Tazewell County in the Black Hawk War

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Black Hawk War of 1832 is a significant moment in Illinois history, for it was the last time white settlers faced any kind of sustained, violent resistance from Native American tribes in Illinois.

The surrender of Black Hawk at Prairie du Chien on Aug. 27, 1832, not only brought an end to hostilities in the brief war – it marked the end of all Native American habitation in the state. Over the next few years, the Illinois government systematically cleared the state of American Indians, deporting them to reservations far to the west of the Mississippi. With the removal of the native tribes, Illinois saw a new influx of white settlers to the northern and western parts of the state.

As we’ve noted several times in this column space, both native inhabitants and white settlers in Tazewell County – such as Pekin co-founder Isaac Perkins, as we recalled last week – were among those caught up in the events of the Black Hawk War.

Two brigades of the Illinois Militia were organized in Tazewell County. One of them, under the command of Capt. John Giles Adams and Gen. Samuel Whiteside, commander of the Illinois Militia, was organized at Pekin. Shabbona, leader of the Pottawatomi who dwelt along Gravel Ridge at Pekin, is also remembered for the aid he gave to white settlers in central Illinois during the war. Believing violent resistance to be futile, Shabbona and his people refused to join Black Hawk’s uprising, and Shabbona earned the enmity of Black Hawk’s Sac and Fox Indians by riding across the countryside to warn white settlers of their danger.

As this column has previously noted, there are a number of publications and resources in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection that provide information about the Black Hawk War and how it affected the early history of Tazewell County and Pekin. A recent addition to the Local History Room collection conveniently presents various historical materials on that subject. Entitled, “Tazewell County in the Black Hawk War 1832,” this publication is a 155-page comb-bound book that collects together essays, maps, and illustrations from older books now in the public domain and previously published on the Internet.

The first 21 pages provide muster rolls of the Tazewell County brigades, biographies of Adams and Whiteside, and information about the debacle at Stillman’s Run. Then follow 33 pages of historical essays on the Black Hawk War by Dr. James Lewis, Ph.D., and two pages of information about the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island. The final section of the book, covering 99 pages, is a reprint of the 1833 “Autobiography of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk” along with J. B. Patterson’s 1882 “Life, Death and Burial of the Old Chief, Together With A History of the Black Hawk War.”

This artist's depiction of Black Hawk was published in From John Leonard Conger's "History of the Illinois River Valley," 1932.

This artist’s depiction of Black Hawk was published in From John Leonard Conger’s “History of the Illinois River Valley,” 1932.

#black-hawk, #black-hawk-war, #isaac-perkins, #pekin-history, #shabbona, #stillmans-run, #tazewell-county-history

The Third Degree: Chapter 8: Standing room only at the inquest

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.


By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Eight

Standing room only at the inquest

At 1:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, 1932, the Tazewell County grand jury took up the case of the shocking murder of Martin Virant, whose dead body had been hanged in the Tazewell County Jail on Sept. 1 after he had succumbed to severe injuries he had suffered at the hands of county deputies while he was in their custody.

Over the next five days, the grand jury would devote its attention solely to the Virant case. While the grand jury was in the midst of its proceedings behind closed doors at the Tazewell County Courthouse, the coroner’s inquest into Virant’s death also got under way nearby, at Kuecks Funeral Home on Capitol Street.

The inquest began at 2:10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, “before a crowd that filled every seat, doorway and window of the place,” said the story on the front page of that day’s edition of the Pekin Daily Times. “Attorneys, stenographers, and reporters from afar are present as the most debated death in Tazewell county in many years faces official investigation.”

A large crowd attending a coroner’s inquest is unusual, but then Virant’s death was unusual and had outraged many. As the Sept. 9, 1932 Pekin Daily Times had said, “. . . the sensational stories and circumstances attending this man’s death [have] been a general topic for discussion not only in Pekin and Tazewell county, but in neighboring communities and thruout the state. Stories of this death have been carried, under glaring headlines, by newspapers and press bureaus in almost every state in the central west, and it has gone over the radio to probably every section of the country.”

Another thing that was unusual about the inquest is that it took place over two consecutive afternoons. Tazewell County Coroner A. E. Allen summoned a long, solemn procession of witnesses to give testimony at the inquest. Many of the same witnesses also testified before the grand jury.

The first witness at the inquest was East Peoria City Clerk E. W. Tucker, one of several people who had seen Virant on the day he was taken in for questioning by Deputy Charles O. Skinner and Deputy J. Hardy Garber. Tucker and other witnesses testified that Virant had no visible injuries before he was taken to the sheriff’s department.

Another witness, Charles E. Schmidt, an East Peoria justice of the peace, said that he was told by Virant’s brother-in-law Frank Franko that “Martin had been in a happy spirit when he had left with the officers.” But Franko and his wife both told the coroner’s jury that Virant was worried that Skinner might do him harm.

Virant’s brother-in-law said Virant, a coal miner, wanted to change into some clean clothes. “Then that big fat fellow, Skinner, said, ‘No, he don’t need any clothes.’ But I told him that Martin wanted to change his dirty clothes. He said, ‘He don’t need them for he is going right with me.’ Well that made Martin pretty nervous because of what happened the day before when he heard about a friend of his getting beat up . . . Martin said, ‘Frank, I’ll tell nothing but the truth, but I’m afraid to go, I know I’m going to get beat up.’”

It’s unclear from Franko’s testimony why Virant would have been expected to get beaten up. Franko did not specify if it was Skinner or someone else who allegedly beat Virant’s friend (did Franko mean Lew Nelan?), but he mentioned that on the day before Virant was taken in for questioning, Virant “wouldn’t go back to his house to live ’cause he was afraid of getting kidnapped or mobbed or something.”

This detail from page 4 of the Thursday, Sept. 15, 1932 edition of the Pekin Daily Times shows some of the testimony of Martin Virant's sister Agnes at the coroner's inquest into Martin's death.

This detail from page 4 of the Thursday, Sept. 15, 1932 edition of the Pekin Daily Times shows some of the testimony of Martin Virant’s sister Agnes at the coroner’s inquest into Martin’s death.

After Franko finished his testimony, his wife Agnes, Martin Virant’s sister, was called. She also said her brother was afraid that he would be beaten when the deputies took him to jail. Even more, she claimed her brother told her just before he was taken to Pekin that Skinner had threatened to kill him.

“At ha’ pas’ six in the evening he say ‘Skinner kill me. A car follow me from East Peoria, when I was in the car and when I was in the street car, clear to the curb here.’ I watched the car come and I know that there was something,” Agnes Franko told the coroner’s jury. “. . . Martin say, ‘I know I be killed’ and he take me in arms and kiss me and say, ‘I do not want to go back.’ He say, ‘Skinner told me he kill me.’”

Agnes Franko said her husband tried to see Virant at the jail on Wednesday, Aug. 31. “They wouldn’t let husband see Martin Wednesday morning. Say he kept for witness. Husband come home, say ‘Give me money – hundred dollars – I get lawyer and doctor – Martin get beaten and near killed.’ I cry and give him money I saved, $120, and say, ‘He killed alread.’”

The last time she saw her brother alive was the day Skinner and Garber took him for questioning. Concluding her testimony, Agnes said, “Last word I hear out of his mouth was ‘They kill me, Sheriff and Skinner.’”

Next week: The coroner’s jury issues its verdict.

#agnes-franko, #charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #hardy-garber, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #the-third-degree

In a land called Egypt

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

One of the publications in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection is a short book – almost a booklet – of eight chapters covering 48 pages. Written by Dewitt County Presbyterian pastor named Singleton B. Bedinger and published in 1973, the book is entitled, “Little Egypt: A Brief Historical Sketch of Southern Illinois.”

The relevance of Southern Illinois history to Pekin’s local history is probably not immediately apparent, but Bedinger succinctly states the relevance on page 9, where he says, “Egypt was the first part of Illinois to be settled.” Taking an overview of the history of white European settlement of Illinois in the years following the Revolutionary War, we find that Illinois was settled from the south up, and thus the first capital of the state of Illinois was Kaskaskia in Southern Illlinois. Consequently, many of the first settlers of Tazewell County in the 1820s had come from Southern Illinois, the region of the state that has long been known as “Egypt.”

As this column first discussed three years ago, among the early Tazewell County settlers with Southern Illinois connections were the brothers Elisha Perkins and Major Isaac Perkins, one of the co-founders of Pekin and Tazewell County’s first Recorder of Deeds. (See “The life and death of Major Isaac Perkins,” in the Aug. 3, 2013 Pekin Daily Times, page B2) As we recalled then, Isaac’s father Solomon was the first permanent settler in the Cave-in-Rock area of southern Illinois in the early 1800s. One of Solomon’s neighbors in Cave-in-Rock was Capt. Lewis Barker, first Illinois state senator for Pope County, Ill. Solomon’s son Isaac married Capt. Barker’s daughter Jane Barker in Pope County, Ill., in 1813. Jane’s sister Susannah married Isaac’s brother Elisha. Jane and Susannah streets in Pekin are named after them.

One of the first matters Bedinger addresses in his book is why Southern Illinois is known as “Egypt.” According to Bedinger, one popular explanation is that the name arose from the hardship and near famine that threatened the pioneer settlers of Illinois following “the Great Snow” of 1830-31. Lacking food due to crop failures, Illinois pioneers had to buy grain in Southern Illinois, which had escaped the effects of the cold and snow. The story goes that these hungry settlers compared their plight to the biblical story of the sons of Jacob having to go down to Egypt to buy grain during a seven-year famine, and so Southern Illinois became their “Egypt.”

But Bedinger says this popular account is unhistorical. In fact, the name comes from the 1818 founding of the city of Cairo, named after the modern capital of Egypt. Looking upon the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, Cairo’s founders apparently were reminded of the Nile Delta. Pioneers soon began to give other towns in the area names like Karnak, Thebes, and Goshen. All of this was well before the Great Snow of 1830-31.

Bedinger also argues that Little Egypt was connected to the invention of an old nickname for Illinois – “The Sucker State.” Bedinger writes (pages 10-11):

“One would expect the inhabitants of Little Egypt to be called Egyptians, but generally such was not the case. Instead they were called suckers and there are several theories about this. The most likely explanation is that the term originated in the northwest part of Illinois. Men would go there to work in the lead mines during the summer months. Because Galena was situated in Indian territory and was headquarters for the mining industry, the miners from the south usually would travel upstream on the Mississippi River instead of overland. The fish known as the sucker would reach the vicinity about the same time as the miners. It was not unusual to hear someone say, ‘Here come the men from Southern Illinois; it’s time to fish for suckers.’ If the fish arrived first, someone would say, ‘Here come the suckers; now look for the Southern Illinoisans.’”

This aquatint illustration by Karl Bodmer, from the book “Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834,” shows Cave-in-Rock on the Ohio River. The brothers Isaac and Elisha Perkins and their wives, Jane and Susannah Barker, lived in the Cave-in-Rock area of Southern Illinois before settling in Tazewell County and taking part in the founding of Pekin in 1829-30.

#egypt, #elisha-perkins, #isaac-perkins, #pekin-history, #pekin-streets, #singleton-b-bedinger, #sucker-state, #tazewell-county-history

The Third Degree: Chapter 7: Virant’s death: a tale of two juries

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.


By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Seven

Virant’s death: a tale of two juries

On Sept. 1, 1932, East Peoria miner Martin Virant was found dead and hanging in his cell at the Tazewell County Jail.

The sheriff’s office claimed that Virant, a witness at the coroner’s inquest into the murder of Lew Nelan, had hanged himself, but Virant’s body showed none of the signs of a hanging death. Instead, his body displayed vivid evidence of a terrible beating – a beating Virant had said at the Nelan inquest he had suffered at the hands of Deputy Charles O. Skinner and other sheriff’s deputies.

Even more sensational, two autopsies and Chicago criminologist Dr. William D. McNally determined that Virant was already dead when his body was hanged, and that he had died as a result of the beating. All of central Illinois was shocked to learn that Virant’s “suicide” had been staged to cover up the truth: he had been beaten to death by deputies who refused to believe his protestations that he did not learn of Nelan’s death until the following morning.

Skinner was arrested on Sept. 6 for the murder of Martin Virant and was arraigned Sept. 8. That same week, Tazewell County’s top prosecutor, Louis P. Dunkelberg, and the county’s chief death investigator, Coroner A. E. Allen, dutifully readied the case for presentation before two juries that would be seated simultaneously: the Tazewell County grand jury, and the coroner’s jury that would render its verdict on the cause and manner of Virant’s death. The Virant inquest had to be delayed until grand jury week because McNally needed more time to prepare the report he would present at the inquest.

Meanwhile, news of Virant’s murder had spread far beyond Illinois, and newspapers throughout the Midwest were following the story with great interest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Speaking to a Post-Dispatch reporter, one of Skinner’s attorneys, Jesse Black, unleashed an attack on the Tazewell County Coroner’s Office.

As reported on the front page of the Sept. 9, 1932 Pekin Daily Times, Black said, “I don’t blame a certain section of the people for being somewhat prejudiced on account of the newspaper articles that have been printed. But when the proper time comes and in the proper form, the falsity of the assertions that have been made by the coroner and his associates will be apparent,” confidently predicting, “Skinner and his associates will be vindicated.”

Black said he exempted the press and the state’s attorney from his criticisms, but alleged that Skinner and other deputies had been “covertly attacked,” claiming, “The policy of the coroner’s office so far in my judgment has been to inflame the public mind. I think they have done so successfully.”

This detail from the front page of the Sept. 9, 1932 Pekin Daily Times quotes Deputy Charles O. Skinner's attorney Jesse Black Jr., who confidently predicted that Skinner and his fellow defendants would be exonerated.

This detail from the front page of the Sept. 9, 1932 Pekin Daily Times quotes Deputy Charles O. Skinner’s attorney Jesse Black Jr., who confidently predicted that Skinner and his fellow defendants would be exonerated.

That weekend, according to the Daily Times, Skinner took his wife and two children, Louis and Lillian, on a short trip to visit relatives so Skinner could avoid the community’s eye and rest up in preparation for a grueling grand jury week.

The September 1932 grand jury was tasked not only with the consideration of the murders of Martin Virant and Lew Nelan, but also with a third murder (that of Richard A. Bohlander, who was shot to death by Jack Larkin of 218 Derby St., Pekin, on June 6, 1932) and several other serious crimes.

The roster for the September grand jury, as reported in the Pekin Daily Times, was as follows:

V. A. Wertsch, Boynton; Wesley Bennett, Cincinnati; H. Marshall, Deer Creek; Carter Harrison, Delavan; D. M. Shivelar, Delavan; Frank Becker, Elm Grove; Faye Fowler, Fondulac; Harvey Staker, Groveland; C. R. Hieronymus, Hittle; R. F. Maurer, Hopedale; Frank A. Hine, Little Mackinaw; Howard Viemont, Mackinaw; Fred Radefield, Malone; Valentine Strunk, Morton; Herman Lauterbach, Pekin; Battiste Benassi, Pekin; Frank H. Smith, Pekin; George W. Weyrich, Sand Prairie; Louis Coombs, Spring Lake; J. E. Morris, Tremont; W. O. Decker, Washington; and George C. Mahle, Washington.

The same week those 22 men heard testimony in the cases of Nelan and Virant, the following six residents of Tazewell County were empaneled as the coroner’s jury for the Virant inquest, which would begin on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 1932:

W. M. Beardsley, foreman; J. Logan Unland, William Shay, Congress Miller, Glee Hellyer and B. F. Waltmire.

Deputy Skinner and his family returned from their trip Sunday night, Sept. 11. The following day at 1:30 p.m. the grand jury convened at the Tazewell County Courthouse.

The first case on their docket was the murder of Martin Virant.

Next week: Standing room only at the inquest.

#charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #dr-william-d-mcnally, #jesse-black, #lew-nelan, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #the-third-degree

The Third Degree: Chapter 6: Skinner sees the judge

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.


By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Six

Skinner sees the judge

Formerly an East Peoria police officer, in 1930 Charles O. Skinner was appointed a deputy sheriff by Tazewell County Sheriff James J. Crosby. During his time in law enforcement, Skinner had put his share of criminals behind bars.

In a dramatic reversal of roles, on the night of Sept. 6, 1932, Skinner found himself behind bars – under arrest and awaiting arraignment for the murder of East Peoria miner Martin Virant, who had been found dead and hanging in his cell at the Tazewell County Jail on Sept . 1.

Shown is the former Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff's residence, where Martin Virant was found dead and hanging in his cell on Sept. 1, 1932, the day after publicly accusing Tazewell County Sheriff's deputies of beating and torturing him. The McKenzie Building on Fourth Street in downtown Pekin was built on the site of the old jail.

Shown is the former Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s residence, where Martin Virant was found dead and hanging in his cell on Sept. 1, 1932, the day after publicly accusing Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies of beating and torturing him. The McKenzie Building on Fourth Street in downtown Pekin was built on the site of the old jail.

Autopsies and a Chicago criminologist determined that Virant was already dead when he was hanged, and Skinner was accused of beating Virant to death while he was in custody as a potential witness to the murder of Lew Nelan. Upon his arrest, Skinner was taken to the Peoria County Jail as a precaution, due to the strong feelings that had been aroused in Pekin and East Peoria at the news of Virant’s murder.

At 11:20 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, Skinner was arraigned in the court of Judge W. H. Williams. Not many noticed when Pekin Police Chief Ralph Goar brought Skinner to the courthouse, but the Pekin Daily Times learned of his arrival almost immediately because Goar stopped his car in front of the Times offices.

The Daily Times that day reported, “There were but few persons around the stairway entrance leading to Justice Williams’ court this morning when Chief of Police Ralph Goar, Officer Harry Donahue, Attorney W. J. Reardon, counsel for the defendant, and Skinner arrived here this morning from Peoria, about 11:1[0] o’clock.

“A short time prior to the beginning of court proceedings, while those in the justice office were exchanging remarks, Deputy Skinner said, ‘This is the first time for me. I have never before been arrested in all my life.’

“’Well, I am sorry,’ said Justice Williams, ‘that I had to be responsible for it, in a way, but it was my duty to issue the warrant.’

“’I don’t blame you one particle,’ said Skinner. ‘That was your duty and you could not do anything else. I sure have no ill feeling toward you.’”

Reardon then asked that Skinner’s bail be set at $5,000, saying that Skinner was not a flight risk. State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg responded that the question of an appropriate bail bond should await the findings of the coroner’s inquest into Virant’s death, which Dunkelberg expected to take place the following day (as it happened, the inquest would be delayed until the following week).

Dunkelberg added, however, “that if the court felt it a duty to release the defendant on bond, he would not offer further objection. He did, however, think the bond should be placed at $30,000, and a $5,000 bond was grossly inadequate,” the Daily Times reported.

Judge Williams decided to fix Skinner’s bond at $20,000, and Skinner posted bond shortly after and returned to active duty as a Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputy. “For the present Skinner will remain as a deputy, Sheriff Crosby said this afternoon,” the Daily Times reported.

Also appearing in Tazewell County felony court that day was East Peoria speakeasy operator John Petje, who along with Frank Keayes Jr. and Edward Hufeld had been arrested for the murder of Lew Nelan.

Petje “appeared in the court of Justice W. H. Williams this morning,” reported the Sept. 8, 1932 Pekin Daily Times, “and his preliminary hearing was continued to September 15 on account of the absence of important witnesses. He was represented by Attorney J. P. St. Cerny. Petje, Frank Keayes Jr., and Edward Hufeld are out on bonds of $15,000 each in connection with the Nelan murder.”

Later the same day, Martin Virant’s family at last was able to bury the body of their loved one, at 2 p.m. in Parkview Cemetery in Peoria. Virant’s funeral and graveside services had taken place on Sunday, but Tazewell County Coroner Arthur E. Allen had delayed burial so a more thorough investigation of Virant’s death could be completed.

Virant’s family indicated that they intended to file a wrongful death civil suit against Sheriff J. J. Crosby and his deputies after Virant’s inquest.

Next week: A tale of two juries.

#charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #edward-hufeld, #frank-keayes, #j-p-st-cerny, #john-petje, #judge-w-h-williams, #lew-nelan, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #ralph-goar, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon

D. C. Smith, veteran, congressman, banker

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

A few weeks ago this column spotlighted the old Smith Wagon Company which operated a wagon, plough, and carriage factory at the corner of Third and Margaret streets in Pekin until the early 1900s. As we recalled in the previous column, the company was founded by the Smith brothers, a family of German immigrants who came from Hamsverum in Ostfriesland (today in northwestern Germany) and settled in Pekin in the mid-19th century.

As the family business grew more prosperous, several other business ventures were spun off, including a local bank. The bank’s first president was D. C. Smith (1840-1914), youngest of the Smith brothers, who is the subject of this week’s column. His full name was Dietrich Conrad Smith, and his parents were Conrad H. Smith (Coenraad Smid) and Margaret van der Velde. In addition to his involvement in his family’s businesses, D. C. Smith also was wounded in battle as a Union officer in the Civil War, afterwards being elected successively to the Illinois General Assembly and to the U.S. House of Representatives.

D. C. Smith as depicted in P. C. Headley's 1882 "Public Men of To-Day."

D. C. Smith as depicted in P. C. Headley’s 1882 “Public Men of To-Day.”

After his election to the U.S. Congress, a short biographical sketch of his career was published in Phineas Camp Headley’s 1882 “Public Men of To-Day,” pages 569-70. The sketch reads as follows:

“The Thirteenth Congressional District of Illinois is represented in the National House of Representatives by Dietrich C. Smith, of Pekin, who was born in Hanover, Germany, April 4, 1840. He is of Dutch-German extraction, and came to this country with his parents in the year 1849. Having availed himself of the advantages of the common schools and of more or less private tutorage, in which he prepared himself for his subsequent classical course, be entered Quincy College, Illinois, at which institution he graduated.

“At the breaking out of the Civil war, having just reached his majority, he entered the Union army with the Eighth Illinois Volunteer infantry, a ‘three-months’ regiment, and re-enlisted for a term of three years in the following July. He was engaged in the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and was severely wounded in the battle of Pittsburg Landing, which compelled him to resign his commission of Second Lieutenant of Company ‘Y,’ which he then held. He subsequently returned to the service as Captain of Company C of the 139th Illinois Volunteer infantry, and served until the expiration of the regiment’s term of enlistment.

“In 1863 Captain Smith became a member of the firm of Smith, Velde & Co., of Pekin, and three years later a partner in the firm of Teis, Smith & Co., bankers, of that city, and has continued that business connection to the present time. He is also a member of the firm of T. & H. Smith & Co., and Smith, Hippen & Co., the Pekin Plough Company. He has also been interested in several railroad corporations, as officer, director, and member of a construction company. Captain Smith has been for a long time prominent in Sabbath-school work in his county and throughout the State; also in the educational enterprises of the German Methodist Episcopal Church of the West; and he is now President of the Board of Trustees of the German College, at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

“He has been honored by the people with the offices of Alderman, School Inspector, Supervisor, and
Member of the General Assembly of Illinois. While in the State Legislature he interested himself especially in measures looking to the improvement of the water-ways by the government, and generally in all matters of public importance. He was elected to the Forty-seventh Congress, as a Republican, by a vote of 16,431 against 16,113 for his Democratic Greenback opponent.”

Additional biographical details may be found at his Find-A-Grave memorial, in an essay written by Russ Dodge, senior Find-A-Grave curator and administrator. Dodge provides further information on D. C. Smith’s military service during the Civil War, and adds the following note on Smiths’ post-war career:

“After the war Dietrich Smith became a successful banker and financier, and invested in construction and administration of railroads. He served a term in the Illinois State Legislature, then was elected as a Republican to represent Illinois’ 13th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1881 to 1883. Defeated for the seat by William McKendree Springer in 1882, he returned to his banking career in his hometown of Pekin, Illinois, where he passed away in 1914.”

Various family trees at Ancestry.com, including the “Goodrich/Ward/Smith/Walker Family Tree,” indicate that after returning from the war, D. C. Smith married Caroline “Carrie” Pieper (1844-1923), with whom he had a family of nine sons and three daughters. They lived at a grand mansion with ample room for a family of 14, located at 405 Willow St. Their home still stands today, though it is no longer the grand structure it once was. Rob Clifton’s 2004 volume, “Pekin History: Then and Now,” explains that the home formerly had a large second story and a third-story tower, but after a fire the house had to be rebuilt as a single-story building. D. C. Smith died April 18, 1914, and was buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin. After his death, Pekin attorney and judge William Reardon “bought the [Smith] home for his bride, who dreamed of living in the home many years prior to moving in,” Clifton says. A lithograph of the D. C. Smith mansion was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This vintage photograph from the early 1900s shows the D. C. Smith mansion at 405 Willow St., Pekin, as it then appeared. The second floor and the tower later were lost in a fire.

This vintage photograph from the early 1900s shows the D. C. Smith mansion at 405 Willow St., Pekin, as it then appeared. The second floor and the tower later were lost in a fire.

#d-c-smith, #pekin-history, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith-bank

Seth Kinman’s presidential gift

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

During the summer, this column took the opportunity to feature a number of historical artifacts that were preserved in the Tazewell County Courthouse’s 1914 cornerstone time capsule. This week we’ll take a look at two more artifacts from the courthouse’s cornerstone – a pair of printed cards featuring a California “mountain man” named Seth Kinman (1815-1888).

One of the cards shows a photograph of Kinman himself, looking a lot like Kinman’s contemporary John “Grizzly” Adams (1812-1860), a much better known California mountain man who inspired a 1974 feature film and a 1977-78 NBC television series entitled “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.” The other card shows a unique piece of furniture – an elk horn chair that Kinman presented as a gift to President Abraham Lincoln on Nov. 26, 1864. As sharp as the antlers of the chair’s back and arms appear to be, it seems the president would have had to take extra special care if he ever tried to sit on it. Presumably the piece was meant to be decorative only.

The two cards identify Kinman as “the California Hunter and Trapper,” but tell us nothing else about him, nor do they provide any clues that might explain why these two curious photo cards were selected for inclusion in the Tazewell County Courthouse time capsule.

The explanation may be found on page 25 of the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, where we find the following colorful anecdote related by Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates, under the heading “’FIRST-CLASS’ HOTELS”:

“The year 1848 witnessed the establishment of two ‘first-class’ hotels. The ‘Eagle,’ which stood on the site now occupied by the Bemis House [Note: the site is near the corner of Court and Front streets in Riverfront Park], was kept by Seth Kinman, who afterwards acquired considerable celebrity as a hunter and trapper in the far west, and by presenting buck horn and bear claw chairs, of his own make, to Presidents Lincoln and Johnson . . .

“The manner of welcoming guests to these hotels was somewhat peculiar, as the following instance will illustrate: A traveler came off a boat one day, and went to the Eagle Hotel. There had been a little western ‘scrimmage’ at the ‘Eagle’ the night before, and though things had not yet been put in order, the proprietor, Seth Kinman, was sitting in front of the door, playing his favorite tune, the ‘Arkansas Traveler,’ with the greatest self-satisfaction. The stranger, stopping, said to Seth: ‘Are you the proprietor here?’ Seth, without resting his bow, replied, ‘Wall, I reckon I be, stranger.’ ‘Do you keep tavern?’ ‘Of course I do; keep tavern like h-ll,’ said Seth, fiddling away with all his might. ‘Just pile in; hang your freight up on the floor, and make yourself at home. The boys,’ continued Seth, ‘have been having a little fun, but if there’s a whole table or plate in the house, I’ll get you some cold hash towards night.’ The stranger didn’t like the place, and took his departure, leaving the ‘proprietor’ still enjoying his violin.”

Additional biographical information on Kinman may be found in various articles published online, including an extensively researched biographical article at the Wikipedia online encyclopedia website. These sources tell us that Kinman arrived in Tazewell County with his father in 1830, later heading out to Humboldt County, Calif., around the time of the California Gold Rush. Cultivating the life and somewhat eccentric image of an uncouth and brutal wilderness hunter, mountain man, and teller of tall tales (mostly about his own adventures, or alleged adventures), Kinman would become something of a national celebrity. Besides his 1864 visit to Lincoln’s White House, Kinman claimed to have witnessed the president’s assassination the following year, and contemporary newspaper accounts say he took part in Lincoln’s funeral cortege. Kinman afterwards operated a hotel in Table Bluff, Calif., where he died after accidentally shooting himself in the leg.

Kinman was known to hand out copies of the photo cards such as were preserved in the courthouse cornerstone, and the pair of cards from the cornerstone presumably were given by Kinman to Bates, who oversaw the selection of artifacts for the 1914 time capsule.

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