At our meeting one year ago it was suggested by our worthy chairman that someone tell what they remember of father's and mother's removal to their home in Illinois. With some degree of reluctance, your humble servant consented to tell you something of our life in that Western home.
The first trip was made in the fall, September, 1838, I suppose when I was about eighteen months old, as I have often heard mother relate. This journey of over 500 miles was made in a covered two-horse jolt wagon. They went by the way of Dayton, Indianapolis, Urbana, Bloomington, Peoria, Princeton, Dixon's Ferry, Freeport, to near the old insignificant town of Oneco, Stephenson County, Illinois. I can account for this roundabout trip, (as one can see by looking on the map that they went many miles out of a direct line for their destination) only that this route was more thickly settled, and that the rivers were more apt to have ferries on them for crossing.
It must be remembered at that early day the dwellings of the settlers were often very far apart, sometimes a day's journey between them.
I have no remembrance of this journey whatever, nor do I know when or by whom our first house was built, but I rather think it was begun by Uncle Ralph Hildebrant, as he had gone out there some two years before.
This house was a single room, hued log structure, 18x20 feet, with a huge stone chimney and fire place, which extended almost across one end. It was here before this fireplace that our mother done her cooking and baking for many years. I well remember her scanty supply of pots. skillets, and ovens. After several years one day father brought home what they called a reflector. This was to bake bread in, but one still had to use the heat from the fire place to run it. It was made of sheet iron and stood upon four legs with a support for the pans and bread, and it had a cover or hood made of tin, open in front to catch and reflect the heat upon the bread below. I don't believe it was much account except for baking biscuits. I cannot tell when the first cooking stove was obtained, perhaps about 1845. At that early day cabinet makers had not arrived and our furniture and house furnishings were scarce and very rude in make. I recollect very well seeing father make our first bed steads, and also of the kind of timber of which they were made. They were made of white hickory saplings, hewed and shaped up with an ax and drawing knife, They were built right on the spot in the house where they were to stand, and they were made very stationary too, being fastened to one of the house logs by inserting one end of the end railing in a two-inch auger hole at the proper height. One was made higher under which could be pushed the indispensable trundle bed on which the kids slept.
Our farm and Uncle Ralph's lay adjoining each other, his comprised 120 acres, and ours 240 acres-about 200 acres of prairie and brush, and 40 acres of timber in which was a very good sugar camp. I think this was more land than they bought at the first purchase, as I can remember of being along with them one day when they were out building some preemption houses on some corners. These were simply little 4x4 pens made of Quaking Asp poles and were placed there to notify all intruders to stay off this land. I can also remember of seeing a lot of money passed out on the breakfast table and seeing father and uncle count and put it in a belt that was to be worn around Uncle Ralphs body under his clothing while on a horseback journey down to Dixon, where the land office was located, I think this was soon after our return from Ohio in 1840.
Our neighbors at first were mostly from Clinton county, Ohio, among them were Joe, Jeff and Morgan VanMeter and families, two families of Shockleys, Waltons, Beans, Howes, and Harkness Throckmorton, VanWinkle and others were all from Ohio. Two families named Hubert and Buck were from New York. As natural for a Yankee they located down in the woods southwest of our sugar camp. Joe Norris and family were from Kentucky. He lived on the east side of the timber from us on the road to Freeport and Rightsell's mill on Richland Creek where we got all our milling done.
Amos Hayes and family and his father-in-law, James Howe, and family were also from Ohio, coming there I think about 1840. It was from this family uncle Ralph obtained his wife. Although but a small boy I can remember when they were married. Uncle had lived with us before, and he and aunt Rachel stayed with us until he finished his little frame house, which stood on the road to Oneco from where we lived.
But I must hurry on. Our living in the wintertime was mostly bread, meat, and potatoes, and often corn bread three times daily. In the summer we would have some fruit which grew wild in the woods and thickets. Red raspberries, blackberries, plums, gooseberries and crab apples were plenty in their season. The purple sorrel was the first thing to be obtained in the spring, from which pies were made, and it was a very good substitute for our rheubarb. Often in the winter we would have venison to eat, as the deer were quite plentiful in places. In the spring we would have a feast of fine fish obtained by seining in Richland Creek or Pekatonica river. This river is very deep and could only be seined in few places by wading. Our place of fishing was where the road crossed it going to the town of Winslow, four miles west of us.
But I must tell you something of the wild pigeons; and by the way this bird, once so plentiful, is said to be now entirely gone or extinct. Never have I known them to be so numerous as they were between 1845 and 1850. At one time I saw them flying in such dense masses as to almost hide the sun, it would have been extremely dangerous for one to have gone into the woods where they were roosting at night on account of the timber they were on breaking down. Father killed dozens of them by loading his rifle with shot. But we didn't fancy pigeons very much, they being blue, and many very tough.
Our first schools were of the "boardaround" subscription sort, and always in the spring or summer, They were held in some old shop or unused building, but about 1846 or 1847 there was a great change made in the school system. More of the enterprising Yankees had come west, and they soon began the introduction of new things and new methods into the schools. I can well remember the morning when John K. Brewster and the teacher handed Brother Ralph and me our first McGuffey's Readers; the First to him and the Second to me. Our mother had been our best and main teacher up to that time, she having taught us to read from our old Webster's Elementary Spelling Book, this being all the school book about the house to this time. Some of the lessons learned from it are indelibly stamped upon my memory, never to be forgotten. Our mother was an excellent reader, and she loved to read and explain her reading to her children. But her reading matter was very limited at that time. Books and newspapers were not near so plentiful or cheap as at the present time. Father at this time was a very poor reader, and seemed to care but little for it. Our first newspaper was the Cincinnati Dollar Weekly Times, published I think, by C. W. Starbuck. In latter years father became more of a news reader, and his favorite papers were the Cincinnati Weekly Gazette and the Clinton Republican.
But I must get back to Illinois. While we lived there, there was no church buildings outside the largest towns, and the school house was used for religious meetings in the winter season, and the grove or "God's first temple" in the summer season. The people would come for miles in their jolt wagons, drawn by a yoke of oxen. Aunt Rachel's brother, Henry Howe was all the preacher I ever knew there, after whose wife our sister, Camelia J. Johnson, was named. Our sister Lydia was named after Mrs. Lydia Norris, our only doctor while we stayed there. One time when sick she made me drink warm water until I vomited, and I've never liked warm water since. I often think I would like to view the old homestead once more, and to drink from the old spring where we cooled our thirst more than fifty years ago.
I wonder if the old cedar tree is still standing above the wall, which father planted sixty years ago. I imagine there are not many of the landmarks left by which I could distinguish the place, nor many of the people I once knew.