Stories of Elk Prairie and Some of It's Residents of Long Ago
A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH MY PARENTS,
ALBERTS "RED" AND HILDRED ROBERTS
by Audrey Merriman
[Source: "The Prairie Historian", December 1973, Volume 3, Number 4 -- Submitted By: Abby Newell]
THE JOHNSON DITCH
This is the story of how the Johnson Ditch came about. There was a road leading from Dareville to where the old Utah School House is now located and it crossed what was known as The Fred Lake. Some of this same road is there yet today. As early as 1912 and perhaps earlier, there was a bridge 800 feet long and about 3 feet high on this same road before the ditch was dug. Later on, about the year 1918, Henry Johnson went to Dareville one day, and while there he saw a group of men talking, so he goes over to join them. He heard Charlie Peterson say that a ditch was needed to drain the lake and how much better it would be if there was one. Everybody in the group agreed that it would be a good thing to have a ditch dug sometime, and with that the discussion ended. All the way home that day Henry thinks about this and he decides it's a good idea, so he gets busy and begins to dig the ditch himself. He dug it three-quarters of a mile long and about one and one-half feet deep. I do not know how long it took him to do this project, but he never did receive any pay from any-one for all his hard work. It was always called "The Johnson Ditch", so even though he received no pay for his hard labor, he did receive recognition for his many hours of hard work. Another story told about Henry Johnson was of him buying a wagon. Henry Johnson worked at helping to lay the first C. B. and Q. Railroad track through Waltonville in about 1904 or 1905. He took the money that he earned from this work and went to Judge Norris' Store and bought himself a brand new wagon. He got someone to pull the wagon home for him and had it set under a big mulberry tree in his front yard. He used a wooden neck yoke to prop the wagon tongue up off the ground, and there it sat for many years, never used. Finally the old neck yoke rotted and fell apart and the tongue rotted and fell out of the wagon, and still it was never moved. Then the mulberry tree died and by that time the entire wagon had rotted and fell apart and he never did hitch a team of horses to it and use it. In facts it's been said that he never did even own a team of horses, so just why he bought the new wagon when he knew he never would use it is still a mystery that has never been solved. Nevertheless it provided the citizens of Elk Prairie something to talk about for many years.
[Source: "The Prairie Historian", December 1973, Volume 3, Number 4 -- Submitted By: Abby Newell]
THE BIG OTTER HUNT OF 1924
The only otter known to be found in Jefferson County was killed in Elk Prairie Township by Jim Loman and his brother Homer. It weighed 42 pounds. It was quite a sly animal and it took some doing to out-smart it. It's tracks were first seen near the Abner Cemetery, south and west of Nason. The timber used for piling for the Nason mine was shipped in from the northern part of the United States on railroad flatcars. Since Abner Cemetery is near to the mine it was finally decided that the otter must have come in on one of the railroad cars and when the cars were stopped at the mine it jumped to the ground and took off. One morning "Red" Roberts was near the Abner Cemetery with his dogs, going on a hunting trip and the dogs followed the tracks of this otter. They chased it to Lost Knob Pond and then chased it south to Ackley Pond. About one mile south of Ackley Pond the otter ran into Little Awkward Creek and went west of the Big Muddy River. It had made many tracks here on the back so "Red" stopped to check them very closely trying to decide what kind of an animal it was. The tracks looked very much like goose tracks. He then went to the home of Sam Reynolds and told him about those odd animal tracks he had just seen. Some of the neighborhood men went to look at the tracks and they finally all decided it was the tracks of an otter. After much chasing and much slyness on the part of the otter, Jim Loman finally caught it with his two old hound dogs, Rowd and Rattler. It took a while though before the dogs treed it in a big drift above Little Awkward Creek on Big Muddy River. The river was frozen over solid, but farther on down there was an air hole through the ice, and the otter discovered this. It would leave the drift and go to the air hole, and the dogs would find it and bark, and then the otter would dive under the ice and race back to the drift. He could dive under the ice faster than the dogs could run on top of the ice. The otter did this stunt many times. Finally Homer Loman, brother of Jim, saw it leave the air hole and move in beside a big log in the drift. The dogs found it, but once again it dived under the ice and ran back to the air hole. Homer said, "now I know just what that otter is up to and how he's doing all of this". Next time the otter swam back to the drift Homer was waiting for it and shot it with his shot gun. It was wounded, but went on into the drift, but some blood came up to the top of the water, so they followed the trail of blood into the drift and the two dogs caught the otter. This was the first, last, and only otter hunting spree that's ever been known of in Elk Prairie Township. This was in 1924.
NASON---THE CITY AND THE COAL MINE.
Nason is a community which has had its share of ups and downs. Nason is located about eleven miles southwest of Mt. Vernon, in Elk Prairie Township, and was expected to become a thriving city when it was first founded. Research had revealed a coal vein 8 feet and 10 inches thick, extending in all directions, in southwestern Jefferson county. The Nason Coal Company, with Albert J. Nason as company president, owned several acres of land in Jefferson County. In May of 1923, Warner Louth began grading the streets of Nason and he had them looking real good, then the fall rains began and the streets became so muddy it was next to impossible to get anywhere on them. The people nicknamed the town "Gum Boot City". There was a story told in jest by Rudolph Fair-child. He was walking down the street in Nason one day when he seen a man's head under it. It was just barely sticking out of the mud. When Rudolph said, "Do you need any help?" the head replied, "I reckon not. You see, I'm on a horse." I'm sure it was not nearly that bad, but perhaps there were times when it seemed that way to some folks. The town of Nason officially opened June 9, 1923, with the idea of becoming an industrial city, with the coal mine being the chief industry. The city planners assumed Nason's population would eventually exceed 5,000 or maybe even more, therefore it had big wide streets to accomodate all the automobiles. It had sidewalks throughout the town, many of which can be seen today extending out into empty fields. It had many businesses, including a drug store, Bank, Grocery Store, Saloons, and several more stores. Dimples Nason Williams was the first baby born in the town of Nason. Most of the store buildings have now been torn down and removed. In March of 1923 C. E. Gilliland and Krekel Martin were awarded the contract for hauling materials for the new mine in Elk Prairie Township from Ina to the mine site. The coal mine was built to handle 10,000 tons of coal per day and the railroad depot was located at the west edge of the city.
"The Front Door of Nason."
A railroad connecting Mt. Vernon and Nason was completed in 1924. It is now no longer in use. The land where the Nason Coal Mine was located was a large meadow of Red Top hay. The hay was given to Sam Reynolds and he got "Red" Roberts to help him cut the hay and haul it off. By the time they got the hay all cut and hauled off, the building of the houses had already begun. The city was building rapidly and everything was "on the Boom." The task of sinking the coal mine began with a very small crew of men at first. Dow Roberson dug and throwed out the first shovel full of dirt and went all the way down to make the mine. Walter Bravard fired the engine and George Hughes ran the hoist that was used to lift the dirt up out of the mine. I'm sure there were other men involved in this work, but I do not know their names. Thus the work began on the Nason Coal Mine. This mine provided work for many people for several years. The city of Nason thrived and many houses were built during this time. The long line of wagons and trucks waiting to be filled with coal was a familiar sight. My husband, Lester Merriman, says he has gone to the mine with his father in a wagon many times to haul home coal for the family to use in the winter time. He said it was not uncommon to have to wait for several hours before you could get your wagon loaded. Then just as it seemed everything was going onward and upward for Nason there came a startling bit of news. The Mine was going to close down. It ceased operation October 19, 1951. When they finished digging the last load of coal before closing the mine, the miners were digging coal from underneath the farm home of Dow Roberson. So, ironically, Dow was involved in the beginning and the ending of the operation of the Nason Mine. The town of Nason peaked and then it declined, with the closing of the mine being the fatal blow. Many of the businesses closed and people began to move away, selling their homes to whoever would buy them. The people who bought the houses moved them away to various other places, and soon Nason had the appearance of a Ghost Town, with the many sidewalks leading to nowhere. But now, once again, it seems Nason is on the rise. Rend Lake, with a portion nearly bordering on the southwestern edge of Nason, is expected to provide new business for the town. There are reports of new construction in the area now, and many places are in the making for recreation sites, so once again Nason is looking ahead to a bright future.
[Source: "The Prairie Historian", December 1973, Volume 3, Number 4 -- Submitted By: Abby Newell]
THE OLDEST HORSE
The oldest horse known of in Jefferson County spent it's entire life in Elk Prairie Township. He was a red and white spotted horse named "Celum" and was owned by Charlie Peterson. The horse lived and died on the same farm where is was born. The horse never did have but two owners. The other owner was "Red" Roberts. He owned the horse a short time when it was three years old, having won him from Charlie on a bet. Charlie then de-cided he wanted the horse back, so "Red" swapped him back to Charlie for a nice big saddle. The horse never changed hands again and lived the remainder of his life on Charlie's farm. The horse out-lived Charlie, so when Charlie died, his son, Donald Peterson, kept the horse and cared for it until it died at the ripe old age of 46 years. As far as we know there has never been a horse to live longer than this. [Source: "The Prairie Historian", December 1973, Volume 3, Number 4 -- Submitted By: Abby Newell]
A FAMOUS HORSE RACE
On page 58 of Wall's History of Jefferson County begins the following caption:
"Stinson H. Anderson was another prominent citizen and statesman whom we desire to speak of in this chapter. The material and political history of Illinois and Jefferson County were embellished by the finger marks of the two statesmen, Gov.'s Zadok Casey and Stinson Anderson. Although of the same political faith, Casey was more of a Jeffersonian Democrat while Anderson was more of the Jackson order. Yet to say that at all times they were in complete harmony would be in conflict with the political history of the county. Often, it was found that there were two Richmonds in the field and they always proved to be foemen worthy if each others' steal.
Gov. Anderson was born in Sumner county, Tennessee, at the opening of the century in 1800, and while yet a young man came to Jefferson County. A few years later than his peer, Gov. Casey. He bought a farm east of town embracing all that portion of Mt. Vernon east of 8th Street, which afterwards, was the Dr. Green farm, and soon proved himself one of the most enterprising and successful farmers in the county.
He devoted considerable attention to raising fine livestock, especially fine horses. He loved a fleet-footed courserrand at one time, he owned a little race mare which he called Polly Ann. He believed that she could out run the fleetest animal in the realm. Dr. Logan, father of General John A. Logan, had a fine racer called, Walnut Cracker, and he challenged Governor Anderson for a test of speed between his horse and Polly Ann. Logan lived where Murphysboro is now, and after considerable bantering between the owners of the rival nags, the race was agreed upon. A thousand yard dash. So confident was each of the speed of their pets, that they staked not only their ready cash, but almost their entire property upon the outcome. The race was run on Logan's track at Murphysboro and General Bill Anderson, son of the Governor, (then but a lad), and General John A. Logan, were the riders. When the horses came out upon the track, the Logan horse came with his head up and nostrils distended like a veritable war horse, while little Pollu Ann stood with her head down and ears drooping, seeming almost lifeless. General Bill felt awed at the appearance of Walnut Cracker and whimpering, said to his father that he feared Polly Ann was beaten. "William," said the Governor, "she's got to beat, and you must see that she does, or I'll feel tempted to beat you."
The big race was off a few minutes later, and amidst a tremendous excitement, Polly Ann passed under the wire several lengths ahead of the high-headed Logan horse, thus, giving the Governor posession of all the Logan stock, horses, cattle, and hogs, except Walnut Cracker, and the Governor said that he didn't want him. Governor Anderson came at a time most needed to help build up the agricultural interests of the county and make the county seat a place of importance. He sold the Green farm to Ridgeway, a brother-in-law, and embarked on a business uptown, but farming suited him better, and in a few years, he came in possession of one of the best farms in Elk Prairie township, and moved there with his family. (Old maps show the farm as being near Dareville. ED)
The Prairie Historian
March 1973 Volume 3 Number 1
Submitted By: Abby Newell
THE BIG FISH TALE----THE ONE THAT NEVER GOT AWAY.
Several years ago many of the men would go "hogging" for fish in the various creeks around in the community. They would locate some big fish and then get in the water and catch the fish with their bare hands. In this case, no seine was being used. This particular fish was one of the biggest ever known in this area, and it came from the Big Muddy river in Elk Prairie Township. I don't know the exact year, but it was about 1912 or 1913, I think. One day Rudolph Fairchild and Harry Green went hogging for this big catfish, in the Big Muddy river near where the bridge is now located on route 148, not far from the farm where Rolla Gilbert lived for many years. Rudolph had heard other men tell of seeing this huge catfish in this area so he wants to see if he can find it. He finally located it in about 9 feet of water and he struggles and thrashes around with this huge fish and runs his hand and arm through its gills and out through its mouth and locks both arms together around the fish. He sees he can't handle this fish alone so he begins to yell for someone to come and help him. "Red" Roberts' dad had his mules on some pasture land owned by Judge Norris and he had been down there to put some salt out for the mules and he heard Rudolph yelling for help, so he starts toward the river to see about him. Gus Tuno was plowing corn with mules for Joe Norris and he heard the yells, too, so Gus took the halter ropes off of one of the mules and goes to help the men. Harry Green finally gets Rudolph and the big fish out of the water and they drag the catfish around and tied it to a tree with the rope. Then they took it to Waltonville and weighed it and it weighed 83 pounds. Rudolph wanted everyone in Waltonville to get in on the fish fry, so he decides it should be held in the Waltonville Village Park. Clyde Winn furnished lumber for the tables and they set them up in the park. The woman of Waltonville all brung their skillets and they all began to fry the fish. It was one of the biggest fish fries that has ever been held in Waltonville and everyone participated in it that wanted to. We are always hearing of big fish stories, especially about the big one that got away, but this time the big one didn't get away. He was eaten and enjoyed by all. [Source: "The Prairie Historian", December 1973, Volume 3, Number 4 -- Submitted By: Abby Newell]
THE BROWNSVILLE AND PINCKNEYVILLE ROADS by Hildred Roberts
The road toward Brownsville and Pinckneyville attracted a good deal of attention considering how little business there was at either of those places. September 27, "The viewers who were to view and mark the road from Mt. Vernon to intersect a cartway in Horse Prairie and on a direction to Brownsville, do make the following report: That we have viewed the same road to run from Mt. Vernon, the present leading road to John Hays' at Elk Prairie; thence along down said prairie near the east side of John Black's farm; thence down a little arm of said prairie to the lower end of same; thence crossing Muddy River below The Hurricane; thence to the county line above the head of Honey Point" signed by Samuel Boswell and Samuel Hayes. In 1835, Isaac Casey, A. Buffington, and Jesse Green were sent to view a road toward Pinckney-ville, and failing to do it the job was let next year to John Dodds, I. T. Davenport and William Hicks. They located it by John Dodd's house to the Nashville Road, by Rhodam Allen's field across the prairie, and so on to the Brownsville Road. Thus it remained until 1839, when A. Milcher, P. Osborn and J. S. Dees were sent out to see if it were not useless for anybody but Dodds and Rhodam Allen, and it certainly was, so there it died. Then an Elk Prairie Road sprang up in 1837, running between Joseph Pace's and Dr. Greethans to Bodine's to Reed's Ford, across Muddy River and to the road to the county line. After changing routes frequently, the Pinckneyville Road was located not far from where it runs now, in March of 1845 by Sam Boswell, Sidney Place, and Jesse A. Dees, the route having been suggested by J. R. Allen and Eli Gilbert in 1844. [Source: "The Prairie Historian", December 1973, Volume 3, Number 4 -- Submitted By: Abby Newell]
ELK PRAIRIE PRECINCT
John A. Wall's History of Jefferson County
"The first act of the County Commissioners was the laying out of the county into civil divisions. It was first divided into two townships or districts called respectively, Moore's Prairie and Casey's Prairie.
In 1820, Walnut Hill Precinct was formed. It included all of Marion County and all of Jefferson County north of a line dividing townships 1 and 2 south." (That would be a line between Rome and Mt. Vernon townships. Marion county was once a part of Jefferson county, which was then 72 miles long. ED).
"The next thing we find in the civil divisions is in 1832 when Grand Prairie Precinct was formed. It was in the northwest part of the county and was 8 miles square. The voting place being Poston's Mill.
In June 1834, Horse Creek Precinct was laid out. It extended for seven miles from the east side of the county. Was bounded on the north by the county line and on the south by the Fairfield Road. Voting place Frank Haney's.
Gun Prairie Precinct was formed in 1835, beginning where the new Hurricane Creek crosses the west line of the county. Run with the Hurricane to Morgan's Mill, to S. Toney's and W. Toney's to the edge of Moore's Prairie and to the south line of the county. Voting place, house of William King." (This would include Elk Prairie, ED).
"The next precinct was Long Prairie. Bounded on the west by Middle Fork and Muddy River and the Grand Prairie Road." (Now Richview Road, ED).
"In 1846, the Elk Prairie Precinct was formed. It's boundaries were from the mouth of Dodd's Creek to Mendenhall's Quarry, west to Middle Fork and to the county line, then up the creek to the place of beginning. Voting place J. Kelly's.
At the same time, New Moore's Prairie Precinct was formed, including township four Range, four. Voting place, Wilbanks." (The present Moore's Prairie Township, ED) "Then for many years, the business of the county moved on under the old Precinct system.
The first board of Commissioners was composed of Zadok Casey, Fleming Greenwood, and Joseph Jordan, and under this system of commissioners, three in number, the business of the county was conducted until 1869, when township organization was voted in and the county was laid off in 16 townships each six miles square. Under the Precinct System, county officers changed but seldom, and managed to succeed themselves. But under Township organization, the county officers changes oftener and the township officers changed every year, indicating the fact that the people ruled.
Jefferson County adopted township organization in 1869, and the first Board of Supervisors was elected in 1870.
G. W. Evans was the first Supervisor of Elk Prairie Township.
The Prairie Historian
March 1973 Volume 3 Number 1
Submitted By: Abby Newell
THE LIFE OF THE EARLY PIONEERS in ELK PRAIRIE AND ELSEWHERE IN JEFFERSON COUNTY.
(Editor's note - The following is from the writings of Doctor Adam Clark Johnson a collection of which has been preserved in the Mt. Vernon City Library. Dr. Johnson was himself a Jefferson County pioneer, coming here in 1834. He died in 1899.
"Coffee was not much used, as it cost 50 cents a pound, and had to be brought from Shawneetown or Kaskaskia at that.
Meat was more plentiful that bread. All kinds of game abounded; but sometimes when the bread was out, dried venison was eaten as a substitute when bear meat was very fat.
At first corn and meal were brought from the older settlements, on the Wabash, on horse back, but many of the first settlers had to beat their meal in a mortar, generally the mortar was a stump with a basin burned out in the top of it. Over this was suspended, on a sweep, a huge billet of wood. This billet of wood was brought down endwise upon the grain in the mortar, the sweep raised it, and thump, thump, the pounding went on 'til the grain was broken small enough to make bread.
Another style of mortar was made of a large block and the pestle was a maul with an iron wedge in the end of it. This style had the advantage that it could be brought into the house and used in bad weather and the head of the iron wedge cut the grain rapidly.
The meal was sifted through a sieve made by stretching a piece of deer skin over a hoop and punching it full of holes with a red hot spindle. In the early autumn, meal was grated-the corn being then about half fried, and the bread made from this grated meal, and baked on a board or in the ashes, was as delicious as the heart could wish.
But the pioneer had his delicacies. Meal was "sarched". For this purpose it was beaten finer than usual, then it was put into a cloth of loose open texture, and as much as possible, sifted and beaten out through the cloth. This was called "sarched" meal, and was almost as fine as flour. There were plenty of berries in summer; and good quantities of crab apples were "Holed away" for winter use.
After the first two or three years vegetables for the table began to be plentiful; and after a few more, apples and other fruits, mostly of inferior quality, came in.
From the first, honey was abundant. If the wife had no meat for breakfast, the man would say; "Wait a few minutes til I go out and kill some," and in a few mintes he brought in his game; and so if out of honey, he would say; "Wait a few minutes til I go out and cut a bee-tree," and he soon brought in the honey. Uncle Jim Bodine told me that soon after coming to Jefferson County he was out hunting and met a man with a bucket of "Piggin" in his hand and an axe on his shoulder. "Which way?" he said. And the man answered as confidently as if every tree in the woods bore honey, "G'wine to cut a bee-tree?" "Have you found a bee-tree?" "No, but I'm q'wine to, and when you hear the tree fall, come over and get some honey," And sure enough, in a little while, crash! down came the tree about a hundred yards away.
Crab apples cooked in honey, make delicious preserves."
A very palatable dish was prepared of boiled wheat. This, of course, came in after they had had time to raise wheat, and it was called, "firmity." The wheat was boiled till it began to burst open, then set away to cool, when it formed a mass that could be sliced down like fresh cheese. It was eaten with honey.
A domestic drink in common use was "Metheglin." The pressed honeycomb was put in water till fermentation began, a little of the strained honey was added, and the mixture was sweet, sharp, and delicious.
Of course the pioneers came wearing hats. These wore out. Then, most of the hats and caps for winter use were made of skins, often of the most fantastic shapes. In a few years, straw was plentiful and furnished material for the summer hats. Many of the ladies were skilled in making straw hats, and those bleached in sulpher smoke, were "real nice."
After the original supply of clothing was worn out, except some of the best that was saved for Sunday, the first resource was to make clothes of deer-skins. These, in the hands of the Indians, made excellent clothing; but our first settlers were not such good tanners, and the clothes did not do so well. The Breeches soon got a tremendous knee, that was as permanent as it was prominent.
When Uncle Lewis Johnson was moving out, Aunt Franky saw a boy in Moore's Prairie dressed in buck-skin, and exclaimed, in the sincerity of her kind heart: "Why la me, Honey, just look at that poor crippled boy." When the men or boys went out in the grass, while the dew was on, the breeches would soon be dangling around their feet six inches too long; and then about ten o'clock or sooner, when they became dry again, they crackled and rustled about their knees, six inches too short.
Moccasins were almost universally worn, often being made for winter use with the hair still on.
After a few years, however, when people had had time to raise cotton, buck-skin gradually gave way to cotton goods, the latter being dyed with copperas, or cop eras being mingled with white when variety was desired. Great quantities of a kind of mineral dye were taken from copperas bluffs, not far from where Jefferson City arose later; but the bluffs also abounded in snakes, and the danger of getting die instead of dye kept some away.
A red rock, or soap-stone, was found at the old Henry Blalock place that was used to make what was called a stone dye.
In those days people raised indigo. The plant was bruised and kept in soak for some time, then wrung out; the fluid was churned with a basket to cut the indigo, left to settle, and the water poured off, and the indigo dried in the sun. The liquid used as mordant, to "set" this blue dye, was such as to make the dyeing an unpleasant process-such as sometimes to draw the buffalo-gnat around their Sunday clothes in a most provoking style.
Sheep and wool, with walnut and sumac dyes, came in a few years later.
The needle, of course, had to be brought in, but the pins used were made of wool.
Buttons were of many kinds. A great many were made of pieces of goard, shaped with a knife, and covered with some kind of cloth. Some were made of horn, some of bone, some of leather, etc. I believe wooden pins, for suspender buttons, are not completely gone out of style yet. (1868)
So these people, 40 miles from Carmi, 66 from Shawneetown, 85 or 90 from St. Louis or Alton, and still further from anywhere else, without river or railroad--or indeed any sort of road, played Crusoe, making the best use of what they had, and lived comfortably. Here, for years, lived some of the happiest, most contented and sociable people in the world. Everybody was welcome, and felt so, at everybody's house.
"The houses were mostly round pole cabins, but some were built of small logs "skelped down" or very slightly hewn, and of split logs smoothed a little on the flat side. Some of the cracks in the walls were chinked and daubed, while some were left open to admit light. Windows were nearly or quite unknown. some of the cabins had cracks that a small dog could jump through. The doors were made of split boards, upright, but lapped like weather-boarding, fastened to two cross pieces, each of which had an auger hole in the end for a hinge. A slanting pin in a log beside the door held it shut.
If the floor was anything else than the bare ground, it was made of puncheons, or slabs split and smoothed a little with a chopping axe, and fastened down with wooden pins, or not fastened at all. There were but three sleepers to the floor, one at each end and one in the middle where the two lengths of slabs met. The roof was not nailed and had no rafters.
At the eaves the end logs projected at each corner a foot or so beyond the walls, and on the ends of these rested logs, one on each side; and these were called "buttin' poles" because the ends of the first course of boards butted against them. Several courses of logs were then put up, the gables of course upright, while the side logs were drawn in to shape the roof. On these logs the clapboards were laid, four foot boards being generally used and held down by "weight poles." A pole was laid on each course of boards, and these were kept in place by blocks or sticks set up between them, called "Knees." The chimney was of split logs and small sticks above, with a rock -sometimes dirt- fireplace. Sometimes there was a loft, made by laying clapboards on the joists; sometimes not, and the joists were handy for hanging up deerskins, etc. Often there was but one joist and that was across the middle of the room.
The furniture suited the house. Shelves resting on long pins in the walls answered for cupboard, pantry, bureau, and wardrobe; as everything that might not as well be on the floor was stored away on these shelves. There were few bedsteads. "Bed Scaffolds" were made on two rails or barked poles driven into the walls, one for the side and one for the end, in the corner of the cabin, the other ends of these rails being let into a post - the entire structure having but one bedpost. Boards were laid across from the long rail to the wall, and on these the bed - if the happy family had one -- was laid.
The table was either made of boards pegged to a rough, unweildly, frame, or it was made on stakes driven into the ground -- i.e.. the floor.
The well to do had a pot and a skillet; but some broiled their meat on the coals, and cooked their Johnny Cakes on a board propped up so as to face the fire.
Nearly every family had a chair or two they had brought with them, and some knew how to make chairs; but benches and stools on slabs, or peg legs were common.
The gun-rack was over the door. It was a fork cut off of a sapling and one prong of it fastened to the wall.
The broom was a bundle of long grass wrapped with white oak splits.
If there was anything else in the house it was most likely a box as large as the average trunk and called "the chist."
Some cabins had sheds on the front side--always without any floor, where saddles, harness, indeed anything else, were hung up. And seldom did one fail to see a hide of some kind stretched on the wall to dry.
It was not long before every man had a stable. It was generally of light poles, six to ten feet square, and about that high, with a loft for feed, and sometimes a small lean-to for a crib. Some had small cow lots; "but for years it was common for all stock to run at large, carrying big bells on their necks, while the calf was kept in the little enclosure around the house.
There were no wells or cisterns, and no good springs, so the nearest branch furnished water in the winter and the creek in summer.
The table-ware and cutlery were not just such as we use now. Uncle Jesse A. Dees told me that when he went to housekeeping, he cut his meat at table - with the hunting knife that he always carried in his belt, and a stick that he cut and sharpened as he came in from work. Pewter plates were much more common - than now.
Buckets were hardly as common as pails and piggins. These differed from buckets in having no bale; but one stave four to six inches longer than the rest stood up for a handle at one side. They were all right to be carried on one's head in southern fashion.
For light they used lamps, but in no case coal oil. A vessel, commonly what was left of a broken saucer, was filled with grease, a rag or string was put in, with one end hanging over the edge to be lighted. Occasionally you might find an iron lamp, a little vessel with a spout to it for a wick, having an upright with a joint in the middle and both a hook and a sharp point at the end, so it could be either hung on a peg or stuck into a crack in a log of the wall.
After they had time to raise cotton, candles were used. A lot of wick, some hung on a stick, these were dipped into melted tallow, held up a minute to cool, then dipped again, til they were large enough. A block with an auger hole in it then served for a candlestick."
Perrin's History of Jefferson County, Illinois says:
"It takes its name from the number of bones and horns of elk found there by the early settlers."
Among the early settlers we can mention the Stephensons, William King, the Whitmans, Ezra Lanier, James and Martin Teeters, John D. M. Cochran, Willis Holder, the Picketts and some of the Wilbankses, and other whose names are not now remembered. William King first settled in Gun Prairie, but afterward came here. He was not very strict in his moral charac-teristics, and followed Soloman's lead in a plurality of wives. He finally sold out to Uriah Compton, took his brother-in-law's wife, leaving two or three of his own behind, and left the country.
Some pioneers, doubtless, still remember the bustle and preparation for "going to the mill." The shelling of the corn the day before, the rising, long before day in order to make the trip in one day if possible, the careful wrapping up in cold weather, the cautions about the creek or branch crossings, and the anxiety felt at home if "the boys" were gone much longer than expected.
The Prairie Historian
March 1973 Volume 3 Number 1
Submitted By: Abby Newell