William
McKee

Biography

From: "Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois 1892", by Biographical Review Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois; pages 334-335, a reprinted by Stevens Publishing Co., Astoria, Ill., 1971, is sold by the Schuyler County Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
  William McKee, one of the oldest and most prominent citizens of Schuyler county, was born in Crawford county, Indiana, January 22, 1813, a son of William McKee, who was a native of Kentucky. The paternal grandfather, James McKee, emigrated to Kentucky during the war of the Revolution, and thence removed to Indiana, where he passed the remainder of his days. William McKee, Sr., was reared in the Blue-grass State, and there was married; he removed to Indiana when it was yet a Territory, and was a pioneer of Crawford county. He purchased land and made it his home until 1826, when, accompanied by his wife and ten children, he removed to Illinois. The journey was made by teams, which was not devoid of interest. Mr. McKee had visited this section the year previous, making the trip on horseback; he purchased a land warrant which called for 160 acres, paying therefor $100; on his return to Indiana he stopped at Springfield and cleared his title at the Government office. It was, indeed, a courageous heart that looked at such a future calmly; the country was thinly settled, the poles of Indian wigwams still stood in the ground, market towns were far distant and provisions were high. Mr. McKee erected a double log cabin, using wooden pegs instead of nails; the door was constructed of puncheons, and was furnished with the historic latch-string.
  James Vance built the first horse-mill operated with a rawhide band. This was built when the subject of this sketch came to the county. Calvin Hobart built one in the fall of 1836, then William McKee, father of our subject, built a horse-mill in 1828, it being the third in that section of the country. People came to the mill from as far north as Rock Island.
  Mrs. McKee manufactured cloth from the flax and cotton that her husband raised, with which to clothe the family. Mrs. McKee's maiden name was Cassie Frakes; she was a native of Pennsylvania, and a daughter of Henry and Hannah Frakes; her death occurred at the house of her daughter, which is situated close to the old home farm.
  The subject of this sketch was thirteen years and four months old when he came to Illinois; on the journey he drove a four-horse team with a jerk line. He has a vivid recollection of many of the experiences which fall only to the lot of the pioneer. He remained in this State until 1839, and then started on a missionary tour among the Indians of the far West; he crossed the plains to Oregon, and spent one year among the savages; at the end of twelve months he returned to Illinois and resumed farming, continuing this occupation until 1847; then he again crossed the plains to Oregon, and during that year the Indians attacked the mission twenty-five miles from Walla Walla and murdered Dr. Whitman and others; he volunteered to assist in subduing the redskins, and was six months in the service. He was in Oregon until 1849, and then went to California; he was suffering from ill-health, and his funds were limited compared with the extremely high price of provisions, flour selling as high as $1.50 a pound. In 1852 he returned to his home and located on the old homestead which he now occupies.
  Mr. McKee was married in 1853, to Sarah C. Wilmot, a native of Steuben county, New York. Mrs. McKee was educated in the pioneer schools and at the age of twenty began to teach. Only one of the directors who examined her could read and write; she received for her services the magnificent sum of $1.50 a week. Mr. and Mrs. McKee are the parents of five daughters: Amanda, wife of Henry Hite, died in February, 1882, leaving an infant son, Archie M., who is being reared by his grandparents; Mary C., died in infancy; Ida S., wife of Samuel D. Wheelhouse, died in April, 1880; Bertha, wife of Cyrus L. DeWitt; and Meta, who died in October, 1889, aged fourteen years.
  Politically Mr. McKee affiliates with the Democratic party, although in former times he was a Whig. He is a man of wide experience, having passed through all the phases of life on the frontier. He has always been loyal to the interests of Schuyler county, and has the entire confidence and respect of his fellow-men.


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 882-883, a Reprinted by Stevens Publishing Company, Astoria, Illinois 61501, 1970, is sold by the Schuyler County Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
  McKee, William (deceased) - Out in the open twilight, within sight of the old and loved ancestral home, and within the shadow of the trees that he had fostered for more than seventy years, the long stirring life of William McKee came to an end December 17, 1897.  He died almost on the site of the place where, as a lad, nearly three score years before, he had worked to assist in the erection of a home in what was then a wilderness.  He loved the scenes of his childhood, and after he had satisfied that intense longing for a stirring life, so readily vouchsafed to the youth of the early 'thirties and 'forties, he returned to the home of his father, and there, amid its peace and quiet, honored by all, he enjoyed the well-earned fruits of his early labor.  Although he there lived the uneventful life of a farmer, he retained to the last what may be called the pioneer disposition, being in spirit and habits an unaffected man of the people.  While he made no religious pretensions, he was blessed with that kindly spirit which prompted him to assist those in want without embarrassing them with a sense of obligation.  In his last days he was cheered by the companionship of the aged wife and his daughter and only surviving child, who is now the wife of C. L. DeWitt, of Rushville, Ill.
  It was in April, 1826, that Mr. McKee was brought to Schuyler County.  He was born in Crawford County, Ind., January 22, 1813.  His father came here in the preceding year, and the rich and attractive country of Central Illinois had induced him to seek a home in he new, wild region.  He returned to Indiana, and in April 1826, brought his family here.  In the party besides the family who came to Schuyler County, were Joel Tullis, Charles Hammond, Isaac Linder, Vincent Westfall and James Thompson.  Having purchased for $100, 160 acres of land in Section 18, Rushville, Township, the father, with the assistance of his thirteen-year old son, commenced to prepare the way for his wife and six children.  The site of Rushville, almost adjoining his place, had been selected as the county-seat in the preceding February, but was still but a town on paper.  Mr. McKee staked his claim not on the clear, fertile prairie which stretched for miles around, but along the wooded banks of the creek.  The log cabin which the father and son erected was of the pioneer type, with trimmed logs for the walls and the roof of clapboards.  Mr. McKee went back to Indiana shortly afterwards, but soon returned, bringing with him the tools and machinery necessary in the construction of a grist mill, and finally setting up a band-mill run by horse power.  He developed a thriving business, people coming even from Rock Island to have their grain ground.  There was also a blacksmith's shop in the near neighborhood, and both establishments did a thriving business from the start.  Sac and Fox Indians moved farther north with the coming of the early settlers, but along the Spoon River, in Fulton County, there remained a large band, members of which often came to the mill and blacksmith shop.  They were lazy but peaceable, and gave the pioneers of this region little trouble.  On the McKee farm is still to be seen a silent memorial of aboriginal days in the form of an Indian rail, which may be traced through a beautiful stretch of woods, once a favorite rendezvous of the dusky sons of the forest and prairie.  Mr. McKee not only operated his grist mill, but soon after putting it in operation, constructed a saw-mill, in the early 'thirties erecting a dam across Sugar Creek and operating the latter by water-power.  There were several mill sites on that stream, the McKee dam being located at what is known as the Main Ford, where the creek is crossed by the road from Rushville to Browning.
  In those days one need not go far abroad in search of thrilling adventures, and the hardy race of pioneers who battled against such odds in order to found and maintain their homes have their reward in the permanent extension of American civilization and the profound gratitude of their immediate descendants.  The McKee family experienced all the adventures and suffered all the hardships of pioneer life.  Its members struggled through the awful winter of the deep snow (1831) when the level prairie was buried four to five feet deep, and the ravines were filled to the hilltops.
  William McKee, the son, was the last of the one hundred and fifty volunteers in Schuyler County to answer Governor Reynold's call for a force to drive Black Hawk and his murderous band beyond the bounds of Illinois.  During the winter of 1831-32 the crafty chief had mustered his warriors on the Iowa side of the Mississippi for the purpose of invading this State, and the alarmed settlers had called upon the Governor for protection.  The one hundred and fifty volunteers from Schuyler County gathered at Rushville in April, 1832, and were eloquently addressed by William Marinshall be fore starting for Beardstown, Cass County, the general point of rendezvous.  They had furnished their own arms and equipments.  Mr. McKee, who was then nineteen years of age., having been furnished by his father with a wagon and a team of horses.  Abraham Lincoln, with his company, encamped over night half a mile north of Rushville.  The entire force of the State finally marched toward Rock Island, and later, in what is now Ogle County, met the disaster known as "Stillman's defeat."  In this engagement eleven whites and eight Indians were killed, and after the battle, Mr. McKee drove over the field and carried six of the dead soldiers to a place where the bodies were safe from the danger of mutilation.
  In 1839, because of ill-health, Mr. McKee went to that vast northwestern region then known as Oregon, where he remained for a year, exploring the country and regaining his strength.  He returned home, one of the main incidents of his trip being the formation of an intimate friendship with Dr. Marcus Whitman, who saved that part of the country now including Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, to the United States.  During his first trip to the Oregon country Mr. McKee was employed by him in a grist mill for about six months.  In the winter of 1842-43 Dr. Whitman rode from Oregon to Washington, a distance of 3,000 miles, for the purpose of arousing the interest of statesmen at the National capital in the vast natural wealth of the Oregon region, and thwarting the attempt of the British Hudson Bay Company to exclude American settlers and make it a province of Great Britain.  He was so far successful in his mission as to receive the sanction of the United States Government in his project of leading an emigrant train of 875 hardy American pioneers into the coveted territory.  This bold and wise action undoubtedly saved this grand region as a part of the public domain of the United States.  In November, 1847, this patriotic and intrepid man was murdered, with his wife and twelve other members of his household, by the Cayuse Indians.
  In the early part of the year just mentioned, Mr. McKee, with his brother, Joel, and Joel Tullis and the latter's family, started overland for the far-distant Oregon country, with which the first named was already quite familiar.  The trip was filled with hardship and sorrow, especially to Mr. Tullis, two of whose children died on the way and were buried along the Indian trails where they happened to breathe away their young lives.  Soon after their arrival the settlers of the country were stirred profoundly by the Whitman tragedy, and a call was issued to quell the Indian uprising, of which this was the leading event.  Mr. McKee was naturally one of the first to offer his services, and although he was in the thick of the three months' campaign which comprised the active part of the conflict with the Indians, he escaped without injury.  From Oregon, in 1849, he went to California, where for three years he tasted of the feverish life of the early gold-miners, but in 1852 returned to the old homestead in Schuyler County, and seemed never again to wish to leave its atmosphere of peace and contentment.  For forty-five years thereafter he lived a quiet life of integrity, industry and broad usefulness, and finally passed away at the age of eighty-four, without a moment of pain - as a candle light, which quietly burns to the socket and expires.
  In 1853 Mr. McKee was united in marriage to Sarah C. Wilmot, and five daughters were born to their union: Mrs. Henry Hite, Mrs. Samuel D. Wheelhouse, Mary C. and Meta McKee, and Mrs. Cyrus L. DeWitt.  (See sketch of Cyrus L. DeWitt in another portion of this history. {pages 814}.)  Mrs. McKee and her daughter, Mrs. DeWitt, are the only surviving members of this honored pioneer family, and having removed from the old homestead, the venerable widow is living in honored retirement with her daughter in Rushville.  The former still owns the beautiful farm, which was the scene of her early joys and sorrows, and which she so faithfully shared with her honored husband.  After coming to Schuyler County, four more children (making ten in all) were added to the family of the elder McKee, and of this number none is now surviving.

 
1861 Militia Roll


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