Genealogy and History
Part of the Genealogy Trails History Group
Oneco township, in the north central portion of Stephenson county, next to the Wisconsin state line, comprises an oblong section of land containing about twenty-seven square miles. The land is fertile and contains not only a large area of farm lands, but a very considerable acreage of timbered lands. Richland Creek, coursing through the central portion of the township from north to south, affords water power for a mill at Orangeville, and Honey Creek, which flows through the village of Oneco, in the north central part of the township, formerly turned the wheels of a mill at that settlement.
Oneco township was settled very early at least two years before most of the townships of Stephenson county. The first settler, according to tradition, was one Simon Davis, who arrived in 1833, and settled in this portion of the section known as "Brewster Precinct." He took up Ms claim very near to the site of the future village of Oneco, and was soon followed by Andrew Clarno, who established himself on the banks of Honey Creek. John M. Curtis was another comer of the same year, and he, too, settled in the vicinity of Oneco. Both Davis and Clamo had passed through the region sometime before, and had gone on their respective routes north and west to the lead mines in Galena and Southern Wisconsin. Then, for some unknown reason, whether it was because they were unsuccessful in their ventures, or tired of the mining life and desired to follow the pursuit of agriculture, both of them returned and staked out their claims in Stephenson county.
No settlers came after them for two years as far as can be ascertained at the present time. In 1835, the first representatives of the Van Matre family, who subsequently settled in the vicinity of Winslow, arrived in the persons of Lewis and Jefferson Van Matre. Lewis Van Matre had also passed through the county some time previous on his way to the lead mines, and he too had developed a distaste for mining, and returned to take up farming. His brother, Jefferson Van Matre, came from Ohio the same year. Three other brothers followed them within the next four years : Morgan Van Matre, in 1836, and William and Joseph Van Matre, in 1839.
In 1836, the population of Oneco township was considerably augumented. A large migration to different parts of the county occurred in that year, and Oneco did not fail to receive her full quota of new settlers. Nearly all of them settled round about Oneco village: Duke Chilton, Lorin Remay, Fred Remay, Ralph Hildebrand, M. Lott, Jonas Strohm, and a number of others whose names are now forgotten.
The years 1837-1838 witnessed an even larger immigration. A great number of new settlers, whose children are, in many cases, still identified with the township, arrived. There were James Young, Philip Wells, Warner Wells, all of whom established their farms at the head of the region known as Long Hollow, James Howe, Henry Howe, George Howe, Henry Johnson, who settled in the northeast corner of the township, near the state line, Oliver Brewster, John R. Brewster, Ezra Gillett, who afterward erected the Buena Vista Whitehall Mills, Joab Mortion, who settled in the eastern part of the township, Isaac Klecker, whose claim was just east of the village of Oneco, James Turnbull, who later moved to Winslow Township, "Father" Ballinger, whose son Asa was famous as one of the earliest circuit preachers of the Illinois conference, and others.
In 1838, a tragedy occurred, one of the few recorded in the annals of Oneco Township. Mr. Lott, who had come to the region with his family in 1836, committed suicide. This was the first death known to have taken place in the township, but he was not buried near the place where the deed was committed. As his final resting place is unknown and forgotten, there are some old settlers who discredit the story. As none of them were contemporaries of the traditional Mr. Lott, it is quite impossible to render any decision as to the merits of the tale. Certain it is that the oldest grave in the township is that of William Van Matre's daughter, in Mount Pleasant cemetery, which bears the date 1840.
In 1839 the roll of newcomers included Lewis Gibler, who came from Ohio to Oneco Township, and settled in section 18, the two Van Matre brothers before mentioned, Jacob Stroder, and others. William Van Matre settled in the western portion of the township, near Winslow. Later he moved to Rock Grove, and from there to Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
In 1840 a number of old settlers who have left numerous descendents came to Oneco, among them Michael Bolender, Isaac Miller, Lyman Hulburt, William Hulburt, Nelson Hulburt, John Clarno, Joseph Norns and Seth Shockley. The first marriage is said to have taken place in Oneco in this year. The contracting parties were Henry Rybolt and Lizzie McNear, and the ceremony was per- formed at the residence of Joseph Van Matre, by Squire Gibler. In the same year occurred the death of William Van Matre's daughter, who, as before mentioned, was the first to die and he burned within the confines of Oneco Township. Of the births in the township, there is no record, nor is there any way of finding out who was the first white child to be born in this section.
There were many drawbacks to the joys of living for the early settlers of Oneco Township. Indians were numerous, and snakes were even more so. We, of the present day and generation, who hardly ever think of either of these pests, can scarcely realize how great and manifest was the danger from both to the pioneer settlers in Stephenson county. The Indians did not make their presence known by war whoops or demoniacal yells at this stage of history. They were past that, but they made themselves quite as obnoxious to the settlers in a more subtle manner. For instance, they did not "appreciate the difference between thine and mine," and, what was worse, they did their stealing in the small hours of the night, when there was no opportunity of redress for the white man. But whenever a stray Indian was discovered in the act of helping himself to what was not his own, his punishment was swift and terrible. The occasional sights of their unfortunate comrades dangling from the burdened limbs of trees along the road served to dampen the ardor of the poor Winnebagoes and Pottawattomies, and the struggle with them was short lived. With the snakes it was a different matter. Even more subtle than the Indians, they were doubly venomous, and a dozen or more deaths are on record which were caused by the bite of the rattlesnake, or "racer," the massasauga, or the deadly moccasin. They lurked in the tall grass by the side of the roads and rivers, and in among the grain, and more than one unfortunate stepped upon their shining scales and straightway felt their sharp fangs buried in his flesh.
A story is told of a lad who was fishing with his father, on the banks of one of the small creeks. The country was totally virgin thereabout, and the tall weeds and underbrush round about the river banks furnished most excellent hiding places for the rattlers. As the boy, who had been sitting on the bank with his pole, got up to go to his father, who sat a short distance away he suddenly, as he supposed, stubbed his toe on a stone and uttered a sharp cry of pain. His father hurried to his assistance and immediately discovered that he had been bitten by a "racer." The poor man, frantic and cold with fear, had not the slightest idea what remedies to apply, and carried the boy home for the application of restoratives. But he was too late. The poison had all the while been coursing through his system and he died at sunset.
In spite of the dangers from Indians, snakes, and horse thieves, Oneco Township enjoyed a rapid growth and prosperity after the year 1840. After the filling up of the land, Oneco village was settled, and later Orangeville, first known as Bowersville. In 1888 the railroad came through, and since that time the township has been quite accessible to Freeport and the outside world. [History of Stephenson County, by Addison L. Fulwider, 1910]
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