Dr. Thomas Karr was born on the twenty-third of April, 1793, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His father, Captain John Karr, was a soldier in the Revolutionary war. His mother's maiden name was Mercy Lee, and both father and mother came from old English stock. His great-grandfather knew Philadelphia when it was but a whortleberrry patch. Like nearly all of our old settlers, Thomas Karr sprang from a numerous family; he had five brothers and sisters. While Thomas was yet an infant his father moved to the township of Mansfield, Sussex County, New Jersey, east of the Delaware River. Here he received his early education in a district school kept in a little log school-house with only one window. Thomas was a precocious boy in some respects: for whether or not he was very forward with his lessons, he certainly was well advanced in the favor of those troublesome creatures who plaque the lives of school-boys-the girls! When he was sixteen or seventeen years of age, he took quite a fancy to a young girl, and while dancing with her at noon around a bucket of water, they accidently upset it. The teacher took them to task for it, and Thomas insisted that he was to blame, and claimed that he should receive all the punishment; but the teacher punished them both. Thomas bore his own without any trouble, but he cried most bitterly when the pretty girl he fancied so much was punished too. Forty-five years after this little circumstance, he met an elderly lady, who recognized him, and reminded him of the incident-she was the pretty girl of his youth.
When he was about eighteen years of age, his father moved to Cincinnati Ohio, where he arrived on the last day of October, 1810. Cincinnati was then a very small place, and Thomas has frequently shot ducks in ponds, which were standing where Third street now is. In this new country Thomas was set at work. He hauled wood to market in the town, and made himself generally useful. After hauling wood two miles he could sell it for fifty cents per cord! This occupation he followed during the winter of 1810-11. In the spring of 1811 the family moved up the Ohio River, ten miles from Cincinnati, where he remained nearly three years. It was in the fall of 1811 that Thomas Karr first saw a steamboat. It slowly moved up the Ohio River, about as fast as a boy could walk, and Mr. Karr could only express his astonishment by following it for three or four miles and throwing stones at it! During the following year (1812) war was declared with England. During this war all men were enrolled, and those of the military age, were put on a muster-roll and were liable to draft. They were afterwards divided into classes and graded, and one class was exhausted before another was taken. Men did not volunteer, but were drafted. Dr. Karr was drafted twice, and once he volunteered for a special expedition. But he was not at any time in actual service, as the occasions for which the drafts were made passed without requiring troops.
While living in Hamilton County, the only place to ship produce was at General Harrison's Landing on the Ohio River, from whence it was taken away on flatboats. General Harrison, who lived there at the time, was a man about six feet in height, and rather slim built. His eye was very bright and expressive, and whoever once saw him never forgot him. He was the son-in-law of Judge Simms, the early proprietor of Hamilton County. The land in this county was granted to Judge Simms by patent from the government in the year 1800 or thereabouts. The patent covered all the land from the mouth of the Big Miami River to the mouth of the Little Miami, and extended twelve miles into the interior, and was given on the condition that Judge Simms should cause a large number of settlers to make their homes there.
In the year 1814, or about that time, the Karr family moved to North Bend in Whitewater township, where General Harrison lived. Here it was that Thomas was married; but his lovely bride was not the pretty girl of his youth, in whose company he had been punished for upsetting the bucket of water. These little school boy romances are short lived. He married a charming young widow lady, named Elizabeth Kitchell. He has had a family of five children, but they are now all dead except one.
In 1833 Dr. Thomas Karr bought land at Randolph's Grove, McLean County, Illinois, at $1.25 per acre, and in 1835 he came on with his family to occupy it. He arrived on the last day of October, and had at the time neither rail nor clapboard. He lived for two weeks after his arrival with two other families, containing in all eighteen persons, in a room sixteen feet square. But at the end of two weeks he had built a log hut in the woods and occupied it immediately, and felt rich! The family lived in this little cabin for about two years and a half, when Dr. Karr was enabled to build a frame house of more respectable appearance.
In 1843 Dr. Karr was the assessor of McLean County, and did his work in fifty-five days, for which he received two hundred dollars.
Dr. Karr was in the early days a Democrat, but when his old acquaintance, General Harrison, was a candidate for the presidency, Dr. Karr was obliged to split his ticket and give the general a vote. The political parties prepared for this campaign very early. Dr. Karr says that in January, 1840, the winter preceding the campaign, he saw a party of men in the timber viewing the trees. They were looking and pointing first at one large tree and then at another, and finally they selected one, out of which they made a canoe, which was an emblem of the Whig party. This canoe, as our old settlers will nearly all remember, was taken to the various Whig gathering during the following summer, and created quite a sensation.
Dr. Karr is about five feet and eight inches in height, is rather heavy set, and his face is red and full. He is now nearly eighty years of age, but no one would think him over sixty. He is pleasant, talkative, and above all things, jolly. He enjoys the world very much and although he has now obtained a great age, he will live yet many years.
Dr. Karr was twice married. He firs married, December 31, 1814, Elizabeth Kitchell, a widow, and had five children, of whom only one is living. They are:
Mrs. Eleanor Hopping, wife of Edward Hopping, born October 7, 1815. She and her husband both died in McLean County at Randolph's Grove.
Martha Ann, wife of James Hodson, Born November 2, 1817. She and her husband both died at Randolph's Grove.
Thomas Jefferson Karr, born February 10, 1821, died at Blooming Grove.
William Karr, born January 5, 1823, lives with his father at Randolph's Grove.
Elizabeth, wife of Captain Scoggin, of Blooming Grove, was born August 4, 1825. She died shortly after her marriage.
Aaron Kitchell, of Bloomington, is a son of Mrs. Karr by her first marriage.
Dr. Karr married Mrs. Martha Evans, of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. Her maiden name was Martha Edwards. She was a sister of Dr. Karr's first wife. Mrs. Karr was born December 18, 1802 in Llambrynmire, Wales. She is a very kind lady, and loves to entertain her friends in English style.
Thomas Jefferson Karr was born in Whitewater township, Hamilton County, Ohio, near Miami Town, close to the Miami River, February 10, 1821. His father, Thomas Karr, was a farmer born. Young Thomas received some little education in Ohio. He came with his father to Randolph's Grove, about eight miles from the present city of Bloomington, in 1835. Here he attended a district school in a log school house. In 1843 he married Elizabeth Low, the daughter of Nathan Low, one of the old settlers of McLean County. Mrs. Karr is still living, and with her youngest son Guy manages the property acquired by the patient toil of her husband. Mr. Karr was an extensive farmer and dealer in stock. He commenced life with some assistance from his father, but the most of his property was acquired by his own foresight and patient toil. He was rather delicate in his constitution, and died on the 17th of February, 1866, in consequence of a railroad accident received about two weeks previous.
Mrs. Karr could not claim damages of the railroad company for the loss of her husband because she refused to allow a post mortem examination.
Mrs. Karr remembers very clearly the Black Hawk war in 1832. At that time many of the settlers moved South for fear of an Indian massacre; but Mr. Low and his family, of which Mrs. Karr was a member, remained. Mrs. Karr has lively recollections of the trips to Chicago, which required from fifteen to seventeen days. Mr. Karr hauled wheat to Chicago for thirty cents per bushel. There were four stopping places on the road between Blooming Grove and Chicago. These were Oliver's Grove, Brewer's Grove, Ephard's Point and Kankakee.
The weather in early days was more changeable than now. Mrs. Karr remembers that very often there were four decided changes of the weather in twenty-four hours. During the winter of the deep snow she walked on the hard crust to school at the Hinshaw school house.
The late Thomas Jefferson Karr was a man of medium height, slender and well proportioned. He was very keen in business matters, but upright and honest in his dealings. His eyes were mild and gentle in expression. He was well known and universally respected; he was very kind and hospitable and always ready to help his neighbors.
The following are Mr. Karr's children:
Harvey B. Karr, born October 26, 1843, lives on his farm near Shirley. He deals in stock. He has a family.
Mrs. Lizzie Bradley, wife of Dr. Bradley, was born December 8, 1845. She lives in Pekin.
Guy Karr was born May 20, 1850. He lives with his mother.
Martha Karr was born December 9, 1853, died July 2, 1856.
Dora Karr was born April 16, 1857 and lives at home with her mother.
Walter Karr was born July 8, 1797, in Sussex County, New Jersey. His father's name was Thomas Karr, and his mother's maiden name was Celia Lewis, both Americans. Mr. Karr was not old enough to be a soldier in the war of 1812, though many of his relatives were in it. He had a half-brother who was captured by the British when Hull surrendered at Detroit. The Americans were very unfortunate at the outset, for, in addition to the calamity of Hull's disgraceful surrender, there came what was known as the cold plaque, which carried off nine hundred men in one winter from the command of General Cass, who had only twenty-five hundred men in his command. It was a strange disease, which the physicians did not understand. This, Mr. Karr says, was told to him by his brother.
Walter Karr had come to Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, in 1807. The village of Cincinnati then contained sixteen or seventeen hundred people. On their journey from New Jersey the Karr family went first to Elizabethtown, between the Allegheny and Monogehela Rivers, and there built a flatboat or "Yankee sled." Mr. Karr's father and brother took the horses there and came through, but the rest of the family went down on the flatboat. Some other parties on board had attached a keelboat for the convenience of cooking, and all on board went joyfully along to the new country. No incident of importance occurred before their arrival in Hamilton County. It was about that time that General Harrison was governor of Indiana territory. The general was a very kind-hearted man, and always willing to do a favor, but wanted it appreciated. Mr. Karr tells a story of General Harrison, which shows the eccentricity of the man. In 1834, when Mr. Karr was traveling, he went with his heavily loaded wagon past General Harrison's premises. The latter had previously changed the road across his premises, but as the fence was down Mr. Karr took the old road. General Harrison rushed out and said: "Stop! Turn about, go back." But a man, named Johnson, reasoned with the general, and asked the privilege of going ahead, when the general replied: "Yes, go ahead, but for God's sake keep off my meadow!" "Now," said Mr. Karr, "if we had first asked the privilege of crossing his premises on the old road and given him a chance to do a favor, which would be appreciated, he would have said: 'Yes, gentlemen, for God's sake, go ahead!'"
Mr. Karr clearly remembers the earthquake of 1811, which shook down New Madrid, and sank the lands of the river St. Francis in Arkansas. The shocks were clearly felt in Ohio, but no damage was done.
While coming down the Ohio, in June, 1815, Mr. Karr saw the first steamboat which came up from New Orleans to Pittsburg. It was called the Enterprise.
In February, 1834, Mr. Karr started for the West. He went by steamboat to Pekin, and from there came across by team to McLean County with Seth Baker, and arrived at the latter place March 11, 1834. On the day of his arrival the weather was so warm that he killed a snake, on of the jointed kind, which flew to pieces when struck. On the fourteenth of March, two men, Hopping and Torrence, gathered spring flowers, and the weather was indeed beautiful. But on the fourteenth of May a severe frost came and cut the buds on the trees, turned the leaves completely brown and froze a crust on the ground.
Mr. Karr tells some strange facts concerning the sudden change in December, 1836, When this change in the weather occurred, Mr. John Wesley Karr was milking cows, as an industrious farmer's boy should. He immediately started for home, a quarter of a mile distant, but on reaching it he became so cold that he could not speak.
Mr. Karr went to farming upon his arrival in the West, and succeeded fairly well, but suffered severely with the hard times from 1837 to 1842. The winter of 1842-3 was the longest of which he has any recollection. The snow came early, and, with the exception of a January thaw, remained until late in March. Mr. Karr did not learn of any plowing done that spring before the month of May. He sowed a patch of spring wheat that year on the fifth of May, and raised fifteen bushels to the acre. The winter wheat was all frozen out and had to be re-sown. But notwithstanding these discouraging circumstances, people in many instances raised during that year more than thirty bushels of wheat to the acre, and the crops were generally most excellent. During the spring previous, in 1842, he sowed wheat about the eighteenth or twentieth of March, and on the last of March it was green. He did not harvest it until August, and obtained from it two hundred bushels from six bushels of seed, or thirty-three and one-third bushels per acre. He hauled one load of it to Chicago in September, and sold it for sixty-three cents per bushel, and thought he made a very good trip. Mr. Karr has been a careful farmer.
Perhaps it may be a matter of interest to the reader to know something of the taxes which have been paid within the last thirty-five years. Mr. Karr gives his taxes as shown by his receipts, and in the list below the taxes after 1843 are all upon nearly the same land. Since 1856-7 he has paid taxes on four acres less ground than in 1845.
Mr. Karr married in 1823, Eliza Ann Karr, a daughter of his cousin. He has had eight children, of whom four are living. They are:
Edwin Karr lives one mile and a quarter south of his father's.
Mrs. Harriet Kinzel lives in Bloomington.
Henry A. Karr lives with his father.
Mrs. Celia Rockwell lives at Clinton, in De Witt County.
Mr. Karr is a man of medium height; his hair is only partly gray, though he is seventy-six years of age. His long, full beard is nearly white, and his eyes are very bright. This gives to him a venerable appearance. He complains that his memory is failing with age, but many persons would be glad to have one as possessed of good judgement. Perhaps the most marked trait in his character is his love of truth and honest dealing. In giving some items of the days that are gone, he was very particular to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Let us all do likewise.
William Karr was born January 5, 1823, in Whitewater township, Hamilton County, Ohio. He was educated partly in Ohio and partly in Illinois. He was rather a precocious scholar and learned his lessons easily. In Ohio he went to a schoolmaster named Dow, who occasionally took his dram. Mr. Dow sometimes felt the effect of spirits in the schoolroom, and once in a while fell asleep. At one time when he went to sleep all of his scholars left the schoolroom and went home without shutting the school-house door. A flock of sheep, which was grazing near by, went into the school-house, and when the master awoke for his slumber he was astonished at the character and appearance of his pupils. This incident made the schoolmaster wiser, and he never again fell asleep in school. When William Karr was eight or nine years of age, he suffered extremely from rheumatism, but being anxious to continue his studies he was taken to school on a gentle horse, by his brother Jefferson. He studied while lying down on two chairs. In October, 1835, the Karr family came to Illinois, as stated in the preceding sketch of his father. At Randolph's Grove William Karr, when only twelve years of age, went to school to Mr. Evans, a good old man, for a few days; but the schoolmaster said that William was too far advanced for him, and that ended his schooling with Mr. Evans. William Karr continued his education under other teachers, and made good progress. One of his old schoolmasters, Mr. Burrows, is still living at Young's place in Randolph's Grove.
William Karr married, December 24, 1844, Miss Mary Jane Elder, a daughter of David and Hannah Elder. She came from Whitewater township, Hamilton County, Ohio, where Mr. Karr was born. She came with her father's family to Randolph's Grove, October 13, 1842. On the day after their marriage, Elizabeth Karr, William's sister, was married to Captain Scoggin, of Blooming Grove. This was December 25th. On the 26th of the same month they were given a grand dinner by Squire Campbell Wakefield, who had married William Karr and Mary Jane Elder. Squire Wakefield is Mrs. William Karr's uncle.
Mr. and Mrs. Karr have had eight children, six of whom are living, four sons and two daughters. The first child in infancy.
Anstis Karr was born January 30, 1850, is married to Richard M. Jones, and lives in Bloomington.
Iris Karr, born March 6, 1852.
John Karr, born May 8, 1856.
Joseph Wakefield Karr, born July 1, 1859, and William Elder Karr, born January 31, 1869, all live at home.
Thomas D. Karr, born January 16, 1862, died September 12, 1864.
William Karr is about five feet and nine and one-half inches in height, is a very active man, and has not been sick during the last twenty-five years. His hair is thick on his head, but turning slightly gray. His eyes are light gray, like his father's. His family and his father's live in the same house, and it would be hard to find in McLean County a family whose familiar intercourse is marked by such consideration and delicacy of feeling. It is the lady who makes the household. It is said that a member of the Japanese government once called on the United States Minister, Mr. Delong, and, observing the fine taste displayed at the home of the American, inquired the reason. Mr. Delong said: "It is because a lady presides over the household." This, perhaps, foes far to explain the happy life and pleasant feeling in Mr. Karr's family.
James Kimler was born August 16, 1811, in Loudon County, Virginia. He is of German and Welch descent. In 1813 the family went to Kentucky, and in 1823 they came to Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana. During the year previous he went with his father on a visit to Indiana, and in 1823 the family moved there to settle. In those days the militia were obliged to turn out to muster. James Kimler remembers one circumstance, which happened when his brother Richard was riding to muster on a fractious horse. Just before reaching a creek, the party with whom he was riding began to beat the drum and make music, and Richard's horse took fright and pitched the young man into the creek.
At that time a wild root, called ginseng, was in great demand, and people hunted for it through the woods, and many made their living by digging it. It was very useful for medical purposes. On Deer Creek, about fifty miles from Crawfordsville, was a ginseng factory for drying and preparing this root for use. It was bought at the factory for six cents per pound. At one time Mr. Kimler went on an expedition for hunting ginseng. The party went up to nearly the mouth of Eel River, which was then a wild Indian country. Many curious incidents occurred on their journey. They started about the first of September, and went to Wildcat Creek. There they found a fish trap, where a wagon-load of fish was caught in a single night. This trap was arranged at the fall of the stream, and when the fish went over the fall they could not return; neither could they go forward, for some stakes were placed below to stop them, though the water flowed through. The party went up to the Wabash. One evening when they went to water their horses, they began to sink in quicksand. All turned around and went out except an uncle of James'. The old gentleman was deeply in the quicksand, and saw that an attempt to turn around would sink his horse so deep as to make it impossible to get out. He therefore went ahead into the river, and his horse swam around in the water and came back safely. The old gentleman could not swim, but said he knew "Old Charley" would bring him out. The party went up near the battle ground of Tippecanoe and visited the graves of the dead, and then came home with very little ginseng, but with some experience.
The Kimler family came to Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois, during the winter of 1832. In 1833 James was advised by his uncle to enter the little grove where Thomas Orendorff now lives, but James had an idea that all the fine land and pretty spots had been entered before, and he therefore started with James K. Benjamin and Alfred Orendorff to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he did pretty well, and took up some valuable claims. They started on this trip in January, 1836, when the weather was extremely cold. Towards evening of the second day's travel they sent James Orendorff ahead with their only horse to a house to order supper. When they came to the house they found Orendorff fencing up the road. He said nobody lived there and no road should lead there! When they reached Chicago they tried to buy each of them a blanket, but not one was to be found. The place was too poor to afford even a blanket. They suffered much with cold, but went on to Milwaukee and there lived through the remainder of the winter with the brother of Alfred Orendorff. In the spring they found half a dozen bee-trees, out of which they obtained a barrel of strained honey, and lived sweetly during the remainder of their stay in Wisconsin. In May of that spring a man named Finch was burning lime near Milwaukee. It was made of blue limestone, which cracks when burnt and makes reports, which sound like the firing of guns. About this time a certain Mr. Scott killed an Indian in the streets in Milwaukee, and great fear was apprehended lest the Indians should attack the place. The three bachelors were waked up on one Sunday morning by a loud popping and thought the Indians were making the attack, but the sounds proved to be the explosions at Finch's lime-kiln.
In the summer William Orendorff came up from Bloomington to make his sons a visit and to look at the country. The whole party then started on an excursion westward, intending to go as far as Rock River. They camped one night on the McQuonego River, not far from where a certain Mr. Cox lived. During one moonlight night they were awakened by a great uproar under the wagon, and found it was a gray wolf fighting Cox's dog. They chased the wolf over a precipice and one of them excitedly went over with it. They surrounded it with clubs and killed it.
Mr. Kimler returned after four or five years. On the 28th of January, 1838, he married Miss Cassandra Jane Clearwater, of Leroy. In February of that year he went back to Milwaukee with two ox-teams, but returned in 1840 for the health of his wife. He has lived near Leroy ever since, and has been a very successful farmer.
James Kimler is somewhat less than the usual stature. He is strongly and solidly made, and can bear a great deal of hard work. He is a very safe man in the disposition and control of his property. His neighbors have great confidence in his word and judgment. He has had seven children. They are:
Mary Jane Kimler was born November 10, 1838. She was first married to William Ross. During the war he enlisted in the Second Illinois Cavalry and was killed at the battle of Bolivar in Tennessee. Two sons were born by this marriage and live with their grandparents. They are: James Leander and John Orlando Ross. Mrs. Ross afterwards married Louis Stout, and now lives at Downer's Grove, near Chicago.
Elizabeth Ann Kimler, born May 18, 1840, died in October, 1843.
Martha Ellen, wife of Joseph Neal, born August 24, 1842, lives in Farmer City.
Harriet Barthena, wife of James L. Silvers, born February 13, 1845, lives in Farmer City.
Sarah Cassandra, wife of Preston Bishop, born December 17, 1847, lives four miles southeast of her parents.
Elizabeth Ann, wife of John Lore, born March 23, 1850, lives at the head of Old Town timber.
Caroline Kimler, born May 20, 1853, lives with her parents.