Reminiscences of Early Illinois

(As seen and experienced by Jonathan Raymond and family and their associates in Big Grove Township, Kendall County.)


(By Lyman Raymond.)

Originally Published in Historical Encyclopedia & History of Kendall County, Illinois, by N. Bateman & P. Shelby, editors, pp. 748-52, Vol. II. Munsell Publishing Co., 1914.

Transcribed by Jane Willey-Fey

Edited by Elmer Dickson

In September, 1834, my father, Jonathan Raymond, and his wife Catherine (Holt) Raymond, with me, then a child but a few months over two years old, left their home in Westminster, Worcester County, Mass., for Northern Illinois. Deacon Isaac Whitney and his wife, Susan (Barrett) Whitney, accompanied them. Northern Illinois was then considered part of the Far West. They came seeking a home and possible fortune. The objective point was the southern end of Lake Michigan, called Chicago. The journey was made by stage to Albany, N. Y., thence by the New York and Erie Canal to Buffalo, where they loaded a schooner, and journeyed by the lake to the Chicago River, reaching it after a stormy voyage of three weeks. The total time consumed by the entire journey was about six weeks. There was no harbor on the Chicago River, no wharf, no storage, no tugboats, no port in which a vessel could be moored. What was known as Chicago at that date, was considerably different from Chicago of today. The little schooner anchored a full half mile from shore, and sent the cargo on shore by means of scow boats. Chicago was not much more, in 1834, than an Indian agency. A company of United States Infantry was quartered at Fort Dearborn, for the Government was, at this time, paying off the Indians, having practically conquered them during the Black Hawk War in 1832. There were nearly 500 of these savages camped on the lakefront who drove terror into the heart of my mother. She would not, under any circumstances, agree to settle in the agency, and so the little party journeyed about sixty miles into a vast wilderness of prairie and grove, to a portion of what was then known as LaSalle County, now Kendall County. The objective point of this second trip was Holderman's Grove, then came Big Grove, with an opening on the southwest of about half a mile. Apakesha Grove followed, and the fourth was Kellogg's Grove. Holderman's Grove being the last, is located about eighteen miles northeast of Ottawa.

After a day of two spent in Chicago, passage in a prairie schooner was secured to haul the families and goods, which they had brought from Massachusetts, to the destination they desired. Five yoke of oxen were used to draw the wagon, and the trip took five days. The route ran through the wet prairies, and across three or four good sized streams. Several log cabins stood forth on the trip, like signal posts pointing out the way. The prairies were covered with a rank growth of nutritious grass, from one foot to eight or nine high in the swales, or sloughs. A man by the name of Holderman had settled at the southeast corner of the grove, which bore his name before the Black Hawk War. No public conveyance or accommodation was established in this direction for some two years. At that time, Frink and Walker's stage began service from Chicago to Ottawa, which was the head of navigation on the Illinois River. The stages passed Holderman's place and it was there that the coach and stage horses were changed, and the passengers fed. For some time, this was the nearest post office for several miles along the line.

It was stated that in wet weather, especially in the spring of the year, the passengers of the Frink and Walker Stage Line were obliged to walk a good portion of the way across the prairies. Sometimes it was necessary for them to carry rails with which to pry the coach out of the sloughs.

Mr. Lucius Whitney, son of Deacon Isaac Whitney, (the companion of my father) writes that he has a letter written by his grandfather Whitney, of Westminster, Mass., in 1836, congratulating his father on his birth. It was folded in the old fashioned way, and sealed with a wafer, without an envelope, and marked on the outside, "Postage due twenty-five cents."

I crave the indulgence of my readers to briefly relate the experiences of the settlers in this community in connection with the Black Hawk War. Although it antedates the arrival of the families of 1836, for it has an interesting historical value and bearing upon the subsequent development of the county. In 1832, just before the Black Hawk War, when the Indians crossed the Mississippi River, and were marching in the direction of Chicago, they crossed the Fox River and made their appearance near Georgetown, now called Newark. Here they delayed to indulge in a drunken bout. This gave the white settlers, warned by a friendly chief named Shabbona, a chance to escape. They hastened towards Ottawa for refuge in a fort built at that point. In this flight, many passed Holderman's Grove, telling Mr. Holderman of the danger, urging him and his family to come along with them. However, at first he doubted the necessity for the move. For a time he refused to take the advice tendered him. So many passed, however, that at last he concluded to investigate for himself, and after saddling his horse and riding through a grove containing about 800 acres, came to the prairie toward Georgetown. There, in plain sight, he saw a band of Indians approaching in his direction. Instead of running away, he rode to the top of a small ridge near by, and turning his horse partly about, waved his hat, as though motioning to a band nearby, then turned again toward the Indians. They evidently supposed he had a company with him, and being thus deceived, made their retreat towards Georgetown. Mr. Moses Booth was camped with his family in Big Grove, not far from what was known later as Bristol Place, about a mile and a half from Newark. When the alarm was given, he loaded his stuff into his cart, and followed the rest to Ottawa. His oldest daughter, who afterwards married Albert Rood of Roodville, Ill., said that the cartwheels were made of rounds cut off the end of an oak log, and was very noisy when in use turning on the axle. In order to stop the noise, the party cut off pieces of bacon, which they had taken along for food, and wrapped slices around the hole in the wheel to prevent their presence being detected by the Indians. The Hollenback family was also among the number driven from home. Mrs. Hollenback, George M. Hollenback, of Aurora, and his twin sister, Mrs. Boyd, were inmates of Fort Dearborn for some six weeks. This war, with its happy termination, called attention to this section and attracted many to the regions connected with it. The publicity advanced, without doubt, the progress of civilization by a number of years.

When my father and his associates arrived at their new home, it was too late in the season to build cabins. Mr. Whitney put up a shack, but my father made arrangements with John W. Mason, who afterwards became one of Kendall County's most distinguished citizens, to live in his double cabin, he being unmarried. This cabin was located in Big Grove. It was less than a mile from an encampment of some 800 Indians, who, although defeated during 1832, refused to leave their camp by the springs of Big Grove. In 1834, General Winfield Scott, with a part of his detachment of soldiers removed them west of the Mississippi River. Later my father located on the prairie about two and one half miles west of Lisbon, and lived in the first framed house on the stage route between Chicago and Ottawa.

The few settlers in this neighborhood who had come here in 1834, were restricted in their choice of food. The only vegetable for food they had raised was the turnip, and their crops of this vegetable were frozen during the winter months for lack of proper protection. Still they had plenty of delicious deer meat, and other game, which cost only the effort to kill. Provisions could be bought at Ottawa, but at enormous prices, flour being $50 per barrel. Money being so scarce, the fur bearing animals were hunted for their skins which were used in barter, although they were also used for clothing, the settlers having fur robes, mittens, overshoes, and whip lashes. Deer, wild hogs, rabbits, squirrels, wild turkeys, ducks, prairie chickens and quails kept the settlers in meat.

A little later, the settlers began raising corn near the timber, but their first efforts proved almost futile because racoons destroyed it when in the ear. The boys were sometimes successful in hunting them, going out on dark nights and taking a dog to tree them. They fired into the branches if not too dark to see the animals or one of the boys would climb the tree with a club and knock the coon out for the dogs to kill. The writer of this article has often felt their furry coats as they crossed his bare feet going down the tree to escape. If space were not limited, it would be interesting to name the birds, wild animals, reptiles, varieties of timber, wild fruits, and wild flowers the early settlers found here. The brilliancy and fragrance of the flowers have not been surpassed, except by those found in the tropics. Vegetable remedies were also found in these woods and prairies, and utilized in the cure of the prevailing bilious diseases of the country. The doctor's treatment at that time, for all maladies, was bleeding until the patient fairly staggered from weakness, and then large doses of calomel and jalap were administered. If the patient outlived these heroic measures, he was indeed fortunate. The native grass was very rank, growing sometimes to the height of eight or nine feet. When it was dry it was a constant menace to the settlers for in it started many terrible prairie fires, which swept over the land at the pace of racehorse, often burning a strip 100 or more feet wide. The flames shut out the air for fifteen to thirty feet, and the roar was something that anyone who heard it never forgot.

Very soon after the Black Hawk War, and the subsequent inrush of new settlers, the people began to consider what could be done to provide churches and schools. As was but natural, the early churches and schoolhouses were placed at convenient points within the settlements. On the northeast corner of Apakesha Grove, near Anthony Litsey's home, afterwards owned by Andrew Kirkland, was erected one of the first buildings put up for educational purposes, and was known as the Big Grove schoolhouse. It was built in 1836, and pupils came to it from a radius of five to six miles. The logs used in its construction were good-sized ones, smoothed with the broad axe on the inside. Both the floor and seats were made of puncheons, and at each corner of the north end was a fireplace and chimney. The building was about 24x32 feet, and a story high. There were three large windows; one each located on the north, east, and west sides, each containing two sashes. They were arranged so they could be shoved past each other when ventilation was needed. The entrance door was at the south end. About six feet were cut off from the south end of the building for a hall in which to deposit wraps and lunches. The doors are made of hardwood timber. They were hung on wooden hinges, and fastened with wooden latches made out of hickory, which were manipulated by a buckskin string fastened to the latch, and passed up and through a gimlet hole in the door to the outside. The furnishings aside from the seats described, consisted of a walnut table, and along the side walls, boards that sloped downward were fastened for writing desks. Here men taught the three "R's" for the then considered princely salary of eight to twelve dollars per month, in addition to their board and lodging. The board and lodging was obtained by what was called "boarding round." The women teachers sometimes were only paid one dollar a week. All read from the New Testament, or the Old English Reader, studied Daboll's Arithmetic, Peter Parley's Geography, and Webster's Speller. The rules of the school were very strict and a hickory switch, 3 to 3 1/2 feet long, twisted at the top to make it tough, enforced discipline. Quill pens were used, and writing was practiced on foolscap paper, with ink made by boiling soft maple bark for two hours, and then adding copperas to set the color. Lucius Whitney, before referred to in this article, writes: "One of the teachers for a term, was a young man from New York State. He promised that the member of the first class in spelling who finished at the head of the class the most times during the term should merit a present. At the close of the school, two young ladies and I were equal in the number of times, and they seeing my eagerness about it, withdrew in my favor. The teacher handed me a silver dime which was at that time, an immense sum to me."

Excellent teachers were employed even at this early day, among whom were: Isaac Whitney, George Norton, S. C. Hinsdale, W. R. Cody, Misses Havenhill, Barslow and Wright, Madie Ann Brown, Sallie Whitney, and others. At the age of twelve years, I was able to give a Latin declamation at a public exhibition held in this building. Music classes were drilled here; debating societies were organized in which such forensic eloquence was displayed that it settled every question before it, even to those of national importance. On extra occasions, the log house was lighted with dozen or more candles some on the table, others on the side walls, with tin reflectors back of them. Those in attendance donated the candles.

For years, all denominations, without regard to sect or belief or the qualifications of the minister, used this old schoolhouse for religious gatherings. The first church formed was an Orthodox Congregational Church, whose members were from New England and New York. This church was a power for good for many years, and from it was formed the Congregational Churches of Newark, Lisbon, Ottawa, and Aurora. Among the ministers who filled the pulpit here was Father Greenwood, whose circuit was 120 miles east and west, extending to Rock River. Following him were: Revs. Gleason, Bushnell, Day, Brown, and Longhead. Among the prominent members and families attending this church were: John West Mason, Jonathan Raymond, William Havenhill, Deacon Isaac Whitney, Anthony Litsey, John Litsey, Capt. Van Meter, Dr. Gilman Kendall, Deacon Sylvanus Kimball, Burr Bristol, John Prickett, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Collins, Abram Holderman, Mr. Kellogg, Moses Booth, Walter Stowell, Moses Babcock, Elisha Wright, Charles Wright, Mr. and Mrs. Preston, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour, Andrew Kirkland, and family, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, the Scofields, the Chapins, and some others whose names I cannot now recall. All of who are entitled to the gratitude of the community for the results obtained in the up building of Kendall County.

I was a pupil at the old log school, and although now an old man of four score and more years, my faculties are pretty good, and my memories of those days are fresh and green. By request I am writing this sketch, being in another county and another State, and if anyone should read these lines who knew me long ago, I congratulate him on being a citizen of so good a county as Kendall and so good a State as Illinois.

Last Modified on 2013-02-20 01:57:18-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson