The History of Putnam County

Taken From the Henry Republican, Henry, IL
July 20, 1876

The following history of Putnam county, was prepared and read by George S. Parks, Esq., one of the citizens, at the centennial celebration, held at Magnolia, July 4th:

"It has been allotted me to sketch briefly, the history of our county, from its first settlement in 1826 to 1876. I shall notice briefly the life-work of the early settlers, step into their cabins, look at their household furniture, and enjoy their amusements and hospitality. I shall trace the changes in customs, in education, in literature, in religion, and the progress we have made in the useful and the ornamental. While noting our achievements, I feel it due to history to speak of the errors and evil influences, that follow even the track of freedom and progress; while human nature remains the same, it requires supervision and control. Liberty is liable to excess. Untried reforms sometimes become abuses, religion may degenerate into skepticism, and the material and intellectual overshadow the moral education. Such dangers can only be averted by the track of progress cleared of all obstructions by the unceasing vigilance and supervision of our best citizens.


In 1673, Marquette and Joliette first discovered the Illinois river and explored the adjoining country. During the long ages back, since creation dawned, this wonderful country was unknown to history. This land for thousands of years had been gathering richness, and opening out in beauty, preparatory to its occupation by a people of skillful industry, and the highest civilization. LaSalle made further discoveries in 1679. Father Hennepin also visited this region, with a view of exploring the country and civilizing the Indians, who were very numerous along the Illinois river. Illinois signifies in their language "the men". It is not an inappropriate name even at the present time.

The river and state of the men, Starved Rock and a few mounds or burial places, are about all the mementoes we have of the powerful race that once trod our prairies, built their camp fires in our groves, and bathed in our flowing streams. Will the time ever come when this people in turn shall pass away and leave scarce a vestige behind? God forbid! May we build upon principles immutable and eternal; and preserve unimpaired, from age to age, the rich inheritance bequeathed us!

The French made a few settlements along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. They lived in peace with the Indians, their wants were few, and tastes simple; with hunting and fishing, talking and visiting, singing and dancing, the stream of life flowed on with scarce a ripple or a care. "Oh!" said a French lady near Peoria to me, in 1831; "We were so sociable and made each other so happy before the Americans came, pushing and striving; we shall never see such happy days again." The French made little impress upon the country. The king of England granted the colony of Virginia, by charter, all the country northwest of the Ohio river. Virginia, in 1778, sent Col. Clark with four companies of mounted rangers, to conquer the French and take possession of the territory. Once of the rangers informed me in 1831, that they came up through the prairies on the east side of the Illinois river. They found them softer and more difficult to ride over than at present; but surpassingly beautiful and fertile. The upper Illinois appeared to them in many places "like a natural canal passing through natural meadows." Col.

Clark took formal possession of the country, and in the same year, Virginia by act of her legislature established the country of Illinois, a country of no mean dimensions, embracing the whole northwest. In 1784, Virginia in the fullness of her liberality and patriotism, ceded it to the United States. It was then divided into states and territories. Illinois became a state in 1818. The more southern part of the state was settled first and settlements moved north.


Our first settler Capt. Wm. Haws, was born in Orange county, Virginia, September 25, 1800. His father emigrated to Ohio in 1805. William, who was always noted for his honesty, economy and Industry, when he was 21, came to Sangamon county, and in November 1826, moved up and made the first settlement in Putnam county. In the following spring, Stephen and James Willis came and settled a claim east of Capt. Haws, now included in farm of Isaac Parsons. John Knox, settled on the south side of Magnolia, and his son, at the head of Clear Creek timber, near Capt. Price's in 1827. About the same time Mr. Bailey moved from South Ottawa to Bailey's point, and the Messrs Hilterbrands, Hannum and Graves, with large families, settled in the Oxbow prairie, and Jesse Roberts settled south of Sandy creek in 1828. Mrs. Sarah Glenn, now aged 82 years, came in 1832, and Mrs. Ann Shields, aged 86, came from Tennessee, in 1833. Both have many honored descendants. I first visited this county in 1831; settlers then were beginning to come in quite fast.

Putnam county was organized in March 31, at the house of Capt. Haws. The first court was held at Hartsell's old trading house, one mile above Hennepin. The first grand jury sat under the shade of an oak tree. Hennepin was laid out in 1831, and made the county seat. The county was then 40 miles square. Since then, her proportions have been shamefully mutilated, and her citizens should never rest until her just rights of territorial equality were awarded her off of the overgrown counties contiguous to her.

The Blackhawk war opening in 1832. The soldiers were struck with the beauty and fertility of the country, and spread its fame abroad, which caused a rush of emigration that soon settled up the country. Hartsell sold Indian goods. Williamson and James Durley opened the first store in Hennepin.


Capt. Haws, like most of the early settlers, built his first house of round poles, split puncheons for his floors, also for his doors, hewing them thin, pinning, and hanging them with wooden hinges, riving boards for roof, and keeping them on with weights, chimneys were made of sticks and mortar, and rock was carried from the creek to build the jambs. No nails were used. They worked with old fashioned prairie plows, and with single barshire, every man stocking his own plows and making everything needed.

They usually raised from 20 to 30 bushels of good winter wheat to the acre, tramped it out on the ground, cleaned it in the wind and sold it for 40 cents per bushel. They tended corn with barshire and single shovel plows, and usually raised about 50 bushels to the acre. It was usually tramped out on the ground, pounded in a barrel or shelled by hand, at corn shelling parties, and sold from 10 to 25 cents a bushel. Samuel Glenn says his father bought corn of Aaron Whitaker, in 1833, for 6 1/4 cents per bushel. In 1841 they commenced shipping corn to New Orleans; it brought 15 cents a bushel.

They raised and bought stock as fast as they could get the means. There was little or no sale of cattle; three years old steers brought $9 per head; cows sold at $7 to $12; hogs were easily raised, they found most of their living in the woods. The earliest settlers sold pork for $3 per 100; during the rush of emigration it sold for $10 per 100. After the country was settled, it sometimes sold as low as $1.50 per 100. For several years past it has ranged from $3 to $8. Cows have been selling from $30 to $60 per head and fat steers often bring from $60 to $120 per head. Oxen were mostly used in early years, but are now supplanted by horses.

Travelers were furnished a good meal for 12 1/2 cents. The settlers laid up every dollar to buy land. They raised sheep enough to have wool to make their own clothing, often going 50 miles to get the wood, carded. Before horse mills were erected, they had to go 100 miles to mill. The Buel Institute, the first agricultural and horticultural society in the state, was organized at Granville, and has always flourished.


The early settlers were free and open, sociable and respectable. There was often strife after meeting who should take home and entertain friends; all were kind, like brothers. Fishing, hunting bees, turkies (turkeys) and deer, furnished fine sport and good living. Household furniture and clothing, being mostly home made, was not subject to fluctuating prices, at (and) it cost at all times just the labor to make it. They spun and wove, and sewed, they hewed out timber and framed bedsteads, tables and cupboards; hung their clothes on pins. They brought with them pewter and tin plates and cups. They had no expensive outfits.

The young ladies dressed in homespun or calico. It was becoming, they looked very pretty, at least I thought so. In courtship the same modest demeanor and decorum characterize our young ladies as of old. I have no changes to note, not having recently interviewed the young ladies on the subject. Girls early learned to do housework. It was considered a most honorable accomplishment. In busy times they were not ashamed to work in harvest and having fields, and often plowed corn for weeks; yet, it is curious, some of their descendants, with all their schooling, don't know what a plow is, and can't handle it.

Mr. S. Glenn informs me they used to haul wheat to Chicago in 1840-1-1, and in sold for 40 cents a bushel, half in trade. They went in companies of 8 and 10, took 40 bushels of wheat and 10 oats to feed and provisions, and camped out. They all reported what each spent, and if they spent more than $1 the girls laughed at them, and if they bought cigars, whisky or any useless thing, they called them spendthrifts and gave them the mitten. This reminds me of a youngster who recently went to Chicago and spent $25, and now the girls called him stingy. Our economical girls in early days had a little human nature in them. They used to walk to church in their common shoes and just before they got there, put on their fine shoes and walked in the peer of any lady.


The early settlers gave 50 cents a 100 for making rails, and from $10 to $12 per month for hired hands. Girls hired out at $1 per week. The condition of the great body of our laboring people is indicated by the amount of their wages. The present high prices show clearly an advance in knowledge, skill and civilization. Wages in England 200 years ago were 8 cents a day with board, and 16 cents a day without board.

"We will make them work hard for a sixpence a day.
Though a shilling they deserve if they had their just pay."

The price of agricultural labor in England has more than doubled in the last 200 years. From 40 to 50 cents a day is paid, while $1.50 is paid for the same labor in Putnam county. The valley of the Nile is just as fertile now as when it was the granary of the world. The wages of the agricultural laborer there at this time is 10 cents a day, and now they propose, with their cheap labor, to compete with our high priced labor in furnishing Europe with grain. Thus it appears that labor is higher in Putnam county than in any other part of the north. The price is only limited by the question whether the laborer can make his wages clear off the farm.

The high price of labor has a tendency to make the laborer indifferent to the interests his employer. They forget that care, skill and brains are of more value and in greater demand than muscle. Thus we see the condition of laborers has vastly improved; while the cost of living has not made a corresponding advance. A man can raise his own provisions now as cheaply as ever; it only costs his labor. Clothing, calico and hardware are cheaper, while groceries, and a few things are dearer.

Wages are more than double what they were in early days. We therefore see no reason why the industrious, skillful laborer practicing the same economy cannot advance to competence even faster than the first settlers. We know it is easier to spend money now, and some more is required as civilization advances, yet it can be made faster. I know the old settlers were benefited by the rise of land; but it must admitted that they endured long years of toil and low prices.


Our first fences were made of rails. I have seen oak rails 30 years old. After a while board fences were extensively made in the prairie. Then came the era of planting osage, and making hedge fence, and many of our farmers have their farms entirely enclosed with permanent live fences. Extreme drouths (droughts) followed by the cold winter of 1874 and 1875 injured our hedges, but by continually planting seed grown in this climate I have no doubt the osage will become more hardy, and be able to stand our climate.

Recently much improvement in barbed wire fence has been made, some kinds are quite cheap and popular. These kinds of fencing will enable us to get along with much less timber in future years. In the mean time it would be the part of wisdom to preserve our white oak groves and plant out white ash and black walnut for future use.


Capt. Haws brought some apples from the American bottom and planted the seed in 1827. Some of these trees are now bearing. He next procured some trees from a nursery near Peoria. Afterwards, Mr. Myers started a nursery, and other nurseries were established in the county, and orchards extensively planted. Cherries, gooseberries, currants, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, are now found at almost every farm house. They are hardy and prolific. Plums and peaches grew and bore very well in an early day, but our late extreme cold winters and the curculio have been hard on them. We can yet get a pretty fair crop of miner and wild goose plums, and of some kinds of seedling peaches. Grapes grew well both in the prairies and timber. Smiley Shepherd, an early settler on Hennepin prairie, has long had extensive vineyards. We them in almost every garden. Concord for the table and Virginia Seedling for wine, are the most hardy and prolific. Domino, Jonathan, Ben, Davis, Winesap, Sawyer and Willow Twig, are not considered our most profitable apples.


When Joshua entered Palestine he found its red limestone hills fertile and productive beyond description. Why, it took two men to carry the sample grape cluster, back to the camps of Israel! Long ages of unskillful culture, and constant cropping has worn out the soil. It is washed in gullies and thorns and desert wastes appear, and the Jews, that great historic people, have flickered out. Starvation and the judgments of heaven have sent them peddling over the world. It becomes us to avert such a calamity. Already constant cropping begins to tell on wheat and corn. It is sad to see our fertile fields declining. History tells us nations decline with their soil. Patriotism calls us to duty. Let us put our feed lots on high farm land, not by the creeks where the manure will all wash down to fill up Capt. Ead's jetties. Let us save and haul out manure and plow our land so as to prevent washing.

Mr. Swindler informs me he raises better crops than he did 22 years ago. He stocks his farm with hogs and cattle; sells no grain; alternates with meadow and pasture, saves all his manure, and spreads it on his meadow, before the fall rains, and after a while breaks his meadow and seeds down his corn land; with such a culture instead of declining, our lands will be improving from year to year; thus preparing a great future for our beloved country. It is thought by some that with our high priced land we cannot compete in stock raising with the cheap lands west. I believe in the long run we can. The range there is running down. We have the advantage in freight, and they cannot fatten their stock for the spring market, nor can they raise so fine stock; Illinois will ever continue to lead the market with her Durhams, her Berkshires, her Magees and her Poland China. Stock raising in England is now more profitable than ever. The high priced pastures in the valley of the Teeswater, compete with the world; and England now raises more wheat to the acre than she did 100 years ago.


The early settlers looked to the Illinois river along to carry their produce to market, next to canals and deepening the Illinois and opening the mouth of the Mississippi. Next came the era of railroads. Some thought they would frighten cattle and cheapen lands. C. Hunt thought they would cheapen the price of horses. Now their network covers the country, and it is proposed to build a double track steel railroad, exclusively for freight, from New York through the great central grain growing regions of the west to the Missouri river. With continuous trains running each way; it is estimated that corn can be carried from Illinois to New York for 10 cents a bushel. Thus we see facilities for taking our produce to foreign markets are improving from year to year, while home markets are growing; all inuring to the benefit of agriculture, which now looms up the great leading interest of our country.


It is to be regretted that in early days, our facilities for education were meagre. Schools were occasionally opened and from $2 to $3 per quarter per scholar was paid by the parents. Since then the system of free schools has been inaugurated, and it is the glory of our country that every youth in our land, come from where he will, can obtain an education free of cost.. But while deprived of school in our early life, they received special parental training in the practical pursuits of life. Being deprived of school privileges, parents were more vigilant than they are now in instructing them in the great practical work of life.

Every young lady was early learned how to do all household work, and trained to skillful management to all domestic affairs, while young men practiced all farm work, with the care of stock, and the skillful management of business. With such there is no failure. I find no Putnam county farmer, following such early instructions, who has failed. In our new settlements west, an Illinois farmer is everywhere welcomes as the harbinger of prosperity. Skillful labor requires a knowledge of nature. The deepest wisdom is drawn from nature's ample stores. There we find the working truths of God, in the growth of our stock, in our grain, our plants and fruits. Our youth, versed in such knowledge when they go forth, feel and know that they have the power within them that insures success in life.


Our first settlers met like brothers in their cabins to worship God. Rev. Jesse Walker from the mission near Ottawa used to preach once in a while. They held their large meetings in their groves, where the whispering winds murmured among the leaflets, and where nature's great solitudes reigned supreme. It is there philosophers gather wisdom. When Jesus Christ came to earth to help his children, he drew them away from the busy haunts of life to the wilderness, and there he brought life and immortality to light.

As years rolled away and prosperty (prosperity) came, our early settlers built churches in all our towns and in all large neighborhoods. They established Sunday Schools for the diffusion of moral principles. The Sunday School taught the great truths of the bible, and the church was the conservator of its highest, purest morality. It was the moral power thus gathered that led to our prosperity, and laid the sure foundations of justice, equality and freedom. I fear impartial history will show that the active religion of these fathers is on the wane in many neighborhoods. The pursuit of wealth and the cares of business engross the whole time and every thought, and the moral training is left to chance and the schools. God, when he instituted families, designed the parent as the early moral instructor. Men never forget their early instruction in the home of their childhood. It is well now to call attention to these departures from duty, that they may be corrected and the consequent judgments of heaven averted.


With all our drawbacks, a glance at the past and present shows a rapid advance, physically and intellectually; which must be gratifying to the venerable fathers as they pass away, and their prosperity take their place upon the busy stage of human action. Nor need they fear the loss of liberty, during the late civil war. Magnolia township alone furnished 133 soldiers to the war in 10 different regiments, besides more to others. The fires of patriotism burned as brightly as it did when our fathers fought for independence 100 years ago. Our young men were ever ready to sacrifice themselves on the altar of patriotism, and at the call of their country, stepped quickly forth, singing as they came, "We are coming Father Abraham, 500,000 more." On every battlefield their valor shown conspicuous, and added to the marshal glory of their country.

In peace or in war the sons of Illinois will ever stand the bulwarks of their country. A glance at our country now, shows how we have improved our stock and methods of transportation to market; how we have improved our agricultural and household implements, so that one person can do more work now than two could in our early days. These improvements are not intended to foster idleness, but to wake up the mind to still greater efforts, and give time for mental and moral improvement, and I venture to predict that the next half century will show even greater improvements than the past.

In the last 50 years, our early settlers have built the beautiful dwellings that now adorn our land; the barns and out houses; the school houses and churches; the roads and bridges; planted our hedges, our shade trees, and our blooming orchards; laid out our green lawns, our fruit, vegetable and flower gardens; our parks and pastures; and covered our fields with waving grain; showing a landscape, unequaled in beauty and grandeur; and a prosperity such as the annals of mankind afford no parallel.

Such a legacy the fathers and mothers, who settled this land, have wrought for their descendants. Young men and young women, when you enter upon your inheritance, "honor thy father and they mother"; reverence the aged; bow to them as you pass; remember their virtues, and treasure up their words of wisdom, and cheer their last days, ere they pass away to their eternal home. With these appliances and this inheritance to start with; what may our sons and daughters not achieve in the next 50 years?

Situated in the great valley, midway between the two oceans, there opens a broad and ample field for enterprise and genius. Here in the center of wealth and power, of civilization and Christianity, may the sons and daughters of Illinois, in the future, as in the past, ever stand the eternal pillars of knowledge and progress, of freedom and glory.

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