Oswell Skiles

From: "Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois 1892", by Biographical Review Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois; pages 375-377, a reprinted by Stevens Publishing Co., Astoria, Ill., 1971, is sold by the Schuyler County Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
  Oswell Skiles, capitalist, Virginia, Illinois, was born in Ross county, Ohio, October 26, 1828. His father, Harmon Skiles, a native of Pennsylvania, went to Ohio when a young man and settled on Pickaway Plains, being one of the early settlers of that section of the country. In those days many of the more extensive farmers had distilleries on their farms, and made their own corn into whiskey, it being much more easily transported to the distant markets in that way. Mr. Skiles had a large distillery on his farm. He removed from Pickaway Plains to Washington Court House, where he died in 1851. He was twice married. His first wife, nee Mary Thompson, died in January, 1829, leaving two sons, Ignatius and Oswell. By his second wife he had two daughters, Eleanor and Susan. Oswell Thompson, grandfather of the subject of our sketch, was one of the pioneer settlers of Pickaway Plains. In 1827, he started westward and came to Cass county, Illinois. He located on North prairie, were he secured a farm and resided until his death.
  Oswell Skiles was an infant when his mother died, and he was reared by a family named Smith. Mr. Smith was a poor man, had ten children of his own, and lived on a rented farm. In addition to his farming operations he also had a contract to carry the mails between Washington Court House and Columbus, a distance of thirty-seven miles, and to Chillicothe, twenty-five miles. As soon as he was large enough, young Skiles commenced to earn his living by assisting on the farm, and when about fifteen years old he carried the mail, making the journey on horseback. They used to make two trips a week to Columbus. Many of the streams were not bridged, and during high water he had either to swim his horse or wait until the water subsided. When he was about twenty years old he began to learn the trade of harness maker. He continued work at that trade, in Ohio, until the fall of 1851, when he came to Illinois, making the journey with a horse and buggy, to Springfield. He rode on the cars from there to Jacksonville, that being the first railroad he had ever seen. He landed in Jacksonville with $5 in his pocket; hired a horse and rode to Arcadia, from which place he walked to the home of his uncle, Oswell Thompson, having sent the horse back. On his arrival at his uncle's he received $100 which he had inherited from his grandfather's estate, and with that he bought a horse, saddle and bridle. Thus equipped, he made the journey on horseback the following winter to Iowa, where he joined another uncle residing in Louisa county, for whom he worked about one year. Then he returned to Cass county, and in April, 1853, started for California. A man named Welch had fitted out a train of ox teams, and Mr. Skiles paid him $75 to carry his provisions, clothing, etc., and he assisted in driving the oxen and loose stock. They crossed the Illinois river at Beardstown, on the 6th of April, and continued their way westward over rivers, plains and mountains, arriving in the Sacramento valley in October. At that time there were no white settlers between the Missouri river and California, except the Mormons at Salt Lake, and the country abounded in game of all kinds. Mr. Skiles had only about $2 left when he reached California. He engaged to work for Mr. Welch on his ranch for $75 per month and board, and the two lived together in a cabin, keeping bach. Mr. Skiles was soon taken sick, however, and had to seek quarters where he could receive better attention, and for which he had to pay $9 per week. With the first money he earned after his recovery, he paid his board. He remained with Mr. Welch about one year, and then went to Forbestown, Butte county, where he bought an interest in a mining claim, for which he paid $100. He was successful in his mining operations that winter. In the spring he sold out and went to Sierra county, prospected for a time, and then for some months was engaged in preparing a tunnel for deep diggings. The winter was very severe, the snow falling to the depth of ten feet. In the spring he engaged in mining, being thus occupied there for two years, at the end of which time he sold his interest for $1,000. He then worked by the day about three months, for $5 per day. Next we find him in the Sacramento valley, engaged in farming and stock raising, he having purchased an interest in a claim to a tract of Government land near Marysville. In 1858 he took passage on the steamer Oregon and went to Victoria; but, instead of being encouraging, the reports from the mines in the British possessions were the opposite, and consequently he returned to his ranch, where he remained till 1862. Then, with four yoke of oxen he started to take a load of flour to Virginia City, Nevada. On his arrival there, he sold his load and engaged in drawing cord wood to the quartz mill, receiving $15 per cord. In the fall he returned to his ranch and spent the winter, and the following spring went back to Virginia City. The next autumn he took a load of shakes to Austin, Reese river, 150 miles distant from Virginia City, selling them for $150 per 1,000. He spent the winter there, and in the spring sold his oxen and wagon, and started on his return East. He journeyed by stage via Austin and Salt Lake City, to Atchison, Kansas, thence by steamer and rail to Jacksonville, arriving at his uncle Oswell Thompson's on the 4th of July, 1864. His success in California was not unlike that of many others who sought their fortunes in the Golden State - sometimes successful and at other times in hard luck. On his arrival in Cass county, he had about $1,000. He formed a partnership with his brother Ignatius, and engaged in buying and shipping stock, in which he was very successfully engaged for a number of years, however, he has devoted his attention to banking and farming. He is a member of the firm of Petefish, Skiles & Co., of Virginia; of Skiles, Rearick & Co., of Ashland; and of Mertz, Skiles & Co., of Chandlerville; and Bloomfield, Skiles & Co., of Mt. Sterling. He owns farms in different parts of Cass county, some of which he rents and some of which he superintends.
  Mr. Skiles has been twice married. In July, 1870, he wedded Miss Ann Conover, a native of Cass county, Illinois, a sister of George Conover (a sketch of whom appears elsewhere in this volume). She died in 1877 and in 1879 he married Eliza J. Epler. He has one child living, by his first marriage, Lee Harmon, who is in the bank at Chandlerville. The children of his present wife are Louis Oswell and Stella.
  Politically, Mr. Skiles is a Republican. He and his wife are members of the Presbyterian Church.

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