From: Goshen Trail’s; Vol. 15 - No. 3, July, 1979; p. 10
Printed by permission.

This letter written by Oliver M. Edwards of Santa Monica, CA, appeared in the McLeansboro Times on May 21, 1925.  Mr. Edwards was born in a log cabin in Hamilton County, IL on March 30, 1851.  This letter describes his early experiences in Parker’s Prairie.


               FARMING IN PARKER’S PRAIRIE.  Reckoning the extremities in every direction it was about one by three miles in extent, with here and there a house or cabin.  The parts then in cultivation were very small and ill shaped and could hardly be called farms.  There was really very little, real prairie, as most of the outland was grown up with briars, hazels, sassafras, persimmon trees and sprouts, crab apple, red haws and such like, with here and there a lone oak or a cluster of large oaks.  But there were some plats of real prairie grass, others where the ironweeds had taken possession and maintained supremacy until killed out when the land was bought into cultivation.  Government land was almost done and all the more choice pieces had passed into individual ownership and was being cleared up rapidly for what has followed.

               The implements used in bringing in this new land would be considered now as only a lot of rare looking relicts.  Horses were fairly plentiful, but small and unreliable in almost every way.  The ox rendered the most good and faithful service of any of the dumb brutes that helped man in the arduous task of changing the land from forest to field.  Slow but sure, he would quietly plod along enduring with the greatest patience flies without number, lashings from his driver which he seldom deserved and drawing loads which were wonderful.  He would take you there and bring you back again.  He could go to Shawneetown and back in four days.  I suppose a good truck can go and come with as heavy a load in that many hours.  The ox was too slow and gave way to the horse and mule just as they are doing now to something faster.  In those days oxen were cheaply harnessed, easily handled, and in the stumps to most anything called a plow could scratch up a little loose dirt in which any kind of seed that had life in it would grow and thus get things started.  Tickle that fresh rich land only a little and corn, which was the prevailing crop, would right along.  But like the first farmer in the world found out, other things almost without number grew also. (Gen.3:16).  The spring skirmish over the summer battle began in earnest.  Scratch and hoe, cut briars and sprouts, pull grass and do anything and everything to try and keep the crop growing and bring it out ahead in the end.  If plenty of work and a little bit of skill were used about the only hindrance to a bountiful crop was drought.  The new land could not stand drought any better, if as well, as it does now.        

               Folks had many helpers toward making a living besides horses and cattle, including sheep, geese, turkeys and dogs, while the hen and hog were the great food suppliers and the real moneymakers.  The wild food supply was amply sufficient to avoid famine as far as that was concerned.  Still a few deer, hundreds of wild turkeys, thousands of quails and rabbits, so thick, one almost had to watch to keep from stepping on them.  Back in the forest a few hundred yards squirrels were in abundance, not so easily obtained as one might suppose, but easy enough to make it a nice sport and worthwhile.  Some of those marksmen would have counted it an eternal disgrace to have missed a squirrel’s eye in the top of the tallest tree.  Just common old muzzle loading rifles, too.  The king of squirrel hunters was one Bethel Pyrtle.  He could see squirrels where no one else could and seeing meant death.  Here, here, back to the farm, the hen and the hog.  The hen laid her eggs, hatched her brood and raised it; put eggs on the market and eggs on the table; put meat on the market and meat on the table; and helped supply money to pay taxes. Taxes had to be paid then as well as now.  So the little farm not well supplied with chickens was at a very great disadvantage to say the least.  The hog had the forest with its abundance of food to his liking and almost prepared himself for market before he became an expense, and only a little corn in the fall made him the real buyer and mortgage lifter.  But, after all, it took work, work, and work!  Fortunately at that time I was not able to do much as I was only large enough to be in the way and watch the others go at it.

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