Reminiscences - John Wilson
Until 1828, when I was married, I cannot say that I ever had a home. On the thirtieth day of October, 1828, I was married to Martha R. Vance by Elder John Logan, with whom I yet live.
When I commenced farming I had one horse and three cows. The first year I broke my land with a Barshire plow, a wooden affair. I borrowed a wagon from William Moore, who was just from Georgia. He went crazy soon afterward and was taken back by his friends. After this I made a wagon myself entirely of wood, the wheels of which were made solid and hewed out of a large tree. There being no iron about it, I had to keep it well soaped to keep it from being set on fire by the friction. I now had three calves, two of which I yoked together, and the third harnessed and used as a leader. When them I done my plowing, and hitched them to my wagon and done all my hauling of wood and rails, they being able to draw ten or twelve rails to the load. This wooden wagon I used for several years, going to mill with it and doing all my hauling.
What little education I have I got after I was married. I got a United States spelling-book and a primer, and at night, while my wife was spinning, I would throw a quantity of brush upon the fire, having first placed in the fireplace a large back-log, and lying down on the floor, by the light given, I would study. I would do this after having worked hard all day mauling rails and other work. In this way I soon mastered my speller and primer and then took up the Bible, reading it through twice, when I thought myself able to read anything. By the same course of study I obtained a little knowledge of geography and arithmetic.
Game was very abundant in the early times, and wild animals were not uncommon, such as wolf, wildcat, fox, lynx, badgers, and even the black bear. Deer were very plentiful. The strength and powers of endurance of this animal are wonderful indeed. I once shot and crippled one, when the dogs attacked it and fought it a long time, until I got in another shot, when it jumped about twenty feet away from the dogs that were holding it, and fell dead. One morning I heard my dogs barking and went to see what was the matter, when I discovered they were chasing a little fawn. I caught it and carried it in my arms to the house, where it grew up as a pet. One day some strange dogs came around, and, frightening it, caused it to break one of its legs. I tied it down for the purpose of fixing it, when it endeavored to get away. At last it gave a powerful leap and actually pulled itself in two, thus killing itself.
I have an old flint-lock rifle, one I traded for when I first came to the county. It was then an old gun and had done much service, but still to-day it is in as good order as it ever was, and as true as the modern breech-loader. As I roamed the wild forest, often this gun was my only companion, and it was always faithful. Many are the excitings incidents that could be related in connection with it. A short time ago one of the little grandsons desired to see me shoot it. To please the boy, I took the faithful old gun from its hook on the wall, and, as was my custom nearly a half century ago, I threw it across my shoulder and started forth for game. We soon spied a squirrel in a tall oak. I took aim and fired. Though my hand was not so steady or my eye so keen as it used to be, I brought the little animal to the ground.
I well remember quite an exciting fight I had with a lynx, one winter. During the day a good sized calf had died, and that night it snowed. While but doing chores the next morning, I noticed some tracks near the carcass of the calf which I supposed were made by a panther, knowing it must be somewhere near by. I called my dogs that they might trace it, but when they came they refused to go near it. I then went over to Vances after a couple of hounds which were glad enough for a fight, and soon had the animal treed; it was as large as a gray wolf and resembled one. I got my old flint lock and determined to have a fight. I shot its paw a time or two but it would not jump down from the tree. I then shot it in the head knocking it down. The dogs would run up to it and each time would have great pieces of flesh torn from their bodies by the savage animal. I thought I would help the dogs, so I got a club and waded in, when the lynx, dogs and myself had a lively battle, but we were too much for it, and at last killed it. For many years I kept the skin of this fierce lynx that had fought so hard for its life.
Accommodations in Macomb in those early days were not so great as they are now. Wm. Shannon and myself were once summoned to attend court as witnesses, and when we arrived, the houses were all full and we could get no place to stop. We were compelled to go out of town a short distance, and crawl under a hay stack to sleep during the night.
I used to raise large fields of cotton and we made all the cotton goods we used. I also raised flax, which we spun and wove and made into goods. We didn't buy many "store goods" then.
I have on my place a log house build in 1829, now forty-eight years old, but we have out-grown it, and live in more modern style.
I was born in Jackson county, Tennessee, November 2, 1806, and am now seventy-one years old.
Source: History of McDonough County, Illinois, It's Cities, Towns, and Villages with Early Reminiscences, Personal Incidents and Anecdotes, and a Complete Business Directory of the County, by S. J. Clarke, published in 1878, pages 584-586.