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Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company

Page 539

WILLIAM WATKINS, now deceased, was one of the most progressive farmers of Menard county, quick to adopt new methods and utilize new improvements in carrying on his chosen life work. He was born in Little Grove, September 15, 1821, and at the time of his death, which occurred July 9, 1882, was the eldest native son of the county. His parents were Joseph and Nancy (Greene) Watkins, who had established their home here when this region was being first opened up to the influences of civilization. He was reared under the parental roof and attended school for only a short time, his educational privileges being extremely limited. His training at farm labor, however, was not meager, for as soon as old enough to handle the plow he began work in the fields and soon became familiar with the various duties which constitute the life work of the agriculturist. He began farming on his own account on a tract of eighty acres of land, constituting a part of the farm now occupied by his family. This had been given him by his father. He was married in 1846 to Miss Sarah Armstrong, a daughter of Hugh and Frances (Greene) Armstrong, who were early residents of the county. Her father was a half-brother of Bowling Greene, with whom Abraham Lincoln at one time boarded and who was one of the first white settlers to locate in Menard county. Mrs. Watkins was born November 26, 1829, at the Armstrong home about three miles south of Petersburg, this property being now owned by G. W. Welch and occupied by Gaines Welch. She pursued her education in an old log schoolhouse which stood on the east side of a little stream that ran past her father's place. She was trained to the duties of the household and had good practical ideas of housekeeping when she went as a bride to her husband's home. They became the parents of fifteen children: Elizabeth, who married Will Covington, a farmer living in Oklahoma, by whom she has five children; Caroline, the wife of John Armstrong, a grain buyer and dealer in agricultural implements at Oakford, by whom she has three daughters; Elijah, who died when two years of age; Kate, the wife of Elijah Thomas, a resident farmer living in Oakford, by whom she has two sons; Laura, the wife of Thomas Stith, a farmer residing a mile east of the Watkins farm, by whom she has one daughter; Charlie, living on the old home place; Mollie, the wife of George K. Ray, who is farming east of the Watkins property; George, who married Etta Shurtz, by whom he has one daughter and is a farmer living on the Watkins homestead; Hugh, a farmer of Oakford, who married Annie Mettling and has one daughter; Etta, who married E. C. Stith, a farmer, a half mile west of the Watkins home, by whom she has four children; Willie, who died when but two years of age; and four children who died unnamed.

Throughout his entire life William Watkins carried on general farming and as his financial resources increased he made judicious investments in property and became the owner of a valuable tract of land of four hundred acres, which since his death has been divided among his children. He always raised stock and fed the first steer that was ever fed on the Sandridge. He also had the first sausage mill in this locality and as pioneer conditions gave way before the improvement and advancement of civilization he was always among the first to take up with new ideas and methods which promised to be of practical value. He always used horses in farming his land, although many of his neighbors had ox teams in the early days. His wife had the first sewing machine which was used on the Sandridge, but prior to that time she had used a spinning wheel, spinning the yearn and weaving the cloth to make the family garments. This old wheel, an heirloom of pioneer times, was destroyed when the house was burned. They also had the first lamp used in this part of the county, it superseding the old tallow candles. Mr. Watkins ever led the advance in progress and his prosperity was well merited for he was ever honorable and straightforward in his dealings. He died July 9, 1882, and his remains were interred in the Petersburg cemetery. Thus passed away one of the most honored, respected and worthy pioneer residents of the county, but he is yet held in loving remembrance by those who knew him. His widow still resides upon the old homestead and throughout the county she has a wide circle of friends.

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