If while you were out in the timber gathering a load of fire-wood and a wild deer charged you what would you do? Shoot? But if it was almost before the days of guns? Well, you hike for home even though you had been a big boy of fourteen and had a team and wagon to make the getting there more sure.
Alexander Brown, now over 87 years old, then about fourteen, hopped into the wagon and drove for home -- less than 40 rods away -- while the angered deer charged the hourses with their long antlers until the clearing was reached.
Would you sit in an Indian chief's wigwam and take the proffered home-made wooden spoon and east with the Indians the corn and venison cooking in a copper kettle over the fire -- eating with the Indians out of the same kettle? To refuse would have been an insult to them.
But Mr. Brown, when about 30 years old, ate with Old Shabony, a chief of a tribe of eight or ten Indians who made their home along the Vermillion river, which flowed about a mile from his parents' farm in the northeast corner of Marshall county.
Old Shabony was the name by which the Indian chief was called. Probably the head of a tribe of Shaubena or Shabony Indians. In one of his visits ot the chief he suggested that "Old Shabony shoot buck", the Old Shabony quite old, said "Me no good shoot buck, only good fix fire, cook buck."
Mr. Brown's history is exceptionally interesting because there are so few still living who can tell of the early days of the Indians, of the wooden rails instead of steel, of harvesting with a hand sickle, of tramping out the grain, and of the days when there was no Marshall county, and no railroads in the state.
For 83 years he has lived in the territory now known as Marshall county. When he first came to Illinois from Batavia, Clairmont county, Ohio, on the Ohio river, four years after his birth in 1837 (born August 21, 1833), he landed from the boat at Hall's landing which was just above the present ball grounds, and settled at the head of Sandy then known as Cherry Point in what was later to be know as Evans township, (where he lived 50 years, so named after the father of his second (present) wife. Mr. Brown says Mr. Evans was a little man of only 360 pounds and very fatherly.
There was only one road laid out and that was a government road running straight from Columbia (now Lacon) to Pontiac. No sections of land had been staked or other roads made, but when these were made the government road was changed to section lines as it now is.
It was in the spring of 1837 that he left his birthplace and went down the Ohio and up the Misissippi and the Illinois rivers. Only a litle over three years old then; yet he remembrs how his mother made the children lie down on the Ohio river boeat so they would not become sick.
He remembers how the Indians used to come to the house to beg for tobacco, how the little Indian boys shot small coins off sticks or posts with bows and arrows and how adept they were at bringing in game.
Mr. Brown's uncle started the first store in Magnolia. He told of knowing the Alexanders who conducted one of the stores there early in its history. (One of the Alexander boys was the husband of Mrs. Brown's half sister.) The Alexanders had brought with them from Kentucky some race horses and it was one of the pleasures of those times to gather and watch the horses with riders astride, race the wild deer. Mr. Brown explained that deer are not long winded and only able to keep up their great speed for a mile or so. Nearing the pursued deer the rider swung a hickory club over the deer's back, felling it. Sometimes he, while a boy, went out to where the fallen animal lay and tied it to the tail of another horse and dragged in the game for food.
When any of the Indians killed any game with their bows and arrows they would hang it in the trees and return home, and then it was the duty of the squaws to retrace their hunters steps and bring in the quarry.
Well, he remembers seeing 20 or 25 deer emerge from the timber in the mornings and after grazing on the prairie all day long return to the timber at the setting of the sun. And wolves frequently played in the distance as puppies do at one's feet. Often they would dash through the yard picking up a chicken for a lunch.
Eight or ten acres of any crop was then considered, he says, a large crop, for it had to be gathered and harvested without machinery. He remembers how his father cut the wheat with a small hand sickle and laid each handful back of him to make up a sheaf of the grain. Riding the horse tramping out the grain was the boys' job. Watermelons were plentiful and very fine in the days when he was a boy.
A fear of Indians caused the Whites to build a fort (double-walled to prevent bullets or arrows from the Indians entering the cracks) about six miles west of what is now known as Wenona. Though repeated rumors of Indian atacks brought the White settlers within the protecting walls of their fort yet never did any Indians attack them.
It was in Ottawa, which Old Shabony named, that Mr. Brown saw his first railroad train - and it was the Rock Island, wooden rails with iron straps laid on top, and the engineer stood out in the open.
When the Illinois Central built south the government gave them grants of every other section of land, and running back from the right of way 15 miles on each side. The sections retained were school sections. Mr. Brown said the Irish built that line and the land sold them by the railroad for $10 to $15 an acre on time payments made many rich Irish.
The senior Brown paid for his land in part after pre-empting it at Danville with wolf scalps as did many others when the government had laid out and platted the ground long after the early settlers had settled on a chosen spot.
James Buchanan received Mr. Brown's first vote but never since has he voted that ticket on which Buchanan was elected to the presidency of the United States.
When Mr. Brown first came up the Illinois river, Henry as a village was located about a mile below the junction of Senachwine creek with the river. Later it moved to its present location and the first store was built where now stands the Turner-Hudnut elevator. Sugar, molasses and whiskey came up the rivers from New Orleans. Then it was only New Orleans sugar and New Orleans molasses.
Peoria was at that time taking up but a small space on the map, but later after the whiskey interest had endeavord to obtain a "gift" of 40 acres of swamp land below Henry and were flatly turned down, then Peoria (generously) offered, all the land needed without cost -- (see what Henry missed?)
As far as he knows he has lived longer within the boundaries of Marshall county than any other resident, 83 years in all. He was married in 1876 and again on Feb. 3, 1854. His first wife died at the age of 24. The present Mrs. Brown was 70 last December and has lived all that time in this county. Her father fought in the Indian war of 1812 and she still owns the powder horn her father carried as a soldier.
Mr. Brown seems to have come of very rugged stock of his mother lived until she was 91 years old and her death then was brought about by a bad fall, and here is Mr. Brown 87 1/2 years old, active, healthy, a-kickin' along every day and expected to saw up a cord of wood the day after our visit to him.
His rules are: plenty of sleep, lots of fresh air, early to bed and early to rise, plenty of work, and moderate, regular and sensible living. He says he was raised on "hog and hominy". But that's a strange dish to the majority of the present generation.
Decidedly out of the ordinary is Mr. Brown's life's history, his experiences. Let your mind endeavor to wander back over the past 87 years. Picture some of his experiences, reminiscence on the days of 1837, 1840, 1849 (when the gold rush was on), 1861 to '65 (when the Civil war was on). Nineteen years after Illinois became a state, Mr. Brown landed in Illinois. Remember the year?
Back to Marshall County Illinois History and Genealogy