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Reminiscence - Salem Woods

To give some idea of the of the manner in which the early settlers reached this county, traveling over the almost boundless prairies and through the wild woods, I will relate my own experience.

I left Erie county, Pa., May 28, 1828, and came to Terre Haute, Ind., intending going to Vandalia, then the capital of the State of Illinois. While in a store in Terre Haute, I met the Captain of a boat who told me he would take me to Vincennes, if I would work my passage. While Vincennes was no nearer Vandalia than Terre Haute, the country was better settled, and I decided to accept his offer. Arriving at Vincennes, I at once started on foot to Vandalia, traveling one day thirty miles and passing but one house. At the capital I called upon the State Auditor and told him I wanted to pay my taxes on a quarter section of land, the same I now own and on which I have lived for forty-seven years. He asked me if I had any State paper, when I answered that I had nothing but silver. My taxes were one dollar and sixty cents. He took one half of a three dollar bill, telling me to add ten cents to it and it would settle the bill. This he let me have for seventy-five cents. I therefore paid my taxes for eighty-five cents.

Being very anxious to reach McDonough county, I started from Vandalia late in the afternoon thinking to stop at a house I was informed was only six miles on the road. This house I reached just before sundown, where I found the woman sick and was refused admittance. I then had to trudge on six miles to the next house, endeavoring to make it in as short a time as possible. The night was very dark and a thunder storm came up and in a short time I was drenched to the skin. By the lightning's flash I noticed a point of timber some distance ahead, and reaching it gave several yells, thinking it possible some one might live there. I received no answer, and would feign have stopped there for the night, but was afraid to on account of the wolves, which were then in great numbers. I passed on, crossing a creek and coming to another open prairie, and after traveling some distance I was met by a pack of dogs. I called loudly for some one to take off the dogs, and my call was answered by a man, who kindly took me in. I asked for some bread, but this they did not have, and for a supper I had a bowl of milk. I then lay down on the floor in my wet clothes and slept soundly during the remainder of the night. In the morning I was directed to Beard's Ferry, now Beardstown, where I intended to cross the Illinois river. There was but one house there at that time, although the town had been laid out. I came out into Schuyler county, where, on Sunday, I met several people going from Church. Of them I enquired of certain lands, telling the township, range and section. One of the party spoke up and said that he had the adjoining farm. This was William Pennington, who now lives in Emmet township, and who had come down to mill and was compelled to wait several days for his grist. He directed me on to Carters settlement, where I met for the first time Elder John Logan, the pioneer preacher. From this settlement I passed on to hunt my land, intending to stop at William Pennington's. On arriving near where I thought the place ought to be, I could find no house, no path, or any signs of life, until after a long search I heard a rooster crow. This led me to Mr. Pennington's house, which was then the only one in the township. I found my land beautifully located near the timber, which I thought would soon be cut away.

There was a piece of land north of Crooked creek that I desired to see, and I told Mr. Pennington that if he would accompany me I would work for him as many days as he should be gone from home. He accepted my offer and we started out, having plenty of " corn dodgers" and pork to take along. Southwest of the present town of Macomb we came on to a number of wigwams, from which the Indians had vacated but very recently. We crossed Crooked creek, where Bacon's mill was afterwards built. West of Macomb, after passing through the timber, which but few white men had ever trod, we came to a large prairie. Here we halted and could see nothing beyond. I told Mr. Pennington it was no use to go further, as I did not want the land thus situated. So we retraced our steps and arrived at the home of Mr. Pennington the next evening. I thought it a beautiful country, but not enough timber to fence even a small portion of the vast prairie.

Some years after this I carried eight bushels of wheat to Bacon's mill, on Crooked creek, to get ground, but on account of low water I was unable to get my grist. I came up from home after it two or three times, and still failed to get it. Being out of flour, I took my wheat to Ellisville, in Fulton county, and finding so many teams here before me, I knew my chances were poor, so J took my eight bushels of grain on to Rushville, where, after waiting a considerable length of time, 1 succeeded in having it ground. At Ellisville I met two four-horse teams all the way from Burlington, Iowa, and, like me, they had to go on to Rushville to have their grain ground. Such experience as this would terrify the modern farmer, but they are only a specimen of what the early settler had to undergo.

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 586-588. Extracted 30 Jul 2016 by Norma Hass.

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