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Illinois Genealogy Trails

 Jefferson County Illinois
Wolf Prairie


Wolf Prairie starts in sections 14 and 15 in McClellan Township south of McClellan School and extends northward, widening at the north end and reaching into Shiloh Township to the L & N Railroad. Taking in most of the southwest part of Mt. Vernon and extending west ward to within a quarter mile of the Big Muddy River. It covers an area of about 7,000 acres. In the vicinity of Mt. Vernon it was called Town Prairie and near Big Muddy river on the west it was sometimes called Bullock's Prairie.
Few remnants can be seen of this huge prairie today. Some tall prairie grasses may be seen in September growing just north of the Drive In Theater on route 148, if they have not been mowed down. These are Big Blue Stem or Turkey Foot and Indian Grass. A careful search may disclose a few other prairie plants growing in fence rows where the original sod has not been completely destroyed.
Wolf Prairie was settled very early. Perrin says Isaac and William Hicks settled in the northeast part of it in the fall of 1817. Isaac had a son, Thomas, soon after they moved there. He is said to be the first white child born in Jefferson County. A man named James Dickerson settled in section 12 of McClellan Township, near the southern end of Wolf Prairie in 1821 and started a coopers shop, (barrell maker). His death came about in a very peculiar manner. According to Perrin's History he was at some kind of a public gathering at the home of a man named Harlow. He was eating a piece of pie and when something amusing happened he threw back his head to laugh. The pie went down his wind pipe and choked him to death. William and Jonathan Wells settled in Wolf Prairie in 1823 says Perrin. Jonathan was a blacksmith and he also had the first grist mill in McClellan Township. It was a little horse mill with a capacity of about 2 or 3 bushels per day.
The old trail to the salt works at Brownsville, near the present city of Murphysboro, which later came to be called The Brownsville Road, traversed Wolf Prairie and no doubt a great many people built their cabins along that well traveled early thoroughfare.
Some old historians say Wolf Prairie got its name from the great number of wolves found there. The late Paul Wells, a descendent of one of the early pioneers told the following story about how Wolf Prairie got its name and also about the beginning of The Wolf Prairie Cemetery. Here as it was reported in The Continental History of Jefferson County is that story.
"This is the story of how Wolf Prairie Cemetery, located in McClellan Township, got started and also how it got its name. The story was related by the older people which included my father, W. P. Wells, who was born in 1860, and his brothers and sisters: The oldest sister Dicey E., was born in 1845.
The earliest of the Wells family in Jefferson County was named William Wells, and he handed down the story through the generations. I think he came here about 1839, but have found nothing to prove or disprove this. Here is the story:"
" A convoy of covered wagons was on its way to a place to settle in Elk Prairie Township, Jefferson County, Illinois. While en route to their new home, night caught them where Wolf Prairie Cemetery is now located; it was woods then. While they were camped there, a sick child became worse and died. The problem for them was what were they going to do with the child's body? They had to move on, and they could not take it with them. While they were still pondering the issue, two of the women were sitting on the ground talking about it, noticed a small bird acting very queer. It would flutter close to them, then it would flutter away, then back again. It kept repeating these strange actions until the women decided to follow and see if it were trying to tell them something. They started after the little bird and it led them down "what looked like a dim path" a short distance; and there they found two little graves with crosses on them. If anybody ever found out who was buried in these little graves I haven't heard of it. They buried this child by these little graves, and that is how Wolf Prairie Cemetery got started.
I have heard my father W. P. Wells, and my aunt Dicey E, Aunt Sis Wells Pasley, tell this story many times. It is my understanding that this happended about 120 years ago, though I have found nothing recorded as to date.
Some years after this people began to settle the country area around the cemetery.
Now some of the surrounding country was treeless, and prairie land. Late one evening a man was attacked by a gang of wolves, of which there were many at that time; and the only way he could get away from them was to find and climb a tree, which he did after considerable running. He stayed up the tree all night, and the wolves stayed there gnawing at the trunk of the tree; by morning they had the tree almost gnawed down. However, before they got the job done, a passerby scared the wolves away, letting the man come down. From that time to the present, that part of the country has been called Wolf Prairie, and Wolf Prairie Cemetery took its name from the name of the prairie."
The Prairie Historian
September 1973 Volume 2 Number 3
Transcribed By: Abby Newell

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