The following interesting sketch of her life, published on the occasion of her death, is taken from one of the newspapers published in the vicinity of Mt. Morris, Illinois.
Catherine Funk was born at Beaver Creek, Washington County, Md., the 24th day of August, 1797, and died on Wednesday, December 26, 1900, aged 103 years, 4 months and 2 days. Her ancestral line was noted for longevity, although none of her ancestors, so far as known, can match her own in that respect. Her father, Samuel Funk, lived to the ripe old age of 91 years. Her mother Susanna Houser Funk lived to be 75. Her grandfather lived to be about 86 years of age, and her grandmother was an octogenarian when she died. Very nearly half her own life was spent in the home of her childhood, and she did not come west until 1845, or 55 years ago. While still bearing her maiden name, Catherine Funk, she left her Maryland home, in company with John Bovey and family, who were moving to this vicinity, and started to make her home with her brother, Samuel Funk, who had moved west some time before, locating in Pine Creek township. She was married to Jacob Rice, who was a native of the same section as herself and his first wife Mary Rowland, having passed away three years after they had made their home in the new settlement.
The marriage of Catherine Funk to Mr. Rice was the begining of a busy household life of her own. Aunt Kitty , the name by which she has been familiarly known throughout the region around, had no children of her own, but she became a devoted and thoughtful mother to the children of her husband. They made their home three miles north of Mt. Morris, Ill, which continued to be their abode until his death in 1870, at the age of 85. She remained on the old homestead 20 years longer, but for the last 10 years resided in Mt. Morris with her step-son, the late Hon. Isaac Rice, whose name is honored throughout this part of the country.
"Aunt Kitty" often told her friends of the interesting incidents of her first trip west. On leaving her native state, this trip was made by stage as far as Wheeling, Va. (now West Virginia), thence down the Ohio River and up The Mississippi and Illinois rivers as far as Peru, near Peoria; thence she traveled overland to Oregon, the county seat of Ogle County. This now beautiful and thriving city then had only a handful of people, scarcely more than 200 souls, and the widely famous college town of Mt. Morris was then a hamlet numbering perhaps 50 persons. Among the incidents of life here in that early time were the occasional rides to Chicago by ox-cart, a trip she repeatedly made; her errand being to conclude the purchases for the year. On one occasion when the oxen were turned out to grass in the evening, one of the two teams strayed away, and in the morning could not be found, far or near. They were compelled to hitch one rig behind the other and make their journey drawn by a single team. The runaways were subsequently found to have made their way home, swimming the Rock River on their return.
At the period of Aunt Kitty's early visits, there was no danger of being lost in Chicago. The town was too small for that. Her annual visits there were for the purpose of laying in a supply of clothing for the severe western winters. Chicago was a very unattractive place in those times, the business district towards the court house being in the swamp, and the Michigan avenue lake front, over toward the present Illinois Central depot a line of sandy knolls. She remembered distinctly wandering along the Lake Michigan beach, picking up shells and pebbles.
The fact that the home of Mrs. Rice was in and near the college town of Mt. Morris for more than half a century, presiding over the home of a prominant member of the community, gave her the personal acquaintance of many young people who afterward came to fame and high station. Her roof always sheltered a generous hospitality. Among those who have sat at her table may be mentioned Gen. W. H. L. Wallace, Martin P. Sweet, Thomas J. Turner, E. B. Washburne, Shelby M. Cullom, Gen. John A. Rawlins and many others, some of whom were students of Rock River Seminary. Mrs. Rice was always industrious and frugal, but the needy were never denied food or care. She was almost as widly known in portions of Maryland around her old home, as in this vicinity.
Aunt Kitty's memory of events of her early years was remarkably clear to the last. Many stirring events transpired near her home at that time. The excitement caused by the war of 1812, the burning of the national capitol, the Bladensburg race, etc., were as fresh in her memory as though a recent occurance. She could trace the family connections of all who lived in the vicinity of her home, many of the families being represented in the older settlers of the region about Mt. Morris. She credited to her cheerfulness, her never-flagging industry and abstemious habits, the marked flavor extended to her in her long life. For many years of her life she was fond of smoking, indulging moderately, but for the last fifteen years or longer she strictly refrained. She was not able to read her favorite book, the Bible, for a number of years because of the impairment of her eyesight. She was able to distinguish general form and color, but nothing more. Her hearing continued good. Like her father and grandfather before her, she was a devout member of the Mennonite faith, but since coming where there are so few of that persuasion, she worshiped with other denominations with which she was most in sympathy. Although having her own views as to religious form etc., the spirit of the gospel was always the main thing with her.
Aunt Kitty was the contemporary of every great event in our national history since the Revolutionary War. Her life spanned all American presidents from Washington to McKinley. She lived during the three wars of our nation under the constitution, including the last war with Great Britain, the war with Mexico, and the great Civil War. She and her husband held to a faith that eschewed war, and excited of its following everything in act or conduct that could aid to basic war; but they gave their active sympathy and great cheer to the soldiers who fought to preserve the union.
Aunt Kitty's grandfather came to America about 1748, early in his married life. He came from the wine districts on the Rhine, being impelled to leave Germany on account of conscription and his religious compunction in regard to war. On the way across the Atlantic they were nearly three months on the passage and were near to a famine from running out of supplies. Her grandfather settled near Hagerstown, then a wilderness. The settlement there was often in peril from the Indians, the times being very alarming during the French and Indian War and during the Revolution. On one occasion, nine families lived all summer in a barn. At one time when the Indians came, they all fled to Fredericktown, 20 miles away, leaving a dinner cooking. They never knew who got that dinner.
Her grandfather gave her father a wild farm and her father and mother prepared it for cultivation, working together in grubbing out undergrowth and small trees. Later her father bought the mill. At one time it was so full of grain that the gable burst. That presented a grave emergency. He called in all the neighbors, with their teams, and moved the grain to the homes of the vicinity. The condition of the mill was found too serious to remedy and it was torn down, being completely rebuilt between April and October, a large force being employed for that purpose. The millwrights were put to work in the forest to prepare the timbers and the masons in the quarries to get out the stone. They had to care for all the force at the house. Her mother was an invalid from rheumatism at that time. The only help Aunt Kitty had was a girl of eleven years. There was absolutely no domestic help to be had. She did all the work, all the baking of the bread for the table consuming twenty barrels of flour during the six months. There were twenty-eight hungry men to be fed. Breakfast had to be ready at sun-rise, and the men from the quarries did not get in for supper until sun-down. A friend who dropped in to see them during that time period said he 'would not give much for Kitty when the mill was done', thinking it a killing work; but she outlived them all.
The farmer of that time raised quite an amount of wheat and corn, some rye and barley, and a little oats. He was also a stock raiser, keeping cattle, hogs and sheep. He grew flax for making all the linen for family use, and out of the flax and wool were prepared the fibres and the thread for weaving of the garments for both men and women. Many beautiful white linen goods were made, but it gave the women of the household a life of incessant labor. They were never idle, not stopping from their day's work until nine o'clock in the evening. The mere spinning was only a small part of the work of keeping the men and women in clothes, providing the bedding, the table linen etc. The grain was all cut by hand with the sickle. She had often seen twenty men in the field, going through the standing wheat and laying it in bundles. They had some wagons in those days but many more carts.
The young people were not without their enjoyments in her day, although their life was well filled with hard labor. Most families made apple butter a prominant thing of their diet. The young people used to get together in bees, prepare the apples and make them up into the apple butter. They had no Sunday schools in those days. When they came home from church the father would gather the children together after dinner to see how much they could remember of the sermon. After they had finished that catechizing they were allowed to play, this being about the only respite of the week. She remembered her grandfather well, who died in 1804, and her grandmother who died in 1807.
She recalled the first coffee they ever had. Her father brought it from Fredericktown. "Here's something they call coffee," she heard him say. "I don't know if they make soup of it or cook it with meat!" was his wandering comment. An English lady who knew coffee, pronounced it good and showed them how to prepare it. She browned the coffee in the skillet, and beat it in the mortar as they did their spices. Her father tried a mouthful of it, but immediately went to the door and spit it out, having a very poor idea of it. The English woman made it into a beverage. They did not like it at first, but later learned to be fond of it. Kitty's mother always made coffee Sunday mornings, and when she was little she could always tell when Sunday came because of the coffee-making.
The bitter feeling against the tories of the Revolution lingered to Kitty's day, and she remembered the excitement attending the return of two of them to that vicinity. One of them was saved by a reprieve from the president, which arrived just a half hour before the time set for his execution. Another was secreted and hustled off to New York by the 'underground railway.'
Mrs. Rice remembers experiences of going to the weekly market at Hagerstown with butter, eggs, and other things, which were part of the regular duties of her childhood days. She was the youngest of the family at home, and her father and mother wanted her to care for them until they were gone. This filial duty she was very glad to fulfill to them, with all the love of a faithful daughter, placing their interests and comforts always before her own. It was not until she had buried her father that she came west to join her youngest brother, whom she survived twenty-eight years.
Aunt Kitty knew her share of the trials and afflictions of life,but instead of yielding to them or being overcome, she was always thankful that they were not worse. Her's was a beautiful spirit, and the trait just mentioned shines through all her relations with fellow men, and in the kindly sentiments with which no one could be with her any length of time without perceiving it to be the ruling characteristic of her life. It was refreshing to receive the influence of such an association, even though it was but for a chat of a few moments.
Her funeral took place on Saturday, the 29th of December 1900. Services were conducted by Rev. Ephraim Shellenberger, of the Mennonite church near Freeport, the Rev. F. W. Nazarine, Mt. Morris. Her funeral was probably the largest ever held at that place. She was laid to rest in Oakwood Cemetery beside her husband.
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