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McLean County, Illinois
History and Genealogy

Early Reminiscences
of McLean County Settlers

Mrs. Delilah Mullin-Evans

Teaching the
First School
I taught the first school in Blooming Grove and the first in what is now McLean county. It was a subscription school. They talked about a school and said they wanted me to teach it, and John Dawson came to me and I drew up the subscription paper and he took it around. The price was $2.50 for each scholar for the term of about four moths. It began about May 1, 1825, and it was running on when I was married. The next morning after the wedding I began teaching again. I taught in John Dawsons house where David Cox now lives (on S ½ SW ¼ Sec 23). Mr. Dawson had just built a new log cabin and he gave the use of it for the school term and lived on in his old one till school was out.

How many scholars did you have? Well, a good many more than the old settlers book gave me credit for, which said I did not have but three or four scholars at the start. I had a small school, but not as small as that. There were four of my own brothers and sisters, John, Jonah, Louisa and Betsy Mullin, Nathan and William, two of John Hendrixs boys; Henry, Maria and Little John,  children of John W. Dawson; Delilah, Cynthia and I think Caroline, of John H. S. Rhodes children; Ebenezer and James, sons of old Ebenezer Rhodes and brothers of John H. S. Rhodes; Betsey ,William Orendorffs daughter, and Wesley and Sophia, children of William Walker. How many is that?

Seventeen, counting Caroline Rhodes, of whom you were not sure.

Well, that is all I can think of.

An Almanac for a Text-Book

What school books did you have? Well, not many. They had Websters spelling book with blue backs. A few had Smith & Smileys Arithmetic, the English Reader and the Introduction to the English Reader, and a few copies of the Columbian Orator, which was used as a school book. We also had Walker's School Dictionary. One boy brought an almanac, having no other book. Geography and grammar I did not teach. We sent to Springfield for the writing paper, which was not ruled, and wrote with good quill pens. If I had as many dollars as I have made goose quill pens, I should have all the money I would care to use in my lifetime. I ruled the paper, set the copy and made the pens.

Well, my husband and I staid [sic] at my fathers for a while. In the fall of 1825 or early winter, Milton Stringfield, a brother of Alfred and son of the parson who married us, had to go to Sangamon county on business, and he got my husband and myself to come to his house in the west end of Blooming Grove and stay with his wife while he went to Sangamon County. We went and staid there all winter.

Bloomington's First Owner

Toward spring my husband began working on his claim where Bloomington now is. Our cabin was built in March, 1826. It was a good large cabin sixteen feet square or sixteen by eighteen, I forget which. It stood between three hundred and four hundred yards west and a little south of where James Allin afterward built his double cabin and kept his store was timber and across the creek upon the high knoll the timber was heavy. Around to the northwest of the cabin, north of that high knoll, was a small, scattered grove or clump and directly north was the little grove standing out by itself, called the Celebrated Grove and the One Mile Grove. The latter name was given it because the distance between it and Bloomington Grove was just one mile. Afterward Mr. Major settled in this grove and it was known as Majors Grove.

How far did your husbands claim extend? I do not know exactly. It was a claim of one hundred and sixty acres and I think our cabin was near the west end. I do not know how far north it run, but think it went north of the knoll where the new court house stands.

How near were your neighbors? We had no near neighbors. Mr. William H. Hodge lived two and one-half miles southeast of us and Milton Stringfield one mile and one-half west of us on the same side of the grove. This was in the spring of 1827. Between that and 1830, while we lived there, William Goodheart, John Canady and another William Evans settled near us. This Mr. Evans took the claim just east of us. He was no relation, however. James Tolliver, John Maxwell and William Maxwell also came into the grove further down toward the old Hodge and Orendorff settlement.

Rattlesnakes & Wolves for Close Neighbors

I remember that the north side of the knoll northeast of our cabin was a little sandy and full of rattlesnakes. The Bloomington court house is on the spot now. I went on it often after my cows, and I hardly ever got back without two or three rattlesnakes hissing at me. Rattlesnakes and wolves were my nearest neighbors and the ones I saw the most of.

here were a good many Indians around in the early days the Kickapoos and Delawares and some Pottawattamies. They came to the settlers to trade for corn, wheat, beans, salt, meat, etc. They were generally peaceful, but I was always afraid of them.

Pioneer Clothing

People, men and women, wore a great deal of home-spun linsey-woolsey for women and sort of jeans for the men. There were some few who wore buckskin, however. I remember seeing Jonathan Thorp and Jesse Egnon coming to church at John Hendrix house with buckskin pants and coonskin caps.

I was at the first Methodist class organized at John Hendrixs house after I was married. I was a member of that class. Parson James Stringfield organized it. I think in that class were John Hendrix and wife, John Dawsons wife and William Walker and wife, who were Presbyterians, but united, and I think also James Latta and wife and myself.

Selling out to Bloomington's Founder

How long did you live there? We lived there till the spring of 1830, when we came on to the Mackinaw on the north side of the timber, west of where Lexington now is.

Whom did you sell out to? To James Allin, but what the price was I do not remember.

Did you know he was buying it for a town site? Yes, sir, that was the understanding. We came up on the Mackinaw on the 28th day of March, 1830, and lived in a tent for a while till another cabin was built, and we raised a good crop that year. We lived here six years, and then sold out in 1836 and went to Grundy County, Missouri, but I never lost my love for Bloomington Grove. I loved its scenery and its people and often when here on visits would look back till the last tree was out of sight. We lived in Missouri till 1843, then moved to Iowa, and left there for Texas in 1857, where my husband died in 1856. I lived there some years and came back January 20, 1877, traveling alone.

(Mrs. Evans) is seventy-two years of age but very active for her years. She is small, well proportioned and has evidently had a wiry, elastic constitution, capable of great endurance, though with no great amount of muscular power. Her eyes are blue and she wore a black cap over her silvery hair. Her complexion is light and her features regular and in her youthful days she must have been pretty. Her memory of the past is clear and sharp. She rarely hesitates over a date and never over a name, giving proper names in full without difficulty.

NOTE: Mrs. Delilah Mullin-Evans died at Lone Grove, Llano Co., Texas, October 16, 1888.

[Source: Bloomington Daily Pantagraph, July 4, 1881 - Information donated by Norma Fisher]

Mrs. Nancy Biggs

My sister taught the first school in the summer of 1825; the next was taught by Dr. Tribue, a Frenchman. He taught in a new log school house, just built, about a mile north from John Hendrixs house. That was in the winter o 1825-6 or 26-7, I am not sure which. William Hodge was the next teacher. Mr. Hodge let us study out loud. He was an old-fashioned teacher. A lot was left out where the light came in and one writing desk was an included slab under it, where the light fell on our paper and we could see.  The school house was about eighteen feet square. There were two doors, one on the north and one on the south. The east end was nearly all cut out about six feet high for the fire-place. The chimney was built up outside a frame foundation; was built up to the mantle and from there up where the draught began was of split sticks and clay. They dug down for clay and threw water on it and tramped it with horses or oxen in a pit, then they threw it on a table and mixed cut straw or prairie hay with it to make it stick. Then the builder stood inside the chimney and laid on a round of split sticks and then daubed mortar on both sides like plaster. It would stick pretty well, especially on the inside.

The scholars, boys and girls, thought it big sport to roll logs into the door and up to the fireplace. We used to roll back logs that were two or three feet through and six feet long for the fireplace was extra wide. A big black log of green elm would last  a week or two and it was not an every day occurrence to have a spree rolling in a back log. The fire kept all right from night till morning and over Sunday.

At the schools taught by Dr. Tribue and William Hodge we studied reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic.  If we could not get those quills to make pens of, we used turkey quills. We made our own ink by boiling water maple bark down, straining it off and adding a little sugar and copperas. It made splendid black ink.
[Source: Bloomington Daily Pantagraph, July 4, 1881 - Information donated by Norma Fisher. ]

Reminiscences of Elmer Doggett
A picture of the old Sabina railroad station and engine No. 442 in last week's Journal brought back some pleasant memories to Elmer Doggett of Pekin, former LeRoyan. He took occasion to write the following letter which is full of information on "the old pumpkin vine" and railroad lore as only a veteran railroader could tell it.

South Pekin, Ill.
February 9, 1948

Editor. The LeRoy Journal:

The picture of the old Illinois Central depot and engine 442 at Sabina on page eight of last week's Journal brought fond memories to me, for it was on this branch line, more commonly called "the pumpkin vine" in those day, that I began my railroading many years ago. My first job was on the section under Foreman Charles Robertson in 1900 and in those days we would pump a hand car out over the line, work hard all day and pump it back home at night, all for $1.10 a day. I was then just a kid, at exactly the right age to think that smoking cigarets and chewing tobacco was evidence that one who could take it, had reached manhood.

At age 18 I took over the job at the old engine house, as we called it. My job was to clean the coaches and engine of the passenger train that tied up in LeRoy at that time, keep a sharp eye on the company property through the night, then fire up the engine and have the train ready when the crew came on duty in the morning. But before this I "played hookey" from school, wiped the jacket, hoed the ash pan for the fireman, and just about worked my head off, all for a ride out to Sabina or at whichever station the local met the passenger, and then fire the passenger engine back.

At that time, to me, a locomotive was the most wonderful thing on earth as was a horse to many of my chums at that time. To me, at age 12 or 14 the greatest thing the world held for me was to be a locomotive engineer, and I was determined to be an engineer. Later I went firing on this line and that is the main reason why I was so much interested in the picture and the item mentioned. Sabina was the first station stop on the line out of LeRoy although there was a side track called "Crumbaugh" at which we sometimes picked up or discharged some passengers, and I well recall that at the time the station building at Sabina was an old discarded box car.

I recall, too, that the building in the picture, was formerly the depot at Henning and was moved to Sabina after the Henning office was done away with.

But it is a long, long road from the 1316 and other engines of that day with their 16x24-inch cylinders and 140 pounds boiler pressure to the present engines with their 30x32-inch cylinders and their 275 pounds boiler pressure, and even now larger and more powerful engines are being developed on the drafting board and will soon be on the road.

Just a few days ago I came in on a modern three-unit diesel engine with a train of 120 cars and more than 7500 tons of everything one could think of in the consist, the engine alone being valued at between one-half and three-quarters of a million dollars and I leave to you what the train might represent in money.

But the romance was gone. To me it was just another job, that of taking the engine and train at one terminal and delivering it safely at the next without any delay that could be charged either to me or the engine.

Many LeRoy boys of my age went railroading and many of them have passed on while others are still working or are on pension. I recall a few whose names will mean a lot to your older readers. There was Louie Houston, Lawrence Watt, Mel Gilbert, Ed Howard, Logan McClurg, Carl Tuthill, Walter Lyons, Clarence Alsup and many others.

But I am still working and looking forward to the time when I can take my pension from the jack pot to which I have contributed for many years. Then, while I am not sure, I think I will return to LeRoy, which the late Dr. Keys described as "the heart of the world's Garden of Eden" or something like that, and there take my place in the park along with the others of my age, and with the rest of them spend my remaining days with a sharp knife and a piece of wood, and like the others who have gone before, whittle the stick until it is as round as a lathe could make it, then square it up and start all over again, all the while discussing the same old problems that were and still are the most important to the oldsters, politics, liquor, cigarettes, the tariff or the length of the ladies' skirts, which were discussed 50 years ago and will be 50 years hence.

I don't at this time know just what the name of the gathering will be, but when I first went railroading it was called "LeRoy's Sugar Tree Congress" with the late Joe Patterson as the chief orator, known then as LeRoy's Joe Cannon; and the first white child born in LeRoy, the late James Wiley, who could always be depended on to change the line of thought and argument when the going got too hot over the tariff or the gold standard, or any of the numerous questions then to the front, for in those days folks took their politics seriously.

Elmer Doggett
[Heritage of the prairie : a history of LeRoy and of Empire and West townships, McLean County, Illinois (1976) LeRoy Historical Society; LeRoy Bi-Centennial Commission (Transcribed by: Teri Moncelle Colglazier)]


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