THE PRAIRIE HISTORIAN
Volume 1 Number 1
"A few more steps and a beautiful
prairie suddenly opened to our view ---lying in profound repose under the warm
light of an afternoon sun. Its indented and irregular outline of wood, its varied
surface interspersed with clumps of oaks of centuries growth, its tall grass with seed
stalks from eight to ten feet high, like tall and slender reeds waving in a gentle breeze -
the whole presenting a magnificance of park secenery, complete from the hand of nature."
George Flower (1817) upon first view of a southern Illinois prairie.
Issued by The Prairie Historians, an organization dedicated to the preservation of
things of historic interest. Centered in, but not limited to the southwest four townships
of Jefferson County Illinois and continguous regions without geographic limitation. In this
region lies Knob Prairie,Grand Arm Prairie, Long Prairie, Elk Prairie, Horse Prairie, Wolf
Prairie and a number of smaller prairies.
Membership per calender year
President: Jerry H. Elliston
Vice President: Ileta Philp
Secretary-Treasurer: Estelle L. Holloway
Librarian: Dorothy L. Knight
Directors: Willard Fairchild Betty Borowiak, Louis T. Norris
Editor: Jerry Elliston
Associate Editors: Margie Elliston, Hattie Fairchild, Louis Norris, Betty Borowiak, Hildred Roberts.
2. Description of map.
3. Copy of map from 1876 Atlas of Illinois showing prairies.
4. Some remnants of our vanishing prairie.
5. The village of Knob Prairie
6. Four Corners school
7. A letter from a Civil War soldier.
8. A letter from Mrs. Pinckard.
9. From THE WALTONVILLE TRIBUNE
10. Attention members.
DESCRIPTION OF THE MAP
The prairie surrounding Winfield and Fitzgerald P.O. in the bottom center of
the map is the north end of Horse Prairie which extends into Jefferson County.
The little prairie to the northwest of it in sections 24 and 13 of Bald Hill
township is called Toad Flat by most of the residence. Farther north, starting at Utah
School (unnamed) and surrounding Williamsburg is Knob Prairie. To the northwest and
surrounding Grand ArmP. O. is an arm of Grand Prairie. After wandering down through
Washington County in re-entered Jefferson County into Blissville Township. Some of
the earliest settlers in this part of the county were located in Grand Arm Prairie.
Farther east between the creeks and extending toward Woodlawn is Long Prairie.
East of that a prairie starts at the S. Ford place and extends toward Elk Prairie.
There are also a number of smaller prairies of which we do not now know the names.
As you can see THE PRAIRIE HISTORIAN is an appropriate name for an historical
organization centered in this region.
The names and locations of some of the residents are shown on the map. The small
numbers near them probably denote the number of acres held by each.
Many of the old schools are shown, but without names.
The 2 roads shown crossing in the middle of section 27 Blissville township northwest
of Williamsburg are the old Nashville and Shawneetown road and the Mt. Vernon and Pinckney-
ville road, also called the Kaskaskia trail. The one running southwest out of Mt. Vernon
through Elk Prairie and Winfield is the Brownsville Road.
(see picture of map)
SOME REMNANTS OF OUR VANISHING PRAIRIES
When the settlers first came into this area they were surrounded by prairies,
but once the prairie sod was broken other plants crowded in to replace
the native prairie plants and the prairie no longer existed. In a few places a strip
of unbroken prairie sod still grows along the fence rows, and there can be found some of the
original prairie plants. A few such places are described below.
Remnants of Horse Prairie:
The are stretching south and east from where Floyd Hartley lives was once a part
of Horse Prairie. Some prairie plants grow in the area. Especially east of Emmerson
crossing. The space between the railroad and route #148 on the south side of the crossing
usually has some tall stalks of grass growing in late September and October.
This is Turkey Foot,the botanical name is Andropogon. Traveling down the road
east you will find more of the same, plus another tall grass with a head bearing rather
heavy seeds. It is called Indian Grass, or Buffalo Grass as well as just plain Prairie Grass.
It is the grass on which deer and buffalo used to fatten in the fall. If you have read of settlers
seeing as many as a hundred deer feeding on one small prairie in the fall it was upon this
grass that they were feeding. The botanical name is sorphastrum nuttans.
Examine that same roadside in August and early September and you will see a tall
plant with yellow flowers and deeply cleft leaves that always point north and south.
Sniff it and you will find that it has a pungent odor like turpentine. This is called
rosin weed, or compass plant. The botanical name is Sylphium laciniatum.
Other prairie plants found growing there and along the railroad were liatris, or
gay feather. A tall weed three to five feet tall with a purple spire at the top when
in bloom in August.
Watch along the roadside a quarter mile east of the site of Old Williamsburg and
you will find a tall stalk with yellow flowers growing up from some large,
stiff, fan shaped leaves. This is Prairie Dock. The botanical name is
Sylphium terebinthaceum. It is also called rosin weed. This is a small remnent of Knob Prairie
and is one of the few places where Prairie Dock still grows, in this area.
Go east of Antioch curve for a quarter mile and you will find both Turkey Foot and
Indian Grass growing along the fence row in September. This is a remnent of Elk Prairie.
In Minson Cemetery and south along the roadside can be found Turkey Foot and Indian
Grass, a remnant of Grand Arm Prairie. It is an arm of Grand Prairie which wanders from
Grand Prairie Township over into Washington County and back into Blissville
Go north of Waltonville and turn east at the first road north of Big Muddy
bridge. Go east to the first road north (in front of Opal Ellistons house). You will
see both Prairie Grasses growing along the roadside and in August a profusion of
liatris also grows there. This is a small remnant of Long Prairie.
Go along route 148 toward Mt. Vernon until you pass the Drive-In Theater. Look in
the flat area just north of the theater and you will see tall prairie grasses
growing. This is a remnant of Wolf Prairie.
THE VILLAGE OF KNOB PRAIRIE
There used to be a time when anything in print was accepted without question, and
a clincher to almost any argument was to point out something in print and
say, "Right there it is, in black and white."
Times have changed, or rather we have changed and we are not so sure any more. Take
the matter of a village called Knob Prairie for instance. It is shown on an 1872 map as
being a village with more than one street and located in the middle of section 27 in Bliss-
ville township. That would put it on the old Nashville and Shawneetown Road (much of which
can still be seen) between Eddie Lacey's place and the site of the Old Dees School. There
is no evidence of any such town having ever existed there. Neither caved in wells, founda-
tion stones, or legends nor records. A mile east of there in section 26, however, is plenty
of evidence to show that a town once existed there. There is a number of old caved in wells,
foundation stones, and legends and stories to mark the site of the old village we know as mill
town. It was located about a third of a mile northwest of the corner where old Williamburg used
to be. It was on the Mt. Vernon and Pinckneyville Road, or Kaskaskia Trail.
Is this the Knob Prairie that is shown on the 1872 map? It could very well be, for a
number of reasons. No 1: Although the map was published in 1872 it was made from information
gathered earlier, for it does not show Williamsburg which was established in 1867, five years
before the map was published. No 2: Are there any other errors in meps of this area? Yes.
The 1926 Geological Survey Map shows Williamsburg as being a mile west and a quarter mile
south of its true position, placing it somewhere near the old Alva Gilbert place. No 3: Maps
are made from information supplied by humans and humans make mistakes.
It is very likely therefore, that the village of Knob Prairie, shown on the 1872 Atlas
is the same settlement that grew up around the old Eli Gilbert horse mill and to which many
early writings refer to as Knob Prairie, or the Knob Prairie Settlement. WE are all aware that
Knob Prairie was a voting precinct until the township form of government was adopted in 1869,
and that the store at which we call Milltown was the voting place. There was also the Post
Office called Knob Prairie from May 30, 1860 until July 31, 1862.
The little community which consisted if a mill, a store, and a blacksmith shop, together
with the dwellings necessary to house the people who ran those establishments was the center
of economic life in this part of the county until the I. C. railroad was completed in 1854 and
the town of Ashley was established. Some of the merchants from this area, including some of
the Gilberts from the Knob Prairie settlement went there and set up shop. The little Knob
Prairie community might have servived in spite of that, but shortly after in Civil War (in 1867)
the town of Williamsburg was laid out only a third of a mile away and the old community was
doomed. There was still a small store there, however, until well into the Seventies as one of
the students who attended Four Corners School (Ida Elliston Place) told of running with a
companion, during the noon hour, to the store at old Milltown where they bought two long
strings of licorice, for a big penny, which the teacher cut into many fragments and divided
it among the fifty or so students who were going there at that time.
Little remains to mark the original site of the village of Knob Prairie now, Raleigh
Newell removed the last remaining building (The Old MIll granary) and took it to his barn lot
about 1920. It was in use until only a few years ago, but has since been torn down and burned.
FOUR CORNERS SCHOOL
(SEE PICTURE OF MAP)
Perrin's history says the first school in the four townships was established in McClellan
Township on the J. W. Lee farm in 1837. It was made of round logs and was 18 X 20 feet. Judge
Baugh was the first teacher.
Perrin also says that a school house was established near the Eli Gilbert house, in Knob
Prairie, very early, in a log building 16 X 18 feet. The cracks were daubed with mud. It was
taught by a man named Bellis.
This was the ancestor of Four Corners School and was no doubt located near the same spot.
Four Corners consolidated with Waltonville shortly after W W 2, but the building remained and was
used as a storage shed until it was carried away by a tornado on December 18, 1957.
Pictured here is the Four Corners Class of 1894, together with a list of names. Many
people in this area have ancestors in this picture.
FOUR CORNERS SCHOOL, MARCH 1894
Front Row L to R.
1. Roy Gilbert
2. Sidney Lennington
2. Elizabeth Fairchild (Shurtz)
3. Claude Newell
3. Lola Fairchild (Fagan)
4. John D. Newell
5. Gilbert Harris
5. Myrtle Dodds (Norris)
6. ------- Dodds ?
7. Leona Harris
7. Rufus Green
8. Mae Fairchild
8. Annie Robinson
9. Sally Newell
9. Lydia Robinson (Wicks)
10. Ethel Newell
10. Della Newell (Laur)
11. Annie Nix
12. Daisy Lennington
Second row from front
1. Asa Newell
2. Rolla Gilbert
3. Warren Newell
4. John Everett Newell
5. Earl Newell
3. Norman Newell
4. Mary Ellen Fred
7. Fay Fairchild (Newell)
5. Grace Green (Newell)
8. Rhoda Newell
6. George (Hawk Bill) Newell
7. Minnie Newell (Taylor)
10. Ola Newell (Davis)
8. Ed or Joe Robinson
11. Maude Newell (Place)
9. John Robinson
10. Sam Fred
11. George Bushong
A LETTER FROM A CIVIL WAR SOLDIER
From A. J. Shurtz to his wife
Mrs. Martha McConnaughay Shurtz.
April 6th, 1865
Dear wife and family;
The lates letter I received from you was written March 6. I am waiting very
patiantly for a later one. A. J. Norris got one from Jesse A. Dees
dated March 23rd.
I have been quite unwell for a few days past. I have been troubled
with my bowels.
I am getting pretty stout now again. Marion Fairchilds has been found
since the battle of the 21st/ He was wounded and fell in the hand of the Rebels and
left in the hospital a few nites in the rear of the Rebel lines. I don't know how bad
he is wounded. James Philp has not been heard from.
Well my dear we have marching orders. I don't know how soon we will start, but
it will be soon, I have no doubt. Likely this will be the last letter
you will receive from me from this place.
The Boys have had a day of rejoicing over the fall of Richmond. This Army may
form an extension with Grant's Army. If it does we will march toward
Welldon, but there is no knowing which way Old Billy Sherman will head.
Well Martha you must keep writing as often as you can. We have not been laid up
yet. I don't see any sign of it now. I will send you my likeness
the first chance I get. Well Martha it is not too dark to write, although the moon is shining very
pretty. Well Good Night Night. I will finish in the morning.
Well Martha as breakfast is over I will finish my letter. Since I commenced
writing to you we got the news that the above orders have been countermended.
I also understand that the paymaster is coming to pay off this Department of the
Army. We also have the news that Mobile with 20,000 prisoners has been taken by
out forces. Well I think the Rebs can't hold out much longer, they are getting defeated
on all sides. They are kept on the run from place to place. God knows I wish how soon
they may pay out. There would be a great day of rejoicing if peace was again restored to
Well Martha I am very happy to hear that the stock looks fo well. You have had a
very hard, cold winter no doubt. I have often thought of you while
we was on the long worry some march through the two states North and South Carolina.
Wading through sand and water. Sometimes we waded in water up to our waists.
Well my dear girl my time is half up and it if is God's will it won't be long before
I will be able to join my beloved little family. May God speed
Jack is well. He is cleaning his gun at this time. The time for morning inspection
is drawing near & I will have to close my letter hoping it may find
you all enjoying good health. Give my love to all inquiring friends.
From your most beloved husband.
A. J. Shurtz to Mrs. Martha Shurtz
A LETTER FROM MRS. PINCKARD
Dear Mrs. Holloway;
After we came home from Waltonville several weeks ago I copied a few items from
my "Down Memory Lane" to send to you. This has been my "Hobby" many
years. My sisters talked of coming over and I could bring it, but I'll not wait and will
send it to you. I can't use my typewriter, so
will "scribble" it.
"PIONEERS OF WALTONVILLE"
Mamie Sawyer Pinckard
"Benjamin Hirons and Emily Place Hirons were the parents of Luther and Sid Hirons
whose children were friends of mine. "Grandma" Hirons was a young
girl when she came to Illinois with her parents in 1839. Her father was Sidney Place.
The Eli Gilbert family came with them. They floated down the Ohio River on flat
boats, from Marietta, Ohio to Shawneetown, Illinois. They brought
hogs, cows, chickens, horses and wagons. "Grandpa" place brought lumber for a house.
Most people cut logs and built a house, but he used lumber.
The Place family drove their wagons and livestock to Jefferson County, Illinois. He
settled two miles north of the "Knob." "Grandpa Hirons" parents were
also born in Vermont. The father came to Illinois in 1918 and the mother about the same
time. Later they were married and settled north of the "Knob." Grandpa Ben and Grandma Emily
Place Hirons built a house on the "Knob" in 1846. This part of the country was known as "Knob Prairie."
There were woods on the east and west of the hill and tall prairie grass grew all over the prairies. On the
hills and along the creeks there was timber. "Big Muddy" Creek formed one boundry for "Knob Prairie."
At the foot of the hill west was a log house belonging to the Joe Norris family. After
our family moved to Waltonville I knew the children of this couple. (Ned, Joe, Gus,Harrison,
and O. P.) "Dr. Norris." These men became the parents of my generation.
Down the road east lived the John Dodds family. The chldren were (Billy, Dave, Neal,
Maggie ( Mrs. Tom Mannen) and Susan (Mrs. Sid Hirons). These were also parents of my generation.
Another Dodds family were the William Dodds'. I know the children as Lizzie (Mrs.
Rob Mannen) and Linnie (Mrs. Walter Gilbert). North of the "Knob" lived the
John Hagle family in another log house. Later their son Andy lived across the road. His children
were my school mates.
South of the "knob" was the old log house of "Granny" Stewart who was the mother of Mrs.
Jennie Fairchild and Mrs. Sid Mannen.
Across the road lived "Granny" Hall. Mr. Rob Mannen lived out this way also. He owned the building
where my father had a store. Also the second house we lived in.
Southwest of the "Knob" was the brick house belonging to the Sidney Mannen family.
The children were: Tom, John, Sid, Rob, Joe, Jerome, and Leslie. The children of Jerome
and Leslie were my schoolmates. The other Mannen children lived in different school districts."
"For short time before we moved to Waltonville, Jerome Mannen had a small store at
the foot of the "Knob" east.
The "Old Timers" got their schooling in a log cabin across the road from the store.
The log cabin was later used as a swelling site and the ground where the store was was
bought for the erection of the village school house.
The "Old Timers" did their trading at Mt. Vernon, Ashley, and Williamsburg, two miles
northwest. The womenfolk often went "to town." I heard from one lady and the way she did on
"Traading Days" and of course this was a sample of the way all women did.
Mrs. Hattie (Luther) Hirons went on horse back riding with a side saddle and carried eggs, etc,
in a basket on her lap. This particular day she went to Williamsburg and had 20
dozen eggs. She got 5 cents a dozen, or $1.00 for them all. She bought 10 yeards of calico at
5 cents per yard. She spent the remaining 5o cents for coffee and sugar.
A town was started southe of the "Knob" (the hill where Grandpa and Grandma Hirons had
their home). It was part of the Sidney Mannenn estate, and his son Rob Mannen laid out the
town site while the railroad was being built.
The town was named Waltonville for the maiden name of Mrs. Rob Mannen's mother, Mrs.
William Dodds. She was a Walton from Kentucky.
Our family (The Sawyers) are proud to claim ourselves the first citizens of Waltonville.
When we took up residence there our home was the only one there and Dad's store building was
the only store.
"Grandma and Grandpa" Hirons lived on the hill, just over the boundary line north,
and Mr. Sid Hirons' family just over the boundary line to the southeast. The Luther Hirons
family came in 1893 and lived with "Grandma" Hirons. "Grandpa" Hirons died in 1892.
Florence Hirons was my chum now (1964) 72 years later she is my dearest friend.
(She now lives in Bakersfield, California. Her name is now Mrs. Charles Hayes).
Our father's store was located at the foot of the hill south. This later became the
In 1893 things happened fast. Williamsburg was a small town. In a few years
when most of the town had moved to Waltonville, Williamsburg was nicknamed
That year the W. C. and W railroad was finished through Waltonville from Chester
Illinois to Mt. Vernon, Illinois which "Boomed" the town.
A number of residences and one or two store buildings were moved to Waltonville and
other buildings were erected. The town sure "Mushroomed." There were three General Merchandise
stores, Sawyer Davis and Fry, and Joe NOrris (Pappy Joe we called him).
Mr. I. W. Robinson (Wils) for Wilson, as he was familiarly known, was Postmaster.
He also had a drug store in the same building. The Town Hall, or Robinson Hall was above
the Post Office.
The school house was being built at the cross-roads in the northeast part of town.
In the meantime school was held in the Robinson Hall.
Mr. McAtee was the Black-Smith, he was a fine man, but life was not easy for
him. I always felt sorry for him and his four little boys, whose mother died while they
were young. The boys called their father, "Willie."
FROM THE WALTONVILLE TRIBUNE OF APRIL 25, 1918
Mary Elizabeth Moore of Ina is visiting her little cousin, Vivian Wells, at the
home of Dr. J. W. Wells. Mary Elizabeth is 5 years old and Vivian is four. They are
having a good time on the beautiful lawn at Vivian's home and the Doctor sometimes takes
part on their games.
Mr. & Mrs. Harry Hamilton are the proud parents of a boy born to them Wednesday
O. O. Hester has purchased the
C. E. Bevis property and will move soon.
N. F. Hargis' store at Scheller
was visited again by robbers Tuesday night. The
goods were taken away in buggies.
Mr. C. E. Bevis and family have
moved to their new home, recently purchased from
Mrs. E. E. Mannen.
Herbert Dare and Pete Hirons
attended the pie supper at Wolf Prairie last Friday
night. This supper was given by the women and girls of the Wolf Prairie
neighborhood in behalf of the Red Cross. The boys report a good time and a nice sum
of money for the Red Cross as a result of the festival, but could not remember the exact amount.
Prof. Slater, G. A. Phelps and John Hirons held a patriots meeting at Dareville
School Friday night in the interest of the Third Liberty Loan. Mr. Braden, the teacher,
gave a pie supper, the proceeds amounting to about $12.00. This was donated to the Red Cross.
S. L. Hetherington of Mt. Vernon purchased the Ford car belonging to Henry Mussen,
who was captured after robbing the store at Woodlawn.
Clive Hartley and Irene Metcalg, were married Thursday, May 2. Their many friends
wish them happiness.
Mr. John Earls of Long Prairie was in town Wednesday and reports his son Earl, who
was in training camp, has left for France.
The Pie and Ice Cream Supper given at the I. O. O. F. Hall Saturday night was well
attended. The proceeds amounted to about $40.00 which will be used
to buy a Liberty Loan Bond.
NEWS FROM THE OAKLAND AREA
Pearl Holloway was elected School Director.
The coal drill is drilling forcoal on the W. E. Sulcer farm.
The main bridge across the Big Muddy is almost completed.
Many people from this vicinity attended Horse Prairie Church Sunday.
Harmon Nowland, wife, and daughter were guests of Mr. & Mrs. Harry Kirkpatrick
Mr. D. N. Moore & son motored to Mt. Vernon Friday afternoon in the company of
C. H. Coates has established a First Class Restuarant in the Farmers Bank
Building, east side. Your patronage is solicited.
Seed corn for sale at $1.50 per bushel. The corn has not been tested, but is
sound and solid. I have 300 bushels. By the load, taken from crib
without picking, $2.00 per bushel. J. W. Jeffries Waltonville, Illinois
This issue is the innaugeral copy of the Prairie Historian. We hope to issue
four copies oer year, but may fall short of that goal. The need for
copy material is great, so all members must be reporters. If you have some good material
send it in. Let the editorial committee decide whether is it usable. We hope
to include an occasional page of folklore in the bulletin, so don't hesitate to send in unproven
material. Old letters that have a historic interest are great. So are old maps.
In the future reference will be made to historical things in Waltonville by street
location. For this you will need a street map of Waltonville.
You may purchase a xeroxed copy of a Waltonville street map from the Librarian for 25 cents.
Copies of old school pictures or other documents may also be purchased from the
Librarian if they are available.
Members will receive written notice of proposed meetings. Notices will also be
published in Mt. Vernon Register News.
Prospective member may send their membership fee to: Estelle L. Holloway, Sec.-
Treas., Prairie Historians, P. O. Box 301, Waltonville, Illinois 62894.
Those joining the group before the close of the meeting January 25, 1972, will
be charter members.
Some people ask what is folklore? Below is a sample.
Thundering Alec Robinson lived in the Horse Prairie area in a very early day.
He was a rough spoken person with an extremely loud voice. He had
his heart set on a new gun that could be had only in St. Louis.
He finally saved up the purchase price and having no horse he lit out afoot
one cold winter morning to buy the gun of his dreams. Next afternoon,
he crossed the Mississippi on the ice, walked into town, bought the gun, a new horn
of powder, a supply of rifle balls and hurried back across the ice on his way home.
When he arrived there he decided to try his new rifle, so he called his dogs
(of which he had half a dozen half starved critters) and went out in search
of game. He hadn't gone far when to his surprise he saw a deer only a few score
yards away. He hurriedly uncorked the powder horn and accidently dumped a great deal too
much powder down the barrel. Now was no time to worry that though, so he dropped
in a ball and rammed it home. Raising the rifle he took dead aim on the deer and
pulled the trigger. There was a mighty roar and the winter air was filled with powder
smoke. He got the deer alright, but by the time he came to, the dogs had it almost eaten
THE NEXT MEETING WILL BE HELD
AT MILLEI'S CAFE IN WALTONVILLE, JANUARY 25, 1972 @ 7:30 pm
(Special thanks to the Business Education Department, Waltonville High
School, for their assistance.)
LOOKING FOR A HOME
What the Prairie Historians need now is a home. A museum and a place to meet.
Some have suggested one of the few remaining log buildings in the area.
Others have objected, pointing out the cost of moving and repairing such a building
for such a small smount of space.
Some have cast covetous eyes upon the old Primitive Baptist Church building,
pointing out that it is no longer used as a church and is the only remaining
landmark of the old days without alterations.
After a lengthy search the trustees were found to be located in other communities
and no one in this area has any authority over the Old building.
So far as we were able to determine there is no longer a member in the Waltonville
The present trustees wer contacted but declined all overtures, saying that the
deed specifies that the building must be used only for Church of Christ
meeting or it will revert to another congregation. (It was acquired by the Church
of Christ many years ago).
Those who are familiar with some of the members of the Waltonville Church of Christ
might ask them to check into this matter.
EVERYONE PLEASE KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR AN APPROPRIATE BUILDING TO BE USED AS A MUSEUM
AND MEETING PLACE.
Submitted by: Abby Newell
Sept 9, 2002