordingly in December, 1844, a stranger, peddling oilcloths, called at Strawns and traded with the women, but as Strawn came in to dinner at one door the man left at the other, so that he did not see him. This man, as afterwards appeared, was Birch, one of the robbers. But on account of the arrest of Bridges the project was postponed, but not abandoned. In the spring of 1845 another man called there, selling types and ink, and instructing the girls how to use them; he too left without Strawn having seen him. This was Fox, another of the robbers. On the Sunday evening previous to the robbery, another of the gang, named Long, called on Strawn and requested the privilege of staying all night. Strawn, with his usual hospitality, granted his request. He was riding a very good horse, and, although dressed well, he wore a pair of light pumps on his feet. He said that he came from the south part of the State, and was in search of a farm which he wished to purchase for his father, and that Jacob Strawn, of Jacksonville, recommended him to come to his county or La Salle. His father was not in very good health, and wished to buy a small farm in a neighborhood where they could enjoy the advantages of meeting, as they were all religious. He employed his time whilst there mostly in reading the Bible, and in answer to a question from Mrs. Strawn, said he was a Presbyterian. He stayed until after breakfast, and then concluded that he would go to La Salle county, and call and see Strawn on his return, if he did not get a farm to suit.
They intended to visit him the next night; but when Long, the man that had been there, got to their headquarters at Peru, he found a man there from Chicago, from whom they had stolen a horse; it was necessary then for them to flee, and they went across the country nearly to Quincy, then came east and crossed the Illinois river near Beardstown, and up almost to Lacon, where they had a private stable under ground. There they left their horses and came up and reconnoitered, went back, got their horses, crossed the river, and came up on the west side about opposite of Strawns house, about three miles distant.
The gang then (consisting of Robert Birch as Captain, John Long, Fox, and Luther) crossed the river in a skiff, having secreted their horses in the thick brush, and on their way to Strawns stopped and got supper with Jos. Regenold, a German. They had plenty of whisky, and left there before night, and went south.
Mr. Strawn that night went to bed, and left the window near the door of their room raised about an inch. About one oclock Mrs. S. said to ther husband, There is somebody getting into the house, but before he could get up the door was opened, a light struck, and a man stood over him with an axe in his hand, and ordered him to lie still at the peril of his life. Birch and Fox stood to keep guard inside of the house, and told Mr. S., that there were twenty men outside, when in reality there was only Luther. Long commenced to search the house for money. They found the trunk containing his papers and money under the bed of the girls. They hauled it into the room where Mr. S. was, and proposed to take it outdoors; but Mr. Strawn told them that he wished they would not destroy his papers, and that was all the money he had in the house.
They scattered the papers about the floor, and took something over a hundred dollars in change, and a hundred dollars in canal scrip. Long then inquired if anybody slept in the other part of the house, it being the room he slept in the Sunday night previous. He was told that a Mr. Burr, a Methodist preacher, was there. He went into the room, and in doing so awakened him.
He told him to lie still or he would make him, all the time using such horrid oaths that it was enough to make a man shudder. Fox hallooed to him to kill him, as he was a minister and would go to heaven. They got what little money the preacher had and his watch, and were continuing their search, when the man outside came in and told Birch that some one had got out of the house and ran away.
Birch then asked Mr. Strawn if he intended to follow hi, saying he had better be in h__l than to do so. They then left, and carried off much less than they expected to have got; for a Mr. Schooler, from Olio, had been there, and had considerable money, but had left a day or two before. Birch told Strawn just the amount that Schooler had that they intended to get.
Mr. Strawn soon set himself to work to ferret out the robbers. After hunting some time, he visited the jail in Rock Island. As he went in, Birch, who was confined there as one of the murderers of Col. Davenport, knew him, and called him by name. He also recognized him as the man that was a little too nigh him one night in the June before, holding an axe over his head. Birch then told the whole transaction, and said that a certain Mr. L., in Peru, was at the head of it all, and planned it all for them.
Strawn returned, got a warrant, and the Sheriff went to Peru and arrested Zimri Lewis. The Grand Jury found a bill against him, and he took a change of venue. Birch was taken back to Knoxville, his trial having been changed to Knox county. Lewis gave bail to appear at Court at Ottawa. In the meantime Col. Davenport had been murdered, and Long, one of the robbers, had been hung. Fox, after having been arrested, effected his escape. Luther died in Indiana. As the main testimony against Lewis was Birch, it was necessary, if possible, to get him out of the way. This was accomplished in the following manner. A man committed an offence in Knox co., so as to get confined in the same jail with Birch. Another went to Knoxville and took a school, and got board with the jailor.
He succeeded in gaining the confidence of the jailor, and under pretence of sympathy for the prisoners, he was allowed to visit them in jail; and as the man confined with Birch was sick, they were allowed to got out of their cell in the day time. By this means they succeeded in digging under the stone, and then digging up on the other side, until they came to frozen ground. One night the school-teacher was missing, but nothing was thought of it until the next morning. When the jailor visited the jail, the prisoners were gone, and he found a piece of writing informing him that he need have no fears for his horse, as it would be returned to him, which was accordingly done. It appeared that the frozen ground had been bored away with augers. Neither Birch nor any of his friends at Knoxville have been seen in that part of the country since. It is believed that Birch was thrown into the Mississippi river and drowned. As there was now but very little evidence against Lewis, the indictment was quashed. Thus ended one of the most exciting scenes ever enacted in the county." *
*This interesting statement was taken from the lips of Mr. Strawn by Rev. John P. Hayes of Hennepin, and contributed to the Hennepin Tribune for Sept. 18th, 1856. It is consequently a more reliable account than that given in the Banditti of the Prairies, (p. 44-5) which differs from it in several particulars.
This settlement comprises all that part of the county west of the Illinois river. The township contains much timber and bottom land, and hence is less thickly populated than any other in Putnam. There is a considerable settlement, however, in the rich, fertile country at the head of Henry Prairie, where there is a railroad station, and a beginning for a town has been made. The Peoria and Bureau Valley Railroad (which is a branch of the Chicago and Rock Island Road) passed through this township, being the only railway touching Putnam county. An Indian village formerly stood in the valley a mile above the station, where lived Senach-e-wane, an Indian chief of some local renown, who has given his name to the town. +
Snachwine had scarcely an inhabitant before 1835, and its history is comparatively uneventful. Considerable excitement was created in October, 1853, by the base murder of John McKee, of Henry, by one Wm. Williams, in the woods near the residence of S. C. Bacon, Esq. The murder was accomplished by cutting the throat of McKee, and, so far as is known, was committed purely for gain.
+For a further notice of Se-nach-e-wane, see Appendix.
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