Early Times in Illinois
A sketch of Unwritten History of Hamilton County
by William Bryant


         The first settlement made in Hamilton County was the one referred to, that made by William Hogg.  This gentleman was the father-in-law of Mr. John Townshend and the grandfather of the wife of Mr. John Hays, now living near McLeansboro.  This settlement was at the place where Mr. Sam Mann now lives.


         I remained at the Hogg settlement for some time, and Christmas coming on, in company with two others, I resolved to spend the holiday season at Turkey Hill, in this state.  After exchanging good wishes and bidding farewell to the family (and they expressing the hope that the Indians would not scalp us), we plunged forward on our journey, which lay through the unbroken snow six or eight feet deep.  We passed through Knight's Prairie, and reached the place known as the Wilbanks' place, but there was no Wilbanks there then, the place having been just settled by a man by the name of J. Ivy.  The accommodations here, were about the same as at Mr. Hogg's and the customs and fashions were all the same.  We had taken with us from the starting place what we thought would be sufficient supply of horse feed to last us to Turkey Hill, but as our horse feed was getting slim, we concluded to spend the holidays at Mr. Ivy's.  It was decided to celebrate New Year's eve with a dance, and accordingly preparations were made therefore.  The dancers consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Ivy and their son and daughter, a young man who made his home there, my uncle and his wife, and myself.  Just about dark in the evening a half-breed squaw, belonging to the Kaskaskia tribe of Indians came in, and we were all glad to see her.  After a good square meal consisting of bear, turkey and venison meat, with honey had been taken on, we all felt in good dancing order, and so the dancing commenced.  The squaw informed us that she had been brought up in Kaskaskia among the French, and that she understood the art of dancing, she was invited to take part and accepted the invitation.  After the fiddler had washed the bear grease and honey off which almost covered the instrument and "rosinen" the bow with charcoal, the dancers set in, in earnest and continued until breakfast time.

January 1st, 1810
.  This morning, preparatory to our leaving Mr. Ivy's place, a few jokes were interchanged, hands shook all around, and the best wishes mutually bestowed upon all (not to say some kissing): the squaw, who until now had not participated in the farewell ceremonies, now put in.  Drawing a couple of French pipes from her bosom, she filled both pipes with the dried leaves of white sumac; then lighting each with a live coal which she took from a fire, she put the stem of one of them to her mouth and drew about three whites of smoke and handed it over to Mr. Ivy, at the same time raising three of her fingers up near his face, saying, "Good heart, smoke."  When had taken three draws at the pipe she lowered her fingers and took hold of it.  She then handed the other pipe to my uncle, going through the same performances.  She then filled the pipes again and offered them to the married ladies, who went through with the same ceremony, and this she continued to all the company, for the young people filling the pipes with the pulverized plant known as Adam and Eve.  There was a young couple present who wished to get married, and this squaw performed the ceremony after the following style: Filling two pipes as before mentioned, she handed one to each of them, and when they had each taken three draws she had them change pipes and smoke until the contents of each pipe was consumed.  She laid both pipes on the ground, and declared them man and wife, adding that the pipes will give them peace and comfort all the days of their life.  The ceremony was concluded with a grand march around by all present and several tremendous yells by the squaw.

          Shawneetown was the first settlement in this part of the state.  When I first saw the place, in 1809, there was but two American born persons in it--one a widow woman by the name of Arbuckle, the other a colored man by the name of Simon Cade, whose occupation was that of selling whiskey.  At that time there were living in Shawneetown a few French families and a few Indians of the Shawnee tribe.  The next town settled was Carmi, and about the same time a small settlement was made in Gallatin County, on the Saline River.  There was an early settlement made in what is now Pope County.

          Ninian Edwards was appointed governor of the Territory in 1809, and the first legislature convened at Kaskaskia.  This part of the territory was represent by a Mr. Cook, a nephew of Gov. Edwards.  For some reason his constituents were so much displeased with some of his actions that they drew hundreds of profiles of him, and celebrated his name for years by using them for targets to shoot at.

 The people were interested in political matters at an early day.  From my earliest recollections the Whig and Democratic parties were the only political organizations in existence.  There were but two political questions upon which the people were divided, viz: banking and the tariff.  If a man wished to be popular he only had to convince the people that he was a good fist and skull fighter--that he had never been whipped, and that his father and grandfather had never been known to say "enough" to any man, and that none of his relatives had ever been known to use weapons in a fight.

 A man that was known to carry weapons was considered a coward, and the people would not trust a coward with the least office in their gift.  So our politicians would boast, and banter any man except their friends for a fist fight, saying they were half horse and half alligator, and that if nay man didn't believe it to "wade in".  A political speech would close about as follows: "I want it understood that I can drink more whiskey, fight harder, and love my friends better than an man in this state.  I am a Jackson Democrat (or Whig, as the case might be), dyed in the wool.  Gentlemen, I will say no more, only that I know that you will go for the man who can drink the most whiskey and fears no man, hates snakes, and loves him that loves whiskey, and hates him that loves a coward.  I shall expect to receive more votes than any other man in the field."  Then the speaker would stretch himself to his full height on the stump or log, and continue, "Now if there is any man who disputes anything that I have said, let him meet me when I am down and we will decide the matter."  And then with a long hump he comes down from the stump and lighting on the ground would exclaim with a loud oath: "I am the best man except my friends, that ever made a track on this ground."  Then, if any combatant appeared, the next thing heard would be: "Hurrah, Tom!" "Hurrah, Jim!" "Hurrah! stand back--no man touch until one or the other says "part us."  "Hurrah Tom, strike him under." "Get him by the throat."  "Bite his nose", etc.  The fight would continue until one or the other of the combatants stopped fighting or was unable to defend himself.  Then his friends would cry out to part them.  If any one showed foul play to either party the person doing so was knocked down.  The one that got whipped was generally surrounded by his friends who consoled him the best they could and administered to him plenty of liquor, while the victorious party is born off amid cheers of friends.  The two of course make friends in due time the victor standing the treat to all that were present.

          In 1807, a man by the name of Proctor and man by the name of Clanton came from Kentucky and settled in Gallatin County, near Shawneetown.  These men were Methodist preachers, and preached in that section of the country.  Clanton died there and Proctor removed to White County and settled in Burnt Prairie, near what is now known as Liberty.  This was in 1812 or 1813, and after living there one year, he became associated with a Mr. Roberts, also a Methodist preacher, and in 1817 he removed to Hamilton County, and settled about six miles east of McLeansboro.  About this time four of the Wheelers with a Mr. Abner Pierce, a half-brother of Wm. Wheeler, Sr., settled near the same place.  Here Proctor began his labors, which were blessed by a powerful revival of religion, and a church was established at his house.  The people of that section soon became changed in the spirit of mind, religion prospered and prevailed up to about 1858, at which time the love of money became the prevailing spirit in the church, and introduced pride, and pride has destroyed man a soul.  This is the cursed spirit which is ruling the church in these days.  I must not neglect to say something of other ministers of the gospel who labored in White, Hamilton and Gallatin Counties.  In 1821, Chester Carpenter, a man by the name of Henderson, came from Gallatin County.  They were old school Baptist and preached in this county.  In February, at a meeting held where John Thompson now lives, two men joined the church--Thompson Tarlton and Henry Webb, the ancestor of the Webb family, living on Lick Creek.

         Daniel Hay was sheriff of White County when Hamilton was taken off of it, and he was also pension agent to pay off the Revolutionary soldiers in Southern Illinois.

         In the years 1823, Carpenter and Hall, above referred to were candidates for the legislature.  Hall was elected.  During the canvass Carpenter came to Uncle Wm. Hall's, the father of James the candidate.  I was then a young man and having heard that the old man believed in ghosts, witches, etc.  I determined to play a joke.  Mr. Carpenter had heard that there had been a man murdered in the yard, and as we were talking about the murder I noticed considerable feeling in his mind.  I said: "Mr. Carpenter, about dark a yearling cow brutes goes jumping and bawling down the bank yonder in front of the door, and then it passes on and we see it no more."  I saw at once that the desired impression had been made.  We had a yearling calf which I had tamed for a boy to ride, and he was kept in a pasture in front of the house.  I gave my uncle, aunt and James the candidate the secret of the fun, warning them to be silent, and to get excited come what may.  Just about dark the boy and I went to the pasture and got the calf.  I tied a rope around its neck and told the boy when he got on, to hold fast to the rope and not jump off.  The boy mounted him out of the gate.  I knew the yearling would make for the house, and I got a briar about four inches long and followed closely behind.  When near the top of the hill, I raised the calf's tail and put the briar under it.  Away it went, jumping, snorting and bawling, and the boy holding on and hollowing at the top of his voice, "O, Jesus!  O, Jesus!"  They soon reached the house, and just then old Mr. Carpenter arose and stepped to the door to see what was the matter.  The calf run in at the door, and coming in contact with the old gentleman, the latter was upset in the floor, the chairs were knocked over, and the supper table, on which had been placed the best arrangements in that line that could be mustered, was turned top side down.  During the time I was hid nearby to see how things went off, and sending the boy away to a neighbors house to stay all night, I went in the house.  The old man was looking very wild, and said he would not live at that place for all the wealth in the United States.

           Soon after that he and Hall addressed the people at Knight's Prairie, and Hall got the joke off on him with good effect.  In those days there were only twelve Whig voters in the county.  But Democrats often voted for such Whig candidates as John Lockwood and Abram Irvin.  People were most honest politically than they are now, and they did not carry prejudice so much and, in fact, they were more honest in every way.  A large majority of the people could be depended upon.  We hardly ever drew a note or obligation, and receipts were scarcely ever required.  Those were happy days.  All men were honest in their politics then--Whigs or Democrats.

          In 1825 or 1826 Col. Daniel Marshall moved from Shawneetown to McLeansboro, and from that time to his death he enjoyed the confidence of the people, both as merchant and politician.

          Hamilton County was named after Wm. Hamilton, a representative in the legislature from White county, who assisted in forming the county.  McLeansboro took its name from Dr. McLean, who then lived on the spot on which the town is located, and from his land the town was laid off.

          It was laid off in June, 1821, so McLeansboro will be fifty years old the 21st of June.  The first county commissioners were Wm. Heeler, Page Proctor, a Mr. Little, and another man who I have forgotten.  James Hall was the first sheriff.  In those days men sought office for honor and not for money.

          With melancholy feelings I revert to the times of long ago.  The customs, fashions and usages were not then as now.  I remember that when we went to see a neighbor we took hold of a warm hand; we met a pleasant face and a cheerful heart and a warm soul.  Although their houses were not ornamented with cushion chairs, carpets, sofas, etc., we always felt welcome and at home.

The End.

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 ęcopyrighted 2000 by Carol Lee Yarbrough

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