Source: "History of Calhoun County and its people up to the year 1910"
by: Carpenter, George Wilbur
If we are to believe the letters written by the older inhabitants
and tales related to us by our grandparents, the people in the olden
days had many way to amuse themselves, and life was not the dreary
existence in an isolated cabin, as we often allow ourselves to imagine
it was. DANCING
The great amusement of our grandparents and great grandparents
One of the old inhabitants of the Civil War days said:
"There were a few days of the year, New Year's Day, Washington's Birthday, Fourth of July, and Christmas, that we set aside by
both old and the young, as a day to be hallowed with merriment and
pleasure. Usually on those days a grand ball would be given, and
grand it was too. At the home of Antione DeGerlia's in a spacious
and palatial hewed log house, on the spot where Paul Godarnow lives,
and at Hamburg at the the house of Ferdinand Wineland, the grandest of the grand balls were given in those days, and were attended
by the best people in the land; perfect order was maintained; nothing
that would tend to mar the pleasure of the guests tolerated."
"Dancing was a great sport", says another old settler, "I never
attended but one ball and then only a few hours. The houses were
too small to accommoddate the dancers, and those who were not
dancing would stand in the yard around burning log heaps. Sometimes there would be a general fight, and the girls would mix in the
fight as well as the men, but 'Still the dance went on.'"
Judge F. I. Bizaillion of Hardin said: "As to dancing, we had
them two, three, or four times a week and sometimes on Sunday.
Very often the county officials took part in our dances." Another
pioneer who came to Illinois in 1839 "found fiddling and dancing the
order of the day".
Most of the dances were held in the homes of the settlers. One
or two fidddlers and sometimes a third person with an accordian made
the music. The type of ancing was what is now called "Square
When a group of people came together to do some work, they
usually had a dance in the evening. If a man had a great number of
logs to be moved, or a barn to be built of logs, he would invite from
fifteen to thirty neighbors to help him. In the words of W. E. Barber
an early settler, "It was hard dirty work but it was given in a spirit
of neighborly helpfullness and performed in the spirit of fun and
frolic. As the forenoon wore on the noise was apt to increase, especially if the whiskey jug was in evidence, as it usually was when the
accommodations permitted, a dance would follow, in the evening.
House raisings offered another opportunity to extend a helping hand,
and to have a good time. In the same list may be placed corn-huskings andd brush-cuttings."
"NEW YEAR SHOOTING"
A custom that has nearly disappeared is that of "Christmas Shooting" and "New Year Shooting". A north Calhoun pioneer described the custom as follows:
"A crowd of men and boys would collect and form a company,
armed with guns, bells, horns, anything that would make a noise, and
then they would go from house to house through the whole neighborhood, ringing bells, blowing horns, and firing guns in their march
around the house, until at last they would be invited in, and after a
social repast of apples, pies, doughnuts, etc., they would move on to
the nearest neighbor, missing no one." As a general rule the people
of the German Catholic communities did not go around in this manner
on Christmas eve, due to the fact that it would interfere with their
church duties on Christmas morning. But they did go around on New
Year's eve, and cider, wine, and whiskey were usually included in the
lists of refreshments that were served.
The custom of going about on Christmas eve has died out in
most places due to the fact that Churches and Communities have programs for the children on that evening. But New Year Shooting is
still practiced in Richwoods and Point Precincts.
"THREE KINGS* NIGHT"
Another celebration that is somewhat similar is known as "Three
Kings' Night", and is held the sixth of January. Three men of the
community would mask and dress to disguise theiir identity, and in
company with the other young men, would call at different homes of
the community. Usually persons with some musical or vocal ability
were chosen as "Kings", and they would sing or play at the homes
of the people they visited. The same type of refreshments was served
to the visitors as was served on New Year's eve, and it is said as the
evening passed, the vocal and musical numbers increased both in volume and quantity. This custom is usually linked with the German
communities and was brought over from the Fatherland. Probably
the only community that celebrated this day, in 1933, was Meppen.
Nearly all accounts of the early days in Calhoun County mention
the spelling school. As one writer in the Hardin neighborhood said,
"I must not omit the good times we had at the log cabin raisings, log
rollings, shooting matches, and so on, but the spelling school was the
boss." Another said: "The singing and spelling schools and the debating societies were the only forms of amusements of an intellectual
character within the reach of most of the sections."
One of the last of the spelling schools held in Hardin vicinity was
held in 1916 or 1917. The pupils of the high school and upper grades
spelled against some of the older people of the town, who had had
experience in the spelling schools of the old days. Needless to say that when all of the young people were eliminated, a long line of "old
timers" were still standing.
Another form of amusement that was popular in the early days
was sleighing. Every farmer had a large bob-sled, and during the
winter months, it was in use much of the time. Trips to church and
to the stores would be made in it, and in the evenings the young
people would go to dances, parties or just for a ride. When the
automobile was introduced, the sleds began to decrease in number.
PICNICS AND FAIRS
Fairs and picnics were held in the county from the earliest times.
The Fourth of July was a favorite time for a picnic and celebration.
One of the most famous of these was the Centennial celebration that
was held in Hardin on July 4, 1876, on the lots just north of the
present site of the Hardin High School building. It was at this celebration that John Lammy read his "History of Calhoun County".
This was an account of only a thousand words in length, but was very
important not only because it was the first attempt to collect some
material on the history of the county, but because its author had been
an eye-witness to many of the events which he described, and had
been personally acquainted with most of the early settlers. Several
bands were organized before 1900, and they played at most of the
picnics and fairs. A band was organized one summer at Jennings
Grove, in Belleview Precinct, and a young man named William Cody,
who was taking care of some cattle for a man in the neighborhood,
joined the band and helped furnish music for a picnic. Cody went
west that fall and later became famous in the western country. He was known to the people of the west as "Buffalo Bill".
A county fair was organized, and the fair was held at Kampsville
and sometimes at Hardin. During the last two years of its existence,
it was held about a mile north of Hardin, just south of the mouth of
the "Poor Farm Hollow". The last fair was held about the year 1910.
The main reason reason for its failure was the lack of financial
OTHER SPORTS AND AMUSEMENTS
There were a number of baseball teams in the county in the
nineties and much enthusiasm was shown for this sport.
Another form of sport that was popular was that of horse racing. On Sunday
afternoons groups of young men would congregate in different places
and the afternoon would be spent in riding their horses up and down
Skating was always popular and there few places in the county
that was over a few miles from either of the rivers, or some bay or
lake. On Sunday afternoons large crowds of both young people and
adults would congregate. But, like sleighing, skating has lost much
of its popularity in the county.