Genesis and Environment of the First White Settlers

     The first pioneers in present Hamilton County were squatters while the Federal surveys were being made.  This was the period of time when the marital status might be initiated by a solemn ceremony of smoking Indian pipes, or, simply by jumping over a broomstick.  The setters were far removed from civil and religious restrictions.

....When the first settlers arrived the county area was a primitive natural wilderness fraught with danger, hardship and privations.  There were magnificent deep forests, but the ear of the pioneer heard the howl of the wolf, scream of the panther and growl of the bear.  Streams were clear and filled with fish, but a family of bear might contest fishing rights.  Natural ponds swamps and lakes were alive with fish and waterfowl, but were also infested with many large snakes.  Wild game was abundant, but roving bands of savage Indian, or more savage while outlaws were a constant menace to the first settlers.

     It would be an exercise in futility to attempt to name all the families who opened the primitive doors of settlement here.  History sketches by early settlers give us the names of a few of the very first families, viz., Hogg, McKenzie, Herrel; Auxier, Standerfer, Stovall, Upton, Heard, etal.  Within a year or two many other families arrived for whose names the reader may check early land entries and the census of White County for the years 1818, 1820.

     Those early setters, named and unnamed, were the people who built log cabins for shelter, opened clearings for crops and trails for travel. They hunted to obtain food and clothing.  In their vocabulary were such words as: Yoke, broadax, froe, puncheon, rails, clapboards, latch string, dovetail, lean-to, stick and clay, backlog, rifle gun, Flintlock, powder horn, patch, ramrod, bullet mold, flint and steel, tinder, pelts, tanning, buckskin, barleycorn, pestle and mortar, hand mill, horse mill, flax break, cards, scutch, spinning wheel, loom, piggin, noggin, mazer, flail, swifle, riddle, deer saddle, go devil, bar-share plow, etc.

     William Bryant, an early settler here, gave us an insight into pioneer life in a history sketch which he wrote.  Bryant spent some time at the Hogg settlement adjacent to the Goshen Road which he was traveling in 1809.  He describes the Hogg cabin, their furniture and food, which evidently was typical of that early time.

     The cabin was built of small round poles, the wall six or seven feet high.  Poles were used for rafters and boards laid on the rafters to form the roof, and held in position by weights.  The ceiling was of clap-boards and the floor was made of the earth on which it stood.  The fireplace was directly under an opening in the tope of the cabin and built on the ground.

     Four posts driven in the ground near the center of the room on which was placed a platform of boards to form a table.  Bedsteads were built in the corners, a combination of clapboards, small props and hickory withes.  A large trough extended the entire length of the north side of the room having a capacity of between thirty and forty gallons.  This trough, covered with boards, was kept full of honey, in the comb.

     Bryant also wrote: "That family didn't want for food, being constantly supplied with venison, buffalo, turkey-breasts, etc., all nicely dried.  There was no bread however to be had."  Most history sketches describing early pioneer times, tell of the difficulty of having a supply of bread in the first year of settlement.  All tell of grating corn, beating it in a mortar, or grinding on a hand mill.  They baked hoecake, johnnycake and dodgers.

     Bryant also gives a candid description of the clothing of the early settlers.  His description is transcribed as follows__

     "The raiment...was made of the skins of wild animals, either with the hair off and the skin dressed or made made soft, and made up in their natural state.  Caps made of the skin of the coon, fox, wildcat, or fawn, were worn instead of hats, and I have seen caps made of swan skins, with the feathers picked off and the down on the outside, with a coon's tail sewed on behind, so as to hang down the back."

     "The dresses of the ladies were made of the thinnest, finest skins, such as one or two year old deer, caught in the summer while the hair was red.  The most fashionable dress consisted of a skirt that came to the waist and was held yup by what the ladies called a shoulder strap.  The dressing for the body above the waist consisting of the same material as the skirt, but was finished and trimmed in a more ornamented manner.  There was also an extra touch to the garment in the way of a bead gown (what the ladies would now call a bush), and ornamented around the edge with a strip cut off of a coon, or catamount skin, and trimmed in fine style.  The neck, sleeves and bottom of the dress was often ornament in the same manner."

     "When wash day came around, the tidy housewives were prepared with a supply of animal brains, which they dried for the purpose, and kept on hand in large quantities, and after having removed all greasy spots from the clothing with honey, they would wash them out with war water in which had been dissolved the brains, and wind up by rubbing them over the smooth end of a clap-board driven in the ground.  The rubbing process was gone through with once a week in order to keep them soft, but they were generally washed but once in two weeks."

     "A word in regard to clothing of the feet.  After the skin of the male deer is dressed, the skin of the neck is very thick, and from this, a kind of a shoe called moccasin was made, which fitted around the foot and ankle, and was fastened on with leather straps.  Moccasins were usually lined with soft fur of the rabbit or coon."

     "The wearing apparel of the men was made of the most durable material, such as thick heavy buckskin." 

 An excerpt from Illinois Magazine; February 1978; by Ralph S. Harrelson


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