Reminiscences - Quintus Walker
The following material is furnished by Quintus Walker. That which appears elsewhere is omitted here. It is mostly in his own language:
The first winter spent by Quintus Walker and his family in Illinois was that of the deep snow. After undergoing many experiences, they finally arrived in McDonough county, locating at what was then called Roger's settlement, which was in the northwest corner of Industry, and the southwest of Scotland townships. On the night of the 26th of September, there came a freeze, which killed every green thing, and in a few days the prairie took fire and burned off, and for that reason, they had to feed the stock much sooner than they had expected; therefore the hay, of which they supposed they had cut enough, ran out, the corn was frost bitten, and but little in the settlement. An older brother, Andrew Walker, went back to Sangamon county, to get a wagon load of provisions, but it snowed, and turned so cold, so that he could not take a load back. So becoming uneasy about the family, he took a pack horse and what provision he could take, and started back. In crossing the river, he got about the middle of the stream on the ice, when it began to crack, as if it would break. He left his horse and ran for the bank, he saw the horse still standing where he left it; he then went back and got the horse and got home safely and found the family almost out of provisions. It was a very cold and stormy fall and winter. It snowed three times in October, and was so cold and stormy that they could not get back to Sangamon county for provisions. Coming from the south, as most of the settlers did, their clothes were not as warm as they should have been for this climate, being mostly cotton, and instead of boots every one wore shoes. Thus, they were not in condition to go across the prairie to get relief. There were no provisions to be bought in the settlement, and they became reduced to such straits that they had nothing to live on except bread, and that was made from frost bitten corn, grated into meal, and when made into bread, was black, and scarecely fit to eat. The deep snow of the winter before, and the Indians, had driven the wild game almost all out of the county. They were out of hay, which was all the stock had to eat, there being none to be bought, but they each were willing to divide with the other, so Quintus and Andrew Walker made a hand sled and hauled hay half a mile from a neighbor's, for the stock. Then, with all the care they could give them, five of the cows which they were expecting to give milk, got so weak that when they would lie down, they could not get up, and it got so that when any of the neighbors saw Quintus coming, they would say, "there is another cow down," and as soon as the grass began to grow in the sloughs, enough so he could get a hatful, Quintus would go daily and pick grass for the cows, they being too weak to go themselves. It was a very backward, cold spring, and their horses were so weak that they had to wait until grass came, before they could do any work. It was the 10th of May before the teams were fit to do anything, then it was so cold that the men would work with their overcoats and mittens on. There was no seed corn here, so they had to wait until corn was brought from the south, to Beardstown, and had to go there for it. When the weather became warm enough, a great many of the settlers were so discouraged that they went back south. The houses were built of round logs, notched at the ends, and then chinked and stopped up with mud; the floor was of split timber, or puncheon, and the roof was covered with clapboards, which were split out of logs. They were eight or ten inches wide, and three feet long, and laid on and weighted down with poles. There was no stone or brick used, and the fireplace was made of earth, and the chimney of wood, built up and daubed with mud, both inside and outside. The whole house, windows, doors and all, were built without a nail being used. Every time it would snow, it would sift in all over everything. It was no unusual thing to wake up in the morning and find an inch of snow on the bed and over the floor, and have to sweep it out of the house. I would say that for the first 25 years after we came to the country, it was hard on the women and oxen, and the next 25 years was very hard on the men and horses. It was hard on the women, because they worked out in the fields, and made all the wearing apparel for the family; it was hard on the oxen because the breaking of the prairie and all the work was done with them. They were even used in traveling about the country, going to church, etc. It is now hard on the men and horses, because the farm work is all done with horses instead of oxen.
It might be interesting to the younger persons of to-day to know something of how we broke the prairie. We never considered it a good team unless we had from four to six yoke of oxen hitched to the plow, which would have to be turned out at night to get something to eat. They would frequently go to the bush and hide. I have many times searched for them for half a day before finding them. The tall grass would be wet with dew, and I would be as wet as I could be. The team generally consisted of two yoke of well-broke oxen, and the others of raw steers, and it was a greal deal of trouble to get them yoked, and I would have to get them in a lot to do so. The time for breaking was in the months of May and June. If broke earlier than that, it would grow up again; if later, it would not rot by the next spring. Oxen were used for everything. Some had no horses at all, and had to put in and tend all their crops with oxen. In those days we had no threshing machines. The first load of wheat I sold, I cleaned off a circle on the ground, put my wheat on it, and then chained three yoke of oxen together, and, standing in the middle of the circle, drove the oxen around until the grain was tramped out. I then cleaned it with the wind, and hauled it to Rushville, and it sold for 30 cents per bushel.
The land through here was all used in payment to soldiers for their services in the war of 1812. A good many of them were dead, and the other supposed that it was not worth much. The settlers coming, not knowing who was the owner of the land, would squat on it, hoping to find the owner when they become able to buy it. It was necessary that they should have timber, and not knowing who the owner of any of the timber was, they got wood where it was the handiest. It was not considered stealing, because the settlement of the country made the timber land more valuable than hitherto. I remember an instance in my own experience. In 1837, I was getting timber north of where I lived, when the owner, who had come on to see about his land, came over to where I was. He wanted to sell the land to me. I told him I was not able to buy, and he then wanted me to sell ir for him, and keep the settlers from cutting the timber on it. I told him I could not do that, for all of us had to have fuel. He then told me not to cut any more off of his land. I told him it was the handiest for me, and that we had to have wood, and that his land would be worth more if the country was settled up, even if his timber was all cut off. He then said, "Don't cut any more than you can help," and went away in perfect good humor. He offered me the land for less than the congress price. The same land sold a short time ago for nearly $3,000.
In 1832, the settlement was very uneasy for fear the Indians would come and take revenge (they had been driven out a year or two before.) As an incident of the Black Hawk war, I remember a man had a claim, with house and lot fenced in, who was so much afraid, that he sold his claim for a coverlid and left the country; and for fear the Indians would come, a company was raised to range up and down the Mississippi river, to watch that they did not come across, and while the company was gone, those who stayed at home agreed to work their corn. John Campbell and myself were appointed to work Lose Jones' corn. We went there early one morning, expecting to work it over in one day. While in the house waiting for breakfast (the girl was getting breakfast, and had her dough on a lid on the dirt hearth) there was a pig and a pup quarreling as to which should get the closest to the fire. The pig rooted the pup on to the dough, causing him to step in the middle of it. The girl, seeing it, went up and smoothed out the tracks with her hand, and cooked the dough for our breakfast. John motioned for me to come out, and I went out with him. He said, "Oh, I can't eat here." I said: "We must eat, for we have got to work, and we can't work unless we eat;" and we did eat, and got over the corn, too.
When I was married, our wedding tour was as follows: I took the fore wheels of a wagon, put a sack of corn on, and hitched a yoke of oxen to it, and seated ourselves on the sack, driving the cattle without any lines. There being no road, we struck off across the prairie to Bacon's mill, below Macomb. On the way we stopped at Troublesome creek to see the Indian's grave, who had been killed by a deer. He was buried in a trough on top of the ground, and a pen of poles built around, with loop holes cut in it for him to shoot through. His gun, knife, kettle, etc., were also placed in the pen, but they had been stolen when we saw it. There was, also, a path cut down to the creek for him to get water.
After moving into Walnut Grove, the deer were very hard on the corn; they would come into the fields at night and eat the corn.
In 1838, a grand wolf hunt was organized. A pole was erected east of Macomb, and word was sent to the people of adjoining counties to meet on a certain day at that pole, driving all the wild game in, thus forming a circle many miles in diameter, and to bring horns, drums, etc., to make a noise, to scare the wolves up. As they began to close up within a mile of the pole, great droves of deer could be seen, which the hunters did not kill, the object of the hunt being to kill wolves, and as the men closed up nearer, the deer would sometimes jump over their heads or run under the horses; but there were but few wolves killed, for they would hide in the long grass, and break through the lines and escape.
Samuel Campbell, a small boy, was sent one evening to the creek bottom after the sheep. Night came on, bringing no tidings of the boy or sheep. The parents of the child becoming very much alarmed, the neighbors started out to hunt for him. I was one of the searchers. We hunted all night through the brush, and up and down the creek, calling him by name, yet we could find no trace of either the boy or the sheep, and we very much feared that he had either been killed by wild beasts, or had fallen into the creek and drowned. Thus the search continued until morning, when the boy came home, driving the sheep before him. The sheep had run off, and following them, he had gone a distance of two miles, and coming in the vicinity of my brother Cyrus', it being so late, they compelled him to stay all night for fear some harm might befall him should he attempt to go home so late. When I moved to Walnut Grove, the game was very plenty. Indian wigwams were still standing, and buffalo and elk horns were lying over the prairie. It was very tempting to hunt. I began to hunt and bought an imported bull pup from England, and took great pains in training him to hunt. One of my first experiences, was two deer who had come into my field one night to eat corn, and I saw them come out in the morning, and watched them until I saw them go in a bunch of hazel brush at the head of a little hollow, then I took my young dog and crept up on them. My dog I had tamed to creep close behind me. I got close enough so that I could see the horns of one of the deer, then I prepared to shoot, intending to shoot the deer in the brain. The gun I had was an old flintlock rifle I had gotten of an old Virginia hunter, and very large calibre, running about 40 bullets to the pound. I raised my gun and fired, and he dropped down. I felt sure that I had hit him in the brain, and dropping my gun in the snow, I drew my knife and ran up to stick him, placing one foot on the down horn, and grasping the other with one hand, was about to stick him, when he sprang up, pushing against me as he did so, for a fight. I found I could not hold him down, so I called my dog, who sprang at the deer, grasping him by the throat. While the dog and deer were hotly engaged, I ran back to my gun and commenced to load, when I found that the snow had run in so that I could not fire it, and while the dog and deer were fighting, I was trying to dry the gun so I could use it. They fought fiercely, sometimes the deer would throw the dog as high as my head. They kept working down the hill but before I could get my gun in order to shoot, the dog became exhausted, and the deer pushed him into a snowbank, and he lay there panting, too weak to renew the battle. The deer stood and looked at him a minute, then turning, ran off. I suppose that the ball struck him at the base of the horn and only stunned him, and I have always believed that if it had not been for the dog, the buck would have killed me, as there was nothing large enough to climb up out of his reach. The dog and I were both green at that time, and it taught us a lesson. After that experience I was not afraid to wound a deer on the prairie, if I had my dog with me. At certain times in the year, if a buck was wounded he was very apt to make at a person for battle. One time I wounded a buck on the prairie. At the crack of the gun, he wheeled around and came at me with his hair all turned the wrong way. I gave my dog the word, and he sprang and grasped the buck by the back of the neck. I drew my knife and ran behind and hamstrung him. I hunted most of the time on the prairie, and would sometimes hunt on horseback. I had a horse trained to hunt, and whenever a deer would jump up, both my dog and my horse would stand perfectly still until I fired and gave them the word to go. At one time when I was about three miles from home, in a creek bottom, in high grass, a couple of deer jumped up. I shot one and commenced to load, still sitting on my horse, and just as I ran the ball down, the gun went off, shooting the gun stick through my hand, breaking some of the bones and cutting an artery. The blood spurted out in a steam almost as thick as my finger. I was about a mile from any house, and the way my hand was bleeding I was afraid to get off my horse to try to stop the blood for fear I would get so weak from loss of blood that I could not get on again, so I rode my horse at the top of his speed for the nearest house. When I got to the house, John Ballard, jumped on the horse and rode to Macomb, a distance of 10 miles, for the doctor. While he was gone, we bound my hand up with sole leather so that it did not bleed much. When the doctor came it was not bleeding much, so he did nothing with it then. I had sent word to my father-in-law, A. Campbell, so he came over after me in a wagon. The doctor went home with me and stayed all night and dressed my hand in the morning. The next morning my brother-in-law, D. Campbell, came over. He asked me where my gun was. I described the place where I dropped it when shot, and told him if he would go and get it he might have it, as I did not want to see it, and never expected to hunt any more. He went and got it and brought it to my house, and as he hung it up in its accustomed place, and said, "the first deer you shoot you must give me half." Before my hand was well enough to do anything else, I had killed several deer. I used to hunt going across prairie, across the wind. Whenever we struck the scent of a deer, my dog would stop, then all I had to do was to follow until I got close enough to shoot. I was very successful. At one time I killed 10 deer in 11 successive shots. I only kept account one year of the number I killed. That year I killed 50, and I suppose that was about the average for 20 years. That game was plenty, so I have no doubt that in the 20 years I killed at least 1,000. While hunting, I used to capture fawns and would bring them home and tame them and let them run in an enclosed lot, where they would breed, and I had at one time over 20 head. Wild deer would jump in with them at night, and I would shoot them. The tame deer would not jump over the fence, but gamboled playfully through the shady park, contented and happy as dumb creatures might be.
Source: The History of McDonough County, together with sketches of the towns, villages and townships, educational, civil, military and political history; portraits of prominent individuals, and biographies of the representative citizens, 1885, pages 1043-1048. Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen