The 1879 Old Settlers Reunion

Taken From the Henry Republican
August 28, 1879

Old Settlers
Their Meeting at Lacon Last Week
The Oration by Perry Armstrong of Grundy County
Short Talks by a Number of Pioneers
An Immense Throng and Glorious Time.

The largest crown that Lacon ever saw assembled last week Wednesday. Very early the streets began to present an exciting scene, and for hours the roads leading into the city from the northeast, south and west were a perfect jam. The old settlers day has become one of the days that is set down in nearly every ones calendar as a holiday. Old settlers with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren came and enjoyed the pleasure of shaking hands with and inquiring after the health of the old neighbors and friends generally. It seems to give great pleasure to the old settler to meet and compare ages and health with the old friends, that have shared with them the trials and hardships of frontier life, and to speak of the condition of things now in comparison to what they were when they left their comfortable homes in the east and south, and came to seek in the far west a more extended sphere in which to exercise their energies. At 10 o'clock the crowd was large and by noon it was simply immense, it was dangerous to cross the streets.

At 11 o'clock the meeting was called to order by the president, E. S. Jones. After music, the chaplain, Lemuel Russell, Sr., made the opening prayer, after which the president introduced the orator of the day, Perry A. Armstrong of Morris. Mr. Armstrong being an old settler of this county, he spoke of the experience of those who first came, and told many facts concerning the life in the country in the days that are gone. We herewithgive the full text of


"Mr. President and Old Settlers: You have left your homes to come hither today to commune together and talk over the scenes and incidents of olden times. Some of you came here in 1829, and can celebrate your 50th anniversary as citizens of Marshall county.

To the early settler especially do we desire to address ourselves. We would go back in memory with them to the time when their smiling farms, now groaning under the burden of a bountiful harvest, their beautiful orchards laden with golden fruit, and their lovely gardens whose exotic shrubs and fragrant flowers fill the air with perfume, were but a bleak and cheerless prairie, strewn with the bleaching bones of the buffalo, and the home of the prowling, howling wolf, and the fleet-footed deer. We would speak of these early times when great privations were endured and severe hardships were borne, when even heroism was called into active life to avoid danger and overcome difficulties. I would speak of our habits, aims and aspirations a half-century ago, and of some changes which have taken place within that period.


Steamboats, railroads and canals had no existence then, hence we were compelled to be self-reliant in our modes of locomotion. Every immigrant supplied his own means of reaching his destined home, and these means were so diversified, as to be amusing.

The Pennamite, Buckeye or southerner betrayed his nativity and prejudice in the schooner-shaped wagon box, the stiff-tongued wagon with the hinder wheels nearly double in size of the forward ones, closely coupled together, and drawn by from four to six horses driven by riding the leaders by a single line, sharp jerks to turn gee and steady pull for haw. His harness was of gigantic proportions. What between the massive leather breaching, the heavy hames and collar, the immense housing of bear skin upon the hames, the heavy iron trace-chains and the ponderous doubletrees and whippletrees his poor horses were nearly smothered.

The immigrant from New York or any of the eastern states was readily known as far as he could be seen by his long-coupled, low-bowed, two horse wagon, and by his driving his team with double lines and riding on his wagon. To the fellows from Pennsylvania and Ohio these long low-boxed wagon fellows were looked upon with suspicion, and called wooden nutmeg Yankees. They were told that their wagons would never do for this country, but this was but a mere prejudice and utterly fallacious, and a little experience taught us Buckeyes in the construction of wagons and harness. The long-coupled, low-boxed wagon soon took the place of the more heavy and short-coupled concern, as it was found that the former was superior to the latter in every respect, especially in its limber tongue and neck-yoke, and in crossing sloughs and mudholes, as but two wheels would be in a narrow slough at the same time, and the double lines were found to be vastly superior in the safe management of the steam, so that the schooner-shaped wagon box and the stiff-tongued wagons together with the single line and huge harness soon gave place to the Yankee wagon and light harness.


Top carriages, democrat wagons and buggies were unknown in those days, hence our chief mode of getting over the country was on horseback. Indeed, we had no other means of locomotion for our mails, and were willing to pay 25 cents postage upon each letter. Postage stamps and letter envelopes had not yet been invented. Letters were written upon foolscap paper and sealed with wafers or sealing wax, as mucilage had not made its appearance. The postage was marked in large figure with pen and ink and was seldom prepaid.


There was not a newspaper then published in the state, and but few in the United States, hence we took no newspaper and consequently read more. The average trip of a letter from New York or Ohio was four weeks, so that the news received in that way would be considered stale now. Morse had not yet invented the telegraph, nor Bell the telephone. Our reading matter was quite limited. The writings of Moses and John Bunyan were by far the most popular, whilst the Columbian Orator and Webster's Speller were the next in favor, and these four about filled the bill, except the Methodist hymn book, without no well regulated family can be found. The holy bible was then, as it should be now, our chief study, and our next best book was Pilgrim's Progress, and he who carefully read and could intelligently described poor Christian's and Hopeful's progress through Doubting Castle was the hero of the fireside and a welcome guest to our humble cabin homes.


We had no churches or church choirs or organs in those days, yet we had pure and undefiled religion with simple but effective religious services in our humble little cabins. Our pioneer preachers were men of slender education, yet they were wonderfully effective in their modes of preaching Christ and him crucified. Among the earliest of our preachers was the lisping yet trumpet-tongued Aaron Payne, and his more accomplished brother, Adam; then came the earnest, faithful and persevering Methodist preachers, Stephen Beggs and William Royal.

These were the pioneers in religious work, and were our spiritual teachers in those days. Modest in deportment, simple in dress, and unassuming in their manners, yet faithful to their trusts and vigilant in the performance of every duty. They did not measure us by what we said or did on Sundays, regardless of what we did the balance of the week, hence they were always welcome guests and confidential advisors, and their arrival at our cabins was generally signalized by a consternation in the barnyard among the yellow-legged chickens, for it is said the chickens have an intuitive dread of preachers.

Poor Adam Payne fell a martyr to his faith in the protecting had of God by venturing too far from the fort in the Black Hawk war in 1832, and his beautiful long black hair dangled from the scalp belt of one of Black Hawk's band of murderers. The heroic Aaron immediately volunteered as a private to avenge the death of his brother, and although fearless in his bravery and reckless of his personal safety, he survived through many a severe encounter and came home covered with scars, with the full assurance that Adam's treacherous death had been terribly avenged. Shortly after the Black Hawk war he moved to what was then the territory of Oregon, and was still living there a short time since, although nearly 90 years of age. His compeers and co-laborers, Royal and Beggs, are also living - the former in Oregon, and the latter at Plainfield, Ill. Neither of them have fallen from grace, but remain steadfast in their early faith, and are patiently waiting and daily expecting the summons "to come up higher." Full of faith and ripe in years they are ready "to draw the drapery of their couch about them and lie down to pleasant dreams." In the full hope and firm belief immortality beyond the grave.


There was a singular similarity in the construction of our residences, in size, style and materials. They were all built of logs, and covered with clapboards. Trees were felled and chopped of to the length required, and then snaked to the building site, when the neighbors were invited to the raising. These logs were trimmed of limbs and knots, and the ends notched so as to hold them in place, and at the same time reduce the size of the cracks. The gable ends were run up with logs sloped at the ends, and long poles placed at say two feet apart, to serve as the foundation for the roof, and upon these roof poles were laid the clapboards. The cracks between the logs were chinked with pieces of timber, then plastered with mortar-made of clay and water, with a little chopped hay or straw to hold it together.

The floors were constructed of large wooden puncheons usually of basswood, or as it was more commonly called linn. The doors were also made of puncheons, with wooden latch and rawhide hinges. No house was more than one story high and seldom contained more than one room. In the construction of the chimney there was some diversity, not so much in the material, as that was uniformly made of small sticks covered with clay mortar, but the southerner and Indianian always built their chimneys on the outside, whilst the other built them on the inside of the houses.


This was before the age of stoves hence we constructed huge fireplaces which served alike for heat and for cooking. Each fireplace was supplied with a crane upon which to hang our large pots to boil our succotash and other good things. The large Dutch oven was an indispensable article of furniture, for in it we baked our corn pone, and when we were so fortunate as to be able to obtain flour, and thereby indulge in the luxury of wheat bread and chicken fixings, the Dutch oven was an important utensil in baking large luscious loaves of hop yeast or salt-rising bread, for compressed yeast, baking powder and aerated flour were then unknown.

True, we had pearlash but not saleratus. This pearlash we made ourselves by burning potash upon the heated lid of our Dutch ovens, and we well remember as we watched the sputtering greenish blue flames emitted from the hot lid, as the potash was burning, how we imagined that in such a stifling flame the wicked would be punished. But pearlash contained too much lye for general use, and was seldom made and soon abandoned.

As our cabins contained but one room as a general thing, that room was utilized to its utmost capacity, and served alike for kitchen, dining room, sitting room, family room pantry, drawing room and parlor. Long curtains were hung around the beds to afford a screen behind which we dressed and undressed. Kerosene and gas had not yet been discovered, and in their place we used tallow candles of our own make for extra occasions, but for general use we had fat-iron lard lamps with a rag for a wick, while with a bark of the shell-bark hickory furnished our student lamps by which we read of evenings.


There were no milliners or mantuamakers in those days, hence our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and sweethearts were their own milliners and dressmakers and performed that service, which is now so vexatious, cheerfully and good naturedly, and to the admiration of the gentlemen. True, there was not much variety in the style or material of the bonnets, nor were there any flounces, trails, pullbacks, gores or trimmings to their dresses, yet not withstanding we had many ladies of large proportions. Eight years of ordinary material was abundant to make a complete dress. We then never dreamed that the ladies would expand themselves to such dimensions as to require form 14 to 16 yes, even from 20 to 25 years to make an ordinary dress, whilst their avoirdupois remained no greater than the ladies of 1829. But this is an expanding country.

Cotton hose and silk stockings had not then been invented, nor had patent gaiters or kid slippers. Our ladies were all educated to be self-reliant, and to card and spin, dry and weave their own yarn, and also to knit their own stockings. Their underclothing was of their own manufacture; nice woven flannel and linen, and their dressings were also of their own manufacture, commencing with the wool as it came from the sheep, and the flax from the brush. What was termed lindsey-wolsey was very popular for winter for winter dresses, and as no lady was supposed to have more than one dress at a time, it served for summer wear as well as winter.

Their shoes were made either by the father or brother of heavy calf or light kid skin, with substantially pegged soles, and strange as it may appear, they never, "or hardly ever" complained that their shoes were "a world too big for their feet," or that they "looked like a fright in these coarse ugly things." False hair was unknown, and if it had have been known, the belles of that period would have scorned to wear the hair of a ghost or its miserable representative - colored flax or hemp - hence their heard gear was simple, plain and handsome. The hair was nicely drawn back over the forehead and secured with a small tuck comb, thus showing their beautifully shaped heads to great advantage; and when the harvest time came, with their plain dresses made to fit their elegant forms, and their faces protected by a good sized sun-bonnet, they went into the meadows and assisted in raking the hay and grain, and not only assisted their fathers and brothers by the work of their hands, but also cheered them on by their bright smiles and merry laughter, and

Then if the judge had rode that way,
Seeking Maude Muller, raking hay
With nut brown hands and rosy cheek,
And matchless form and eyes that speak,
His fate were sealed, and never then
He would have sighed, "It might have been."


The women of those early times ate not the bread of idleness, but on the contrary were very busy with some useful or practical employment. Sewing machines were not invented, yet the women not only made their own clothing, but carded, spun, wove, cut and made the clothing for the men, including shirts and the coonskin or wolf-skin caps then in general use. And it seemed a necessity that they should do all this, as we had no ready made clothing stores, tailors or tailor shops, and if we had, we lacked the material and means of payment.

Nor were the men and boys idle, for it was "root, hog or die" with us all, and no foolishness could be allowed, for the wolf of want was ever hovering near our cabin door. We were compelled to labor under the most discouraging circumstances for want of proper farming implements and facilities for market, and ever subject to that terror of terrors, fever and ague; and when we look back on those early days and think of our modes of living - of the slough water we drank - frequently blowing off the blue scum, and then straining the wigglers from the sickening, almost boiling hot water through our teeth; and how we all sought the edges of timber for our places of residence; and how we ran through the dewy grass of mornings to gather up our cattle for our prairie breaking, the only wonder is that we lived through it. It is a singular fact that the first selections of land were of the least valuable quality.


In these early days our vast prairies were compared to large oceans that had to be traversed in getting from one settlement to another; and no man ever dreamed that they could be cultivated and improved, for said we, what can they do for timber and water. As well may you attempt to reclaim the ocean or live upon its bosom in a cockleshell, as to live upon these desert wastes of prairie without timber. Little did we then think that one acre of thin prairie land was worth 10 acres of the best timber land, and that in less than half a century every acre of these vast prairies would be under cultivation, and that our most valuable farms would be found miles away from timber. Yet this is strictly true.

Our early settlers sought the streams and located their farms upon their banks; and he who could find the best and largest body of timber was considered the luckiest man. His cabin was located in the edge of the timber to shelter it from the winter winds we are told, and that the pioneer family were forced to live in and compelled to inhale the foul miasma of fever and ague, which hung over the sluggish creeks and hovered about the groves in a dense fog of sufficient consistency to withstand the edge of a pocket knife. The result was that we had to shake about one-third of our time during the first year or so, until we became acclimated as it was termed - a modest name for a three months shake of that vilest and most contemptible disease to which flesh and blood are subject - the ague. We had no doctors and knew not the virtues of quinine, nor had we the wherewith to purchase if we had have known that it would cure the ague. Boneset and Wauhoo teas were then our remedies, and furnished food and drink until we couldn't rest.


Reapers, mowers, headers and binders, corn shellers, threshing machines, gang plows, cultivators, gophers, sulky plows and steel mould-boards, were unheard of then. We harvested our small grain with the cradle and the sickle, and our hay with the scythe; and threshed our grain with the flail or tramped it out with our horse's feet. And as we had no barns, nor barn floors, nor lumber to make them, we cleared off the stubble and leveled off a circular spot in the field to use as tramping ground to thresh our small grain and as the soil was soft, a considerable quantity of it became mixed with the wheat.

We had no fanning mills, and used a sheet for winnowing purposes, and let us shake our sheet ever so fast, we could not blow the lumps of dirt out of the wheat, and when it was ground our flour was decidedly sooty of color and gritty in taste. We either shelled our corn by hand or pounded it from the cob, with an ax in a barrel, or scraped it off over the edge of the shovel.

Our first plows were what was called the "Barshear," with huge wooden mould-board that was never know to scour, and required an able-bodied man to keep them in the ground, and he was compelled to carry a paddle to scrape off the dirt every few rods or it would clog up so as to stop his team. There were regular horse-killers as well as man-killers, and as mother earth is coy of her favors, and yields not her golden harvests until her bosom had been delicately and thoroughly tickled by the plow of the husbandman, and as our wooden mould-board plows could only be induced to scratch her, she yielded but a meager crop in return for our labor and that crop was of little value, for we had no market for it.

True, we could get about 50 cents per bushel for our wheat at Chicago after 1835, but we had neither canal or railroad, and were compelled to haul it overland with our own teams and it took us a week to make the round trip. For our corn there was no market, and to feed it to our miserable hogs (for of all the contemptible excuses for hogs, except the Mexican Peccary, our prairie rooters took the palm) was throwing it away, as there was no market for pork. So it mattered not whether we raised a large or small crop of corn, provided we had enough to feed our stock and make hominy for our subsistence, and the inevitable corndodger.

Our earliest mode of grinding corn was simple but laborious. It consisted of a large wooden mortar made of the body of a good sized tree, felled and lagged off square at each end about four feet long, then by boring and burning out a large cavity at one end and setting up and making a heavy wooden pestle, our mill was ready for use. The corn being shelled was placed in the mortar when the pounding or grinding began which was done by main strength and brute force, lifting the pestle up and sending it down forcibly upon the corn in the mortar, and repeating the operations until the corn was crushed. We then ran what was fine enough to pass through the meshes of the sieve to make our corn pone, our corn dodgers, and mush; the coarser part was boiled into hominy.

For extra occasions, and especially for our Sabbath day breakfast, we ground a little wheat in the coffee mill and bolted it through a piece of jaconet strung over a hoop, and made what we then called slapjacks of it. Thus you see we know what good living was and enjoyed it too. Of course we had coffee and tea. Our coffee was made of parched wheat or peas, our tea of sage, pennyroyal or sassafras. The latter was said to be good for the blood in the spring of the year, and we believed it.


As we could do not better we were happy and contented and were all on the same footing. There were no plebeians or patricians among us, and if anybody tried to put on style they soon found that it was not appreciated and as it met with no encouragement it was abandoned. All lived and acted upon the principle of perfect equality. The ladies were our only aristocrats as

"None would agree that all men were equal,
And few would agree that all men should be free."

And yet in point of industry, economy and nobleness of heart and virtue, our women of that period were never excelled in this or any other country; and they have left their impress upon their sons and daughters, which is witnessed and established by the thrift and wealth here exhibited today. Suits for divorce, seduction, or crim con were never heard of in those days. When marriage was contracted it was, as the boys say, "for keeps".

We were a law-abiding, God-fearing, honest people and were not afflicted with Beechers nor troubled with lawyers - the climate was bad for either of them. Our difficulties were many, but were not of a character to invite the ail of law. We sometimes got into trouble about our claims to the public lands, but settled them at fisticuffs or by arbitration. We neither had nor needed any jails, calabooses or houses of correction; and whilst our boys had no hobby-houses nor red-top boots, our girls no French dolls or fancy ribbons, yet they managed to live, grow and prosper, and were as happy and contented as the children of today, even though they never learned to smoke or chew, or to thump the piano or dance the Mazourka.


Our pioneer cabins having but one room, were poorly adapted to the practice of that oldest and most enjoyable game - sparking, said to have been invented by Adam and Eve, and by them found to be intensely pleasant that they handed it down as a family heirloom to their children, who in turn passed it over to their descendants until it has become world-wide. There were several obstacles to its complete enjoyment in early days here. You were placed between the lights of the fireplace and the beds where the parents of your charmer as well as the sisters and brothers, were sleeping or pretending to sleep, but the latter were only "possoming," and were not only seeing but hearing all that you did or said. Of course they only wanted to learn how it was done.

But where there is a will there is a way. The first thing was to smother the fire, and then - well, we can't exactly tell all the minutia and will not try. We were - you have all been there yourselves, or soon will be. Our stools, or chairs, seemed to have a great affinity for each other, and would creep together carrying their occupants with them, and then - well, there was a gentle pressure of hands, a few long drawn breaths, and the gentleman's arm naturally encircled a shapely waist, without meeting with steel ribs or sheets of backram. He had an arm-full of health, beauty and firmness, whilst she in turn, ever willing to do her share of the labor, gently thrust her white arm under the gentleman's coat, to conceal it from the watchful eyes of her sisters, her cousins, and her aunts, who were peaking through the bed curtains to see what might transpire.

In this way the circus commenced and when the witching time came and the question was popped and the answer came, not in the language of the Missouri girl, "you just bet your boots I will," nor in the chilling answer of the girl to the period, "canst thou support me, dearest? You know I must keep two good girls, and then we must keep a carriage, and live in a brown-stone front, and see lots of company," but it came in that straight forward, Anglo-Saxon, business word "Yes," and in it she meant all that can be embraced in the tender relationship of husband and wife through the rugged journey of life as a helpmate and companion.


A remarkable feature of the early days was the friendship and good will existing among our people. Impressed with this fact, we wrote the following verses about 40 years ago.

There is a friendship in the west
Unknown to eastern land;
A feeling with sweet union blessed,
And sympathy most grand.
For there each neighbor lives in peace,
Unbound by envy's chain;
Content to view his wealth increase,
No e'er of pride complain.
Their cabin doors are open wide,
To bid the weary stay;
And welcome is their friends,
To travelers on the way.
And if perchance the traveler be
From native state of host,
To all the house he's welcomed free,
And loved as brother lost.

It is now some 48 years ago since I was a resident of the prairie near this lovely village and strolled over these grounds in search of wild strawberries, little dreaming that upon this spot at no distant day would be built the Athens of Illinois, for in point of literary talent and taste Lacon stands second to no place in the west, Jacksonville not excepted.

In conclusion let me express the hope that your reunions will be kept up and ever attended as largely as it is today, and when John Gilpin doth ride forth again may we all be here to see.


The meeting was adjourned at the close of his oration, and retook themselves to their various dinner baskets and spread the linen on nature's carpet; and enjoyed themselves for the next hour by partaking of viands that the matrons and their daughters had prepared.

After dinner as soon as the members could be got together, the meeting was called to order and all was very highly entertained by Master George Raymond Blackstone, an orator of five years of age, who delivered "The charge of the Light Brigade" in a manner that was very pleasing to all.


Eli Strawn, an invited guest from Seneca, was first called. He was an old settler, and for eight years had lived in Putnam county, hence felt at home here. He came to this country with Jeremiah Strawn in 1830, who built two houses on Round Prairie. He described a trip down the river in a canoe with an uncle and a Mr. Walker. As they glided down they saw an encampment of Indians near where Sparland is now, some 150 in number of all sexes and ages. They were nearly naked and painted, and described one of their terrible fights and how a half dozen were murdered and then buried in a pen on the top of the ground over which logs were placed. At that time there was not a house on the prairie. J. S. Armstrong had the first 10 acres of sod corn on the prairie, and he with two others completed a log cabin in one day, believes he could do as much hard work as any other one man. Seven years after he came here and married the prettiest girl on the prairie (Eleanor Broaddus.) Great laughter.


C. W. Barnes, Esq., of Whitefield, was next called out. He had seen the first tree fell for logs, the first foundation dug, and last stick and mortar placed on the first chimney, newed the puncheon, and split out the first clapboard for the first cabin on the prairie. He remembered the first timber belts freed from brush and shrubs, and had seen the fleet deer. He had seen the first furrow turned, the first seeds planted, which yielded beyond their expectations. It was a day of small things.

He had seen the quarter section here, the 30 there, and the 40 in another direction opened up, until our beautiful prairie was a solid mass of farms. He related an incident of going through a slough; which recalled the experience of travel in the early day. Now there was good roads on nearly every section line, the sloughs all ditched and bridged. He has seen the first opening of farms now covered with fences and orchards. There was a time when the lumber wagon was good enough, but now the gilded carriage come in; the mansion takes the place of the cabin.

He had seen the state on the verge of bankruptcy and seen it worth its glittering millions, its canal and its 7000 miles of railroads. As he took a birdseye view of the past for our state he felt a little taller. The old settlers had left a goodly heritage for the children. They should love their creator, obey his commands, and in length of days, when the summons come, they can gather up their feet, and with staff in hand pass over Jordan.


William Strawn took the stand and read a short paper of events relating to the early time. He stopped at the homestead in September, 1829, then the grass here was five feet high all over the prairie. He described it being set fire by the Indians, the blaze and smoke rivaling the Chicago fire. They had ducks, brants, geese, deer, of the latter having killed 40 in one year, and four in one day; he remembers caging 30 wolves in one pen.

He extolled the neighborly virtues of the old settlers, and what they passed through. Remembered that they went to Springfield once a year for groceries, now they go every day to Lacon for them. Incidents with the Indians were repeated, the war of 1832 with the capture of Blackhawk narrated, and with a glowing description of the present development of the country with its railroad, telegraph, and advancement, he advised the young men to go west, take courage, lay hold of their plows, get married, and the two to work together and some day they would also be old settlers.


John S. Armstrong was then introduced and said: "Old settlers and young settlers, I promised myself for several years past that if I lived until the 50th anniversary of the first settling of this country, I should attend the old settlers reunion, and I am here today. I made my first stop in this county at the present site of William Strawn's residence, Col. Strawn having sent me ahead on horseback. I broke the first sod and planted the first prairie in corn in this county, and so I can lay claim to being the first settler of Marshall county. And in looking back over the past 50 years and inquiring for the political men that have been a power in this neighborhood, we call to mind a great many. In 1830 Senator Case was senator from this territory and Robert Barnes a representative, these and many others have passed over the river.

The people of all this crown have come in the last 50 years; these trees have grown, this building and these fine residences been erected. Every one, from the first that came, every building that has been built, every tree that has been fell, every fence that has been built, has enhanced the value of property. It was the industry of the old pioneers and their young men that has to a great extent done this, and if any one should have said 50 years ago that this country should have became a mass of farms without any prairie that had not been brought into use, they would have been thought to be extravagant at least. I am glad that I came and that I have met you, because I do not expect to live another 50 years."


Hon. S. R. Lewis, state senator of LaSalle county. "Ladies and gentlemen: I actually feel ashamed to appear before you to speak. I fear that you will think that LaSalle county has taken possession of your meeting. I did not come here to speak, but I came to see old friends and shake hands with them. I will say a few words and retire for those who have more to say. Forty-six years ago my father planted me in this county. I have passed through a long and dreary life. When I came back a few years ago everything was changed, except William and Enoch Strawn, they were much the same as of old.

My introduction into society here was in John Weir's wheat field with a cradle on my shoulder. This was to be my first experience with a cradle, in 1834. My efforts were so awkward that John Weir said that I had better go to gathering sheaves, but I begged to be allowed to finish "my through" and when it was done, John Strawn who always championed the weak, said I was the best man in the field. I not only swung the cradle that field through, but for 21 consecutive days.

I have been introduced here today as senator. I claim nothing from that name. I have passed from John Weir's wheat field a cradler, to be a member of the state senate of the great state of Illinois. The honor, if I have any, ensues from the fact of my having to pass through so many trials and hardships before I was enables to reach this point. I will now retire." (He was recalled with call for anecdotes and reminiscences.)

Coming back he said: "The experience of the last 50 years has been various and exciting. In 1833 the seat of government was at Centralia. My father went there to enter land at $1.25 per acre. The contest for state capital was very exciting between Jacksonville, Springfield and Peoria, and by Jacksonville and Springfield uniting their forces they got the capital at Springfield, and the other institutions at Jacksonville, taking the capital from Peoria, the place best qualified for it and I would sacrifice the monumental folly that is at Springfield, today and remove the capital to Peoria. (Applause.) Another exciting time was the race between S. A. Douglas and J. T. Stuart, Stuart having after the votes were counted 116 votes the most; runners being sent out by both sides to fix up the ballots but Stuart kept the majority. He is still alive and any one can see him who visits Springfield. He walks about the streets with head erect like a monument coming down to us from the days that have passed In 1844, during the Clay and Polk campaign, General Shields and Stephen A. Douglas were on a steamboat passing up the Mississippi river there was an amusing incident happened. Two warm politicians were engaged in a discussion in regard to the possible termination of the election. The discussion turned as it usually does upon Indiana. A Blue Jeans sat listening, first to one and then to the other, the democrats and whigs, we were all democrats or whigs in those days. A Millerite preacher was also a listener (those were days when the Millerites first predicted the destruction of the earth). After the discussion had been very warm the Millerite thought it was time for him the enter the discussion, so he said, "Gentlemen you are both mistaken. Jesus Christ will be the next president of the United States." Blue Jeans looking at him and running his hand into his pocket said, "I bet you $10 that he won't carry Indiana." (Laughter and great applause.) Now will you please excuse me."

G. W. Armstrong of Seneca made a few remarks and struck the bridge question pretty fairly. Said Lacon was behind the times with a ferry, and other towns had bridges. Henry and Peoria had toll bridges, and all the other towns until you get to Grundy county had free bridges.


Mrs. Ann Bullman said: "Old settlers I am here today because it is the old settlers meeting. I was one of the old settlers. I came with my father in 1831. I was then a young lady. I will relate some of the trials and difficulties that we had in settling this country. My father had five daughters and one son; he settled four miles below Lacon. We had a hard time of it, for in 1831 and 1832 the war broke out; and our home had been a camping ground for 15 years. It took us 40 and 4 days to come from our old home to our new one, and I went back two years ago in two days and one night.

My father's name was Babb. He was a brother of Gen. Babb. Almost everybody thinks that I was a daughter of Gen. Babb, but I was not, but my father's name was Joseph Babb. My father opened the road from the Babb farm, as it is now called, to Black Partridge, and went to Pekin for provisions. We stayed three weeks with Col. Strawn, then came to where the court house now stands, and went south, a half mile below town. We met about 300 Indians, all with guns and in war paint. They went to Crow Creek to a camping ground they had there. We built a log shanty, and the Indians, from the fact that they were going to war, soon were very sassy.

My father had to go back to the old home in the east, and left us in this wild country. My mother with us children, and only four families in the neighborhood. After my father had gone an Indian came to the door and asked where the white men were. A friendly Indian told them that he had gone for four moons. He went away from the house and gave four whoops as loud as he could yell. Mother looking through the door or a hole in the door saw 25 Indians in a pen of logs that had not been finished. I laid myself down on a bench and prayed. I was so afraid. We were all afraid of Indians, but my oldest sister, she was not afraid of them, but would talk as sassy as you please to them.

Old Marquette and 300 wigwams then came. He had five wives. They stayed there and drank whisky, and would get drunk and kill one another. There was three different men killed and buried in a sitting posture and covered with skins. The squaws would cut wood all day, build a pile and set fire to it at night for more than three months, dancing, hollowing and fighting, and there we stayed mother and we six children. No one can tell the trials, difficulties and hardships in settling up a new country unless they have tried it.

I would like to say a few words to the young. I love every one of you, and I give you a word of warning. Beware of young men who drink, smoke or chew. I do not expect to speak to you again, so I will claim a little indulgence. (She then called for a temperance speech from her grandson George Ray Blackstone, saying that she would like to have people see wheat the old stock was coming to.) The little boy was again put on the stand, and made a very pleasant and humorous address causing much amusement.

J. J. Myers made some pert remarks, which took a political shape, in which he contented that the frontier settlers should be protected at all hazards, and the way to do it was to make short work with the Indians. He was against the policy heretofore pursued, and argued for violent measures.


Hon. G. L. Fort was the closing speaker, who had attended every old settlers meeting but one. He contrasted the past with the present, the forest of yesterday the wilderness of corn today, where stood the cabin now stands the mansion, where was once prairies is now beautiful villages. It was impossible to contemplate how improvement advances. He was elected sheriff before he saw a railroad, and a part of the way the train of that was drawn by mules. He described the cabin with its kettles, its fireplaces, its pewter plates, and the JohnnyCake, from which were some of the best meals they ever relished in their lives. A harvest field story in which he led 42 cradlers was well told and from appearances, by the by, the colonel has ever been in the lead since. We know nothing of the hardships of those days, he continued. He replied to J. J. Myers concerning the Indian question, which had been a profound problem of the government, of the best minds, and of the entire people for a long series of years, and believed it would be solved to the ultimate best good of humanity and to all.


The following list embraces those of the old settlers who have died since Aug. 13, 1878, the date of the last annual meeting of the old settlers association, which was read by Col. Fort at the close of his remarks, and which concluded the exercises:

Much of the pleasure of the day was due to the beautifully rendered choruses of the glee club led by C. C. Beedle with Miss Nettie Ellsworth at the organ. Mrs. Stire, Wallace, Halsey, Misses Oblinger and Reeder carrying the soprano, Mrs. Chapman and Pichereau the alto, C. C. Beedle the tenor and L. C. McMurtrie and George H. Rulon the bass. They did credit to the musical talent of Lacon, they sang extremely well and every one enjoyed it ever so much. The Lacon Cornet band relieved the monotony of the day by their lively strains. The Lacon Cornet band is as fine a band as there is in this part of the country.

A balloon ascension ended the day's enjoyment, which went up about six o'clock to heighth of about 600 feet, took a northerly course and landed aeronaut in a tree in the late W. E. Cook's pasture. No one was hurt.


The 1880 Old Settlers Meeting

Taken From the Henry Republican
August 17, 1880

Another annual reunion of the old settlers of this county has rolled around, and again an immense crowd gathered in Lacon. Old settlers from this and neighboring counties were in attendance.  This day seemed to us to be the most social day of any of the meetings that have been held before.  There was estimated to have been about 2000 strangers in Lacon.  The need of rain was felt very much by all who had to take even one breath.  The air was full of dust, although the streets were well sprinkled, the dust arose from among the grass.  Office seekers were here in abundance.

The crowd began to gather in the court house grounds about 10 o'clock, a.m. and continued in full possession until about six p.m. About 11 the meeting was called to order by President Livingston Roberts. Music by the band, and singing by glee club.  Prayer by Rev. M. Cummings, when the orator of day, Rev. J. G. Evans of Wenona, was introduced, whose speech we give in full below.

NOTE:  Because of the length of the speech, highlights only are given.  Anyone wanting the whole speech, please contact me. - Nancy Piper

Rev. J. C. Evan's Oration

Ladies and gentlemen, pioneers of Marshall county: .....

We have great reason for gratitude today, as we contrast the present with the past and anticipate the future by the progress already made. Our county first appears upon the census roll in 1840 with a population of 1,849. In 1850, we numbered 5,180, in 1860, 13,437 and in 1870, 16,956. In 1830 the territory now included in Peoria, Putnam, Marshall and Stark counties, except Evans and Bennington towns in Marshall, which then belonged to Tazewell, was reported in Putnam county with an aggregate population of 1,310. Now the same territory has a population of over 80,000. ....

..We can not fail to recognize the fact that society has been rapidly advancing and the civilization of today is better than that of fifty years ago.  The old wooden moldboard dragging along through the ground, has given place to the modern plow that so beautifully turns the soil, and the old single shovel, so shaped as to make scouring impossible, has yielded to the cultivator. The old dirt threshing floor with its center post around which the horses where trained to tramp while the grain was faithfully stirred with the wooden pitchfork, made out of a forked stick, would be a novelty to the farmer boy of today. The old heavy ox cart has been discarded for the light two horse wagon, and the saddle as a means of conveyance for both ladies and gentleman has given place to the nicely finished carriage. .............

Since you last met in convocation some of your number have past away. We trust they have gone to a better land than this.  Before another annual gathering shall occur, others will be missing.  One by one we shall fall. May our lives be such that our friends may ever remember us with feelings of pleasure and sentiments of gratitude."

After the oration, all dispersed for dinner, of which there was an abundance.  We can make no acknowledgements to Misses Disosway and Wanser, and parents for their kind entertainment of your humble servant.

Livingston Roberts

After the inner man was satisfied we were again called to order, and President Livingston Roberts addressed us, being introduced as the oldest settler now living of this county. He said:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I came to this county with my father in 1828, 52 years ago. We came to Montgomery and came up through this country, following an Indian trail from Springfield to Ottawa, where he put in 15 or 20 acres of corn.  In the fall of 1828 father moved the family up to the place that is mine now.  On the 9th of Nov. 1828, our log cabin 18 x 20, was put up. As we came over the county we had to ford the rivers and one we had to swim. The crop at Ottawa was destroyed, and we had to depend upon the game that father killed. Father was a great hunter. We would haul a load of corn to Tazewell county to make meal for bread. Father made a mill by making a mortar and beating the corn with a pestle. We enjoyed this life. Had a splendid time. I now give way to others."

C. W. Barnes

C. W. Barnes was then called for and responded: "Mr. President, I would rather have been excused today from this fact, that I have been called upon to address you at different times.  I would rather have heard from those who have never spoken here. But I will say to the pioneers and old settlers, I am glad to see you; to look in your face, to shake hands with you here.  There is a feeling of sadness comes over us as we look around and see the vacant places or seem to see them, places that are not filled as they used to be.  I do not raise the thought to cause sad feelings.  The places are full, but not as we were wont to see them."

"I think it is a wise arrangement that we can be gathered to our fathers.  There are ladies here whom I have seen in an old log cabin, with the bake oven, spinning wheel, loom and their appendages, over which they presided instead of melodeons and pianos; but their use seems to have been done away with. I see old men here whom I have seen 40 years ago breaking prairie with that rude implement called a breaking plow, and turning soil with an old barshare plow, to which there was no scour; sometimes they would go to the river and kill gars and take their hides and nail them to the plow (a voice,"I have done that myself.") and as long as the garhide lasted the plow went first rate. I have seen in the last 40 years from the old barshire plow to the fine riding plow, from the rude cradle to the improved reaper of today."

"Friends, notwithstanding these trials I am glad that our minds refer back to these scenes and hardships, and call up the friends of the old settlers who have gone before.  They are here in the persons of their children and their children's children, even on their head the gray hairs of many winters have gathered. The children have become grandmas and grandpas. Cherish what is left of these pioneer settlers of this country; they will into be with you long.  Be kind to them and "Long may you wave."

John Williams

John Williams of Putnam county said: "I am not a public speaker. I am not an orator, but I may be ranked among the old settlers. I am a citizen of Putnam county, Snachwine, which was settled in the days of the Pottawattomie. Among the old settlers of my neighborhood in James R. Talliaferro. Snachwine is near the deposit of the bones of old Snachwine, the Indian who was aid to have been a good man.

I came in 1837, and assisted in building the court house at Hennepin. I was then a greenhorn in pioneer life, but I got my eye teeth cut. The gentleman who preceded me spoke of the loom. One of the early settlers of Putnam, George Hildebrand, built a loom and took for the foundation an old sled that he had brought to the country and they wove out of doors; my wife wove on that loom.

I do not see many around Lacon, who I used to see when we hauled hogs to old Jabez Fisher, at $1.50 per hundred, if the hog weighed 150 pounds, and $2 if they weighed 200 pounds.  But we were happy then and enjoyed good health. I am no talker so I will stop."

James Martin

James Martin said: "I am an old man. I never have talked in public.  I am the first settler who brought his family to the head of Crow creek over 50 years ago. When I arrived there I had three picayunes and was 50 cents in debt on the route. The second season I lost all my stock by what is called the sore tongue, except one cow and one heifer.

I could tell of the many things that I went through with during these times.  I joined teams with another man and broke prairie at $1.50 per acre. When the Indian war broke out I bought a claim of a man who wished to leave on account of the war, and I made some money on that. I borrowed money to buy my first 80, in about, I can't remember dates.  

We ground meal in a coffee mill.  I went 50 miles to grist, I made a living, and by my first wife had 12 children, all of whom lived to be grown except one, and six by my second wife.  I raised this family, but we had to work hard.  I could sit down and tell any of you it all, but it would take more than two hours to tell it here, but I can't talk before people."

E. S. Jones

E. S. Jones: "The president has called me to address you.  I came here, or rather Peoria county, 49 years ago, and I felt the action of the committee when they said that all who came before 1856 should be regarded as old settlers.  When we come to think of the difference between 1829, 1830, up to 1856, and think of the old log cabin, filled in with mud from the garden, the stake and ridered bedsteads of those earlier days, and the advantages of even 1856.

Those of us who lived near the timber were compelled to smoke out the mosquitos and crawl into the room. Mosquito bars was out of reach of our pockets. Mother sick with chills and fever, father having third day ague, and being bit by mosquitos. If they had planted corn they had to watch the blackbirds and crows out of it. We having foolishly settled near the timber, and were blessed by these things.

Now changed both morally and physically are people now.  Then the old cabin stood.  Mother was here, family at home. Now the youngest son has the old homestead, father living with him. Mother has gone, old cabin gone. Now splendid mansion in its place."

Squire Laughlin

Squire Laughlin of Putnam county: "I claim to be the oldest sucker here.  I was born in the state in 1821. Came to this part of country in 1830. My father was a blacksmith, settled two miles this side of Florid. He made the first iron plow that was made here, called the Carey plow, afterwards made the Diamond Carey plow.

I suppose it is to tell what you saw and how you felt in those times than we have come together. I saw this president 50 years ago. He was a young man then. When we come from Bond county I wanted to see an Indian. The first I ever seen were in Wagner's watermelon patch. I was afraid of them then, but could afterwards talk some Indian. I was proud then.

When the Black Hawk war broke out our people were very much frightened. Just after the killing of Phillips, the neighbors came together, to help protect one another. We had a dog that hated an Indian, and the hair on his back would raise on end every time an Indian came within smelling distance. They had one gun, one axe and the dog.  They sent me down to watch the chickens out of the corn.  I was terribly frightened.

I am glad to meet the old settlers here.  I intended to go to Ottawa last week, but could not, so I determined to come here. We all like to tell our experiences."

J.J. Myers, Geo. O. Barnes and J. E. Ong followed.

Everything went off very pleasantly.  Much is due to the good music furnished by the band, and the splendid songs sung by the glee club.