Kendall County Chronicles.
Reminiscences Covering Half a Century Related by an Early Settler.
Nine Weeks from the Empire to the Prairie State, Adventures along the Way.
Stories of Old Circuit Riders, Notable Preachers and Pioneers. Primitive Courts of Justice.
Originally Published in the Chicago, Inter-Ocean of September 15, 1883, and republished in the Kendall County Record, September 27, 1883.
Edited and Compiled by Elmer Dickson.
NaAuSay, Kendall County, Illinois. September 1, 1883. There is, perhaps, no more beautiful and commanding view of the Fox River and the fertile fields it drains than can be had in the township which gracefully repeats the name of this county (i. e. Kendall Township.) Because of its interesting historical associations, and of the charm and flavor of pioneering and pioneer life, I make bold to christen this Buena vista the Minkler Heights. With becoming diffidence and firmness, I commend this new name to the favorable consideration of Kendall County’s “preservers of the preserving art,” chief among whom is the Senator-editor, the Honorable John R. Marshall, of the Yorkville Record; and quoting from Bunyan’s “Apology for his Book,” I would suggest of course without undue familiarity, “John print it.” It was here that the late Peter Minkler, just fifty years ago, selected a site for his humble home, and built the rude cabin which stands today, at the close of a long life of uninterrupted usefulness, on the old Stevenson farm. The Fox Valley from this point is attractive at all seasons, but as the luscious summer merges into the mellow autumn, and all the colors are gently changing, before the trees shrink to mere skeletons of or the fields grow painfully bald, then is the time to fully appreciate and enjoy the subdued beauty of this lovely landscape, which should be caught and confined to canvas by some master hand while yet it is near enough to nature to retain a few of her numerous attractions. Just about this season in 1833, Mr. Minkler looked out over the valley, and decided that here was the place for him and his.
Finding an Old Settler.
Today I rode over to this crest of Kendall and had quite a chat about old times with Mr. Smith G. Minkler, whose ample home and broad acres are almost within gunshot of the log cabin of his father already referred to. The Minkler farm, which is also an extensive nursery, lies some three miles from Yorkville, the county seat, and about four and a half miles from Oswego. The place is famed for its pretty hedgerows, which take one back in memory to Old and New England, and is noted as well for its wealth of evergreens and plants, its vines and shrubs, as for the hospitality and unostentatious bearing of its owner. Mr. Minkler is well known throughout Illinois, and indeed, the Northwest as the Treasurer of the State Horticultural Society, as he is a recognized leader with the old settlers in these parts. In conversation a few days since with Mr. David Goudie, of NaAuSay, I learned that a narrative of Mr. Minkler’s experiences in this neighborhood half a century ago was likely to be interesting, and so, mounted upon a somewhat noted pony, Tiger by name, I loped over to Kendall Township and found some reminiscences which I am sure will be read by those who look on the pioneer as a pilgrim and patriarch to whom all honor is due, and who has made the “wilderness and the solitary place glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.” But I will let Mr. Minkler tell the story of his journey from New York State to Illinois, and of his settlement here.
“I guess I am about the only old settler left who came here in 1833, which is just fifty years ago. I landed in what is now Will County about July 10th of that year. I came out with my father from Potter’s Hollow, Albany County, New York. We traveled all the way by land. It took us nine weeks to get to our destination, which is a little different from traveling at the present time. A party of five families traveled together. We had three wagons; two wagons were pulled by teams of four horses, and one cart was pulled by a single horse.”
Railroads Scarce in those Days.
“I think about the only railroad then ran from Albany to Schenectady. We traveled by way of Buffalo and Cleveland. At that time the western part of New York was called “the west.” We then proceeded through Lower Sandusky to Perrysburg. When I had been here thirty-five years I went back over that part of our road. Where I had seen nothing but timber in 1833 was now all cleared. As evidence of civilization, I learned that in a distance of thirty-one miles there were thirty-one taverns! But to continue the journey: We got into Indiana and arrived at a place then known as Morgan’s Settlement, and further on became stuck in a slough. One who travels from east to west today has very little idea of the difficulties that had to be overcome by the early immigrants and settlers. After getting out of the slough we pushed ahead. It was reported to us that when we got to the Calumet River, we would have to take our wagons apart and go over in boats. We wanted to strike the Sauk Trail, and found a man who said he had been through the country and knew it. But our ‘guide’ didn’t seem to know very much about it. We went forward by compass without road or trail, but I suppose we got on the Sauk Trail. Sometimes we had to chain the wheels and sometimes we had to double-up to get through places. Then our guide said the rest of the trail was plain and left us, and went back, while we kept on. We came to an Indian village, and we might as well have tried to follow a lot of quail tracks as to attempt to follow that trail. Before we had gone much farther we discovered that we were lost. After deliberating we concluded to unload half our goods and leave them, and push forward with the compass as our guide. When we reached the Calumet River our hopes flagged somewhat. We are getting short of provisions and began to be kind of wolfish. Well, after other adventures, we finally got on the regular Sauk Trail.”
A Novel Sounding Pole.
“When we reached the Little Calumet River they made a sounding pole of me. As near as I can learn, the place where we were lost is where Crown Point, Indiana, now stands. When we reached the Calumet River, we learned by sounding that the water was eight feet deep. We made a bridge, and by hitching the horses to the ends of the wagon tongues, we got across the river, although it was quite risky. One of the men in the party fell sick, so we again lightened our load and pushed forward to Hickory Creek. The Sauk War (a.k.a. Blackhawk War in the spring of 1832.) was the year before, and a fort had been built up Hickory Creek, which was our objective. We crossed the Aux Plaines River about where the State Prison now stands. Joliet had not been founded yet At Plainfield, however, there was a small settlement. It was in those days called Walker’s Grove, after James Walker, who was the son of the old Methodist circuit rider.
There were then two trails from Chicago leading to Ottawa. What may be call the main trail passed through Plainfield. The other was along the Fox River. The latter trail left Chicago on the west and went past the Widow Berry’s place (that is, out the old Berry Point Road, now by the wisdom of the City Council called Colorado Avenue.) The next notable place on the way out from Chicago was Doty’s Tavern, not far from the old town of Lyons; then Brush Hill, near Hinsdale; then Naperville; the trail cut south of Aurora to Oswego, and thence to Georgetown (present day Newark, Illinois.) I remember that this trail used to lead us to the old United States Hotel in Chicago. The Plainfield trail ran down from there to Holderman’s Grove, about twenty-five miles below. Holderman settled there before the Sauk War. Nine miles below Holderman’s the Plainfield and the Fox River trails united, and from there to Ottawa was one and the same. I described generally these trails to show what our communications were with the outside world, Chicago and Ottawa. At that time, this section was part of an Indian Reservation and it was Potawatomie territory.”
First Glimpses of the Groves.
“We left our party at Hickory Creek at a point about five miles from what is now Joliet, and traveled to Plainfield. The Du Page River was such that we couldn’t cross it, so our party remained there. Several of us obtained a pilot and rode over to what is now NaAuSay, Oswego and other townships. Here, again we had an experience with one of the ’guides’. When we got down south a little distance we saw a lone tree, and our pilot said it was Hollenback’s trading house. But the fact was that Hollenback’s was fifteen miles form there. That showed how much he knew of the country. We struck over to where the Satterlee farm is now, over on the edge of Au Sable Grove. At that time there was a log house standing on what is now the site of Mr. Satterlee’s home. It had been built before the Sauk War by Walter Selvey. In the grove back of what is now Mr. Goudie’s farm, there was also a house by the Big Spring, which will be remembered by some old settlers. John Dougherty, II, who built that log house by the spring had selected a place in the timber, and at the cost of considerable labor had cleared five or ten acres. This seems strange now, but then it was not thought that prairie land was the productive soil that it is. Walter Selvey’s field was the only one plowed in the township.
Where the village of Oswego now stands was a hazel-patch. The first sight I got of Oswego was seeing some boys who had turbans on their heads “playing Indians.”
When we had looked around, my father said he had gone as far as he wanted to. I concluded to proceed to Tazewell County which had been the original objective point of some of the party. I went up the Vermilion River.
It was during this period that several of our party contracted illnesses. Physicians were few and far between, and of indifferent abilities. Several of my relatives died, which was a sad introduction to our new home.”
Several Notable Old Bachelors Pioneers.
“I then came back from my trip, and my father came back from Plainfield and located on the edge of what is generally called Specie Grove, for an old Frenchman named Pechay, of whose name it is a corruption. There were three other old bachelors who had settled in this vicinity. One was Hugh Walker (no relationship to James Walker of Plainfield.) who lived back where one of the Hopkins family now resides. Walker’s hut was subsequently occupied for a time by the James T. Titsworth family. Then there was Stephen Sweet and Edward Glenn Ament, who afterwards married. My father made a claim where Captain Godfrey W.Stevenson farm is, which is presently occupied by Mr. Nicholson. I might give an idea of the condition of our roads and of the country by citing an incident. The trail to the Titsworth family’s cabin was among deep grass and weeds, and these were as high as a man’s head, on horseback, and the mosquitoes were so thick you couldn’t talk. As for bridges, there weren’t any then.
I suppose in those days there were men who were no different from some now. One of the schemes some of them engaged in was to put up a shanty almost any where, and call it a claim, and then sell it. There was one group of men who had claims in half a dozen places and, of course as many of these were on a Reservation, they had no good right to them. But they did it, and made money by their sharp practice.
There are very few of the first houses of the early settlers left. I wouldn’t say that my father’s was the oldest. Hollenback’s house may be older. Father’s original house built in the fall of 1833, is now a part of a building used as a stable on the Stevenson place. Ament’s old house was moved to Marysville, which was near Orrin Austin’s place. Afterward it went to pieces.”
Stories of Saddle-Bag Preachers.
“Methodist circuit-riders often held religious services in many of the old log houses. They were the only places where services could be held, unless it was out of doors. I think the first services held in father’s log house were preached by Father William Royal. He always went by the name, Father Royal. Then there was the Reverend Stephen Ruddel Beggs who was the first of the Methodist preachers I saw in Illinois. Father Beggs now resides at Plainfield, and is, I think, the oldest preacher in the Rock River Conference. He was one of those sturdy men who seemed so well fitted to live in a new country. Beggs built the fort around his house at Plainfield and lives there now in a green old age. Then there was John Clark who was the Presiding Elder. He held a quarterly meeting in this area. Elder Royal Bullard preached in father’s house nearly half a century ago. Reverend Bullard was a farmer in what is now Millbrook. Then there was S. P. Keyes, who also preached there. He was another of the old saddle-bag preachers. The Reverend Wesley Bachelder, who now resides at Freedom, Illinois, who only the other day was at the Old Settlers reunion at Yorkville, told the story of having ridden one hours 6,000 miles in his preaching trips. In those days circuit preachers were a great thing. The present Chicago District embraces the churches in and immediately around the city, and the preachers of this day have a very faint idea of what the old circuit-riders had to do and where they had to go.
A Circuit Fifty Years Ago.
“I will give you an idea of what a circuit was in those early days. Our circuit embraced Walker’s Grove (Plainfield), Oswego, then Bristol six miles away, then there was preaching at Bullard’s home some eight miles further on, then at Asbury eight or ten miles distant. Then the preacher came back to Millington, four miles, then to Newark, two miles, and the next appointment called him to within four miles of Ottawa. From there he traveled to Holderman’s Grove, which was all of ten miles away; then to Lisbon, about six more miles, and then back to Plainfield.
This was the regular circuit, but of course there were side cuts, and many times the circuit-rider preached or conducted religious service whenever and wherever he could find a place. I remember Father Clark, the Presiding Elder I have named. On occasion, he held quarterly meetings in my father’s house, which was 20 by 24 feet. Said he: We’re some considerably crowded here today, but this is the best meeting on the District.” Another time, one of old preachers, who I think was, at Bristol, made a remark I have always remembered. The Methodists and Baptists had been worshipping in the meeting house of the latter; and had gotten along nicely. But one time the Methodists were celebrating communion service, and the preacher invited the Baptists to partake, but course they didn’t. The preacher then said, “We work together, but if we can’t do both, I suppose we will have to board ourselves.” Those were the days when the Chicago District took in Galena down to Peoria and way around. So you can see what it was to be a Methodist preacher fifty years ago.
When I went to Ottawa in 1833 there were only two or three houses on what is now the site of the city. There was a fort there which had been built for the protection of the people during the Sauk War. The fort had such a fine floor (it was the ground) that the women used to laugh and say that the floor was so tight they didn’t lose their needles. When the war was impending, old Shabbona sent spies out, and they went to warn the Walter Selvey family, whose cabin was on the present Satterlee place. The spies said, “Go away; Sauk coming.” So Selvey gathered up his household, put them on the road to Plainfield, and brought up the rear himself and so escaped. There were many such cases in the early days.”
Primitive Courts; Hard Times Long Ago.
“In those times our courts were different from what they are at present. When there were no laws we were a law unto ourselves, and the law was executed without changes of venues, appeals or supersedes. The cases were settled once and for all. We didn’t go to the courts; the neighbors were the judges. We had quite a time when we got to have township organization.
We all had to go to Chicago, where the land sale took place. Each township had ‘guards.’ I was a guard from here. That was along in the year 1841. My parchment, and I think there are not many who have parchments, was signed by President Polk. All those who wanted to hold their land went to Chicago. They had to be there. We had four men at the foot of the stairs, two half-way up, and four at the top, and if any man wanted to bid, he could, but he would have to stand the consequences, if he wanted to get the land somebody else had already settled on and improved.”
What Hard Times Were.
“People talk now-a-days about ‘tight times’ and ‘hard times.’ Why they don’t know what it used to be here. I remember I rode three days to borrow $15.00! I’ve seen the time when oats were selling for 9 cents a bushel. No one but a pioneer himself knows what those ice-breakers had to encounter. Why, when we had good weather and everything went smoothly, it took us three, four, or sometimes five days to make the trip from her to Chicago and back. We generally made the trip in three days, but often it took longer. Now it takes about two hours to come out to Oswego. That was the time, as my wife will tell you, when calico was 20 cents a yard which now can be bought for 7 or 8 cents a yard, and better goods than we could get in those days. We chatted long on the changes that had come over the face of the country since Mr. Minkler came as a young pilgrim to Illinois.
The shadows are most beautiful as the sun is dipping toward the western horizon. The fields are bathed in great floods of mellow light. The trees are cast over them like tall spires. The feathered chorus of the sky sent out their vesper songs from myriads of little throats. And a peaceful repose gradually settles over all as the hour of rest approaches. And so it is with these old pioneers, these ice-breakers, as Mr. Minkler aptly described them. One by one they are called to rest under the sod they have subdued. Only a few of these sturdy sons remain. Wreaths of evergreen for those who have joined the patriarchs in the New Land. Wreaths of evergreen for those whose sun is sinking, and who will soon ‘go over to the great majority.” Signed: T.C. M.
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