Hamilton County, Illinois

 Job (Jobe) Standerfer

Pioneer Days Tales Related by an 1816 Settler

Early Hamilton County Hunter Treed by Bear: Companion’s Gun Choked

Editor’s Note: The following account of the settlement of Hamilton County furnished to the Register-New of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, by Dr. Andy Hall. It was written by Uncle Job Standerfer of Delafield and published in the McLeansboro Era in February, 1878. Mr. Standerfer, then 76, came to Hamilton County in 1816.


Delafield, Illinois February 1, 1870

Editor Era:

I have often heard the wish expressed by many of our good citizens, particularly by those who are growing up in the midst of our schools and churches in our civilization, for an account of the early settlement of Hamilton County, and of it’s first pioneers. Though very feeble in health, I have decided to attempt to gratify this wish. I am now in my seventy-sixth year, and two months which have been passed in Hamilton County.

wagon.gif (3099 bytes)My father came here from Tennessee in 1816, two years before Illinois became a State, settled in the northwest corner of this county, in township three, range six. At that time, we found two other families: Ishem Harrell and Abraham Oxier. Mr. Harrell settled the place where Judge Crouch now lives, and Mr. Oxier settled just above the swamp. These were the only families we then knew, but in the winter, on our way to salt works for salt, following an Indian trail, we found another man with the family name of Stoball. Stoball settled the place now known as the McKinzie place. Oxier came here in 1815, and from the amount of work they had done, Harrell and Stoball must have come two or three years before. Stoball ground his meal on an old hand mill. The others grated or beat theirs and made hominy.

Soon after this, immigration set in pretty rapidly. The Wallers, and some others came in with their cattle and hogs to winter; they afterward brought their families and settled. These were followed by the Mauldings, and Shirleys and the Dales.

During the first winter and the next summer we found it rather difficult to get breadstuff. The only points at which we could get anything of the kind, were James Miller’s at Seven Mile Prairie, Carmi and Big Prairie.

After we had time to raise corn we got along pretty well. We grated our corn, beat our meal and made hominy, as our only source of breadstuff, for about four years, when Adam Crouch built a hand-mill. This made us feel like we were quite a progressive people, and we began to think we were mighty favored and surrounded by luxuries. We lived in peace and harmony on beet meat, venison and turkey, with beet meal and hominy, mixed with cork cake now and then from Crouch’s hand-mill.

About this time, somewhere between 1818 and 1820, we began to have prayer meetings. We had no preacher anywhere in reach. The people would come to these simple devotions for miles, always bringing their guns with them, and stacking them just outside of the house where the meeting was to be held, until the services were concluded.

While on the subject of hunting, I may as well tell a bear story or two, which may be altogether uninteresting to the young people. One day Bob Carlyle and my oldest brother were hunting coons in Haw Creek Flats, tracking them in the snow. They saw where a bear had gone to a large sweet-gum tree and had not gone away from it. He evidently had gone to the top and was still there. How to get him out was the question. They built a fire and held a council of war. A tall sapling stood beside the tree, and up this--my brother climbed carrying a torch of hickory bark scales well fired which he tossed into the tree upon the bear in hope of driving him out. But no bear came out! Then Carlyle climbed up with his gun and shot the bear dead as it lay in its hole. One of them got down into the hole while the other remained on top, and by dint of strong pulling and hard pushing, they got the bear out.

At another time three brothers, Henry, John and Martin Meyers, were hunting coons in the same flats. They also found where a bear had gone into a tree and had not gone away. Martin climbed up the tree and looked into the hole. There lay the bear! As Martin looked in, the bear raised up to get a good look at the intruder. Martin started down and so did the bear, coming so close upon him that Martin concluded to back out on a large limb and let the bear go ahead, if he was in such a hurry about it. But the bear decided he wanted to go out on the same limb. Martin got as far as he could, and the bear came to within three feet of him and sat down upon the limb as much as to say "Now I have you treed!" John, who was a witness of then chase from the ground, shot at the bear, but he was so excited that he did not touch him. In his haste to reload, John broke his gun-stick, and there they were: Martin astride a limb forty feet from the ground, a bear grinning at him between himself and the tree, and the other boys below with a choked gun and unable to do a thing! But this suspense did not last very long. The bear seemed to get tired of the play or he came to the conclusion that the game was unworthy of his attention, so he quietly turned about and went back into his den. But the boys were not so easily satisfied. They cut down the tree and killed the bear with their axes, while they and their dogs received a few slight wounds in the operation.

One more little bear story and I will get back to our early mode of living. A brave young man by the name of Ben Ellis, and uncle to J. J. Buck, our present county clerk, went out into the swamp one day with his dogs, but without a gun. The dogs were good ones, and finding a bear in a thicket they at once seized it. One of the dogs, "Old Blue," got the beast by the nose, and held it until Ben ran up with a stout club and knocked it on the head--a feat not many of our young readers would like to undertake. These incidents are all true, having occurred within my own knowledge, and gives an idea as to what the hunters of early days did.

But I must return to our material progress and improvement. Enos Maulding built a horse mill, and Crouch built an ox mill which worked by a tread wheel. Horse mills were soon built in several parts of the county.

Woodruff had a water mill. This was before we had any McLeansboro, or any town nearer than Carmi. To that place we went to do our marketing. Those trips were always made on pack horses, and our stock in trade were furs and peltries.

At one of those meetings (prayer) an old colored man, an entire stranger, made his appearance and announced himself as a preacher. Of course no excuse would be taken and the old man had to preach! He did so, and preached the first sermon ever preached in Hamilton County.

This sermon of the old colored man pleased the people so well that they determined that he should teach them at a school. A subscription was started and a little log house was provided. In a very short time, the colored preacher was engaged in training or teaching the first school ever taught in the county, and the writer of this was one of the little number that attended his school.

As an index to our prayer meetings, I must say that one of our popular and prominent leaders generally spent his time on Sundays hunting with his gun in the woods. He was the leading "fiddler" at the backwoods "hoe-downs" that always accompanied the corn-shucklings and he could carry twelve turkeys at a time. But I should have described our houses before now.

cabin2.gif (14802 bytes)We lived in little cabins with dirt floors and our furniture generally had no other than nature’s polish. Our bedsteads consisted of forks driven into the ground with poles passing from one to another, and clapboards lying upon the poles. Our meat was not "locusts and wild honey," but rather bear meat and venison and wild honey in abundance.

About this time Indian Charlie cam among us. He had no following as his people had all scattered away. His mission was a peculiar one. He alleged that a man by the name of John Gray had stolen a bell from him, and he came up to our settlement to get us to go and help him kill the Grays because they had stolen his bell. Getting no encouragement, he concluded to stay with us, which he did for several years before taking his departure.

Another difficulty now arose. The clothing which the women had brought with them was getting decidedly the worse for wear, and the finest of their outfits would not be considered just the thing to appear in at our churches or on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. What could they do? No stores from which to replenish their stock and nothing to buy with, had there been stores. No wool or cotton from which to make "homespun". As in the days when fig leaves wore out, the skins of animals were resorted to, and buckskin was made to do duty as clothing for the women as well as for the men. The men, as a rule, were clothed with buckskin from head to foot, while a spotted fawn’s skin usually furnished the material for a cap.

The people were good and kind to each other. They owed no man a thing unless it was the return of a day’s work or something of that kind. The men worked but only a very small portion of the year. Most of the time was spent hunting. They hunted bees in the summer and fall, and bear and deer and smaller game in the winter. When they wanted turkey, they had only to step out, select a good one and bring it in. As for myself, for quite some time, I only meddled with small game, such as deer, raccoons, etc. I was rather afraid to encounter bears, wolves and panthers. One day, however, while I was out hunting for deer, I saw in a hazel thicket not far from me, a bear standing perfectly erect on its hind feet, looking a me. If I should say I had a slight bit of "buck-fever", I would be telling the truth. But I decided to make his bearship a present of the best I had in my gun and to deposit as near the center of his breast as I could. He received it with a snort, I suppose not exactly of thanks, and ran some fifty or sixty yards when he stopped and began to moan pitifully. My fawn-skin cap suddenly became too small for my head, as each of my hairs seemed determined to take a position by itself and as near straight up as possible. I expected all the bears in the woods would be there in less than three minutes and that I would inevitably share a worse fate than did the boys who mocked Elijah. There was another man not far away, who hearing the racket, came to me and we both went cautiously to where we last heard the bear. There it lay dead. I afterwards killed many a bear, but I can never forget my feelings on shooting this first one. Of deer, I could not begin to tell how many I have killed. I have often killed as many as six in a single day!

But after a while, we (I do not remember the year) McLeansboro was laid out, and then we had a town of our own, and a market at home for our peltry, deer hams, honey, bees, wax tallow, and bear skins. We generally got about fifty cents a gallon for honey, ten cents a pound for deer skins, and eighteen cents to twenty cents a pair for deer hams. For the truth on these prices I refer to J. W. Marshall, who bought as many as any other one man.

But I am getting away from McLeansboro. The town was settled by J. C. Lockwood, Daniel Marshall, Bill McLean and others. Lockwood and Marshall were our merchants and McLean was our doctor. He was succeeded by Dr. Rathbone, who gave the first dose of medicine ever given by a doctor in my father’s family when I was 25 years old. McLeansboro took its name, of course, from McLean, who owned the land upon which it was laid out.

But I have now come to a point where my mind runs down into the dark caverns of the grave, where many of my old friends sleep--friends who watched over me and cared for me. One at least I will name. It is Col. Daniel Marshall. He was my best personal friend on earth, and my heart is full while I write these line. But I must close or my article will be too long.

By Job Standerfer (1802-1890)

Job Standerfer was the son of Archibald Standifer and Priscellah Bolin.

Click here to see Job's Bible Record

Click here to see Job's Obituary and Tombstone

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