Hello and welcome to our visitors! In the summer of 2015 the Pekin Public Library debuted this new weblog spotlighting our Local History Room collection. The weekly “From the Local History Room” column that is published in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times will be posted here. We welcome your comments and questions and research queries.
By Jared Olar
In recent weeks, this column recalled two local historical events that may be called “the worst and the first.” The Little Mine Riot of 1894 was Tazewell County’s worst riot, while Pekin’s first riot happened in 1851.
In both cases, the riot involved a group of workers, but the similarity between the two riots begins and ends there. In 1894, it was an acrimonious dispute between miners and the mine’s owners, but in 1851 it was simply a case of a steamboat’s deck hands drinking to excess.
The standard histories of Pekin and Tazewell County offer much more information about the Little Mine Riot than of the 1851 riot in Pekin. We know many of the details of the Little Mine Riot, but of the 1851 riot we know only the date (the Fourth of July), that the group of rioters was large, and that they worked off their fines on a chain gang doing maintenance on Pekin’s streets.
Pekin historian William H. Bates wrote the first-ever historical sketch of Pekin about 19 years after the riot of 1851, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he doesn’t even provide the name of the steamboat, let alone the exact number of rioters who were arrested. Much later, Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling said there were about 30 or 40 rioters – but it seems it would have been an unusually large steamboat to have had that many deck hands.
These gaps in Pekin’s historical record can be filled in with information found in a newspaper report of the riot of 1851. No doubt news of the riot made the papers in Tazewell County. Even without radio, television, or the Internet, within days rumors and hearsay of the riot would have spread throughout central Illinois. And so, less than two weeks later, Tazewell County’s neighbors in McLean County were able the read the following report in the Bloomington Pantagraph of July 16, 1851:
“Considerable of a riot occurred at Pekin on the 4th inst. It seems that the hands belonging to the steamer Lucy Bertram got on a spree while she was lying at that place, whereupon they assaulted some of the citizens, but no very serious damage was done. Eighteen of the crew were immediately taken before the mayor to be tried for rioting. Seventeen of them were convicted and fined $55. One was acquitted, one paid the fine, one gave security, and the balance were placed upon the streets to work out their fines.”
This report – a copy of which was graciously provided by Ken Lacey of the Manito Historical Society – provides the steamboat’s name (the Lucy Bertram) as well as the number of deck hands arrested (18 – a good deal less than 30 or 40), even informing us of the disposition of the charges against the 18 deck hands. Only 15 of the hands had to work on the chain gang to pay off their fines of $55 each (quite a considerable sum in those days).
These are the kinds of details that naturally fade from memory with the passage of time. The inflation of the number of deck hands from 18 to 30 or 40 is the kind of thing that, like a tall tale, grows in the telling and retelling.
By Jared Olar
The Pekin Public Library’s Pekin Community High School yearbooks are among the areas of the library’s Local History Room collection that get the most use, whether it’s someone looking up old friends or researching family history, or simply reminiscing about old times. The Pekinians are invaluable sources of information about Pekin high school history.
For many years, the library’s “Pekinian” yearbook collection has been available for patrons to peruse or for photocopying yearbook pages or student pictures. With the passage of time, however, inevitably the older volumes suffer wear and tear.
With the goal of reducing wear to our yearbooks and protecting them from damage in order to preserve them for the future, the Pekin Public Library has had its Pekinians for the years from 1908 to 2014 scanned and digitized by OCI Records Conversion in Oklahoma.
Each yearbook from 1908 to 2014 has been scanned from cover to cover, and the scanned images have been burned to individual disks. These scanned images were then uploaded to a portable external hard drive that library patrons may use in Adult Services.
Those who would like to make copies of images from the digitized yearbooks can ask to borrow the external drive. Library staff can show patrons how to plug the external drive into one of the library’s public computers in the Adult Computer Lab, and then assist them if the patrons need help with printing off images or saving copies of pages to a personal flash drive.
The original Pekinians will remain in the locked Local History Room cabinet, and the more recent yearbooks that have not yet been digitized will still be available there. Just ask a librarian to get them out for you.
The growth of Pekin over the past century or so may be seen in this comparison of the senior class photographs from the very first Pekinian in 1908 with those of the 2014 Pekinian. In 1908, the entire senior class fit on a single page, but in 2014 the first page of senior photos only goes from Adams to Beasley.
By Jared Olar
Thirteen postcards featuring scenes from Pekin’s past were added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection this summer, thanks to a donation from library volunteer Ruth Williams.
The postcards had belonged to Ruth’s late mother Freda (Wagner) Grezetich, and some of the older postcards had been collected by members of the Wagner family.
Six of the postcards are featured here. Of the six, four of them feature vintage photographs from around the time of the late 1800 or early 1900s. These vintage cards show the original plank Pekin bridge which was replaced in 1930, the pre-West Campus Pekin High School that stood where Washington School is today, the former St. Paul’s Evangelical Church that stood in the 600 block of Ann Eliza Street, and a scene of a train during flooding along the shores of Worley Lake in the vicinity of Pekin’s Auto Row.
Two cards are somewhat more recent, featuring photographs of Pekin Memorial Hospital and Pekin’s downtown in the 1970s that were taken by Pekin professional photographer Jim Deverman.
Visit the library’s Local History Room if you’d like to see the other seven postcards.
By Jared Olar
A few weeks ago, we recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, which was Tazewell County’s most serious incident of civil unrest in its history.
In February of this year, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society received a donation consisting of five pages of a legal claim for damages filed on June 22, 1894, by the brothers Edward and Peter Little, owners of the Little Mine which had been wrecked by the rioting miners on June 6.
The Society printed copies of these five pages from the Little brothers’ suit for damages in its Monthly, Aug. 2017, pp.1983-1988.
As we noted in the previous column, local historian Ben C. Allensworth said the Littles filed a claim for damages to their business and were awarded $7,710.60.
But the amount of their award was considerably lower than their claim, as the pages from their suit reveal.
The Littles filed for damages in the amount of three fourths of the value of their mine and its buildings and machinery. Their claim says their property was valued at $19,138.50, and they wished to be reimbursed in the amount of $14,353.87. That means Tazewell County paid them a little more than half of what the Little brothers sought.
Among the numerous items included in the inventory was the Power House Building; one 125 H.P. Westinghouse engine; steam pumps, heaters, and connections; several large tools including two electric coal drills and a coal mining machine; benches and numerous small tools, a steam heating apparatus; the Engine House; the Boiler House Building; two hoisting cages and the hoisting engine; and 4 kegs of aspheltum. The inventory included a claim for $1,000 of damages to the main shaft and mine, $185 of damages to the tramway and dirt dump, $150 for eight coal buggies and one water box that had been destroyed, and $38 for the escapement shaft that had to be torn up to rescue a mule that was trapped in the mine when the rioters poured oil down the shaft and ignited the oil to destroy the mine.
The Littles also included in their tally of losses and damages a Springfield rifle, a double barrel shotgun, a single barrel shotgun, and six revolvers, which had been “borrowed by E. LITTLE & BRO. and carried off by mob,” along with a 32-caliber Winchester rifle “carried away by mob and lost” and three revolvers “stolen by mob.” These were the weapons the Littles had used in their attempt to drive off the angry miners, resulting in the death of miner Edward Flower and the murder of the Littles’ employee William Dickson.
While most of the pages of the Littles’ claim papers are a typescript with some handwriting, the final page is a difficult-to-read handwritten document dated Sept. 11, 1894, issued by a committee of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and signed by all committee members. The document concludes, “Our Committee recommends the payment to the Little Brothers, in full [i.e., in fulfillment] of all claims against Tazewell County, the sum of Seven Thousand and Seven Hundred Ten Dollars & Sixty Nine Cents in three equal payments.” Allensworth’s account perhaps has a typographical error, showing 60 cents instead of 69 cents, but otherwise the stated award is the same.
By Jared Olar
Earlier this month, we reviewed “Early Times in Pekin and Tazewell County,” an essay written by Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates and published in Shade’s Monthly, May 1913 (reprinted in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, June 2017, page 1945).
We also recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, the most serious civil disturbance in Tazewell County history. That, of course, wasn’t the first time public safety and order were disrupted in our area. As it happens, Bates’ essay from May 1913 also tells of the first riot in Pekin’s history, which took place about a year after Pekin became established as a city under Illinois law:
“The first riot took place in Pekin, July 4th, 1851, when the deck hands of one of over one hundred steamboats plying the waters of the Illinois, under the influence of too much ‘fire water,’ nearly terrorized the inhabitants of the young city. The citizens rallied to the support of the marshal, and after a hard fight, the rioters were arrested and fined. The boat officials would not pay their fines, so with a ball and chain locked to a leg of each rioter, they had to work out their fines by repairing the steamboat levees.”
Bates does not identify the city marshal who suppressed the riot. He refers to the same riot in the historical essay he wrote for the old Pekin City Directories, but neither does he name the city marshal in his city directories. That and one or two other details of that incident may be found in a 12-page history of the Pekin Police Department prepared in 1942 as part of an annual report for the city government. We reviewed that 12-page history in this column in March 2013, in which we told of the appointment of Pekin’s first city marshal, Thomas Cloudas, by Pekin’s first mayor, Bernard Bailey. The March 2013 column summarized the incident in these words:
“In those days, Pekin had very much the character of a rough frontier town, and the city marshall had much more to do besides rounding up stray hogs and cattle. Perhaps most of the criminal offenses in Pekin from the 1850s through the 1870s involved alcohol-fueled violence. One such incident was Pekin’s first riot on July 4, 1851, when a steamboat’s drunken deck hands ran wild throughout the city. Cloudas rapidly collected a force of Pekin citizens who engaged in a battle with the deck hands in the city streets and finally, after a hard fight, managed to subdue and arrest the offenders.”
It apparently was the same riot that Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling remembered in a newspaper article published in the July 24, 1933 Pekin Daily Times. In June 2013, this column discussed that article and Schilling’s 1933 recollections of the riot and the punishment that the court imposed on the rioters, whom Schilling said were black (a detail not mentioned by Bates). Schilling believed (whether rightly or not) helped to foster Pekin’s reputation as a place where blacks were unwelcome.
Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
A big riot at a Little Mine
By Jared Olar
In his 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” Ben C. Allensworth called it “the most serious riot ever known in Tazewell County.” It was the Little Mine Riot of June 6, 1894, which took place at the Hilliard Mine near Creve Coeur (then known as Wesley City). This event didn’t get its name because the riot or the mine were little, but because the Hilliard Mine was leased by the brothers Peter and Edward Little, coal-mine operators of Peoria County.
The Pekin Public Library’s local history room collection has only Allensworth’s account of this incident. Local historian Fred W. Soady, however, went into greater depth in his master’s thesis, “Little Mine Riot of 1894: A Study of a Central Illinois Labor Dispute.”
“Labor” and “management” sometimes have differences that lead to a falling out, and workers go on strike. Such disputes usually don’t involve exchanges of gunfire and people shot to death, as happened in the Little Mine Riot, but relations between the Littles and their miners had deteriorated drastically.
The miners’ immediate and primary grievance, according to Allensworth, was that the Littles had installed new machinery that meant fewer men were needed to work the mine. In addition, “The miners in Peoria County had been on a strike for some time, and the fact that coal was being taken daily from the Hilliard Mine seemed to be a source of aggravation,” Allensworth wrote. Local historian Dale Kuntz, however, has observed that ethnic and racial tensions also contributed to their unhappiness – the Littles employed Italian Catholic immigrants and African-Americans, .
As Allensworth told the story, “The result was that threats by the strikers to close their mine came to the ears of the Littles, and they prepared for trouble by storing guns and ammunition in the tower which overlooked the valley below. On June 15th (sic), Sheriff J.C. Friederich received the following telegram from Ed. Little: ‘The miners are coming tomorrow, five hundred strong, and armed. Be on hand early.’ Sheriff Friederich and Deputy Frings swore in about thirty deputies. They could secure no weapons worthy of mention, and, consequently, went up unarmed. In the meantime about three hundred miners assembled on the opposite side of the river, and nearly all armed with guns, pistols and other deadly weapons. They crossed the river in boats, and under the leadership of John L. Geher, an ex-member of the Legislature, marched to the mine. The sight of the mine in operation seemed to enrage them beyond control, and they started on a run for the works. They were met by the Sheriff, who asked them to abstain from violence, and commanded them to disperse. They brushed the sheriff and his deputies aside, and began firing in the tower. The assault was replied to by the Littles, striking a miner by the name of Edward Flower, who fell dead.”
Unsurprisingly, some details of this incident are unclear and disputed. The miners claimed the Littles shot first, and Ed Little is reported to have admitted as much, and to have said Geher had done all he could to avoid violence. The miners also protested that they were provoked by the proud and domineering attitude of one of Little brothers.
Allensworth’s account continues, “In the tower were the Little brothers, William Dickson, colored, Charles Rockey and John Fash. Seeing that resistance was useless, they ran out a flag of truce. Both the Littles and James Little, a son, were wounded. Dickson attempted to escape but was followed and shot several times, was taken to a Peoria hospital and died there. The miners completed the work of destruction by pouring coal oil down the shaft and setting fire to it. Some eleven men were working in the mine at the time, but all succeeded in making their escape.”
When news of the riot reached the ears of Gov. John P. Altgeld, two companies of the state militia were sent to Tazewell County, which was virtually placed under martial law for about a week. Residents of Pekin also organized a company of guards to defend the city, because the striking miners had threatened to come to Pekin and break their friends out of the county jail.
In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the rule of law was restored. In September 1894, Geher, Daniel Caddell, John Heathcote, and a man named Jones, were sentenced to be imprisoned for five years in the state penitentiary in Joliet, but Gov. Altgeld pardoned them after they had served about a year of their sentences.
The Littles also filed a claim for damages to their business and were awarded $7,710.60, and to ensure that Tazewell County would not again be caught unprepared for major civil disturbances, the county purchased 100 Remington rifles.
By Jared Olar
This week we return to Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates, from whom we received most of our knowledge of Pekin’s early history. It was in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory that Bates first historical sketch of Pekin was published, but Bates also told the stories of Pekin’s past in other places and venues, such as in booklets, pamphlets, and newspaper columns.
One of the ways that Bates told Pekin’s history was in a lengthy essay entitled “Early Times in Pekin and Tazewell County” that he wrote for a magazine called Shades’ Monthly in May 1913. That issue of the magazine was included in the 1914 Tazewell County Courthouse Cornerstone time capsule. Bates’ essay was reprinted in recent issues of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly (May 2017, pp.1911-1919, and June 2017, pp.1942-1946).
Bates’ essay bears a close resemblance to the historical sketch that he printed and reprinted over the years in his Pekin city directories. It’s also similar to a historical sketch that Bates wrote for his “Historical Souvenir to Commemorate the Dedication of the New Tazewell County Court House.” But in the Shades’ Monthly essay he varied his expression somewhat, and also included some details and anecdotes not found in the city directory account of Pekin’s past.
Following are some excerpts from Bates’ “Early Times” essay, telling of the original Native Americans inhabitants and the settlement of the site of Pekin by the first pioneers. Bates said one of his chief sources for the recollections of the site’s Native American inhabitants was a pioneer named Daniel C. Orr “who played around Shabbona’s wigwam.”
“Yes, Pekin is located on historic ground. For unnumbered years prior to the coming of the white man, the red man held full sway; roaming from one favorable location to another, as fancy, convenience or war dominated him.
“Indian villages occupied high ground above the possibility of overflow by the floods, but were always near the streams, which gave the aborigine fishing and hunting privileges.
“The high ground, from the upper end of Pekin Lake to the southern limits of Pekin, was the home of a tribe of Pottawatomie Indians, under the leadership of Shabbona, an able chieftain, who gained the friendship and gratitude of the white pioneers by warnings and tribal protection, for which he was appropriately named ‘The White Man’s Friend.’ In the Indian war of 1832, because he refused to join Black Hawk, in an attempt to exterminate the ‘pale face,’ he had to seek refuge near his white friends in order to save his life.
“Shabbona, and his immediate followers, while in this vicinity, occupied the high ground near our present Gas Works, on what is today Main street, southward to a point near the present C. P. & St. L. [Railway’s] round house. . . .
“Jonathan Tharp was the first permanent white settler in ‘Town Site,’ the date being 1824. He located his crude log cabin near the family wigwams of Shabbona, just west of the present Franklin School.
“Jesse Eggman, a boon companion of Tharp, also located in ‘Town Site,’ the name the hunters and trappers had given the high bluff . . .
“‘Town Site,’ as seen by the pioneer settlers, was on the first ridge; then came ‘Bitzel’s Lake;’ then another sand ridge between Third and Fourth streets; then a succession of low places and ponds between Fourth and Fifth streets. One of these ponds, about where Albertsen & Koch’s store now stands, was a great resort for ducks. Mr. B. S. Hyers, the oldest Pekin merchant, now living, told the writer that he ‘shot many a mess of ducks at this pond.’
“Then came ridges and ponds for over a mile to the east until you had in view a beautiful body of water afterward named ‘Bailey Lake,’ at the foot of East Bluff . . . .
“Joseph, son of Jonathan Tharp, was the first male white child born in ‘Town Site,’ his natal day being March 10th, 1827. . . .
“In the fall of 1828, the first steam boat that ascended the Illinois river, created wild consternation. The Indians fled to the hills or dense timber. Near Kingston, where Jesse Eggman had established a ferry, one Hugh Barr, who had never seen a steam boat, hearing the hideous noise made by the escaping steam, and seeing the open fires under the boilers, which looked like two great eyes, at the weird hour of midnight, turned out with dog and gun and chased the ‘monster’ until it passed up the river. The small band of settlers who lived along our river front, were awakened from their peaceful slumbers by the grewsome (sic) noise. They gathered in groups and waited the approach of ‘the monster of the deep.’ Good, old Father [Jacob] Tharp gathered his family together for prayers, doubtless thinking that Gabriel was blowing the final call; and good Aunt Ruth Stark prayed the ‘All Wise One’ to have Gabriel call at Fort Clark (now Peoria) first, as they were ‘wickeder up there.’ . . . .”