The Reunion of the Pioneers.
Their Children and Grand-Children.
The Fair Grounds a Happy Meeting Place.
Originally Published in the Kendall County Record, September 1, 1881.
Edited and Compiled by Elmer Dickson.
The regular annual picnic of the Old Settlers of Kendall County has become one of the institutions of our people. It is only necessary to announce the Old Settlers’ picnic in the plainest terms to draw a crowd. There is no need to embellish the program or announce high-sounding names to bring the people. They come because they want to see their old neighbors and friends and companions of an early day in the sorrow and joy of pioneer life. The young folks like to come and see the old people happy, and point with pride to the hale and hearty father and mother who came to this county in 1833, or 1834 to 1840, as the case may be. Everyone comes with the intention of having an informal, easy time. They can talk if they want to or listen to others if that is their desire. The only authority they need to be subservient to is the good common sense of an intelligent gathering.
With the exception of the dust, Thursday was a pleasant day. The sun was shaded nearly all day by a thick haze, making it reasonably cool. But the dust! Oh, the dust! It was deep, thick, and penetrating. No doubt everyone felt like they had been pitching straw from the tail end of a threshing machine so far as dirt was concerned.
But it didn’t matter; it was the day of the old settlers’ picnic. Fathers and mothers had to go, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the cooing young couple had to go; the dust held no terrors.
About nine o’clock in the morning, teams began to arrive in Yorkville. Parties stopped a while to do some errands, and then went to the Fair Grounds. By noon some two thousand people had arrived and were preparing for an abundant free lunch. It was a jovial time. There was not a long face on the grounds, and the family parties scattered about enjoyed a feast of the fat of the land, and pleasant social gossip.
The ladies of the Bristol Baptist church had a stove in the Floral Hall, preparing hot tea and coffee. Outside they had a booth that cooled the dusty ones with ice cream and lemonade. Lozier, the candy man, made the little folks happy and sticky with his hot, fresh cream candy. John Paine was there doing a thriving business with his horse swing and organette. The watermelon man was really busy selling loads of his fruit.
In the forenoon Minkler’s martial band got the folks together, and the Honorable George M. Hollenback called upon Reverend John R. Burns to open the exercises by prayer. After which, Mr. Hollenback as Chairman, spoke the following:
The present year marks an era in the history of the country, more especially in regard to our own county, for with the present year, ends the first half centennial, the fiftieth year of its actual settlement. It is true that more than fifty hears have elapsed since white men first came to what is now Kendall County, but the first on the ground did not come to stay. They were nearly as wild as the beasts that surrounded them, and as uncivilized as the Indians with whom they associated.
It becomes my pleasant duty to welcome you all, to the pleasures and enjoyments which the opportunity, and the day affords. Let us meet here upon the same level, while some of us may be politicians, let us all be patriots today.
The dinner exercise was next on the program.
After dinner others began to arrive, and by half-past one, there was probably 2500 people on the grounds. About this time, the President, George M. Hollenback mounted a wagon, and called the people to order to begin the “experience meeting.” Father Beggs, of Plainfield, was the first to speak, he came here as a missionary, fifty-one years ago. He is one of the men we look at and wonder how a frail, mortal body could endure so much. Father Beggs said his “circuit” covered some 700 miles, and he went everywhere, preaching about Christ, and his crucifixion.
The venerable man’s speech was followed by Smith Minkler’s martial band. Mr. Smith played the snare drum, Luther Litchfield the played the fife and the bass drum was played by various volunteers. If there is anything Mr. Minkler enjoys more than another it is beating a drum, unless he is giving away apples. He swings his drum sticks with old muster-day fervor.
Following the music, the Honorable Lorenzo D. Brady, of Aurora, made a few remarks. Long ago he was a merchant in Little Rock village, and knows all the folks over that way.
He was followed by John S. Armstrong, an early day man, who is evidence of what Virginia and corn pone will do for a man if he gets to Illinois when he is young. Mr. Armstrong says the late William Harris, the Long Grove pioneer; ground the corn into meal that made the mush the he (Armstrong) was brought up on. It was good meal, and good mush, for it raised a stalwart farmer and honest man.
About this time the Oswego Brass Band came on the grounds making the air ring with music and at once attracting the attention of all. The boys looked fine in their nice gray uniforms, and they can play too.
Honorable Perry A. Armstrong of Morris, was on the ground, and was invited to say something of the old times. He made a speech that interested his audience greatly. What Perry doesn’t know about the Indian history of the country is not known by any other in this section. He gave a number of facts and incidents in the life of Shabbona, as we call him, but Shau-bana, as Mr. Armstrong calls him. This noted Chief was born a member of the Ottawa tribe in Lower Canada in 1776. He came to Chicago in 1801 and was always a friend of the white people. The name Shaubana, says Mr. Armstrong, means “Head and shoulders like a bear,” as Shabbona was a very strong, muscular man about his arms, chest and shoulders. His address was very instructive indeed.
Mr. McDole, of Aurora, suggest that at the next picnic a collection be taken to help the people of Grundy County build a monument over the grave of the old Chief in Morris.
President Hollenback then read a letter from a well know pioneer woman of the county, known as “Galva.” It was as follows;
Thornfield Farm, August 24, 1881. Honorable G. M. Hollenback, President of Old Settlers’ Society.
Dear Sir: Having several times accepted invitations to speak at our meetings of the Old Settlers, and having always failed to do so, I have thought it best this time to explain the causes of this failure. For the past two months, besides being mistress of the house, I have filled the place of maid of all work, and in my constant efforts to make my family comfortable I have succeeded in making myself exceedingly uncomfortable, and shall feel more like swinging in the hammock tomorrow than addressing a large and intelligent audience.
Probably I am more disappointed than anyone else will be on account of my inability to respond to the invitation with which I have been honored by the President of the Society. Being a resident of Kendall County for forty-three years has given me some things to speak about, both from experience and observation. But as the experience of early settlers is much the same; doubtless it will all be recounted by others. However, I would rather like to tell of the first baby in the young pioneer’s cabin, and for the especial edification of my friend, Mr. Minkler, I would describe that homespun dress and the costume in which I made my debut into the then fashionable society. I would also like to talk about my experience as a district “school marm.” If it did not instruct, it might serve to amuse the young lady teachers of the present day. But all must go over for another year, when perhaps, I may tell what I know about settling a new country. Yours hastily and very truly. D. A. Aldrich. [Adelia “Delia” Augusta (Southworth) Mrs. Lyell T.]
The next speaker was Lewis G. Steward, of Plano, whom some would call “Lew”; he made a very forcible address; talked longer and with more vim than we have ever heard before. Some took exceptions to his opening remarks, that there had been virtually no progress in the previous twenty-five years. That we were no better off now than then; but we guess Mr. Steward was speaking abstractly. The gentleman then took up a subject near the hearts and minds of every man and woman listening: revolvers, assassins, communists, liberty and license, etc. He spoke very decidedly, very freely of the tendency of the age, and surprised his listeners by the energy he put into his remarks. We heard many favorable comments on his speech afterward. Mr. Steward is a great admirer of President Garfield and his cowardly assassination is on his mind constantly.
The election of officers for the ensuing year followed. Lewis Gilbert Steward was the unanimous choice for President.
George Mathias Hollenback had no competitor for the honors of Vice-President.
Smith Gorsline Minkler, the life of the association, was again chosen Secretary and Treasurer.
It was voted that he next picnic will be held in the same place; on the Fair Grounds.
Mr. Hollenback then announced that all business had been transacted and the people were at liberty to do as they pleased. It was five o’clock before the grounds were cleared.
It is impossible for a local paper reporter to give a list of pioneers present, or all of the incidents of the day, so a few paragraphs must suffice.
Fred Beane says he has driven hogs from his place in Seward Township to Oswego when there was only one house between the two points; the house of Mr. Stearns, near the Suydam neighborhood.
Simeon Brown, and wife, of Big Grove Township, was there, and an uncle of “Sims” from Washington County, New York, who is 81 years of age, was with them. This is his first visit west, coming to see his brother David Brown, who is 84 years of age. The old gentleman is not familiar with the fertility of our black prairie soil, and it does not look good to him. Coming to the picnic they crossed the Hollenback Creek, where there is quite a ravine of clay and stony soil. “There, there,” said Uncle Brown, “is some good land; that’s the kind I like; it looks like home.
Joshua C. Goodale and wife and Dr. Murphy of Aurora, seemed like one of us again.
Of course, Lewis B. Judson was on hand, looking as fresh as a youth of thirty, and his brother Orville Edwin Judson was there from Sandwich with his family.
Joseph D. Kern, our ex-Sheriff, another person from Sandwich, was also there looking as jovial as rest of the crowd.
Mr. Lyman Loomis, from Somonauk, was over and saw many old friends.
Squire Kellogg, of NaAuSay Township, renewed old acquaintances and talked of old times.
Mr. J. R. McLain, and his son, the Professor in the Indiana College, felt as though they had gone back a dozen years and had never left Kendall County at all.
Among others present was Peter Minkler, father of our Smith G. Minkler. He lives at Rochelle, IL, and is now 94 years of age. He enjoyed the day very much.
There was a large delegation from Seward Township, among whom we noticed Father Perkins, now 74; the McKanna Brothers; Barney was pretty sure Grant would not be at the Fair, but changed his mind when Mr. Welch got at him; Fred Beane, Mr. Heap, and others we cannot now recall were there as well.
Daniel Platt, and his handsome gray haired wife, who was a resident here when houses were scarce on the prairie were there.
Ansel Reed was probably the earliest settler on the ground, coming we believe in 1827. He is not an old man in appearance.
Sergeant Schermerhorn was there in his big carriage, and is proud of his thirty years residence in Kendall County. Clark Hollenback and he were talking over old army times, having been comrades. Clark said he saw the Sergeant shot down at Vicksburg in his line of duty, and that he was a brave soldier.
Francis T. “Frank” Seely, from Chicago, mingled with the throng.
Jonas Seely was over from Joliet, and enjoyed the day hugely. He has forgotten some of his Kendall friends, insisting in calling a neighbor of ours George Beck.
Mrs. Dr. Townsend Seely (Millicent (Tuthill) Seely) looked as pleasant and happy as though four score years had not dimmed a faculty. She is a most pleasant lady to meet, who came here about 1840.
It did one good to see our former County Treasurer, John C. Taylor, now a Sandwich capitalist. John was kept shaking hands and saying ‘how do you do,” about all day.
Some young men from Plattville and Lisbon essayed a game of baseball in the afternoon, but did not complete it. Plattville played four innings and made 19 runs. Lisbon played three innings and made two runs. Lewis Mason was the score keeper. Those playing for Plattville were D. W. Whitlock, H. Hubbard, C. Bentley, J. Reed, G. Hayes, W. Smith, A. Beane, and J. Austin. The Lisbon players were O. Reed, W. Spridgen, E. Boyne, F. Austin. F. Hawley, John Miller, John VanBuskirk, Fred Hills and Bert Hills.
Smith G. Minkler dropped into the Record office Friday noon just grinning and shaking hands with satisfaction. “Did you ever see such a picnic? Did you ever see such a nice crowd? Not an accident, cross word, or any rowdyism. It was just grand.” We agreed with him in his enjoyment.
We have said a good deal in this account, and left more unsaid. If any reader thinks of anything we have not said and can say if for his neighbors, just let him or her, write it out and paste it on the bottom or top of this article, and preserve the paper as a true account, of the Old Settlers’ Picnic in Bristol, August 25, 1881. Signed: Vale.
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