Transcribed by: Jeanie Lowe.
The first settlement made in Tallula Precinct was in Clary's Grove, by a man named John Clary, from whom the grove derived its name. Clary was from Tennessee, and squatted here about the year 1819. For three years, he spent the winters in a kind of camp, made of poles, with three sides built up, the fourth left open, and where a huge log heap was kept burning night and day during the winter season, while his family reposed and were sheltered in the camp attached to this burning pile. He sold his claim to a man named Watkins, and he sold it to George Spears, who now lives upon the site of this original settlement of Clary's Grove. After selling his claim to Watkins, Clary removed to Arkansas, but many relatives and descendants are living still in the county. He was a soldier of the Revolutionary war, and participated in many of the fierce battles with "King George's red-coats." By nature a pioneer, he sought the wilds of Illinois, and, as people crowded him too close, removed to Arkansas as above stated. Thomas Watkins was from Kentucky, claim of Clary, as stated above. He sold out to George Spears upon his arrival in the country in 1824, and removed into the river timber near the present city of Petersburg, where he died at a later day. He has two sons and perhaps other descendants living in the county. Absalom Mounts was here also about 1820-1821. He built a mill here in a very early day, which was of the most primitive pattern, dimensions and capacity. Whence he came, no one seems to know, but he afterward went to Mason County, as we hear of him there in the milling business very early.
James White and Robert Conover were brothers-in-law to George Spears, and came from Green County, Ky. White settled here in 1820, and Conover in 1822. They both married sisters to Spears, and they, as well as their wives, are dead. They died on the farms they originally settled, but have left behind them numerous descendants. Solomon Matthews was another of the early comers, and was from Tennessee. He came about 1821 or 1822, but was one of the transient settlers to be found in all new countries, who, as game thins out and becomes scarce, follow it. Matthews left after a few years, and what became of him no one seems to know or care. Another of these very early ones was banister Bond, who was also from Tennessee. He remained here some twenty or twenty-five years, when he sold out and removed to Iowa, where he lived at the last account of him. Cyrus Kirby came from Kentucky about 1822 or 1823, and settled in the grove. He was rather poor, and had no team to plow and break his ground, but took a mattock and dug up two acres of prairie, and planted it in corn. Think of this, ye "silk-stockinged" farmers, as you ride over your broad fields upon your sulky plows, and watch with pride your reapers and "headers" gliding through the golden grain, and remember that half a century ago, perhaps, some indigent farmer was toiling upon the same spot, like Cyrus Kirby, to make bread for his little ones. When Kirby died here some years ago, this memorable mattock was sold at his sale and bought by one of his sons, who still keeps it as a relic of the pioneer days, Solomon Speer is another of the pioneers who came to the grove in 1820. He came with White, and was a brother-in-law to him. After remaining here a number of years, he moved to Cass County where he died. He has two granddaughters living in the village of Tallula; one of them - the amiable landlady of the Wathen House, and the other - Mrs. Lovesey, Jacob and Jesse Gum came in 1821-22, and were also from Kentucky, where most of the early settlers of this section came from. Jesse died in the neighborhood where he settled; Jacob moved to Knox County and died there some years ago. William Clary was here as early as 1822-23, and came from Tennessee. He sold his claim to George Spears when he came in 1824, and removed to Arkansas. Andrew Beard came about the same time, and also sold out his claim to Spears, - is the place where John Q. Spears now lives. He came from Kentucky, and after selling his claim to Spears, moved over on the west side of the grove, where he remained a few years, sold out and started to remove to Oregon, but died on the Gulf of Mexico, on his way to his intended home. Burton Lytton, another Kentuckian, sold his claim to Spears in 1824, and removed to what is now Cass County. It is not known what year he settled in the grove, but he was here when Spears came. William Revis came here about 1822-23, but did not remain long. He sold out to Conover and followed the star of empire.
Mr. Jane Vaughn, a widow lady, came about the same time as Revis, but sold out some years later and moved to Knox County. Joseph Watkins was also here as early as 1820-21. He moved to Little Grove, where he afterward died. John Gum Sr., came in 1822, and was from Kentucky. He afterward removed to Knox County, where he was living at the last known of him.
The pioneers named above settled in the grove previous to 1824 - the year that George Spears came to the settlement. Some had even moved away before he came, and others left soon after. They wee mostly of that character who squat in the wilderness where game is plenty, and when that begins to fail, they, like the Arabs,
"fold their tents,
And as silently steal away."
Mr. Spears came from Kentucky in 1824, and, as already noted, bought the claims of several of the parties, whose settlement in the grove has been mentioned in the preceding pages. His father and mother came here with him, far advanced in years at the time, and died in a ripe old age, as noticed in the biographical department of this work. George Spears bought the claims of these squatters, which were squatter's claims only, and then entered the land when it came into market. He has, since he came here in 1824, entered and opened up over three thousand acres of land and settled his children around him upon good farms. He has seen the wilderness transformed in t other excellent site of cultivation we find to day. When he came here, the few scattering voters had to go to Springfield to exercise that right of American freemen. He built the second brick residence, in 1829, erected in Sangamon County, which then embraced Menard, Cass, Mason and perhaps as many others. That brick residence has been his home for fifty years, and in it, a few years ago, he celebrated, with his beloved helpmeet and a circle of friends, their golden wedding. Since then she has left him for a home up yonder. He is still in vigorous health, both mentally and physically, and to him we acknowledge our indebtedness for many facts pertaining to the early settlement of this section. An earnest and zealous Christian of the Baptist type, he has contributed liberally to the support, and to the building of the elegant church in Tallula. Coleman and John Gaddie, with their widowed mother came in 1824, and were from Kentucky. John Workman was among the early settlers who came in 1824-25. He died soon after, and a man named Simpson bought out the widow. Simpson died some years later, and his family remained on the place until last year, when they sold it and removed to Kansas. John Jones was another of the pioneers of 1824. He came from Kentucky, and died in Little Grove a number of years ago. Mrs. Rebecca Spears, a widow lady, came here with her family about 1826, and settled in the grove, where all the first settlements were made.
Elias Conover was the first man who settled out on the prairie. He built his residence four miles from the timber, and was supposed at the time to be crazy. He was from new Jersey, and possessed the idea that by locating out on the prairie he would always have an uninterrupted range for his stock on "nature's waving meadows," as it was the universal supposition that those then living would never se the prairies settled up. How nearly correct they were in their estimation of things, the present state of the country goes to show. Mr. Conover settled his family around him and died some years ago on the place of his original settlement. Thomas Arnold was from Tennessee, and came to the settlement in 1826-27. He was very poor when he came, and lived on Spears' land until able t buy land, and finally accumulated a fair property. John Sewell was a brother-in-law to Arnold and came at the same time. He brought his aged mother to the settlement with him. William Tippett came about the same time, and both lived on Spears' land until able to buy land. They are mentioned as extremely honest, hard workingmen, and finally secured comfortable homes.
Samuel B. Neely came from Tennessee and settled in the grove in 1828. He removed to Mason County, where he died recently. Abraham Burgin was from New Jersey and came to the settlement in 1825-26. He was a man of some prominence and died near Galesburg several years ago. Abraham B. Bell came from Kentucky in 1826 and settled in the neighborhood, where he died a few years ago. He has two sons who are merchants in the village of Tallula and among the live businessmen of the place. John Kinner was from Virginia and came to the settlement at the same time as did Bell. He is still living in the grove. Other early settlers in what is now Tallula Precinct are George, Jacob and Jesse Greene, William Smedley, Samuel Colwell, Joseph Cottington, Theodore Baker, Isaac N. Reding and William G. Greene. The latter is a native of Kentucky and came here at a very early day with his parents, who settled near the village of Old Salem, where they died many years later. William G. Greene has spent most of his life in this section and has accumulated a large fortune. As a full and complete history of his career is given in the biographical portion of this work, we will not repeat it here. There are probably other old settlers who deserve mention in this chapter, but a long period has elapsed since the first settlements were made in what is now Tallula Precinct, and so few of the early pioneers are left, that it is simply an impossibility to collect the names of all who, by right, come under the head of early settlers.