Genealoogy Trails logo

History of Mount Morris
Ogle County, IL


Source: "Mount Morris, past and present : An illustrated history of the township and the village of Mount Morris, Ogle County, Illinois, in their various stages of development : together with a local biographical directory"
Mount Morris, Ill.: Kable Bros., 1900
Transcribed by K. Torp, ©2006

The First House in Mount Morris


More than three-score years have passed since the hardy immigrants from the eastern states pushed their way across mountains and rivers to what was then the wild frontier of civilization,— the state of Illinois. A company of these pioneers, from Maryland, made the first permanent settlement in the wilderness, which now, under a far different aspect, bears the name of Mount Morris township. Here, where the primeval forest had never been traversed, save by the foot of the red man or by the flight of wild game, they hewed the rough timber for their dwellings, and established themselves in a colony for the purpose of promoting their interests and general welfare. How well they succeeded in laying the foundation of a prosperous community, the beautiful and charming town of Mount Morris today is a testimony.

Were one to ascend the steel structure upon which rests the water supply of our village, and from this point of vantage contemplate the expanse of country spreading out like a panorama for many miles around him, noting the several hundred cozy dwellings of our contented and peace-loving citizens, the substantial mercantile structures, the several institutions of learning, the different church buildings, and, beyond the village precincts, the broad well-tilled acres with their neat farmhouses, the waving grain reflecting the bright rays of the great orb of day, the monotony of which is broken by frequent strips of timber land, the hazy smoke of our sister towns going heavenward far off near the horizon, over all this enchanting scene a spirit of restfulness and contentment resting like a benison from on high,—were one to note all this at the present day, and then, from the same point, view the same area of land as it appeared when the hardy pioneers first trod the virgin soil, what a complete metamorphosis would greet the eye! All the charming attributes of the foregoing brightly-depicted scene would vanish, and in their places would appear an unbroken expanse of prairie grass, dotted here and there with patches of brilliant wild flowers, but not a shrub or a tree to break the monotony of the view. At a distance, where now are pleasant farmhouses, broad areas of well-fenced fields of grain, and miles of graded road, there would appear nothing but alternating expanses of unbroken prairie and trackless forests, neither bearing evidence of ever having been traversed by the foot of man, save, perchance, the slight mark of a trail leading between growths of timber, along which bands of Indians galloped upon their wiry ponies, and where the deer ruminated, their dainty hoofs dyed blood-red by the juice of wild strawberries, ruthlessly trampled under foot.

A description of the region around Mount Morris as it appeared in the days of old is most fascinating to the younger generation when they have the privilege of hearing it direct from the lips of the old pioneers. The present site of Mount Morris, as stated before, was an open prairie, with not a tree or a shrub to be found. What is now the college campus was then the crest of a hill of considerable size, the country sloping from it in all directions. The early settlers say that before the view was obstructed by buildings and trees, the altitude of the hill was very perceptible. The prairie grass was very rank. In fact, in some places it grew so luxuriantly that it was almost impassable. Most of the ravines and hollows were in a wet, boggy state; and the streams and ponds retained the water from rains much longer than now, because of the absence of tiling in the lowlands. There abounded hundreds of springs, which have long since ceased to flow, owing to the rapid drainage now effected by the work of tiling and the development of the soil.

The patch of prairie in the midst, or rather on the crest, of which Mount Morris was founded, contained probably less than ten square miles. The margin of timber approached on the north to about the present location of George Windle's residence; on the east, to John T. Kanode's farm; on the south, to the Barnhizer and Shaw farms; on the southwest, to N. A. Watts'; on the west, to William Lohafer's; and on the northwest, to the present timber known as Hitt's woods. The margin, of course, was irregular, affording many "bays" of the prairie along the skirts of the timber. In these little coves, hidden just within the edge of the woods, the first settlers built their rude log-cabins, invariably near some of the many fine springs, so that pure fresh water could be readily obtained. None of the first settlers ventured out upon the prairie to build, probably because of the extra labor involved in getting logs for building, and in obtaining fuel and fence-rails.

The log-cabins built at that time were of the most primitive character. They were generally one-story structures, made of round logs, which were sometimes not even "scutched down." The roof was made of clapboards, which consisted of thin slabs, called "shakes," about three or four feet long, split from logs. In the absence of nails, the tiers of these rude shingles were held down by lodge-poles. If there was more than one room, it was, in all probability, a shed addition built on one side. If there was an upstairs to the house, it was reached by a rough ladder, made from a conveniently-sized sapling, through which holes were bored at desired intervals, and then the pole was split in half. For rounds, the smaller undergrowth of hickory, oak or ash was next brought into use, cut to the proper length and the ends dressed down, so as to fit the holes in the side-pieces of the ladder. This ladder would be erected in one corner of the room, or put up side of the chimney on the exterior of the house. In the latter case, a hole was cut through the outer wall of logs, which would furnish admission to the attic. The floor of the dwelling was often of nothing but the bare ground, and the furniture was of the most meager sort. Three-legged stools were used for chairs; and tables were often made from rough slabs split from logs, dressed down with a broad-axe to a proper thickness, then fastened together by a cross-piece underneath, which was held in place by wooden pins. In each corner a hole was bored into which a leg was fitted. Bedsteads were made as follows: A hole was bored at the proper height in one of the logs of the side of the building, about four feet from the corner. About six feet from the wall, a post was driven into the ground. One end of the side-rail of the bed would be fitted in the auger-hole, and the other end fastened to the post. The foot-rail was then provided for in the same way. The slats were next fastened from the side-rail to the side of the house, and the bed was done. In the case of hotels these bedsteads were often made so that by placing one above the other, a single bed-post would support as many as six beds. If the occupants of the house consisted of both sexes, or if, as was often the case, several families occupied the same room, the beds would be separated by curtains of deer-skins or of some other material, or else the light was put out before retiring. This was done by covering up or throwing water upon the embers in the fireplace. If, by accident, the fire was extinguished, it was rekindled by striking flints and catching sparks on tinder, there being no matches in those days.

As mentioned before, the first settlers built their houses along the margin of the timber. Later arrivals, however, began to realize the value of the prairie land, and started to take up claims there. Probably the prairie sod in this vicinity was first turned during the year 1836, but many years passed before the entire prairie was brought into the present state of cultivation.

Unlike many sections of Illinois, Mount Morris was entirely free from tragedies with the Indians; in fact, the warlike tribes had been driven westward before this part of the country became settled. This county was originally a part of the hunting grounds of the Winnebagoes and Pottawattomies, and their trails from one grove to another were easily discernible, while hundreds of their arrowheads and other weapons have been and are still being found in all parts of the township. In 1832 occurred the terrible Black Hawk War, and as a result all of the red men, except a few dozen peaceful families, were driven westward. At that early day no settlers had yet stopped here and consequently the trouble was all over when civilization began to dawn in this vicinity. The only sight which the early settlers ever got of these swarthy aborigines was an occasional band crossing the plains in quest of game or begging. These were the most quiet and peaceful of the Indian tribes of the country, but they, too, finally became dissatisfied with the restrictions of their treaty with the whites, and followed their more warlike brethren to the wilderness west of the Mississippi, leaving their former lands free to the onward march of civilization.

Settlements were made at a number of points in the county before any claims were taken up in Mount Morris township. Kett's History of Ogle County says:
"Isaac Chambers passed through the county limits early in the summer of 1827, en route for Galena, and was so favorably impressed with the beauty of the country and the richness of the soil, that he determined to make it his future home, which determination he carried out in 1829. John Ankney came up from the southern part of the state, in the spring of 1829, and located a claim at Buffalo Grove (west of Polo), near where the old Galena road crossed Buffalo creek. After making his claim, he returned for his family; and, while he was absent on that mission, Isaac Chambers returned from Galena with his family, and stopped at White Oak Grove, a small growth or patch of timber about a half-mile west of the present village of Forreston, but, not altogether suited, he remained there only a short time. He reasoned that the timbered parts of the country would become more valuable than the prairie land, because of the superabundance of the latter and the comparative scarcity of the former. After prospecting around for a while and examining different localities, he finally settled at Buffalo Grove, about ten miles south of his first stopping place at White Oak Grove. He removed his family there and commenced to make arrangements to build a home. As it happened, Mr. Chambers had taken the claim previously selected by Mr. Ankney; and, while he was perfecting his plans and arrangements for opening a road and erecting his house, Mr. Ankney came back with his family, and was somewhat surprised to find that his claim had been 'jumped,' or taken, by Mr. Chambers, while the latter was no less surprised at the appearance of the former."

Albertus Ankney

Mr. Ankney was compelled to make a new claim farther down the creek. The History continues: "After their houses were built, Chambers and Ankney proceeded to establish the dividing line between their claims. Other boundary lines were unnecessary, for there were no other claimants in all the country; and, if they so willed it, one of them could claim Rock river for his eastern line, and the other one, the Mississippi for his western line. They were, for the time, 'monarchs of all they surveyed. One clear star-light night, when the moon did not shine, and when there were no clouds floating across the sky, they went together to the south side of the grove; and, from a red-oak stump, they started toward the North Star, hacking the trees which stood in their way, the marked trees being the line between them."

From the most reliable information it appears that John Phelps was the original pioneer in this township, having visited the county and taken up a claim about two and one-half miles east of Mount Morris as early as 1835. It would be interesting to know who was the first white man to set foot within the present corporate limits of the village or even the township, but information upon this subject cannot be ascertained with any degree of accuracy. Possibly Chambers or Ankney may have made a trip over from Buffalo Grove, or some trapper or hunter may have wandered over this part of the prairie. Possibly Phelps may have been the first, as late as 1834, when he came into the county; but certain it is that Phelps was the first permanent settler in the township. In the summer of 1836 Samuel M. Hitt and Nathaniel Swingley came to the township and found him living in a cabin two and one-half miles east of the present site of Mount Morris; Larkin Baker had a cabin and a claim about four miles southeast, subsequently owned by Daniel Price; David Worden lived one and one-half miles southwest; and probably one or two others had settled along the edge of the timber. Hitt and Swingley, however, went out upon the prairie, then left free from the encroachment of civilization, and made several claims, including the present site of Mount Morris. They remained here during the summer, but at autumn returned to Maryland and hired a number of men to settle with them in the new country, promising to pay them one dollar per day for service in building houses, splitting rails and building fence, breaking the prairie and harvesting the crops. Among those thus engaged were Michael Bovey, Adam, Daniel and John Stover, Balka Niehoff, Samuel Grove, Eli Householder, William McDannel, Abram and Jonathan Myers, and Fred Finkbohnar. This party started for their new homes in the west in the spring of 1837. Householder, McDannel, and Daniel Stover were accompanied by their wives. Mrs. Elizabeth Ankney, with her little son Albertus and her daughter Mrs. William Watts, was also a member of the party. They traveled by wagons to Wheeling, West Virginia, by boat on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois rivers to Peru, and the remaining distance by wagon. Early in the spring they arrived at a vacant cabin in Fridley's grove, east of the present site of Mount Morris. This cabin had been built and occupied by Judge Ford, afterward governor of the state. Here the first Maryland colony, as these settlers were afterward termed, remained for two weeks, while the men-folks proceeded to erect their cabins. The first one built by them, which was also the first in the township, was a double log cabin, on the claim of Mrs. Ankney, about three-quarters of a mile southwest of the present village of Mount Morris. Half of this house was moved, at a later day, down into the grove near a spring, and was finally torn down. The other half stood in the field a few rods east of the present residence of N. A. Watts, and was used as an implement house until a year or so ago, when it, too, shared the fate of its partner and was torn down for fuel. Unfortunately, no photograph was ever taken of this historic old building, but probably the majority of our citizens can yet remember its appearance as it stood isolated, a rude monument to the toils and hardships of our pioneer fathers. In the two small rooms of this cabin lived four families,—those of Mrs. Ankney and Eli Householder in one part, and Messrs. Stover and McDannel in the other.

While this cabin was being completed, the entire party remained in the Ford cabin. A bake-oven, constructed by Mrs. Ankney, was used in preparing their food, and at night they slept on " wagoner beds," which consisted of plain mattresses, rolled up during the day and spread out on the garret floor at night. Several other cabins were soon completed, however, and the members of the colony became more comfortably located. Mr. Swingley kept the men whom he had brought along busily engaged in cutting down trees in the timber, splitting rails and building fences, and cultivating several small fields of grain, for which prairie sod had been broken in the spring. Mr. Bovey worked with these men during the entire summer and following winter, and tells many interesting tales of their experiences. With three companions he went up near Forreston, one week in harvest, and worked six days cradling a field of oats. During the first night their horses trampled their provisions and left them with nothing to eat. Luckily a man, who was bound eastward toward Swingley's cabin, came along, and through him they got word to their employer. After a day with nothing to eat but several small potatoes, they were relieved with a new supply of provisions.
Mr. Bovey also relates an incident of that winter, when with several of the men of the colony he got lost on the prairie during a bitter cold night; and the party drove over the snow-covered ground for many hours in a fruitless search for their cabin. Daylight finally righted them and they then reached home in safety.

Of these settlers most of them remained in the county. Mr. Bovey took up a claim northwest of town and lived there until old age compelled him to retire, when he took up his abode with his daughter, Mrs. Josiah Avey. He is one of perhaps less than a dozen of the very early settlers of the township who survive. Eli Householder lived here two years and then moved six miles south, where he died in 1896. Mr. Stover also died in this vicinity. Mr. McDannel, after living many years on his farm in Pine Creek, moved to Iowa, where he died. Fred. Finkbohnar moved north to Adeline, where his relatives still live.

Michael Bovey
Michael Bovey

'Squire Samuel M. Hitt built a log cabin on one of his claims, about three miles west of town, later known as the Zumdahl property. There with his family, including Margaret, Andrew, Robert, George, John W., and Joseph, he lived until his death in 1859. In 1858 he began the erection of the fine stone residence, now owned and occupied by Christian Zumdahl, and, although it was not quite completed, he was living in it at the time of his death. The new house stands very near the foundation of the old log cabin. Captain Nathaniel Swingley took up the claim of the farm, subsequently owned by Jacob Keedy and later by his son, Edward Keedy, and still later by William Koontz. Mr. Swingley lived there only until 1850, when he became affected by the gold-fever craze and started for the gold-fields in California. After three years in California, he returned to Ogle county, and located at Creston, Dement township, where he died.
In this first emigration were a number of children who accompanied their parents on the long overland journey, shared with them the inconveniences of settling in an undeveloped country, and grew up to manhood and womanhood amid the rough surroundings of their homes in the wilderness. These should therefore be classed along with the earliest settlers of the township. Among those who came here in early childhood were Anna and Albertus Ankney, children of Mrs. Elizabeth Ankney (who afterward married James McCoy, Sr.), and Peter Householder. Of these, Anna Ankney married William Watts, Sr., and lived on the old Watts homestead until the time of her death in 1898. Her brother Albertus and Peter Householder are now living, and are respected residents of our village. These last two were aged respectively four and two years when brought from the east, and they have literally grown up with the country. Both are yet in their sixties, and bid fair to witness many more years of the steady advancement and the healthful growth of Illinois.

Capt. Peter Householder

Solon Crowell, father of the present State's Attorney of Ogle county, S. W. Crowell, was a very early settler in the township, having occupied a claim a mile north of town, and this claim is now included in the farms of S. P. Stonebraker and I. W. Marshall. During the year 1837, in which the body of settlers already described as the first Maryland colony came to the township, there also came the Rev, T. S. Hitt, Jacob Rice, Sr., and John Wagner, whose families have been among the most substantial and prominent citizens of this community. Rev. Hitt and wife left Ohio in a carriage in the fall of 1837, to examine the new country of which his brother Samuel had written such favorable accounts. He was a Methodist minister, and expected to continue his work in the new country. On arrival here, in September, he occupied a house which Martin Reynolds, a brother-in-law, was then completing on the site of William Lohafer's present residence, west of town. Later he invested in a tract of land two and one-half miles south of town. This tract embraced one thousand acres, one hundred of which was broken. The price paid Mr. Painter for the same was twenty-five hundred dollars. Rev. Hitt, however, soon moved to a claim which his brother Samuel had reserved for him. This claim consisted of what is now the Railroad Addition to the village and the farm immediately northeast, now owned by R. R. Hitt and cultivated by Gera Watts. Here Rev. Hitt lived until his death, September 23, 1872. He had eight children, as follows: Hon. R. R. Hitt, Mrs. Margaret Newcomer and Mrs. Charles Newcomer, of this place; John, who has been Deputy Collector of Customs in Chicago over thirty years; Emery, Morris and Henry P. Hitt, and Mrs. Elizabeth Wagner, all living in the vicinity of Tyndall, South Dakota. Of this family the most widely known is the first mentioned,— Congressman Robert R. Hitt. Mr. Hitt was but three years of age when his father emigrated from the east in 1837, and has a full knowledge of the early pioneer days of Ogle county. For sixty-three years he has been a resident of Mount Morris, during which time he has steadily mounted the arduous ladder leading to the temple of fame until his name and the prestige of his statesmanship have become known not only in this country but also in foreign lands. Mount Morris is proud of the fact that he grew to manhood in this community, and that he continues to make the village his place of residence. As one of the early settlers of the township his portrait is inserted in this chapter, along with the other pioneers who survive. However, a more complete history of his eventful life will be found in the biographical directory in the rear of this book.

Jacob Rice, Sr., and family left Washington county, Maryland, in September, 1836, intending to locate in Illinois. They wintered in Ohio with Mr. Rice's brother-in-law, John Wagner, Sr., and in the spring both men came on horseback to Ogle county, to take up claims, which they did within three miles of Mount Morris. Their families, each consisting of twelve children, followed them in July. Mr. Rice's claim was the old Rice farm north of town, now owned by his grandson, J. L. Rice, and occupied by William Funk. Here the large family was raised and scattered to different parts of the country. Those of the family best known in Ogle county were Hon. Isaac Rice, father of banker J. L. Rice; John Rice, father of banker John H. Rice; and Jacob Rice, Jr., father of Fred, and William Rice, living north of Mount Morris, all three of whom are now dead. Mrs. Daniel Etnyre, of Oregon, and Mrs. Susan Thomas, of Leaf River, are two of the daughters yet living.

John Wagner's claim comprised the farm now owned by George Carr, northeast of town. Here his rather remarkable and time-honored family was raised, every one of his six sons and six daughters living to a ripe old age and scattering to all points of the compass. The circle was not broken until the death of Joseph, in 1891, at which time the eldest was aged 75 years and the youngest 49 years. Eight are yet living: viz., Mrs. J. A. Knodle, of Mount Morris; Mrs. Barbara McNeill, Mrs. Catherine Griffin, Capt. David C, Reuben and Nehemiah, of Chicago: Mrs. Henry Wertz, of Falls City, Nebr., and Mrs. Sarah Good, of Sedgwick, Kans. Capt. Benj. Wagner died in 1898: John, in 1897: and Mrs. John Timmerman, in 1898. This family, so well preserved for so many years, held many enjoyable reunions, a number of them in Mount Morris. The last, the twelfth since the Civil War, was held in June, 1896, at the residence of one of the sisters, Mrs. J. A. Knodle, in Mount Morris, at which the eleven living members of the family were present. At that time it was estimated that thirty-eight of their children, seventy-two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren were living. A picture was taken at this reunion of Aunt Kittie Rice, Grandmother Mumma, Uncle George Fouke and Uncle John Timmerman, all of them being over ninety years of age. Another, taken of the entire assemblage, is shown on page 21. Many persons appear in it who have since died.

Another arrival from the east in 1837 was Caleb Marshall who was accompanied by his family. His son, Reuben S., now living on the old homestead, three miles north of town, was but ten years of age at that time, and he has a vivid remembrance of the early pioneer days. Mrs. John Gale, of Oregon: Mrs. Elmira Spenser, of Nora Spring, Iowa; and Isaac S. Marshall, of Decatur county, Iowa, are the other living children.

In September, 1837, for one thousand dollars, John Fridley purchased the old Ford cabin and claim, where he continued to live until the time of his death. The land then became the property of his sons, Andrew, David, John, Jacob and Benjamin. Of these, Andrew, John and Benjamin are yet living in the township, and David and Jacob have died.
These settlers who arrived in 1837 were well pleased with the new country, and consequently in the following spring, 1838, at the solicitation of 'Squire Samuel Hitt and Capt. Nathaniel Swingley, who had induced many of the settlers of the year previous to emigrate, a large number of families, known as the Maryland colony proper, left their eastern homes and came to Mount Morris township. Many of them took up claims here, while others went to Carroll county and other places. Among these families were the Hers, the Etnyres and the Sprechers. In May, A. Quimby Allen, father of R. Q. and E. J. Allen; Philip Sprecher, father of John and George Sprecher; and John S. Miller arrived in a carriage from Maryland. Mr. Allen remained and taught the first school in the township. Mr. Sprecher returned to Maryland and brought his family back with him the following spring, settling upon a claim part of which is the farm now owned by Henry Moats, northeast of town.
Others who came during 1838 and 1839 were John Smith, John Coffman and family, Henry Artz, Michael Brantner, Henry Sharer, Henry Hiestand and family, John Wallace, Sr., and others. Mr. Coffman, who was the father of Frank Coffman, of this place, settled about two miles southwest of the village, where he died several years ago. Mr. Artz lived for many years three and one-half miles southeast of the village, and has also died. Michael Branter lives near Maryland and is now well advanced in age. Henry Sharer is still an honored and respected citizen of Mount Morris, and passed his eighty-third milestone March 29, 1900. His portrait appears on page 25.
John Wallace, who married a sister of Rev. Thomas and Samuel Hitt, owned the farm now the property of Mrs. Margaret Newcomer and cultivated by William Castle. He died at this place over forty years ago.

Henry Sharer
Henry Sharer


Benjamin Swingley

Among others who came during the early forties might be mentioned Jacob Turney, Michael Swingley, David Mumma, William Printz, Jonas Shafstall, Moses Crowell, Jacob Buck, Daniel Wolfe, Joseph Rowe, Jacob Detrick, Samuel S. Pouts, Benjamin Myers, Silas Snyder, Adam Patterson, Otho Wallace, Solomon Nalley, Henry A. Neff, Bartholomew and Benjamin McNutt, Jacob Hiestand. William Watts, Daniel and P. B. Brayton, Peter, Emanuel, Jonathan, Jacob and Joseph Knodle, many of them with their families. Still later came Benjamin Swingley, whose portrait is shown on page 20; Prank Hamilton, Samuel Newcomer and his son Charles, George Avey, father of Josiah Avey; Emanuel, Henry and Andrew Newcomer; Joseph and Prisby Watts, and scores of others. About this time they began to come so rapidly that it would be useless to attempt to keep track of them. In fact, the Maryland people have never ceased coming, and today the great majority of the residents of Mount Morris township are either natives of Maryland or children of immigrants from that state. It is a noticeable fact, and one often commented upon, that the obituaries of those dying in this community, as published in the Mount Morris papers almost invariably contain the clause, "was born in Washington county, Maryland."

Much more than what has already been said concerning the appearance and condition of the country in the thirties and early forties and of pioneer life of those days, could yet be written. As has already been stated, the Indians had practically left this part of the country when the first settlers arrived, and no trouble was experienced with them. But the township did not entirely escape from the ravages of the early bands of prairie robbers who harassed the settlers principally by stealing their horses and smuggling them during the nighttime along certain lines of dishonest settlers, something in the manner of the "underground railway" by which slaves were aided in their flight to Canada before the war. These prairie pirates were well organized all over the country, being a combination of horse thieves, counterfeiters and murderers. At a very early day they held almost undisputed and unobstructed dominion throughout this whole section of the country, and very few of the honest settlers were fortunate enough to keep all their property from being swept into the meshes of the network these land pirates had spread around them. The principal leaders of this gang of cut-throats were John Driscoll, John Brodie and Samuel Aikens and their eight sons, William Bridge and Norton Royce. Although none of them were residents of the township, their operations were often carried on in this vicinity. Their nefarious transactions became so intolerable at last that an organization of settlers, known as Vigilantes, was formed, the members of which proceeded to clear the country of these villains in a summary manner. A man by the name of John Campbell, of White Rock, captain of the Vigilantes, was shot by the Driscolls in 1841, and immediately the entire country was scoured until the murderers were caught. A brief trial was given them, the entire one hundred and eleven Vigilantes serving as a jury, and being found guilty, they were shot without further parley, each being pierced by over fifty rifle balls. By this vigorous action the settlers protected their interests very effectually until the time when the regular courts of justice dealt with this class of criminals. A number of settlers from this vicinity had a hand in the execution of the Driscolls.

The prairie fires is one of the interesting topics that might be discussed. At least once every year, and often several times in one season, some careless settler would allow fire to get started in the long grass on his claim; and, ere he could mend the mischief, the flames, fed by the thick growth of vegetation, would soon be speeding across the prairie with the speed of the wind, often faster than a horse could gallop,—a leaping, devouring wall of flame and smoke. The settlers kept these fires from devastating their fields and homes by plowing up the soil in wide tracts, over which the flames could not leap. Occasionally, persons were caught out upon the broad prairies by these fires, and were compelled to adopt summary means for protection, if flight were found impracticable. This was accomplished by starting a new fire at the place where they stood. This new fire, caught by the wind, would soon start ahead and burn a track upon which they could advance and be free from the fire advancing in the rear. When the country became fairly well settled, and one of these fires would get started, the men over the whole neighborhood would turn out to fight the devouring element. Many of our citizens can yet remember instances of this kind.

The first settlers found an abundance of game in this region. The most plentiful was the deer, thousands of which were native in the country. Mr. Michael Bovey avows having counted as many as sixty in a herd, and Henry Sharer, who was something of a hunter, claims to have seen herds containing over a hundred. While in the east Mr. Sharer was a great lover of fox-hunting with hounds, and he brought five good hounds with him when he came west in 1839. He soon found, however, that the still deer hunters here were very much opposed to hounds, because they tended to frighten the deer from the neighborhood. was not long until all of his hounds had been shot. At that time one could not go through the timber very far without stirring up several droves of the timid deer, which, however, spent most of their day-time upon the prairie, if not too much molested, and retreated to the timber at night. They were very timid, and considerable experience was necessary to enable the hunters to get sufficiently close to kill them. Then, too, the hunters were not as well supplied with guns and ammunition as they might have been, since these articles had to be brought from Chicago by team. However, some of them were able to slaughter many of the deer, and a liberal supply of venison was kept on hand. The Rock River Register, a paper published in Mount Morris in 1842, of which a full account appears elsewhere, contains the following item of news, headed "Gunning Unparalleled," which shows to what extent deer were slaughtered then. It is interesting now, when a live deer would be a curiosity in this region.

The extent to which David Mumma, of this neighborhood, shoots down our deer strikes us as being pretty alarmingly exhausting. While his extraordinary Nimrodian exploits render David our boast, yet we must fear that he is playing havoc with our game. He has shot seventy deer this season. He has sold deer skins to the amount of $30, besides which he has taken and sold otters' skins and other peltry. He is now taking a load of venison (hindquarters) to Chicago. Besides all this, he has feasted on the forequarters, and treated his neighbors bountifully to the same luxury. In one of his hunts, he sent a bullet through the vitals of three deer at once, laying them all low. Who has ever equaled this shot? We ask who?

The deer in Ogle county have long since been exterminated. Probably the last killed in this vicinity were shot in 1862 by Reuben S. Marshall, several miles north of town. For a number of years previous very few of the animals were ever sighted, but these had evidently escaped the Nimrods of the country and wandered from some unfrequented timber, only to fall victims to Mr. Marshall's good marksmanship. These last deer were a buck, a doe and a fawn, all of which Mr. Marshall succeeded in killing.

Small game was also very plentiful in this vicinity. Prairie chickens without end nested on the prairie, and the hunters could bag them by the hundred. Wild ducks also were numerous in certain seasons and they afforded many a delicious repast for our hard-working fathers. There were some rabbits in the county, but not nearly as many as at the present time, —a rather peculiar fact. In the timber, squirrels of several varieties were plentiful, and pheasants were frequently met with.

In addition to the game animals there were two varieties of the wolf, —the grey and the red, the latter being much the smaller and more numerous. These animals were too small and timid to do the settlers bodily injury, but each possessed a very noticeable "bark," one being capable of making as much noise as a half-dozen dogs, as an old settler expressed it. Dozens of them in the winter time made the nights hideous with their barking and yelping, especially if there was a dog about to worry them. When the snow lay upon the ground for long periods, these animals would become desperate for something to eat, and at such times were quite bold in attacking some of the smaller domestic animals.

The long thick prairie grass harbored an endless number of different varieties of the snake, some of them being of a dangerous character. Rattlesnakes were probably the most numerous of the poisonous kind, and quite frequently some unwary youngster, and sometimes older people, would be bitten by them. Being on the alert for such emergencies, the settlers were able to administer speedy remedies, and fatal results were easily averted. Copperheads, blueracers and bullsnakes were also plentiful. Persons traveling on the prairie, whether for short or long distances, always carried a stout club, if not a gun, and no one ever lost the opportunity of dispatching all of these reptiles they chanced to meet. By this vigilance the cultivated portions of the prairie were in a few years practically freed from these dangerous pests.

Old settlers are frequently heard to remark upon the great abundance of wild strawberries which grew in the bottoms and along the timber. The berries grew in large luscious clusters, with long stems to hold the ripening fruit near the top of the high growth of vegetation. Those who gathered them in their childhood days affirm that they were sweeter and better than the present cultivated species. Besides strawberries, the settlers had access to many wild plum thickets, the fruit from which was excellent and easily gathered. In the groves, hickory nuts and walnuts were so amazingly abundant that the amount gathered was but a tithe of those allowed to go to waste. Then, instead of rushing to the timber when the nuts were so green that a blow from a stout club would be necessary to disengage each individual nut from its twig, as the custom now is, the people waited until the frost burst open the hulls and the nuts could be gathered by the sackful under the trees.

At an early day fish were very abundant in Pine creek and Rock river. In the former stream, before the dam was built and when the water stood considerably higher than in late years, many fine fish came up from the river and were easily captured. Pishing was generally done with seines, there being no laws in those days to restrict it, as there are now.

The first fences built were of two varieties. When the owner of a claim had access to timber, he would probably split rails and construct the ordinary "worm," or "stake and rider," fence, which was common until late years, it being replaced principally by light but substantial patent wire fences, to keep up with the march of progress. The first fence built on the prairie, however, was constructed of sod. A ditch about three feet wide and four feet deep was dug, and the dirt thrown up to a height of four feet on one side, the sod taken from the ditch being planted on the ridge to keep it in shape.

Old settlers tell us that the winters of the thirties, forties and fifties were much more regular than in late years. Snow lay upon the ground all winter, and the weather continued cold until spring gradually took possession of the earth. Winter and spring and fall and winter weather apparently did not change to such sudden extremes, but converged more regularly. No cyclones were ever heard of.

The stories of the founding of Mount Morris and of Rock River Seminary are one and the same, and in a chapter devoted to the latter the subject is treated at some length. It will suffice to say here that the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church, which was deeply interested in the cause of education, had, at the earnest solicitation of many of the then limited members of the church in the state, concluded co establish a seminary in Illinois, and appointed a committee to select a location. The members of the Maryland colony determined to land the enterprise, if possible, and finally, having pledged an extraordinarily large sum, both in cash and in lands, they succeeded. The committee, May 4, 1839, proceeded to select a site for the future seminary, which was destined to exercise such an important influence in northern Illinois, and they "drove the stake" for the building on the summit into which the grandly rolling prairie crested. From this point the committee had a commanding view of a large extent of country of almost marvelous beauty, dotted on every side with near-approaching groves. Not a building was standing within the present corporate limits of Mount Morris when this selection was made, showing that the location of the seminary constituted the real founding of the village. The contract for the building was let at eighteen thousand dollars to James B. McCoy, father of J. E., A. S., and James McCoy. Work was begun at once.

The first house built within the corporate limits of the village was a small frame building erected by Mr. McCoy to board his carpenters. It was located within the present campus limits, across from the old Hilger house on the south side. In 1841 it was moved south to the present site of A. S. McCoy's residence. Later it was moved still farther south to the lot now owned by Robert Wright, where it was occupied for many years as a residence by William Fouke. At present it is situated in the rear of Mr. Wright's new house, and is being used as a barn. An engraving of it appears as the frontispiece of this volume. The house is not very inviting in appearance, but it is interesting because of its being the first house in Mount Morris.

The second building erected was, of course the seminary structure, the cornerstone of which was laid July 4, 1839. This structure stood through many years of usefulness, but was finally torn down in 1893, to give place to a ladies' new dormitory, which was erected a few rods west of the old foundation. The next building erected was a barn, raised by Rev. John Sharp in 1840. But living room being in great demand at that time, it was divided into two apartments and occupied by Rev. Philo Judson and Frederick Petrie together with their families, one family in each room. It was afterward finished up and moved to about the present site of William Miller's furniture store on Front street, and was transformed into the residence of M. T. Rohrer. Later it was torn down to give place for the erection of G. W. Deppen's opera house, now William Miller's furniture store. The next house built, the first expressly for a residence, was a brick structure occupying the present site of William Newcomer's residence. It was used for a time as a hotel and was finally torn down in 1872 by Andrew Newcomer, and the present frame building was erected in its place. Houses were built so rapidly after this that it is impossible to name them in the order of their erection. During the first several years the seminary was the only enterprise in the village, the inhabitants being principally those connected with that institution. During the latter part of 1841 the village acquired a newspaper, the Rock River Register, the publication of which was a rather hazardous experiment at that early day, as any one can readily conceive when the extreme sparseness of the population is taken into consideration. Of this publication more is said in a subsequent chapter. The state of the village upon the first day of January, 1842, when the first number of the Register was issued, is given in the following item, which appeared in that issue:

We hail from the top of Mount Morris: and it is our purpose, while we reign editorially, to hail very effectually.—each of our conglomerations being of the " weight of a talent."
Most seriously, we hail from the new and hale little village of Mount Morris, in Ogle county, state of Illinois (enpassant, we shall not be very ill in noise: we hope to do a share of noise,—but to Ogle shall be far from us!). Well, Mount Morris was well founded in the spring of 1841, and it is now already found, when not yet ten months old, to hold 282 souls, inclusive of the teachers and students at Rock River Seminary, which dignifies the center of the village. This day, Jan. 1,1842, the citizens number 137, and the town consists of twenty-one houses.
Mount Morris is five miles west of Oregon city, in the same county, and eighty miles west of Chicago. It is handsomely situated on a considerably elevated portion of one of the most beautiful and extraordinarily fertile prairies which distinguish Illinois,—especially the Rock river region,—for abundance and excellence of agricultural productions. Mount Morris is named in honor of Bishop Morris, of the M. E. church.

The everyday life of the citizens at that time contained much that would be novel indeed to the present resident of Mount Morris. Peter Knodle, who died at his home in Mount Morris in 1892, came to the township in the fall of 1841, and for a time after his arrival he kept a diary, which is still preserved by his wife, Mrs. Mary Knodle. The entries give some idea of the local conditions at that time. The record is considered to be of sufficient interest to reproduce here. Beyond a few necessary changes in orthography and grammar, the diary is given exactly as written by Mr. Knodle:

Commenced on Wednesday. September 29. 1841.

Landed.—We were traveling for six weeks and finally landed at Mr. James Coffman's, on Wednesday at 10 o'clock A. M., September 29,1841.
Building. -We commenced building a frame house in Mount Morris, to live in, in order to be handy to the printing-office. Commenced on Monday, October 4.
East.—Mr. James Coffman is taking his seat in the stage this day for Washington county. Maryland. Wednesday. October 6.
Raising.—We raised our house on Monday, October 10. with five hands: viz.. father. Walter McNutt. Edmond Coffman. Jonathan Knodle and myself.
Hauling.—We brought from Pecatonica two loads of siding for our house on Tuesday, October 19.
Flooring Worked.—Walter McNutt and myself commenced working flooring plank on Wednesday, October 20.
Rain.—We had a good shower of rain this day, or rather, to be more explicit, this morning. Tuesday, October 19.
Fire.—There was a fire broke out west of Mr. James Coffman's. and drew towards the timber. We had hard fighting, as the wind was blowing hard against us. It was on Thursday, October 21.
Husking.—Mr. John Coffman husked his corn on Wednesday. October 27. Commenced about one o'clock P. M. and finished about dusk, and then returned to the house for supper.
Trip to Chicago.—Father started to Chicago for some articles, such as a cooking stove, window-sash, putty, glass, etc. Friday. October 29.
Covering.—Commenced covering our house on Friday. October 29. The coverers were Walter McNutt and myself.
Rain.—Saturday. October 30, we had considerable rain. It commenced raining early in the morning and continued until evening, when it commenced blowing and blew very rapid nearly all night.
Window-Frames.—We made our window-frames on Monday. November 1. Walter McNutt and myself commenced in the morning and finished five frames till night. It was very stormy and rainy this day. It was thought that it was the heaviest wind that was experienced in this part of the country for more than eighteen months.
Snow.—November 3. We had snow this day, to the depth of one-half an inch, and very hard winds with it, hard indeed and cool accordingly.
Arrived.—From St. Louis, Emanuel Knodle, November 18. He brought our press as far as Peru. He purchased type and other printing materials.
Snow.—On Thursday morning. November 28. before daylight, it commenced snowing and storming, and continued most of the day. The depth of the snow was four inches.
Mercury.—November 21, at half-past five o'clock P. M.. the mercury stood at fifty -three degress. November 22. early in the morning, it was thirty-eight degrees. At five o'clock P. M., same day. it was thirty-five degrees. Tuesday. November 23. it was freezing most of the day.
Snow.—Monday night. November 29. it snowed about an inch.
Butchering.—John C. Coffman butchers Tuesday, November 30.
Woxf Hunt.—Samuel M. Hitt, Esq.. Dr. J. J. Beatty and others turned out on a wolf hunt December 1.
Butchering.—At James Coffman's, Thursday. December 2.
Received.—Our press on Saturday, November 29.
Goods Received.—On Monday. December 6. Mr. Me----- delivered our goods in Mount Morris: also Mr. Beeller's two boxes.
Removed.—Our press on Wednesday, December 18. to Mr. McFarland's, in a room that he rented to us.
Moving.—On Thursday, December 9, we moved in our new house at Mount Morris.
Rain.—A drizzling rain fell all day today and part of the night. December 14.
Snow.—December 15 we had snow to the depth of about one-quarter of an inch.
Arrived.—On November 27 James Coffman and Nathaniel Swingley started from Washington county. Maryland, for Ogle county, Illinois, and arrived at Mount Morris December 16. They brought along a letter for me from my cousin Samuel Knodle.
Distributing.—Commenced distributing type December 16, and also made a table for the forms, a galley, and other sundry articles for the office.
Trip to Chicago.—On Friday. December 17. father and Jacob Knodle started to Chicago to procure a stove for the printing-office, printing paper and many other articles.
Composition Roller.—I made a composition roller on Saturday evening. December 18. I got through with it about nine o'clock. I had a little difficulty in moulding it the first trial, it being too stiff, and we had to boil it a little more until it got a little thinner.
Accident.—On Monday, December 20, I was leveling the composing-stone in the press, and by pressing on it, it cracked clean across the width of the stone.
Snow and Rain.—On Tuesday, December 21. it commenced snowing and raining, and continued until the next day.
Setting Type.—Commenced setting type on Monday, December 13. ¦ Lyceum.—I was present when the merits of the Subtreasury system were debated on Friday evening, December 24. The decision was in favor of the Subtreasury system.
Arrived.—Father arrived from Chicago on Sunday, Dec. 26, with printing paper and stove for the office.
Accident.—On Tuesday, January 4,1842. as I was going to the printing-office, I slipped and fell, cutting my wrist.
Mercury.—January 4. Seven o'clock A. M.. two degrees below zero. Noon, eight degrees above zero. Four o'clock P. M., four degrees above zero.
Commenced Work.—On January 10, after having been delayed a week on account of having a sore arm.
Cutting Logs.—Jacob and Jonathan Knodle commenced cutting logs, to build a printing-office and workshop, January 14.
Received a Pamphlet.—January 16, from Samuel Knodle. The postage was twenty-five cents, there being a few lines written therein.
Visit.—Mr Philip Sales paid us a visit on Saturday evening, January 15. He remained with us all night.
Snow.—On Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. January 18 and 19, there fell snow to the depth of six inches.
Accident.—On Monday morning. January 23. Mr. Steward met with a sad accident in cutting down a tree. It fell on him and broke his arm and leg. He lives near Daysville. Dr. Beatty is now attending him.
Editor Removed.—On Thursday, February 24. we removed Mr. Emanuel (Knodle) from the printing-office to Jonathan Knodle's. a distance of about one-half a mile.
A Meeting.—There was a meeting held in Oregon city, on Saturday, February 26, on this territorial question.
Foggy.—This evening, March 1. it is so foggy that you cannot see one-quarter of a mile ahead, and it is thundering and lightening.
Died.—At Mount Morris, on Sabbath morning, March 13, Emanuel Knodle. son of Samuel and Jane Knodle, of Washington county, Maryland, in the thirty-second year of his age.
Started to the East.—Mr. Lemond arrived here on the evening of March 30. He remained all night with us. and on the following morning started for Maryland, with the intention of moving to this country if he could arrange things to suit.
Examination.—The examination took place on Wednesday. March 5. On that same evening the ladies read their copies, and on Thursday evening the young gentlemen made their speeches, etc.
Arrived from Maryland.—On Monday evening. April 25, Michael Stonebraker, Daniel Wolfe and brother, and several more, arrived in Mount Morris from Maryland.
Foundation for the Office.—Finished digging the foundation for the printing-office on April 24.
Planting corn.—James Coffman commenced planting corn on Tuesday, May 3.
Hauling.—We commenced hauling plank, on Thursday, May 5, to fence in our lot and Miss Shepard's.
Raising.—We raised our office on Monday, May 9.
Married.—On Thursday. May 19, Michael Stonebraker to Catherine Coffman. eldest daughter of James Coffman.
Died.—On Thursday evening, May 19, Michael Detrick.
Hail Storm.—On Monday evening, June 27, about half-past eight o'clock, there was a hail storm. It blew the doors open, and broke twenty-five panes of glass for us and fifty or sixty for Bear's. I suppose there were five or six hundred panes of glass broken in Mount Morris.
Animal Magnetism.—There was a lecture delivered Tuesday evening, June 25. in the seminary. There was a boy put to sleep, who. after he was asleep, commenced talking, and would answer anything that was asked him.
Arrived from Maryland.—On Thursday morning, about eleven o'clock. June 30. Messrs. Hiestand, Neff and family, Bartholomew McNutt and family and also his mother, and Benjamin McNutt.
Plastering.—We had the office plastered on Saturday. July 2, by Jacob Petrie.
Hail Storm.—On Monday, July 4, there was a hail storm almost severe enough to break the panes of glass in the windows. It did break some of our neighbors' glass.
Removed.—We removed the office on Wednesday, July 6. in the part of our house that we had built on purpose for it.
Ventriloquist.—There was a ventriloquist in our burg on Thursday and Friday evenings, July 7 and 8. He also went through the performance of some sleight-of-hand. This ventriloquism is first-rate.
Arrived.—John George Pea arrived here on July 30. He is just from New Orleans.
Frozen.—The river froze over Friday night. November 18.



RETURN TO MAIN INDEX PAGE FOR Illinois Genealogy Trails

©Genealogy Trails