Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group

Clark County Illinois
Genealogy and History


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Chapter 17

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The History of Crawford and Clark County
W. H. Perrin, O. L. Baskin & Co., 1883

Transcribed by Kevin Ortman and Barbara Z.

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP

THE LAY OF THE LAND—ORIGINAL ENTRIES-EARLY SETTLEMENT—THE BIRCH FAMILY—SCHOOLS AND CHURCHES.

Anderson is the name applied to township 10, range 12 west, which is bounded on the north by Marshall and Auburn, on the east by Darwin, on the south by Melrose, and on the west by Martinsville. It is somewhat irregular in outline, occasioned by the surveys on either side of the Indian Boundary line, which passes diagonally through the central part of the township, and the loss of one section from the northwest corner, taken to fill out the township of Auburn. The area thus included was originally covered with a heavy growth of timber, including all the varieties common to this vicinity, and pleasantly watered by Mill Creek and its tributaries. This stream enters the northern line of the town-ship near the middle point and passes out at the southeast corner, thus marking the line and direction of the natural drainage. There are several tributaries, all of which reach the main stream by nearly a due east and west course. The valleys are well marked and have some breadth of bottoms, but the surface of the township elsewhere is quite broken. There is but very little waste land here, though much of it is too broken for tillage. The present resident population is largely Get man, a class of people who have more faith in wheat growing than in stock raising, and the result is that too much of Anderson is practically waste land. There, is an observable change going on, however, which will eventually correct this error, and stock will form, in the near future, an important source of income to the farmer.

There is little in the history of this town-ship to challenge the attention of citizen or historian. Its settlement was delayed until about 1836, though for some years before it was occupied by a remnant of a baud of the Kickapoo Indians and certain squatters and hunters who found plenty of game and pleasant surroundings here. There was an abundance of game as was found everywhere in the county. Deer and small game abounded and contributed to the early settler's comfort and sport. Wolves infested these wooded slopes and made havoc with the young stock, but the bustle and hostility of the new community soon drove them out of the country. The Indians had long before ceded this country to the whites and were but little seen here. For only one or two seasons did they return for the purpose of hunting and sugar making on their old familiar grounds when they left for their reservations west of the Mississippi.

The first entry of land was made by Jesse K. Archer on section 12, in 1830. This was followed in 1832 by an entry of land on section 4, by John Birch, lie was a singular character and but little is known of his antecedents, lie probably settled here about this time, making little or no improvements, living more like an animal than a human being in a little log cabin surrounded by underbrush and timber. He was father of Robert Birch whose record is so large a part of the criminal history of the State.   The latter made an entry of land on the same section with his father in 1835, but it is safe to say made no more permanent improvement in the material than in the moral character of the township. In the meantime Marshall had been founded and was attracting a good deal of interest to lands in its vicinity, and in 1830, not only were land entries more numerous but the actual settlement begun. Among the entries of this year are noted, on section 4, Isaac C. Miller and Christian Jefferson section 9, Martin Shipp; on section 13, William Dixon; on section 14, Thomas and John Craig; on section 13, Sam'l and Jacob Tengley; on section 21, Richard Phillips; on section 25, Thomas Spencer and Robert Craig; on section 35, Abel Lanhani, an others. A number of these entries were evidently made bv residents of the older communities in the county for speculative purposes. Thomas Spencer was one of those who made a land entry in 1836, but he had come to this section the year before. He was an old man at the time of his coming, settled on one of the minor tributaries of Mill Creek, and lived here until 1862. Thomas Craig came in 1836. He was a native of Tennessee, but moved to Indiana in early boyhood. From thence he came to Edgar County, Illinois, and settled near Paris in 1814. He subsequently settled on Mill Creek where at this writing he still resides, the oldest resident of the township and next to the oldest man in the county. His nephew Robert Craig preceded him one year and settled on section 14. where he died in 1809. Alexander Craig was another of the family who came here early but subsequently moved to Arkansas. Jesse K. Archer was a brother of Col. Archer, and moved into Darwin with the family at a very early date, and came to Anderson in 1836, settling on the land he had entered near the Grand Turn. He was a public-spirited man and was of that energetic character which marked the whole family.

He first built an ordinary cabin which he subsequently replaced by a double-hewed log house which is still standing in a good state of preservation, and is occupied by Joseph Lake. William Dixon, another of the emigrants of 1830, was a native of Kentucky. Me came to Illinois with Archer, and settled finally on section 13, where he afterward built the first frame house in the township. The Tengleys were natives of Kentucky also, and came direct to Anderson. They were not long residents, however, as they moved away some ten or twelve years later. Richard Philips came in the same year from Kentucky and later made extensive improvements, living in the township until his death. Samuel Fleming, a settler of this year was a noted hunter and never lost his interest in this sport until the day of his death. William Weldon, Christian Jeffers, and William Maxwell were settlers of this year. In 1837, the most noted accessions were the Chapman brothers, John, Edward, William, and Jacob, who were natives of Kentucky, and settled near each other in this township. In 1838, Edward Pierce, a native of Pennsylvania, came into Anderson and settled on section 12.

The community which gathered in Anderson was not isolated as many of the earlier ones. On the north Marshall was rapidly growing into importance, developing business facilities which furnished the settlements in the surrounding country, many advantages for getting supplies, mails, etc., for which they would otherwise have been obliged to go many miles. Mill Creek was too good a stream to pass neglected notwithstanding the presence of mills other wheres near at hand, and several were early put upon its banks giving it the name by which it is known to-day. The first of these was a combined saw and grist-mill erected by John Lengley, which afterward passed into the hands of James Anderson who gave name to the township upon its organization. Another was built by James Craig, which fount! plenty of work for some eight years. when it was abandoned. Such industries were demanded by the character of the country and there was little danger that they would be excessively multiplied. The variable character of the water power and the unusual demand for lumber during the early years of a settlement gave plenty of work to each one of these mills, which subse-quently, as conditions changed, were abandoned and rotted down. The nearness of the county seat effectually checked the growth of other industries called out by the seclusion of pioneer settlements, and the early history of Anderson is little more than the prosaic record of felling trees and planting crops. And yet, while the record may not show any thrilling experiences, the task of hewing out a farm from the wilderness was no holiday adventure. Economy was the forced practice of the well-to-do not less than the unfortunate, and hard work and privation the general lot of all. Some of its early citizens, however, achieved a State notoriety that attaches considerable interest to the township.

The early communities in Clark County were considerably troubled by petty thieving and by an occasional burglarizes attack of more alarming nature. Horses were stolen almost with impunity and it began to be the general belief among officials that the county was the rendezvous of a band of men who made robbery their chief occupation. The whole Mississippi valley seemed to be afflicted in the same way. Depredations were committed in rapid succession at points widely separated, and yet with such characteristic skill as to create the belief that they were done by the same inspiration if not by the same persons. Such a conclusion involved a belief in a wide-spread conspiracy, which so covered the territory with abettors and sympathizers that the ordinary officials fell powerless to thwart its plans or arrest the offenders against law. The achievements of this confederated band of thieves culminated July 4, 1845, in the murder of Col. Davenport of Rock Island. The Mormon Community of Nauvoo were believed to be the resort of this class of desperadoes and their expulsion was involved in the overthrow of the Prairie Banditti.

Robert Birch had been suspected of being implicated in these nefarious operations be-fore this time, and he no longer visited his home openly. His father was popularly known as the "Old Coon," and though gener-ally suspected of complicity in these crimes, and though all sorts of traps had been set to catch him with the evidence of his guilt, he had remained in his isolated cabin secure from the penalties of outraged justice. He was a man of undoubted intelligence, with the reputation of being one of the shrewdest, most cautious and cunning men in the North-west. He feigned extreme ignorance, however, and refused to sign his name in any business transaction. His son, Robert, is described as being a man of about twenty-five or thirty years of age, at this time, and had been suspected of robbery, and even murder, ever since the age of fifteen years. "He was a well made, broad breasted man, of light complexion, large blue eyes, and light auburn hair; when fashionably dressed seemed rather slightly built. He was very loquacious and could play the bar-room dandy to perfection. Rock Island had been one of his most frequented haunts, where he was known by the name of Brown; he had also appeared in different parts of the country under the names of Birch, Harris and others. He was undoubtedly one of the most adroit villains in the territory of the Northwest. This family was, of course, a constant object of suspicion, but no clue could be got of their transactions or connection with the deeds of crime that were constantly being perpetrated.

The i nurd or of Col. Davenport incited the loading men and officials to renewed efforts, and Edward Bouncy was employed to ferret oul the Brar.fr.    He initiated himself into their coufi lence and was the means of bringing the principal ones of these bandits to justice. In   the  course of his  efforts, he came to.Marshall and visited the "Old Coon," an account of which is taken from a book written by the detective, from which the preceding quotations an'  made.   The visit hero was made in the early part of September, in 1845; the author says: " 1 determined to call upon the'Old Coon,' in his own house, believing that I could succeed in passing myself off as one of the gang with him, as well as with others. The road  from  Marshall  to the habitation of old Birch, a distance of nine miles, lod through an exceedingly dense forest, and by a bind path, to follow' which was nearly impracticable to a stranger.    Sheriff Bennett kindly consented to accompany me a suffi-cient distance on my way to enable me to tin I the house.    We traveled on horseback, and the sheriff left me when we had come within  half a mile of the house, and proceeded to a dense thicket, in which he promised me that he would conceal himself and await my  return.   Following the direction the sheriff had given me, for a short distance, I emerged from the thick forest and entered a large, and  partially cultivated enclosure, near the center of which stood a miserable log cabin  in  a very  dilapidated condition, almost crumbling to the ground. Leaving my horse at the edge of the wood, I approached the house cautiously on loot. The door was standing open, and within, near the foot of the bed, sat a very old man.    His appearance was wretched and poverty-stricken. An old woman and a young girl of sixteen were in the act of adjusting some portions of his dress, as I entered the room. Some bustle ensued  upon my abrupt entrance. They, however, placed a stool for me to sit upon, and brought me some water to drink. I drank from a gourd shell, having a hole cut in its side; a very common substitute in some parts of our country for a dipper. After some incidental conversation, the 'Old Coon,' for it was Birch himself, upon whom I had intruded, inquired: 'Do you live in this part of the country?

' No, I do not.'

' Where do you, then?'

'In no particular place. I spend my time in traveling, speculating, etc'

' Do you want to see me?

' Why, some of your old acquaintances wished me to call upon you, if I ever passed near you, and my business leading me this way, I have sought you out.' ' Who do you mean?'

'Granville Young and Bundy.'

' How large a man is this Granville Young?' 'A small man with dark hair.'

'Are you acquainted with Owen Long?'

'Only by description,' I replied, 'I never saw him; but I know the boys.'

'Do you? what, Aaron and John?'

'Yes.'

' Aaron and John are Owen Long's sons. Owen Long and I wore raised together in old North Carolina. I have known him ever since he was a boy. He's a right smart old man, and has got two smart boys.'

' I think so. At least they know enough to take care of themselves.'

' Well they do.'

'I left my horse at the edge of the wood, let me step out and look to him.' Saying this, I winked to the old man who readily followed me out, and when we were out of hearing he said: 'Well, stranger, what is it?'

' The boys tell me that you are of the right stripe, and friendly to us, so 1 suppose I can safely proceed to disclose my business.' ' I never hurts nobody.' 'I folt certain tliat vou were one of us. I have left the main traveled road because I had promised the boys I would see you on my way down, and give you a little accommodation in my line. Look at these blank notes. They are a small sample of my work. I have a large amount to fill up and sign. I am now on my way to Cincinnati after it, and on my return shall wish to dispose of it. I suppose you can help me some.' ' Yes, I'll take right smart of it myself. A heap of the boys stop with me, and I know of 'em what will buy it. If you can sell it fair, I can get rid of a power of it.' ' Do you think you could get a lot of horses with such paper as this, and have them delivered at Louisville or St. Louis?'

' Yes, and a smart chance of money, too.'

'Have you any confidential friends in this country who understand this business, and are acquainted with the boys'"

' Wliy, yes, I reckon so. There is one Mr. Arbuckle, at Marshall, and the clerk of the court. They both understand such matters, and are first rate men. I reckon they would like to trade with you.'

'Are you suspected of being connected with the boys?'

' Not a bit of it. Anyhow I reckon not. Tiie clerk is a good friend of mine, and always tells me what is going on. They can't hurt the Old Coon, as long as he is clerk of the court. If the sheriff should get a writ against me, the clerk would let me know soon enough to let me get out of the way. * * Do you know a man by the name of Robert Birch?'

'Robert H. Birch? he is my son; Robert is a smart fellow; do you know him? '

'I have heard the boys mention his name, but have never seen him.'

'He is a smart fellow, my son Robert is, you would like to travel with him.'

'Well I would.'

' He has traveled eight years. Has got heaps of money. He never gets caught. He has not been home in eight years. He wrote me from St. Louis a few months ago, that he would be here before this time, but he has not come; I reckon he is making money. He and my son John left our home in Oid Carolina together. John, poor fellow, they hung in Texas. They just strung him up by the neck without judge or jury, hung him like a dog; but they don't catch Robert.'

" By this time we had returned to the house, where we found the old man's son, Tim Birch, who had just returned from the forest with his rifle. He was the youngest son of the Old Coon, and as his father proudly remarked to me, looked very much like Robert. Old Birch described the appearance of his favorite son at length, dwelling minutely upon his qualities and peculiarities. He was evidently very proud of that son of his, Robert. He very earnestly desired me to seize the first opportunity I might have to cultivate Robert's acquaintance, and associate myself with him. I need not say that I very readily promised to become as intimate with him as possible. The old woman and her daughter being informed that I was one of the boys, became very talkative. They were at least equal in wickedness, to any member of the gang of the other sex, and appeared much worse, for as woman in her purity seems surpassingly lovely', so in her degradation she seems more than debased. The old woman indulged in the most bitter denunciations against a certain neighbor of the Birch's, by the name of Miller. She swore some terrible vengeance against him. She would shoot him, chop him into mince meat, etc., and all because Miller, as she said, had tried to have her Tim prosecuted just for stealing a miserable little colt, not worth thirty dollars; and she seemed also to believe that Miller was in some way instrumental in having .John hung in Texas

" I was earnestly solicited by the family to remain a few days to recruit myself and horse. I was satisfied, however, that Robert Birch was not concealed in the vicinity of his father's residence, and that there was no prospect of niy discovering any track of the murderers from the Old Coon. Giving my name to them as Tom Brown, and promising to call on my return from Cincinnati, and spend more time with them, I left, having evidently satisfied the family that I was one of the boys, and a worthy associate of their son Robert.

" I searched the thicket for my friend, the sheriff, but supposing that I would remain with the Birchs all night, he had returned home, leaving me to make the best of my way to Marshall, unassisted and alone. Confiding in my trusty horse, I was carried safely through the dense forest and reached Marshall about midnight. The following morning T disclosed, as far as prudence dictated, the facts drawn out in my conversation with old Birch. I also mentioned the character which the Old Coon gave of his neighbor Arbuckle, and of the clerk of the court. Sheriff Bennett remarked that several criminal prosecutions had been brought in the county within the last three years, but from some cause heretofore unknown, the authorities had not been able to procure a conviction, but had never suspected anything wrong with the officers of the court. The sheriff promised to watch closely the movements of old Birch and family, and to advise me of any appearance of the suspected individuals, and also to keep an eye on Arbuckle and the clerk of the court. I then left Marshall and returned to Terre Haute."

As a sequel to this narrative, it may be added that Robert Birch was arrested and while awaiting trial in the Knoxvillo, Illinois, jail, escaped on the 23d of March, 1847. The clerk of the court mentioned was so well watched that the conviction that he had intimate relations with this gang became general, and a mob seized him one Sunday and taking him outside the village of Marshall, gave him a cruel whipping. The whole family soon afterward left the county.

This was the outcome of the "Birch War' in 1852. Before this Tim Birch and a comrade had been arrested and through some falling out ''peached" on each other. This brought the character of the Birch gang so clearly before the people that several parties were severely whipped. One of these persons, a relation of the Birch family by marriage, to gain favor with the people came into Marshall one morning and reported Bob Birch to be in the neighborhood; that he had given him his breakfast at a certain joint to which he was ready to lead the people. A large number of armed men gathered at once and went to the point designated, after hunting in the woods in vain for a clue to his whereabouts, a favorite dog of Birch's was got and by its aid the evident track of the outlaw was found and followed for some distance. After a time, the dog showing evident signs of nearing his master, the leash was loosed. Unfortunately the dog got so far ahead of the pursuers that it was lost sight of and no further trace of Birch obtained. This was just at night and neither dog nor Birch have ever been heard of in this vicinity since. The whole Birch family subsequently moved to Missouri.

The first school-house erected in Anderson was a small hewed log structure built in 1838, about the center of the township. Sebastian Fox was the first teacher. He was a resident of the township and settled on section twenty-one. A few years latter a log school building was erected in the southern part of the township, and was known as the Combs schoolhouse. It still serves a useful purpose as a stable. The first frame school-house was built near the residence of William Craig.

The first religious services were conducted by Sebastian Fox. He was a man of good education and served with equal ability in the school room or in the pulpit. He was universally esteemed, was the first justice of the peace, and met a cruel death in 1852, by falling from his horse and being dragged by the stirrup until horribly mangled. The Methodist itinerants were early on the field here and held frequent services, but effected no organizations. In 1845, Elder Jonathan Ward of the "Christian" denomination held services here and in 1847, organized a church of twelve members, at the residence of Michael Combs. Services were held for years in the school-house, the church simply maintaining itself. In 1866, it was revived under the preaching of Elder Houston. A year later a building was erected at a cost of $1,800, on land donated by William Craig. The edifice stood near the Marshall road on section thirteen. The membership increased rapidly to the number of 125, but the organization is now disbanded, and the place of worship so neglected as to be occupied by the animals that run the streets. This disaster grew out of the killing of one of the members by a man in whose behalf the sympathy of a large part of the church was enlisted. This division of sentiment led to a disruption that has gone beyond the hope of healing.

The Grand Turn Evangelical Church was organized in 1863. A log building was put up the same year near the Grand Turn as a place of worship. There are about thirty members over whom Rev. C. Wessling presides.

The United Brethren Denomination had an early church on Mill Creek. It was subsequently transferred to the Grand Turn where a neat little frame building aiTords them a place of worship.




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