and CASS COUNTY
By Mrs. T.J. Schweer
In 1821 the reputation of the "Sangamo County" for wonderful fertility had reached the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. And the fact too, that the Indians had sold it to the United States government and the settlers could have a clear title to it, caused a great migration into this country.
The people travelled in those days in an enormous covered wagon, called a prairie schooner. It made no pretentions to beauty, but was a most substantial wagon. It was constructed with four huge wheels, upon which rested a great box and this box was really a room, because there was a frame work over it and that was covered with white canvas. This great wagon with four horses or a team of oxen before it, and the driver in his saddle on the near wheel-horse jerking at a single rein looked, at a distance like a ship on the ocean, and so was called a prairie schooner.
This wagon was often the home for a large family for many months, and it held everything that a family would need, bedding, cooking utensils, provisions, ammunition, tubs and buckets. Upon the sides of the wagon hung the crow-bar, axes, Spades, chisels and augurs; and underneath hung the kettles, tar-buckets, water buckets, and baskets. An extra big chain was coiled around the coupling pole under the wagon for use in emergencies which frequently happened.
One could never think of a journey in one of these wagons as a pleasure trip, but pleasant things happened on these trips too, though sometimes they met great dangers, hardships and had hair breadth escapes. Generally every member of the family would be in robust health, sickness rarely afflicting these early travellers. There were few woods and bridges in those days, and the prairies had to be crossed on Indian trails, the rivers forded where there were no ferries, and the creeks and brooks where the banks were steep were still more difficult to cross. In such case sometimes a bridge was improvised or a tree was felled across it, the limbs removed, the wagons taken all apart and each separate piece and article of freight carried by hand across over the fallen tree, and set up and loaded in the other side. Sometimes one man would do all this alone. But, for convenience these immigrants travelled in companies and in that way could assist each other and thus make the journey much more pleasant, safe and expeditious. These immigrants generally drove a few head of cattle and horses, also a coop of chickens, so that they would have something to start life with in the new country.
It was very hard for the first settlers to live in this new country. They had to do without all sorts of things we have now, but they managed to get along and have a pretty good time. They did not have friends or people about them as we have now. The brave pioneer who boldly cut away from his old home and friends and turned his face toward the land of the West, after days and weeks, perhaps months of weary travelling over prairies, where there were no roads finally settled upon a spot where his future home was to be. At once he began to build his little cabin, then break up a small piece of ground and plant a little corn. Soon other people come to this same spot and then a little town is formed and it grows into a bigger and bigger place until it is large like Beardstown. But at first some of our grandmothers swould not see the face of a white woman for six months, and all the people they saw were Indians.
For food they had game and corn-bread with wild honey and that was their bill-of-fare every day for many years. The women made all the clothing worn both by the men and women. They used an old-fashioned spinning wheel to make their cloth. The men dressed deer skins out of which they made their pants, hunting shirts and moccasins; they made their shoes from leather that they dressed at home, of course this was a pretty rough shoe, but they needed good durable shoes in those days to travel about in because they had to walk through brush, briers, swamps and grass.
Everything that was not made at home was called a "store" article, as, "store" shoes, "store" hat, and any one who could afford store clothes was wealthy indeed. If any young man or girl could buy some "store" clothes they were just very much dressed up.
In those early days people got along without nails, glass, sawed lumber or brick for the reason that they could not get them.
Their houses were small, just one story high, built of logs. The cracks between the logs were filled with sticks and covered with clay. The doors were made of boards fastened in place with sooden pegs and hung with wooden hinges. A wooden latch raised by a string fastened the door, the string had one end tied to the latch and the other passed through a small hole above it, and when the door was fastened, one end of the latch string was hanging out. "The latch string out" was an invitation to come in, with the early settler.
Every cabin had a wonderful fire-place because beside warming the cabin, the women did all the cooking in these fireplaces. They were big 6--10 feet in width and on cold winter nights they rolled in large logs, warming the entire house-hold. On one side of thes old fireplaces always stood a huge kettle, filled with "blue dye" with which the old ladies colored their yarn for weaving. The kettle wen not in use was generally covered with an old barrel head or something of the kind and used as a seat. One old man told how he wooed and won his bride seated on a kettle of "blue dye" by the blazing fire of his grandfather's cabin.
On the outside of the cabins one would see a number of raccoon skins and deer skins stretched against the wall to dry and sometimes the skin of a wild cat, wolf or bear. The ends of the logs sticking out, at each corner of the cabin, served as places to hang the various utensils used on the farm, such as hoes, rakes, bridles and harness. The house generally had but one room and two doors but no windows. Usually one door of the house was left open, no matter how cold the weather was to admit light and rarely both doors were closed except when the family was about to retire or rest. So accustomed were people to open doors that they left their doors open long after the introduction of glass into the cabin for windows. It is related that on a very cold day an easter man who was visiting a friend in his log cabin proposed to close the door to make the house warmer. The owner expressed his surprise at the request. But did not object to trying it as an experiment. After the door had been shut a few minutes he seemed much pleased with the results and said, "Well I declare I believe it does make a difference." Even beds were more accommodating then than now and would hold many more occupants. There was one usually in two corners in every log cabin and under each of these was a trundel bed which pulled out at night and then there was bedding to spare in most houses and when friedns called and stayed all night, which they usually did, a field bed was made that accommodated all. When meal time came a large amount of good wholesome food would be supplied considering the few cooking utensils that were used. Even in well-to-do-families the articles for cooking consisted of a Dutch oven, in which first the bread and then the meat was cooked, a coffee pot, and a kettle to cook vegetables when they had any. But this is all past. The old land marks of the pioneer have long since disappeared. We of today, have forgotten about the hardships and struggles of our pioneer forefathers. Yet, we know that they did conquer this great wilderness. Yet, we know that they did conquer this great wilderness with a bravery and fortitude that is somewhat difficult for us of a newer generation to understand. And we know that they made it possible for us to live in this great and glorious land, and we are grateful to them for their spirit of adventure, for their courage and daring to open up new lands.
"Ye pioneers, it is to you
the debt of gratitude is due;
Ye builded wiser than ye knew
The broad foundation,
On which our superstructure stands;
Your strong right arms and willing hands,
Your earnest efforts still command
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