The 1881 Old Settlers Reunion

Taken From the Henry Republican
August 25, 1881

Marshall County's Pioneers

Their Annual Conclave held at Lacon on Thursday, August 18 / An Immense Assemblage on that Occasion / Hon. G. O. Barnes, the Orator, Delivering an Eloquent Address / A Mammoth Chicken Pot Pie and Fish Chowder served for Dinner / The Spinning Wheel, Flax Wheel and Reel of Ye Olden Time on Exhibition / Yarn and Linen thread spun by some of the Pioneer Women

On Thursday of last week the old settlers of Marshall county, and their descendants, held their annual gathering and picnic in the court house yard at Lacon.  This spot has been hallowed with the gathering for many years, and they seem to grow in interest and attendance with each returning season. The people of Lacon vie with each other in welcoming the old settlers to their town, and they leave nothing to make the occasion delightful.

This year the crowd was immense, fully 5000 being present from all directions, including large delegations from neighboring counties. The weather was delightful, though very warm in the afternoon. A fine shower had fallen during the previous night, which had laid the dust, and cooled the air, and the farmers, who thought there was a little too much wet to work at home, hitched up their carriages, and with their ready wives and families, who are always anxious for such occasions, were early wending their way to the picnic to swell the crowd and share in the pleasures of the day.

There were also some extra inducements offered in the program. Mrs. Ann Bullman was to make a mammoth pot pie, of 100 chickens and a barrel of flour, in one of the 100 gallon iron kettles used on the farm, to be cooked on the ground. This was a novelty that everybody wanted to see. Not to be outdone by the women, Enoch Sawyer was advertised to prepare a mammoth catfish chowder for the occasion, both the chicken pot pie and the chowder to be distributed to the public free of charge at dinner.  

Mrs. Bullman was also advertised to bring out the venerable spinning and flax wheels to the picnic, and in the afternoon give an exhibition of how wool was spun and reeled, and flax made into thread by the mothers 40 and 50 years ago. These, with music, singing and an oration by G. O. Barnes, and short speeches by other settlers, made up a program of exercises, inviting and attractive, to which the whole country turned out to enjoy.

At 10:30 o'clock the vast assemblage was called to order by the president of the day, Chauncey W. Barnes, Esq., of Whitefield, one of the venerable pioneers of the west side of the river. A martial band from Henry had been engaged, and the fife and drum corps interspersed the exercises with lively airs throughout the day. The Lacon glee club, led by that prince of good fellows and fine singers and conductor, Frank Stire, sand "Merrily goes the Bark before the Gale," which was loudly encored. Prayer was then offered by Rev. Cummings, an elderly clergyman of the M. E. connection. The presiding officer then stepped forward, and in an eloquent vein delivered the PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS.

Chauncey W. Barnes, Esquire's Address

"Welcome, welcome! We use the word welcome in the broadest and widest term, not only to the pioneer settlers of Marshall and the adjoining counties, but to the children and children's children; to the strangers within the gates, and the wayfaring man from abroad.

And now drop back with me in thought 40 or 50 years, when the cabin mansions were few and far between; when days and perhaps weeks passed, and not an individual crossed the threshold of that humble abode, save the immediate inmates of the same.

Then let a neighbor step in from just across the way, living not more than 10 or 15 miles off, and wouldn't there be a hearty shake of the hand, and how is your wife, and Tommy and Betty and Johnny, God bless 'em; I do want to see them ever so much; bring them over, the whole family and stay all night. Suppose you, that invitation and welcome was just from the heart out? Nay, verily, it came from the depth of the heart; nay, from the very depth of the soul, and that is just the kind of welcome we extend here today.

Friends, we have met here today as one family; and I am glad that there is one day in the year that we can meet and lay aside formality to a certain extent and renew old acquaintances, and form new ones, and live over in mind and memory with each other the last 30, 40 or 50 years.

As I look around me today I see faces that were familiar to me more than 40 years ago, and if I might judge from present appearance, I should say that the footprints of time sat lightly upon them; but still, as I look around, I miss seeing the faces of many that I once knew, and some that met with us at our last annual picnic will meet with us no more. At their departure our bosom heaves a sigh, and we dropped the sympathetic tear with near and dear relatives.  They have paid the debt of nature, and crossed over; but today if we had the power so to do, we would not call them back. Peace rest with their ashes.

And now friends, one and all, may we feel at peace with our Creator, with each other, and with ourselves, that when we cross the dividing stream we may receive a welcome into the garden of everlasting delights."

He then introduced the orator of the occasion, Hon. G. O. Barnes. Mr. Barnes was a fitting selection, being a son of the late Robert Barnes, one of the first pioneers east of Lacon. He is a leading lawyer and speaker, and the address was one of the most eloquent and appropriate ever delivered on such an occasion.

The Oration by Hon. G. O. Barnes

"Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: I much regret that I do not come better prepared to justify the selection of myself as your speaker today. I have been able to give but a very short time to prepare what I have to say.

Old settlers are again assembled. Many others not old settlers fill the grove in honor of the occasion. I am glad to see faces of old settlers coming from La Salle, Woodford and other counties.  We are glad to see all. We hail and greet you with the hand and heart of 40, 50 years ago. Youth is gone, but standing among these pioneers, our hearts are young again.

 I see here old age, decrepit and bowed, that came to this land in the morning and courage of youth to build for themselves a home. I see here grayhaired and spectacled grandfathers who were my schoolmates and playfellows in and around the log school houses of our county over 40 years ago.We sat on the long slab benches together. We plowed and planted and went to church and sunday school and spelling school and singing school and weddings and funerals together.

 There was not a single frame or brick building within the bounds of your county, not 100 acres of farmed land in the county, and not a single cabin, not the most pretentious dwelling, had over one room, and that was kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and parlor. More than that, not infrequently several families lived together in the same cabin, and the family that lived in the corner had room to "take in boarders."

These early pioneers, nine our of every ten of them, ninety our of every hundred of them, came here poor, came to get themselves a home in the then far west. Very few of them ever owned a home until they found one here.  They came relying on hard, brave, honest toil. They took no stock in Macawberick. They believed in pluck. They did not dawdle and wait for luck to turn them up a fortune, but they built the humble log cabin and moved into it, and loved it and called it home, and to them it was
"My own dear quiet home,
The Eden of my hear."

They owned it, they paid no rent on it. They asked no man for leave to live on it. They found it the one spot on all the earth where love and joy had survived the curse on Adam. They loved it as Jennie Lind did her home, when in an eastern city she went to sing and faced the thousands of strang faces who had come to be amused and hear something very showy and wonderful. Far from her Switzerland home she turned from the program of the evening and sand "Home Sweet Home" in tones so sweet and pure that her soul sobbed in every strain. The audience could not restrain itself. Tears fell like rain, and cheers following cheers drowned the song.

They saw their heard increase and their possessions extend. The fruitful soil answered their labor with abundant crops. Year after year they gained a little, and after awhile came better homes and better living.

They were unselfish. When a new settler came, or a sick neighbor wanted help, he got it; not grudgingly but heartily. If one lost a horse or a cow, another was loaned to him for the season, until he could raise something and buy another. There was no castle and no aristocracy; all were neighbors and friends and the neighborhoods extended forty miles each way.


But in that early day there was comparatively little communication between the east and west sides of the river. You will remember that there is no point up or down the Illinois river from this place for 40 miles, where the bottoms on one side or the other are not marshy and founderous. There are now but two places in the county to cross the river, a bridge at Henry and a ferry here. At each place the river is approached across low, swampy land, and the labor and expense of filling these marshes so the river could be reached was far too slow and expensive a task for the early days of which I speak, so that the two sides of the river knew comparatively little of each other.

It may be stated, too, that nearly all of the best lands west of the river had been granted by congress to the soldiers of the war of 1812. These soldiers had bartered them away for a song to speculators.  Nor was it the soldier's falt. Illinois was then nearly an unknown land, and covered with Indians. The soldiers lived in the old states far away, south and east, and had not the means, many of them, it the disposition, to move out on to their lands.

These lands, so granted to soldiers, had been so trafficked away by them, and from one to another after them, and the deeds had been so often not in a legal form or well acknowledges, or not recorded at all, or recorded in the wrong county, - a deed to the same piece of land having to be recorded now at Madison county, again at Pike, Fulton, Peoria, Putnam and so on, the place of record changing as often as in that early day a new county was formed, that the titles to these military lands were in inextricable confusion. The result was that these lands, the finest in the county, and as good as are on earth, lay unoccupied, because no one knew, where to buy nor who owned them.  

This for a long time retarded the development of all the west side of the county. And it is well known to older lawyers that these titles today, in hundreds of instances, owe their security to our wise statutes of limitation. While I have been practising at the bar, hundreds of suits have been had in the courts over these titles, and often a man has had to buy his farm over and over or lose it.

But I have long known something of the west side people, and there are over there honored names that have been familiar to me for more than 40 years; and we all know not only that the west side is all occupied now, but far more it is occupied by as thrifty, tidy and pushing a class as can be found anywhere, and (don't you get offended you east side folks) it is outstripping the east side in development.


In the early day the young folks did their courting and marrying much as they do now.  In the summer they strolled or sat down on the shady side of the house.  In cold weather the old folks went to bed.  Sometimes the bed was curtained and sometimes not, and the young lovers would sit by the fireplace, she in one corner and he in one corner, and only one corner occupied at that.

When they wanted to marry it was not so convenient as it is now.  It was often fifty miles to a county seat where license could be procured.  When we came here it was 50 miles to a post office.  Sometimes they wanted to marry in cold, bad weather; sometimes the roads were bad. The roads were at best but trials leading across a wild country, with sloughs and streams and wolves and Indians all along.  Many a young lover has started with his life in his hand for his license, generally on horseback, when the distance was so far he would have to camp out on the prairie one night, and the wolves would make it pleasant for him, singing his wedding march, barking and snarling around him and threatening to eat him.


The first wedding ever celebrated in Chicago was Col Hamilton's, a son of the great federalist, who was stationed at Fort Dearborn, where Chicago now stands. Chicago had not been born then, nor for seven years after. Col Hamilton wanted to marry a daughter of the commander of the fort, Col McKinzie, and the old Colonel was willing, and what was of greater importance the girl was willing. "But true love never did run smoothly" and Col Hamilton and his would be bride had their troubles.  There was no clergyman, justice of the peace, or other person authorized to solemnize marriage within 200 miles of where Chicago now stands, and the nearest place that a license could be had was at Fulton county down southwest of Peoria.  There were no stages much less railroads.

The young folks as usual were "just dying" to get married all winter. Along in May a party of gentlemen from Fulton county started to explore the country north of Chicago, and up to Green Bay, Wis.  Among them was that old pioneer, John Hamlin of Peoria, lately gone to his rest. He then lived in Fulton county and was a justice of the peace. The young folks long watching for someone to make them happy, found Hamlin, and they wanted his help, in fact were anxious about it.

But there was no license, and there was a law in force imposing a $1000 fine for joining a couple in marriage without a license. The bride's father was willing to risk it. But Squire Hamlin refused; he was afraid of the fine. So it was agreed that Hamlin should go on to Green Bay, and on his return should stop, and in the meantime a messenger should go to Fulton county, 200 miles away, and get the license. Hamlin started north with his party, and a messenger started for Fulton county. Hamlin got back to Chicago and was the guest of Col McKinzie for a week before the messenger got back from Fulton county.  But the license came at last and I am real glad to tell these interested and attentive young people that the marriage then immediately took place.


The fare of that early day was frugal, but the hospitality was hearty - the Johnny cake, the pone and the corn dodger, this was bread; hog and hominy, this was meat. But the people were healthy, and not a single case of lung trouble can be recalled until after tight frame houses and air tight stoves had succeeded the log cabin and open mud fire place. I can well remember when a child of sleeping in the old log cabin sound and sweet all night, and find in the morning the snow lying from half an inch to two inches deep all over the bed, where it had sifted through the cracks and roof.

Think of it pioneers, you who have the same memories that I have. You live in costly houses and luxury, but do you sleep as well as in the old log cabin? Do you feel as well? Would you give your wealth with your aches and pains for the old days, with their health and joy? You two old people who began life together in the cabin where "duty was love and love was law", - you built on the old foundation and you prospered.

But you saw many cold days and many hot days; you saw many wet days and many dry days, and the swelling years have bowed you. You attended many a wedding; children were born unto you the they have grown up and married. You attended many a funeral; children and grandchildren were born unto you whom you have seen laid beneath the clods of the valley.


Fifty-one years ago this fall, on a clear, frosty evening, I was there; a smoke was seen to rise in the chill air along the timber of Crow Creek. The settlers who saw it were fearful of hostile Indians; but it proved to be Daniel Bland with a wife and one child, a little son, from Kentucky. His health was poor, and they had been compelled to lie over on the road on that account.  They concluded to stop where they camped, and not go father north as was intended.

The settlers turned in and helped put up a cabin for him, and he and his wife and child moved in. He was poorly and never rallied, but died in midwinter. At the time of his death the "big snow" was on and covered the ground from two feet to ten where drifted.  There was no lumber,  no carpenters, no tools, no screws, no nails in all the region; a horse unburdened could hardly make his way through the snow and drifts. But the neighbors gathered and went to the timber and felled a white oak down by Mr Boon's in Richland township and split it into "puncheons" and then hitched a horse to each puncheon and dragged them toilsomely to the cabin some two miles away.

John Strawn, now dead, James Dever, dead, Robert Barnes, dead and a hired man of James Dever named Kemp, dead, were all the men that lived within ten miles of the Bland cabin. They got the puncheons there and bored holes and pinned them together, making a kind of box, and put the dead man in the rude coffin, and they dug a grave, - I think the first in the county, in the point of a hazel thicket about 20 rods east of the cabin. It was more work to shovel off the snow than to dig the grave.

And then they dragged with a heavy pair of horses the dead man and his coffin through the snow to the grave and laid him away. And in the same hour of his burial, his wife who could not leave the cabin, became the mother of her second son. That son grew up and moved to Oregon and married and died. I could recount till the sun goes down, incidents of these early times, some of which I have by tradition, most of which I witnessed myself, but I forbear.

The day, Mr. President, is fast going and I must not delay. There are pioneers that are not here. Year after year they drop out and cease to come. "Thou changest his countenance and sendest him away," says Job. Many, many, a large majority of the old pioneers have been sent away. A few are with us yet, but names rise up of the loved ones gone, and our hearts are full.

Many of them had hard, toilsome lives, most of them were poor, and all had the hardships and trials of frontier life. But they have migrated to a better land. They fought the good fight and kept the faith, and are today waiting for us, "crowned in triumph on a happier shore." As few are here, - very few, - who were here 50 years ago, so few are here today who will be here 59 years hence. You and I pioneers, will be at rest. Your lands, your houses will be in other hands. Others will do the business of the country and guide its destiny. Other ministers will proclaim the everlasting gospel and break the bread of life to an other people, you and I will be at rest.

Let us not grudge to give place to those who are to come after us. Let us hail them to this land of plenty, to these hills and fields and sun and sky and plenties, wishing them all the blessing of civilized and christian life. As we love our ancestors back of us, so our affections, running forward, take in the unborn that are to follow us. They shall turn the long furrows, tend the flocks, guide commerce, wait on the sick and bury the dead, even as we have done. They will struggle for life as we have. They will have their sorrows and joys as we have had ours. They will marry and be given in marriage, their hairs will whiten, and they in their turn will give place to the inrushing tide of young life about them.

I call upon the descendants of the old pioneers, and upon all the people, to unite with one purpose and give this country a grand love for the right, and a grand hat for the wrong - to make it a land "whose God is the Lord." Do this and this land will be a fair temple, surpassing all the grandeurs of earth, and rivaling the splendors where the angles bow. And let us have faith that when the last pioneer shall have gone, there will be a reunion, where there will be no dead to be numbered, where there will be no sorrow, and where we shall be reassembled with all the old pioneers."

At the close of the oration the glee club sand "Auld Lang Syne,: which closed the exercises of the forenoon.

The old settlers then dispersed from the grand stand for their dinners, and in groups about the yard in connection with the viands from their own baskets were served with chicken pot pie and chowder already described, which was in great abundance and delicious, those partaking of these dishes, pronouncing them equal to any they had tasted. The ladies of Lacon provided tea and coffee, and a delightful hour was spent in feasting and sociability.


At two o'clock, the martial band announced the gathering at the stand, and Mrs. Bullman's spinning exhibition not being ready, speaking was announced, and J. Newton Reader of near Dwight was introduced.


Mr. Reader is a relative of Dr. Reader of Lacon. His father came to Illinois in 1829 and settled in Tazewell county near Pekin. In 1831 the speaker came up to this county and stopped at Col Strawn's, who had come the year before. He procured a claim, built himself a cabin on one side of which was a stream of water, and on the other nearby a band of Indians had camped; in 1832 he had five neighbors. It was a sickly season and there were some deaths.

He gave an instance of a man named Walker who lived where Bullmans live now, who was sick. He wanted a man claiming to be a doctor to cure him, and offered him $10 if he would warrant a cure. The doctor wouldn't do that and the man died. There was no lumber in those days, no nails, so they went into the timber, hewed out what would answer, pinned the planks together with wooden pins, and in this manner gave their neighbor a respectful burial. At the funeral many of the neighbors formed their first acquaintance with each other.

He was in the Black Hawk war; carried the chain that laid out Lacon; saw the last Indian war dance of this section. He had nothing to complain of, but had it hard. They had ate corn from the cob; had cut it off., had grated it, had pounded it and ground it; he rejoiced that he had gone through it all. Young men are made men by much discipline.

This was the first time he had attended such a meeting. He was brought up in the woods and graduated from a log cabin school. He gave a little personal history of being a roving planet; having owned 13 farms, and expected to sell his last one when he got home. He owned a buggy which he made himself, and expected to continue to travel and might die on the road.

The glee club was then invited to sing. Mr. Stire sand a solo "How happy we shall be in the sweet by and by," a negro melody, the solo and chorus, finely rendered, receiving a hearty encore.


Wm. Barnes of Jacksonville, a brother of the late Robert Barnes, and 19 years younger, was the next speaker. He was never a dweller of Marshall, but was often here and identified with the county. His brother Robert, and youngest sister, wife of James Beaver, were the earliest settlers of the county. He gave incidents of his coming from Ohio, and how he found Col Bell's place on Crow Creek, south of Lacon, a small boy being pilot to his brother's across the prairie.

He went to a private house to church and remembers trading at Elisha Swan's store in Lacon, the only one at that time. He was a visitor again in 1844, paid his fare, coming by way of Chicago by stage , but walked a good portion of the way on account of sloughs, mire and bad roads, to La Salle, then by steamer to Lacon.

He was much interested in our citizens and came today to attend this old settlers meeting, to meet the old folks, and to see the rising generation if they looked as well, and promised as well, and would do as well as had their venerable fathers and mothers.


Judge W. E. Parrett referred to the olden time and made a very pleasant old settler's speech. He referred to a La Salle old settler's meeting, how he enjoyed it, and gave some interesting anecdotes connected with it.

He made the first reaper in the state, at Magnolia, that would cut. He didn't like the monopoly of a set speech, and thought there should be more sociability and less talk. He enjoyed the west, the people being more enterprising and smarter than in the east; live better and dress better. He had lived in the log cabin, and there he had the best cooking and the best victuals. Then the wife did the cooking, now Bridget did it and paid the poor cooking onto the lady of the house. He referred to our prosperity and thought we ought to be devoutly thankful.


Dr. Boal was called for and made a very complimentary speech. He alluded to the wonderful changes of the past among the settlers. A few years ago the orator was a mere boy; now hi is wearing spectacles. He saw the gray hairs about him that showed we were all growing old; while he looked old, he was strong and hearty, and by shunning that which debilitates enervates he expected lusty winter of age to deal kindly with him. He exhorted the young to live worthily to fill the places of their noble parents. He had just celebrated his golden wedding epoch, and hoped the young married people would live as long and as happy as he and his wife had lived.


Mrs. Elisha Swan was invited to say a few words, but she refused to appear on the front of the stage.

Wm. Maxwell made a short speech, referring to these pleasant gatherings, and the joy he experienced at them. He bade them farewell, but hoped to meet them again next year.

John Bell of Minonk never spoke before an assembly, but expressed gratification at meeting the old settlers, among whom he formerly lived. Thought he might be the boy sent out by Col. Bell to pilot Mr. Barnes (a previous speaker) across the prairie to his brother's. He was glad to say how do you do to so many he had seen before.

Joshua Myers was the next speaker. He touched eloquently on "liberty," temperance, the Indians, etc., and closed with a peroration for the perpetuity of the nation and the race.


Rev. Lemuel Russell was about to speak when the spinning wheel was brought upon the stage and with it a flax wheel and the cut reel. Mrs. Bullman presented rolls that were procured for this purpose three years ago, and a roll of flax that had been in the house upwards of 30 years. The spinning wheel was taken down from the smoke house loft only the day before, and looked as bright after a little rubbing as it did 40 or 50 years ago. The flax wheel was 45 years old.

Mrs. Sarah Johnson, a venerable mother of 67, took her seat at the flax wheel and for half an hour gratified the assemblage with an exhibition of weaving linen thread, which she manipulated with ease and dexterity. Mrs. Bullman started the spinning wheel and exhibited her skill at spinning, showing some excellent specimens of yarn. Mrs.Lewis Dean followed, a lady over 60, who had often walked a mile and spun 24 cuts a day. She was quite expert. Mrs. William Cowen of Wenona was the next operator, who handled the spinner very gracefully. She was 76 years of age and had been a settler of this country for 50 years.

They attracted much attention, but we didn't hear any of the young ladies say they cared to take their mother's place in this particular. Mrs. Bullman then reeled off the yarn, counting as she turned the reel 40 rounds for a know, 120 rounds for a cut. A handsome bouquet, the only one on the stand, prepared by Mrs. Ira I. Fenn, and the only representative of the Fenn family present, after the exercises of the day presented it to Mrs. Bullman in token of what she had done and interest taken in the old settler's meeting. This closed the exercises.

Here follows a death list of old settlers for the year from August 1880 to August 1881, compiled by the editor from his file of the Republican.

The 1882 Old Settlers Reunion

The Henry Republican, Henry Illinois

August 31, 1882

The old settlers picnic should not be forgotten, which meets at Lacon next week Thursday. The program will be an interesting one. Mrs. Bullman has consented to prepare another famous potpie and promises a slice to each one that attends the picnic. These gatherings are interesting and popular, and it is expecteing the crowd will be immense.

Old Setters Picnic

At Lacon Sept 7. Col J. W. McClanahan marshal of the day.

Commences 10:30 a.m. Music by band. Prayer by Chaplin Rev. A. C. Price. Song by glee club. Address of welcome by the president, Albert S. Myers. Oration by Geo. M. Bane. Music by band. Dinner. A mammoth chicken potpie of 100 hens, two bushels of potatoes and a barrel of flour will be prepared on the grounds under the supervision of Mrs. Ann Bullman. Also a monster veal potpie. These will be furnished free of charge but guests must provide themselves with plate. Afternoon, old settlers love feast and experience meeting, varied with songs by the glee club and music by the band. All invited.