Published in the Kendall County News, August
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
The town of Fox is so called from Fox River, which runs diagonally through it from northeast to southwest. The name Fox as applied to the river is of uncertain origin. Perhaps it was called from Fox Lake, its source. The river was known early among the Indians and Canadian half-breeds as Pishtakee Sepe or Pishtakee River. It was certainly not named for the Fox tribe of Indians, because it did not run through any of the country of "Les Reynards" as the French called that tribe, whose Indian name was Musquawkee.
With all the surroundings of civilized life such as we at present enjoy, it is difficult to imagine the privations and sometimes annual suffering of a pioneer settler. Clad in apparel too scant to protect him from the vicissitudes of the season; with a habitation but little better than the lairs of wild beasts with which he was surrounded. He had of necessity to depend upon the spontaneous productions of the woods and streams to supply his wants until such time as the cultivation of the soil would give him a livelihood. Yet there was kind of enjoyment in such a life. There was much independence in it, for he depended upon no man except, perhaps, the trader, to whom he bartered the results of the chase for the few necessities his simple mode of life, required. For the tax gather he had no fears. For the lawyer he had no use, and the services of a physician were almost wholly dispensed with. "It was only when the lawyers came," said an early settler, "and justices of the peace were appointed that we began to have trouble."
The first settlers of our region were mostly people of southern origin. There were a few people from other states, but poor whites from the slave-holding states greatly predominated. They were a "peculiar people," with a quaintness of speech that still clings to their descendants wherever found.
In the early days of which we speak the dress of the settler was peculiar, being wholly of homespun, colored with butternut; its fashion was grotesque in the extreme. The trousers were straight cut, short in the leg; over which was belted the hunting shirt. The whole was surmounted, perhaps, by a coon skin cap. So much for the outer apparel. The shirt was of the most primitive make, also a product of the homespun kind.
The early settler was peculiar in other respects, aside from his quaintness of speech and dress. When away from his own habitation, which was frequent, he carried upon his shoulder his ever-present rifle of antiquated pattern. While at his heels followed his "yaller" dog of uncertain lineage. Sometimes another dog of smaller size, which he denominated a "fiast", would accompany him. There was always a suspicion of tobacco about the corners of his mouth, and frequently there protruded from the capacious pocket of his hunting shirt the neck of a flask containing something stronger than tobacco. The cabin of such a pioneer was not a model always of neatness and thrift. The household goods of such a home were few and of the rudest kind. A Dutch oven or two, a "skillet" or frying pan, a few dishes and coffeepot comprised the outfit. Occasionally a spinning wheel and loom would be found, which did service for the whole "settlement." Some of the very early settlers had never lived in houses containing window glass. The sunlight being let in, in uncertain quantity, by oiled or greased papers pasted where the window ought to have been. It was not unusual for the ladies of the family to use tobacco in the same manner that the head of the house used it. There was much comfort in the corn cob pipe, and occasionally a "chaw" for the mother of the family after the cares of the day were over. Jack Means and his amiable wife in the Hoosier Schoolmaster are not overdrawn characters. There were plenty of such characters in our neighborhood in those days without the thrift of the worthy "Means" family. The writer of this sketch can recall a few names such as Hall, Kline, Douglas, Stout, Pembroke, Bowers, Carter, and Bolinger. There were many others not remembered whose names are not borne on the record of Kendall County. They were not congenial to later comers and generally sold out their "claims" to later emigrants. Whereupon they moved further west or south to climes more congenial. One circumstance, which came under the observation of the writer, will be sufficient to give some idea of the inconvenience and privation some times attending the early settlement. In the warm weather a family could sleep under its wagon or under a rude bower of the branches of trees. When the winter season came on, the conditions had to be changed and more substantial shelter had to be sought out.
The writer well remembers a small party of emigrants who were seeking homes in the southwest part of the state who were quartered for many days in his father's cabin. Although a small child at the time, the recollection of it will never be erased from the writer's memory. It was sixty years ago in winter (1835-6.) The party had been delayed in getting to Chicago until late in the year. The ground was then covered deeply with snow and the temperature below zero. There were two or three dozen people eating and sleeping and trying to make themselves comfortable with the thermometer 15 to 20 degrees below zero. The wind was driving frost and snow through every crack and crevice of the little log cabin for nearly two weeks. Two families with grown up daughters and sons, beside the men and their wives sought shelter. There were also young children; some of them babies, in the group. The exact number is not now remembered, but there must have been between twenty and thirty people, perhaps more, sheltered in that little cabin, less than twenty feet square, during a severe blizzard lasting eleven days. The sleeping arrangements in that cabin for those eleven days were in a high degree interesting. Of course the young men and larger boys slept "in the loft," as it was called, that is, upstairs, which was reached by ladder. The fathers and mothers and the young ladies slept partly in the two bedsteads and trundle bed downstairs. The remainder, who were mostly small, were accommodated by lying wherever space permitted.
A tenderfoot will now have some idea of the discomfort and privation sometimes attending the early settlement of the county where roads, bridges and public conveyances were wholly unknown.
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