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Lake County and the Mexican War

Transcribed by Barb Ziegenmeyer

Lake county having made so grand a record in that fearful conflict for the life of the nation between 1861 and 1865, it would not be just to omit some mention of the deeds of her earlier sons in a very different contest.

May 11, 1846, there was declared by our Government war, stern, and ever fearful war, upon the country called Mexico. Fifty thousand volunteers were called for by the President. Many young men were ready to offer their services, and to join the forces that were expected to reach there was an air of romance in the expression the "Halls of the Montezumas."

Joseph P. Smith, a business man of Crown Point, who had been a military man in New York city, was at this time captain of an independent military company at Crown Point, and he with twenty-five or thirty of these men, and others from outside of the county, started for the Avar. This company joined the army in Mexico in 1847. They saw little of what some call the glory of war, little of the glitter of Montezuma halls. They were in no battle. They did that needful but wearing work, guard duty. They were six months at Monterey. Forty-seven of the company died amid the burning heats or on the trying march, and in the fall of 1848 they returned, as Tennyson said of the Light Brigade, "all there were left of them." One of them who had lived through the sickness and death of so many comrades, afterward lived through the sufferings of the Libby prison, and returned a second time, safe from the perils of war, to his home in Crown Point. In that later war record his name will appear.

The year 1849, ten years after the Land Sale, and with it the year 1850, closed up in Lake county the true pioneer mode of life, a life that had its enjoyments and its privations, a life which has been many times described on written and printed pages, but which by the younger people of this generation can be but slightly understood or appreciated; yet which made possible for them and those coming after them the great advantages which are now enjoyed.

Lord Bacon assigned the highest meed of earthly fame to the founders of States, called in the Latin tongue conditores imperiorum. The Pilgrims and the Puritans, the Quakers and Covenanters, the Cavaliers and Huguenots, with many others from the kingdoms of Europe, helped to found the first thirteen states of this Union. Our pioneers founded a county, not a large division of country, but twice as large as that noted region, the ancient Attica, a division of the old Greece, which contained once a large population, seven times as many as we yet have. And these men and women who laid the foundations here are justly entitled to a fair meed of fame, and their pioneer life, up to 1850, is worthy of consideration and of due appreciation. Some of its peculiarities are in detail yet accessible to the present inhabitants of the county. Memorial sketches of many of these pioneers will be found in this work. According to the United States census there were in the county in 1850 seven hundred and fifteen families.

Beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, as this region was in its native wildness, the prairies, the groves, the woodlands, showing very little indication that man had ever been here, only some trails, some dancing floors made of earth, some burial places, it did not prove to be an Eden after the white man's presence began to be felt in its most choice localities. Virtuous in general as the pioneers were, there was so little of society restraint, of civil restraint over them, that sometimes the temptations to do wrong proved too strong for a feeble virtue. But these were rare cases, only a few dark spots, in a generally moral, upright, virtuous community.

When one considers the crimes that are so numerous in these later years, not only in towns and cities, but often in country neighborhoods, it is pleasant to look back sixty years ago upon the quiet, yet active home life, that was spreading out upon the prairies, and to see how secure life and property were, and how fearlessly the young maidens could roam into the wilds in search of flowers and fruits, before tramps had an existence; and if they met some hunter youth, he was sure to be a friend. Now a lone man is to be dreaded and shunned.   It was not so then.

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