Town of Gratiot

Pg 590 - 594

pg 590

Gratiot was a polling precinct as early as 1843, which it remained, including a large area of adjacent territory, until January 3, 1849, when the town was laid off by the County Commissioners, to include within its limits an area seven by nine miles square, as follows;  Nine sections in Town 2 and fifty-four sections in Town 1, within Ranges 3 and 4 east of the Fourth Principal Meridian.  The town remained in this form until March 1, 1855, when a portion of the town three miles square was set off from the southwest corner and added to the town of Monticello.  

The first town meeting was held in the schoolhouse at the village of Gratiot on the 3d day of April, 1849, when the town was regularly organized, and the following officers, among others, were elected:

Samuel Cole, Chairman
Elias Slothower, Supervisor
Dow Lerozee, Supervisor
H. S. Rodolf, Clerk
J.R. Shultz, Treasurer
William Cook, Assessor
Samuel Parks, Superintenent of Schools.

The number of votes cast was forty-two.  The amount of taxes assessed for general purposes in the town in 1849 was $575.58.  The town was named Gratiot in honor of Henry Gratiot, the founder of Gratiot's Grove, and one of the first claimants in this section.  The town rents a small building in the village of Gratiot for the transaction of business.

Samuel Cole was the first Justice of the Peace in this section, having been appointed early in the forties.

The surface of this region is variable in contour.  In the south and southeast portions, it is generally beautifully undulating prairie, while in the north and northwest parts it is quite rough and broken in places.

The soil is good, that of the prairie lands being principally a rich, black, friable loam, as distinguished from the clay loam and limestone marl of the hills and uplands.

Gratiot is bounteously watered in all portions.  The northeast corner is crossed by the west branch of the Pecatonica, which at one time was navigable for small craft.  Into this stream flows Wolf Creek from the south, and its several tributaries which intersect the south and west parts of the town.  There are also four small streams rising in the eastern part of the town, which flow east and empty into the Pecatonica.  The Pecatonica and Wolf Rivers furnish good waterpowers..

The timber supply is somewhat limited, especially in the south part.  The best timber lies north of the Pecatonica.  Here exists, in abundance, maple, walnut, elm, ash, poplar and several varieties of oak.  There is also some very good timber lying just south of and bordering on the pecatonica, and in patches throughout the town.  

The first inhabitants were nearly all Americans, but at present a variety of nationalities is represented here. The northeast corner is now occupied by a settlement of Norwegians; the northwest corner is settled principally by Irish; in the central part, several families of Germans have located, while in the south part the population is made up mainly of Americans and English.  In early days, the Democratic element was very strong, but now the reverse is the case.  The social, religious and educational condition of the people at present is excellent, there being a goodly number of schools and churches.

The products at present are such as pertain to agriculture, there being no manufacturing done other than milling and cheese-making, and no mining work pursued, although mineral is frequently found in the town in digging wells, cellars, post-holes and other excavations.  There is an abundance of limestone at different points throughout the town, which can be easily quarried for building purposes.

The people are generally properous, and a mojority of the old settlers remaining can show, as the fruits of their industry, fine farms and comfortable dwellings.  The climate is good, the water good and the soil highly productive.  What more can be asked by an agricultural community to insure a good living?

In all probability, the first claim was laid by Henry Gratiot, who located at the lead mines of Illinois in 1823, probably, and came thence to the Grove in 1824.  From that point, early in 1828, he came into this town accompanied by John Curtis, and located the Wolf River mill privilege and the land in the vicinity, where the village of Gratiot now stands, on section 9.  Mr. Gratiot's object at the time was to establish a saw-mill where he could obtain lumber for building at the Grove mining camp.  That he accomplished his purpose, is well known, for, during that year, a rude dam and log saw-mill were constructed, and from that time to this the waters of Wolf River have, through nearly all the years, supplied power to the busy wheels of mill machinery.  During the time the mill was being built, Mr. Curtis caused a log cabin to be constructed, into which his wife and two little ones were moved.  

pg 592

This was probably the first white man's dwelling, and these the first white woman and children in town.

In the winter of 1828-29, a third building was erected, to be used for a grist-mill.  The stones, two small buhrs, were imported from France by Mr. Gratiot at an expense of $400.  Coming by way of New Orleans and Galena, they arrived here early in 1829, and, very soon after, the first regular set of buhrs in the county were at work crushing grain for the miners and farmers of adjacent localities.

The mill was conducted by Mr. Curtis in conjunction with a man by the name of Kellogg  but, whether as owners or not, cannot be ascertained   --  until the breaking-out of the Black Hawk War in 1832, when they were closed.  The mills were not molested by the Indians.

Previous to this time, in 1828, Aaron Hawley, who had formerly been a missionary among the Indians, moved into the town and settled on Section 4, near the West Branch of the Pecatonica, opposite to the mouth of Wolf River.  This was the first farm claim laid in the town.  Mr. Hawley brought a large family of boys and girls, and lived here until the Black Hawk War, at the time of the breaking-out of which, he was in Illinois buying cattle, but, hearing of the danger to which his family were subjected, he started for home, joining Felix St. Vrain, Indian agent, and a party with him, who were bearing dispatches from Rock River to Galena.  Four miles south of Kellogg's Grove, in Jo Daviess County, they were attacked by Indians, and four of the party killed.  Mr. Hawley, it is supposed, was one of them, although his body was never found.  Mr. Hale, an early settler of Wiota, was also one of the killed.  The fight occurred in May.  On the 8th of June following, Capt. Stevenson's company of Mounted Rangers found three of the dead bodies, and gave them decent burial.

A son of Mr. Hawley, Robert, who now lives at Warren, Ill., was born in Gratiot in the Autumn of 1828, before the dwelling of his parents was finished.  He is the first born white of the town.

The year following the advent of Curtis and Hawley, Stephen and Nicholas Hale located in the town about half a mile north of Gratiot Village, and began the work of making a home.  If there were any other settlers in the town previous to the Indian war of 1832, it is not known; probably there were none.  During the war, the people were obliged to leave and take refuge in the different forts adjacent, where they remained until it close, when Mr. Curtis returned, and with him Mr. Kellogg and a Mr. Whitney.  The mills were again started.

In 1833, J. R. Shultz and Peter Corish settled in the town.  Of Mr. Shultz, it is related that he was an honorable and generous-hearted but fire-eating Kentuckian, who taught his children to fight on the slightest insult against their honor, or expect a sound drubbing from him if they did not.  He was a highly respected citizen, and lived here many years.

William S. Hamilton, son of the eminent statesman Alexander Hamilton, and a pioneer of the town of Wiota, lived with Mr. Shultz during a part of the latter years that he was in the country.

Mr. Corish, an unassuming person, though well esteemed, lived here until his death, which occurred a few years ago.

In 1934, a Swiss family by the name of Rodolf, the male members of which were H.L., and J. C. F., settled in the town, and the Hastings brothers, A.V., Sylvanus and David, came and located on the old Hawley place.  The Rodolfs were a high-bred and well-educated family, H.L. Rodolf, uncle of J.C.C., was a polished gentleman, and had been President of the Swiss Republic previous to emigrating to this country.  There are none of the family now living here.  The Hastings family were genuine borderers, rough and ready.  They early emigrated to fresh fields.

John and Charles Lace, the former a somewhat notorious character, came in soon after this, and located at what was then known as Gratiot, where John opened the first liquor saloon in town.  He removed to other parts and was subsequently shot.  His brother was drowned in 1839, the first white person known to have been drowned in the Pecatonica.  At his funeral, three kinds of liquor were provided, and something of a suction was indulged in by those present,

pg 593

who came from far and near.  In digging the grave, mineral was discovered.  This excited the cupidity of a miner by the name of Belden, who began prospecting soon afterward, near the grave.  He soon ceased, however, declaring that he heard groans proceeding from the tomb.

In 1836, several parties came into the town, of whom may be mentioned

Zera Bebee,

Horace Bebee,

Hirman Smith

John Thompson.

Very soon after the arrival of the Bebees, the Gratiot Mills were rented by them from DeGarmo Jones and J.P. Sheldon, who had purchased the property form the former owners a short time before.  Hiram Smith was employed to assist in running the mill and to employ his spare time in building a new dyke, which he did, a wheelbarrow and  spade being the implements used in the work. Smith was a chronic bachelor, and lived in a dug-out.  Peace to his memory.

In 1838, Hiram Bebee the elder, brought on his family from the East, and opened a hotel, and bought the first acre of land in the village of Gratiot.  Mr. Bebee was a very noted person in his day, a great hunter and story-teller, and an eccentric character.  It is said of him, that, no matter what he might be doing, he would drop everyting suddenly and start off, and be gone weeks, giving no notice of his whereabouts.  The first religious services in the town were held at his house in 1839, by Elder Osborne, a Baptist preacher, who lived in Wiota.  After services, he would take his gun and fish-pole and start out with the boys to work off the effects of the sermon.  It is said that during the first times of religious excitement, Zera Bebee, who was a great enthusiast, would unbutton his coat by jerking off the buttons.  Horace Bebee, his son, who now lives in Wiota, was one of the first surveyors, and the first storekeeper in the town.

In 1838 and 1839, the number of settlers was largely augmented.  They were
David Atwood,
Samuel Cole,
S.G. Bragg,
Erastus Bebee,
Charles Webster,
B.W. and E.W. Tuttle,
William Fleharty,
and perhaps two or three others.  David Atwood and Mr. Cole, who has been the representative of his district in the Legislature during ten or eleven sessions, opened the first blacksmith-shop in the town, very soon after their arrival.

During the next few years the influx of people was very rapid.  Among these may now be mentioned the following persons, some of whom are yet living here:

Elias Slothower,
John Connery,
Hiram Tuttle,
Henry Randolph,
William Long,
William Cook,
William Bradshaw,
Joshua Brown,
Joseph West,
E. Butterfield,
Martin Wheaton,
Samuel Slothower,
Lyman Clark,
David Blubaugh,
J.F.Beard,
E. W. German,
John Lines,
N. Dobking,
George Heindel,
W. H. Stevens,
P. Campbell,
N. and H. True,
Dow Levisee,
N. B. Richardson,
S. Parks, Mr. Lyman,
A. Blood,
Jeremiah Chapman,
John Barber,
James and William King,
John Eaton,
Mr. Sprague,
Mr. Foss,
A. P. Kane,
E. Farnham,
P.D. Jerry,
James McDonald,
C.H. Gratiot (sone of Henry Gratiot),
H. Heffernan,
J. and W. Leavitt,
D.E. Dull,
John Shay,
D. and J. McHugh,
G. W. Russell,
Peter Slothower,
Mr. Ball and
the Rues.
 The oldest settlers now living in the town, are Messrs. Cole, Thompson and Slothower.

The first methodist Episcopal minister to perform service in this town, was Elder Crummer, the frontier circuit-rider, who came before 1840.  William Fleharty and William Young were also early local preachers officiating throughout this section.

A schoolhouse was built at Gratiot Village about 1843, and the first school was taught by Aurellia Tuttle.

Many of the old settlers will remember how stringent the local customs were regarding the jumping of claims.  On one occasion, a claim made by Mr. Bradshaw having been taken, an indignation meeting of the citizens was soon after held, in the south part of town, at what was known as the Spring Valley settlement, and measures were adopted which resulted in recovering the land, but, before the settlement could be effected, there was a bloody fight, and one person was stabbed, being seriously wounded.

The first land was broken and cultivated by Aaron Hawley, in the spring of 1829.

The first death chronicled occurred at a very early day; a child, either of Mr. Curtis or Mr. Kellogg, having been killed by a saw-log, which lay wedged up on the side of the race, above the mill, and which, getting loose, rolled over the little one, crushing it to death.

pg 594

The first marriage remembered to have been celebrated in this town was on New Year's Day of 1841, when Henry Law and Harriet Bebee were united.

During the Early days, wild animals were very thick, especially deer and wolves.  For a good hunter to get eight or ten shopts in a day's hunt was a common occurrence.

One of the singular beings of early times was a tramp and beggar, who made his headquarters about a mile north of the village.  He was a Texan ranger, who, having been bitten by a tarantula, had lost the use of one of his hands. He wandered here and there about the country; he departed for good before 1840.  

Spring Valley was, in 1845, quite a thriving village, having several houses, and a hotel and store kept by Dow Levisee, and a blacksmith-shop kept by Mr. Chapman.  There is no business done there now, and scarcely a dwelling to mark the place.

The first burials were on the farms of the residents: now there is a general cemetery on Section 9, managed by a corporation called the Gratiot Cemetery; one on section 1, Range 3, and one on section 29.

There are four churches in town.  The Methodist Episcopal Church, called the "Stone Church," as it is built of that material, stands on the southeast corner of Section 29, and is the oldest in town, having been erected about twenty-five years ago.  This church belongs to the State-line Circuit, from which it is supplied with a minister.  The Kingsley Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, named after a place in England, is a commodious from building, located on section 20, and which was erected in 1871.  It belongs to the Shullsburg Circuit.  The other churches are situated in the village of Gratiot.  Several years ago, there was a strong Baptist organization at Spring Valley, which held services in a schoolhouse on the old stage road.  This society long since ceased holding meetings.

A saw-mill was built in the northeast corner of the town in 1839, by John Connery, J. Slothower and George Schellenger.  They run it for a time, then sold to Selden Quimby, from whom it passed to
D. Blubach.  After him J. Barrington was the owner.  The mill was closed two years ago.

There is a small cheese factory in town, built some years ago on the northwest quarter of Section 15, Range 3, and owned by a stock company.

In 1839, B. W. Tuttle secured an interest in the Gratiot Mill property by the erection of a new  mill.  In June, 1868, this mill was swept away by a freshet, some of the machinery being carried ten miles.  The mill was not rebuilt until some time after, when E. C. Bruner and Nelson Bower, having purchased the property, erected the present substantial and commodious structure.  The mill is supplied with ample and first-class mill fixtures, and is now owned by Nelson Bower, Mr. Bruner and family having been killed at the Ashtabula disaster.

Index of History of La Fayette County--1881

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