William McKee Harding
Biography

From: "Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois Illustrated 1908, edited by Newton Bateman, LL. D. and Paul Selby, A. M., Volume II, Schuyler County", edited by Howard F. Dyson, pages 838-840, a Reprinted by Stevens Publishing Company, Astoria, Illinois 61501, 1970, is sold by the Schulyer County Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
  Harding, William M. -- Not only is the Kentucky family of Harding one of the earliest, as it is one of the most numerous of any connected with the up building of the Bourbon State, but from its strong and dependable stock have sprung hundreds of men and women who have taken a distinctive and even conspicuous part in the development of many and widely separated communities.  For the most part agriculturists, their ambitions frequently have led them into the unfrequented parts of the country, and indeed the pioneering instinct has been a chief, if not a leading, family characteristic.  Schuyler County has profited richly by this courageous and sturdy element, and in the person of William McKee Harding, a farmer of Section 11, Buena Vista Township, the qualities most prized and cultivated by the Kentucky progenitors are in no sense abated.
  The infant wail of William M. Harding resounded against the walls of a rough log cabin near Cameron, Warren County, where he was born on March 19, 1839.  His parents were Aaron and Nancy (McKee) Harding, and his paternal grandfather was John Harding, a native of Kentucky.  (The McKee family record may be found elsewhere in this volume. {William McKee page 882-3})  John Harding was a man of strong character, who loved danger and adventure, and whose nomadic spirit craved the excitement and opportunities of the frontier.  When our subject's father was but a boy he went with his father and others of his family to the present site of Indianapolis, Ind.; but when that region began to take on a semblance of civilization, he moved on again, this time to Hancock County, Ill., where he took up government land on Bear Creek.  The Indians at that time were on the war path, game abounded, and danger lurked on every hand.  John Harding took a hand in eliminating these conditions, but the very tameness he helped to bring about had no charm for him, and in 1853, he moved to the Territory of Oregon, with his daughter and son-in-law, his wife the being deceased.  Here his death occurred at the age of seventy-five years.
  Born in 1803, Aaron Harding led a life scarcely less adventurous than that of his father.  He inherited the Harding grit and courage, and the time and place in which he lived bore a heavy strain upon these qualities.  Settling on government land in Buena Vista Township, he laid aside his implements of peace in 1832 to enlist in the conflict with the Sac and Fox Indians, known as the Black Hawk War, serving as a private in the company in the same regiment in which Abraham Lincoln was captain of a company.  When peace was restored Mr. Harding moved to Warren County, Ill., where he improved a farm until 1835, in that year returning to Schuyler County, where he died October 9, 1845.  In Schuyler County he improved a farm, and planted an orchard, the country then being in a primitive state.  One day he killed three deer, which he pursued on horseback, striking them on the head with a poking pole after they had been run down by hounds.  His wife, who was born in Crawford County, Ill., in 1810, came to Schuyler County in 1826 at the age of sixteen years.  She nobly shared the dangers and trials of her husband, at his death being left with a family of eight children, all of whom attained years of maturity, and five of whom were married.  Of these, but two survive, William M. and Cassie, the latter the widow of Newton Atkinson, of Industry Township, McDonough County.  Mrs. Aaron Harding died on January 25, 1802 {incorrect year}, at the age of eighty-one years.
  A heavy weight of responsibility rested upon the youth of William McKee Harding, as he was only six years old when his father died, and the resources of the family were at very low ebb.  His attendance at the subscription school of the neighborhood was at best irregular, but he was able to make good use of his time, and he acquired an average education.  He remembers putting in much of his time grubbing hazel and other bushes.  Later as there were no longer Indians or game to pursue, his love of adventure found vent in a trip to Texas, where he bought a herd of cattle and drove them across the plains to the State of Kansas.  The sale of this herd was so successful that during the following year (1871) he made another journey to the South and bought a much larger herd, consisting of 400 head.  These he fed and shipped to St. Louis, and in 1873 returned to Schuyler County just in time to go under with the panic of that year.  Nothing daunted, he resumed grubbing an farming, and in September, 1875, married Louise Schultz, with whom he settled on Section 1, Buena Vista Township.  Mrs. Harding was a native of Missouri, in which State her mother died, her father's death occurring at Baders, Schuyler County.  To Mr. and Mrs. Harding were born two children, of whom John A. died at the age of two and a half years, with Carrie, who was born in December, 1876, is the wife of William Kirkham, in charge of the old Harding homestead.  Mr. and Mrs. Kirkham have three children: Francis Harding, born December 11, 1901; Lyle Raymond, born December 24, 1903; and Robert H., born April 19, 1905.  The passing of Mrs. William (McKee) Harding, May 3, 1880, left a void in the hearts of her husband and daughter and of many friends.  She was a gentle, lovable woman, and an earnest member of the Christian Church.
  The rise from comparative poverty of Mr. Harding furnishes an encouraging lesson to those who struggle with adverse circumstances.  He settled on his present farm in 1851, finding it all crude and uncultivated, and even without a log cabin in which the family might have temporary shelter.  He earned the money to pay for his first small cabin, and this in turn was succeeded by another house which eventually gave place to the present substantial structure in which Mr. Harding lives with his daughter and her family.  All of the buildings which now house the stock, products and machinery were erected by Mr. Harding, and few farms in the township are better supplied with all that tends to progressive and successful farming.  More than half a century ago he set out an orchard which attained maturity, bore fruit in season, and passed into the gnarled and useless period of its existence.  This was succeeded by the orchard which now gives shade and food to the homestead dwellers.  To his first hundred acres he has added until he now owns 200 acres, 160 of which are in Buena Vista, and the remainder in Littleton Township.  Mr. Harding has been a careful and painstaking farmer, living always within his income, and studying scientifically the diverse possibilities of his land.  The generous and kindly impulse is noticeable in all his walks of life, and in his relations with the Christian Church, of which he is a devout and active member.  Politically he is identified with the Republican party, which he has aided with a conscientious vote if not with official service.  He is honored as a conservative and capable citizen who reflects credit upon the family from which he springs and the community whose best agricultural and general interests he represents.



Back to bios