Dr. John Warner, pioneer physician of Pekin . . . and Clinton?

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Three weeks ago we reviewed Dr. W. E. Schenck’s 1905 list of the pioneer doctors of Pekin. Heading Schenck’s list was a mysterious Dr. John Warner, of whom Schenck wrote:

“Dr. John Warner was the first physician of whom we can find any account in Tazewell County. He was located in Pekin at the time of the Deep Snow — the last days of December, 1830. Nothing more can be learned.”

A tip from Dan Korowicki in an Illinois history Facebook group directed me to the 1901 “History of DeWitt County, Illinois,” Vol. I, which includes several references to a pioneer doctor of Clinton, Illinois, named Dr. John Warner.

Could this be the Dr. John Warner who is said to have been living in Pekin at the time of the Deep Snow of Dec. 1830? To find the answer, let us consider each of the references to Dr. John Warner of Clinton in the 1910 DeWitt County history.

On page 127, we find:

“John Warner was appointed swamp land agent in Dec. 1859 – he reported in 1863 that he had received $679.30 swamp land funds. Of this amount he turned over to the county $308.44, after deducting expenses and commissions.”

“Swamp land agent” was a De Witt County official who was appointed by the county to seek and recover funds for county swamp land that the federal government had sold off in violation of the federal Swamp Lands Act. Although this reference alone does not say John Warner was a physician, a later reference in the volume indicates this was Dr. John Warner of Clinton.

Then on page 129 we learn that John Warner was also a successful banker:

“$175,000 in new bonds were issued in denominations of $1,000, and after considerable difficulty in marketing them, the banking firm of John Warner & Company of Clinton undertook to sell them on a commission of one-eighth of one per cent, and within a year thereafter the whole amount had been disposed of.”

The financial success of Dr. John Warner of Clinton is illustrated by this reference on page 132 to his will, which his second wife successfully contested and overturned in her favor:

“It would be unprofitable to enumerate the various cases, of minor or even major character, that have been tried in this court for the past fifty years. Brief mention may be made, however, of two famous will cases that were tried in this county within the past year or so. The cases referred to are those of the late Colonel Thomas Snell and the late Dr. John Warner, both of whom died leaving estates worth over a million dollars each and whose wills were contested by interested parties. The provisions of Colonel Snell’s will were left intact by the court, but the will of Dr. Warner was broken by his second wife.”

Given Warner’s evident prominence and success, it is no surprise that (as stated on page 135) John Warner also was elected to the office of DeWitt County Circuit Clerk, serving from 1848 to 1852.

The last two notices of Dr. John Warner in the 1910 DeWitt County history, found on pages 266 and 267, describe his career as a respected pioneer physician. On page 266, Dr. Warner is listed as DeWitt County’s second pioneer physician:

“Dr. John Warner arrived in Mt. Pleasant, now Farmer City, about the 20th of June, 1840, and stopped at the hostelry of the village, which was kept by John Smith. Here Dr. Warner and his young and newly made bride abided until a cabin 12 x 12 was procured, and he here began his first experience as the head of a family under his own rooftree. Here the young physician practiced his profession for two years, when he moved to Clinton and became prominent not only in his profession but also as a business man, banker and capitalist. He died December 21, 1905, in the eighty-seventh year of his age.”

Then on page 267, Dr. J. D. Gardner is mentioned as having been trained as a physician by Dr. John Warner:

“Dr. J. D. Gardner came to Illinois in 1841, and studied medicine with Dr. John Warner at Farmer City. After receiving his license to practice he located in Mahomet, where he remained twelve years and then returned to Farmer City. He died in 1903, in his eighty-fourth year.”

From these references, we might have evidence that Dr. John Warner had lived in Pekin in 1830, but later relocated to Dewitt County by 20 June 1840.

There is, however, a serious problem with identifying the Dr. John Warner of Pekin as Dr. John Warner of Clinton, and that is the fact that Dr. John Warner of Clinton is known to have been born in Rockingham County, Virginia, on 24 July 1819, a son of David and Catherine Warner. (Dr. Warner died 21 Dec. 1905 in Clinton, and is entombed there in the Warner mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery.) Thus, he would only be 11 years old at the time of the Deep Snow of 1830, obviously not old enough to be practicing medicine in Pekin that year.

Warner Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, Clinton, Illinois, where Dr. John Warner of Clinton is entombed. (Photo from Dr. Warner’s Find-A-Grave memorial)

It would appear that we are dealing with two different Drs. John Warner, one who briefly lived in Pekin and another who arrived in DeWitt County in 1840 when he was about 21 years old. On the other hand, perhaps Dr. Schenck had bad information, and the one and only Dr. John Warner (of Clinton) briefly sojourned in Pekin during a later winter, and Dr. Schenck or his informant mistakenly identified that as the winter of the Deep Snow.

Most likely they were simply two different Drs. John Warner, because Dr. John Warner of Clinton did not arrive in Illinois until 1840, the same year he settled in Farmer City.

A length biography of Dr. John Warner of Clinton was included in his obituary, published in the Clinton Register on 22 Dec. 1905:


“Dr. John Warner Dies at His Home After Brief Illness Yesterday Afternoon.

“Was Eighty-Six Years Old; Had Lived in Clinton Sixty-Two Years; and Had Been Engaged in Banking Nearly Forty Years Known Throughout the State.

“Dr. John Warner is at rest. After a busy pilgrimage of four score and six years he answered the final roll call. For several years his health had been failing, but he journeyed on giving little heed to the warning that comes with ripened age. Though several years past the eightieth mile post in the journey from the cradle to the grave he continued in business and attended to most of the affairs pertaining to his large landed estates. He realized the danger to one of his years from overwork, but his courage, like his bravery on the field of battle, would not allow him to shrink from his personal duty. It was not until about a year ago when paralysis deadened and weakened his physical powers, that he was compelled to lessen his attention from business. He recovered sufficiently to go about and seldom was there a day when his familiar form was not seen about his place of business. But little more than twenty-four hours before his death he was at his banking house, and not feeling well he returned home at 2 o’clock. Soon afterward he complained of pains in his breast; his physicians were summoned, and his family was informed of his dangerous condition. He grew worse and a few minutes after 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon the end came. Dr. Warner began life at the bottom of fortune’s ladder; by steady and industrious effort he had ascended well up on its coveted rounds. After the invaluable schooling of farm life, he resolved to seek a new field of labor. After a few months as teacher he began the study of medicine and receiving his diploma sought opportunity in the then West. He drifted to DeWitt county, which became his field of action. The outlook was not bright, but his ambition and determination opened the way to success. Hope parted the clouds and sunshine cast its encouraging rays along his pathway. His safe reasoning and keen foresight led him to invest his money in the rich prairie land that was then considered, by many, almost worthless. Its rapid advance in price soon added greatly to his wealth, and in 1867, in company with Henry Magill, Lawrence Weldon and J. R. Warner, under the firm name of John Warner & Co., he engaged in banking, which he had since continued. For seven years previous to enlisting as a soldier he was in the mercantile and real estate business. His wealth grew until he had long been one of the wealthiest men in Central Illinois. Besides the controlling interest in the bank he owned five business buildings and several residences in Clinton, besides the palatial homestead at the south limits of the city. His landed interests are vast. In DeWitt county he owns . . . acres; he also owned a farm near Olney, Ill., two or three farms in Indiana; a farm near Lincoln, Neb., and about 700 acres in Iowa. There seems no doubt of this estate being more than $1,000,000, which has been the result of his own efforts. A fitting monument to his enterprise and benevolence is the new hospital, a view of which is given on this page. Last spring he set apart $25,000 for the building and endowed it. The hospital is enclosed, but will not be completed for several weeks. It will be a pride to Clinton and will endear Dr. Warner’s memory to every citizen.
“John Warner was born in Rockingham county, Va., July 24, 1819, his parents being David and Catherine Warner, of German descent. They lived on a farm and there in the beautiful valley the first sixteen years of his life were spent. Sept. 3, 1835, they started westward in two wagons. They crossed the Allegheny mountains and reached Wayne county, Indiana, late in the following month, where they spent the winter. In March of the following year they moved to Henry county where the father had purchased a farm. One year later John began teaching school at $25 a month, and at the same time began the study of medicine under a medical firm of Anderson. Oct. 30 of that year he was married to Miss Cynthia A. Gardiner, of the same county, and June 2 of the following year they started westward with no particular place for location in view. Eighteen days later they landed in Mt. Pleasant, now Farmer City. There were only five residences and one hotel in the town. The hotel was kept by John Smith, and they remained there until he could procure a house, and it was only 12×12 feet. He lived there and practiced medicine two years when he moved to Clinton, which had since been his home. He continued the practice of medicine until he had spent about twelve years in that work, though he always disliked it, and engaged in another business at the first desirable opportunity. From 1848 until 1852 he was clerk of the circuit court. When the Civil war began he was among the first in the county to enlist, and raised a company and was made major of the 41st regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He was at the surrender of Ft. Henry; in the battles of Ft. Donelson, Shiloh, Davis Bridge, the Hatchie and Corinth. At Shiloh he contracted chronic diarrhea, from which he never fully recovered. On account of this he resigned his position and returned home. In 1865 his wife died. May 28, 1874, he was married to Miss Isabella Robinson, of Huron county, O. He served one term in the legislature, from 1864 to 1866. In 1867 he engaged in the banking business, and had since continued in that business, though his health for a few years had prevented his taking an active part in the work, yet he seldom missed being at the bank every day when able to be from home. The bank-room had been his business home nearly forty years, and it was only fitting that he be there only a few hours before the closing of his earthly career. Dr. Warner is survived by his wife and the following children: Vespasian Warner, Commissioner of Pensions; Mrs. Harrison Mettler, of Chicago; Mrs. Grant Bell, of Clinton and Florence, of New York City; his grandchildren and the child of Dr. and Mrs. Mettler and the children of Vespasian Warner. They are Clifton M., John and Mrs. Guy G. Dowdall, of Clinton; Vesper M., of Kansas, and Mary Frances, who is attending school in Pennsylvania, but arrived home yesterday. Their father will arrive from Washington tomorrow afternoon. Dr. Warner was a member of no church but was strongly inclined to the Universalist church, of which his wife is a member. He was a liberal contributor to the building fund of that church and gave it the new pipe organ which cost $2000, making a total cost of over $3000. The funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 o’clock at the residence, conducted by Rev. C. E. Varney. Burial in Woodlawn cemetery.”

#catherine-warner, #col-thomas-snell, #cynthia-a-gardiner-warner, #david-warner, #deep-snow, #dr-j-d-gardner, #dr-john-warner, #dr-w-e-schenck, #history-of-dewitt-county-illinois, #isabella-robinson-warner, #vespasian-warner

Joshua C. Morgan, Pekin’s first Town President

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

One of the most prominent of Pekin’s community leaders in the earliest years of its existence as a pioneer settlement was Joshua Carmen Morgan (1804-1849), whose name appears repeatedly in the early records of Pekin’s history. He was born 15 July 1804 in Xenia, Ohio, eldest son of Isaac and Margaret (Carmen) Morgan, who were natives of Virginia and Kentucky, respectively.

Turning to William H. Bates’ first-ever history of Pekin (which was included in the 1871 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory), we find the several notices regarding Joshua C. Morgan, all of them relating significant facts in Pekin’s early history.

First, on page 12 Bates informs that Morgan held most Tazewell County offices from 1831 to 1836:

“During the time intervening between the removal of the County Seat from Mackinaw to Pekin in 1831 and its removal from Pekin to Tremont in 1836, the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder, and Master in Chancery were held by Joshua C. Morgan, who was also post-master. He lived with his wife and four children, a brother and a young lady, and transacted the business of all his offices, in two rooms of the house now occupied by Dr. W. S. Maus. His house was also a great resort for travelers, and our informant says: ‘I have spent the evening at his house when the entire court and bar were there with many others.’”

While we can be grateful that Bates provided us with this description of Morgan and his important role in Pekin’s and Tazewell County’s early days, nevertheless there is a problem with his statement that Morgan’s house was “now” (i.e. in 1870-71) occupied by Dr. W. S. Maus. On page 46 of the same directory, Bates says Dr. W. S. Maus then resided in a home at the northeast corner of Logan St. and Park Ave., a very unlikely location for the home of one of Pekin’s earliest residents during the 1830s. However, Bates also mentions on page 46 that Dr. J.S. Maus then resided at the southwest corner of Elizabeth and Capitol, a far more probable site for Morgan’s home.

The unnamed informant’s recollection of seeing the entire court and bar being entertained in Morgan’s home means that the notable visitors to his house would have included men such as David Davis, John T. Stewart, and Samuel Treat, and later Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.

The very next paragraph of Bates’ history of Pekin, also on page 12 of the 1871 city directory, named J. C. Morgan among the settlers who had arrived in Pekin prior to 1831 and who had survived the “Deep Snow” of 1830. In addition to this information from Bates’ account, federal land records show that Morgan obtained letters patent for grants of land in Tazewell County on 15 Oct. 1834, 22 Oct. 1835, and 1 Nov. 1839.

At the bottom of page 12, Bates devotes a paragraph to the Black Hawk War of 1832. He does not mention, however, that Joshua C. Morgan himself served in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War. The Illinois Secretary of State’s Illinois Veterans Index says Morgan served in the 5th Regiment of Whiteside’s Brigade, with the rank of Quartermaster, having entered the service at Dixon’s Ferry in what is now Lee County.

On page 13, Bates devotes a paragraph to the terrible cholera outbreak of July 1834 that carried away many of the pioneers not only of Pekin but other parts of Tazewell County:

“With the opening of July, 1834, Pekin was visited by the Asiatic Cholera, and for a time the village was enveloped in a pall of gloom, sorrow and despondency. Quite a number of prominent (sic) citizens, among whom we find the names of Mr. Smith, Mrs. Cauldron, Thomas Snell, Dr. Perry, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. J. C. Morgan, and many others, fell victims ere the terrible malady took its departure.”

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history, page 566, relates these same facts in very similar wording (showing that Bates’ account was Chapman’s source).

Mrs. J. C. Morgan was Almeda (Moore) Morgan, who had borne Joshua two daughters, Julia and Caroline, and two sons, Isaac and Frank. Joshua remained a widower for less than a year, for Tazewell County marriage records show that he remarried on 23 April 1835 to Elizabeth Green Shoemaker, who bore him five sons and two daughters, Alphonso, Jerome, Spencer, Charles, Sidney, Florence, and an unnamed daughter who died in infancy.

On 2 July 1835, the residents of Pekin voted to incorporate as a Town, which gave Pekin to right to govern itself through an elected Board of Trustees. This event, however, is not mentioned in Bates’ history of Pekin. As we have previously related, for some reason the incorporation vote was not legally recorded. (Morgan, as we have seen, was then the Recorder of Deeds.) That omission made it necessary for Pekin’s officials to ask the Illinois General Assembly to retroactively legalize the incorporation of the Town of Pekin, which the General Assembly did by a special act passed on 19 Jan. 1837.

Be that as it may, on page 13 of the 1871 directory Bates tells us the results of Pekin’s first Town election:

“‘July 9th, 1835, agreeable to notice given according to law, in the Court House, in the Town of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois, for the purpose of electing Five Resident Freeholders of the Town of Pekin, as Trustees of the same, who shall hold their office for one year and until others are chosen and qualified.’ The vote given was for D[avid] Mark, 24; D[avid] Bailey, 24; Samuel Wilson 17; J. C. Morgan, 22;  S[amuel] Pillsbury, 24, and S. Field, 12. The five gentlemen first mentioned were elected, and the members were qualified before Alden Hull, a Justice of the Peace. On the 11th of the same month, the Board of Trustees was organized, J. C. Morgan being elected President, and Benjamin Kellogg, Jr., Clerk.”

Probably the most important act of Morgan’s administration as Pekin’s first Town Board President was the removal of the County Seat from Pekin to Tremont. The primary reason for the relocation of the County Seat was the then-prevailing opinion in the General Assembly that a County Seat ought to be geographically central within a county’s borders. Tazewell County was much larger when first erected in Jan. 1827, but by 1835 the county was much smaller due to portions of Tazewell County being reassigned to newly erected counties. Another consideration was that Pekin in the 1830s was something of a swampy place and (especially after the 1834 cholera outbreak) was regarded as sickly.

Bates tells the story of the removal of the County Seat to Tremont on page 14, and concludes his account with:

“The last meeting of the first Town Board was held on the 27th of June, 1836, at which meeting Joshua C. Morgan having removed the courts to Tremont, resigned, and Samuel Pillsbury presided.”

After that, Morgan no longer appears in Bates’ narrative of Pekin history. Although he is known to have acquired additional land in Tazewell County in late 1839, at some point after that he must have joined his parents and other relatives in Lee County, Illinois. He died in Palmyra in that county on 12 July 1849 and was buried in Prairieville Cemetery near Prairieville in Lee County. His widow Elizabeth later moved to Seward, Nebraska, where she died on 20 Oct. 1900 at age 85. She is buried in Clarinda Cemetery, Clarinda, Iowa.

The gravestone of Joshua C. Morgan, who served as Pekin’s first Town President, in Prairieville Cemetery, Prairieville, Lee County. Photo by Michael Kuelper.

#alden-hull, #almeda-moore-morgan, #benjamin-kellogg-jr, #black-hawk-war, #cholera-epidemic, #county-seat, #david-bailey, #david-mark, #deep-snow, #dr-joseph-s-maus, #dr-samuel-pillsbury, #dr-william-s-maus, #elizabeth-green-shoemaker-morgan, #isaac-morgan, #joshua-c-morgan, #joshua-carmen-morgan, #margaret-carmen-morgan, #pekin-history, #pekin-incorporation-snafu, #s-field, #samuel-wilson, #tazewell-county-history, #tremont-cooperative-grain, #william-h-bates

A centennial pageant for Mackinaw

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in April 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

A centennial pageant for Mackinaw

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

A few years ago, we reviewed the early history of Mackinaw. This week we’ll have another glimpse of Mackinaw’s history courtesy of a booklet included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

Only 19 pages in length, the booklet is the “Historical Program to Commemorate the One-Hundredth Anniversary of Mackinaw, Illinois,” prepared and published on the occasion of Mackinaw’s centennial celebration that took place on Thursday, Sept. 1, 1927.

Despite its brevity, the booklet packs an impressive amount of information within its covers, including a seven-page historical essay with photographs, as well as the complete program and schedule of the centennial’s events.

The celebration’s main event was a “Pageant Depicting the History of Old Mackinaw, given under the auspices of the Mackinaw Woman’s Club.” The pageant’s complete program and cast list is printed on pages 12 to 16 of this booklet. It opened with a prologue scene in which the Rev. R. M. Hutchinson, in the role of the “Spirit of History,” intoned the words, “I am the Spirit of History and these are my Handmaids: Courage, Vision, Industry, and Co-operation, without which no community can progress. We shall unfold before you the epochs that have made up the history of Old Mackinaw.

Then followed a series of nine scenes that took the audience through Mackinaw’s history, beginning with the Pottawatomi village of Chief Machina (or Mackina) in 1790, then portraying the arrival of Thomas Orendorff and his family in the 1820s, followed by a scene in the Allensworth home in 1831 (in which the players were all descendants of the characters they portrayed). The pageant then leaped ahead to 1846, showing the wedding of Sallie Allensworth and Abraham Sargent, which was attended by a certain attorney named Abraham Lincoln, family friend of the Sargents.

This photograph from the 1927 Mackinaw Centennial Program shows Sallie (Allensworth) Sargent of Mackinaw. Abraham Lincoln was a guest at her wedding in 1846.

The next scene depicted the effect that the California Gold Rush of 1849 had on the men of Mackinaw. After that, the pageant presented a pair of scenes on the start of the Civil War in 1861 and its conclusion in 1865. After a presentation of a scene from the Pomona Fair of 1893, the pageant’s final scene, set in 1908, depicted Mackinaw’s first “Harvest Home Picnic.”

Interspersed during the pageant were three “tableaux” – that is, individual scenes in which the actors remained silent and motionless, like living pictures or figures from a museum display. The first tableau was the pioneers’ planting of their first corn, the second tableau was of the marriage of Sallie Allensworth and Abraham Sargent, and the third was of the 1865 celebration of the end of the Civil War.

At the conclusion of the pageant, the Rev. Hutchinson returned as the Spirit History and bid a farewell blessing to the audience with the words, “Prosperity and Happiness to Mackinaw and her citizens, May the blessings of the Past continue with you, And the joys of life ever be yours.

This photograph from the 1927 Mackinaw Centennial Program shows Fanny Herndon, last of the “Snowbirds” (Tazewell County pioneers who survived the Deep Snow of 1830).

#abraham-lincoln, #abraham-sargent, #chief-machina, #chief-mackinaw, #deep-snow, #fanny-herndon, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-centennial, #mackinaw-harvest-home-picnic, #pomona-fair-of-1893, #pottawatomi, #rev-r-m-hutchinson, #sallie-allensworth, #snowbirds, #thomas-orendorff

Margaret Wilson Young’s pioneer narrative

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Aug. 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

Margaret Wilson Young’s pioneer narrative

By Jared Olar

Library assistant

Several of the pioneer settlers of Tazewell County left written memoirs of varying length that provide us with valuable information on the early years of the county. For instance, the writings of Nathan Dillon tell us much of how the land that was soon to become Tazewell County was settled, while the diary of Jacob Tharp is one of the earliest and most important sources for information on the founding and early history of Pekin.

Another pioneer whose memories of Tazewell’s early years fortunately were written down was Margaret L. Wilson Young (1818-1901), daughter of Tazewell County pioneers Seth and Sarah Wilson. “Grandma Young,” as she was known, is buried with her husband John Stillman Young (1816-1880) in Haynes Cemetery (also called Rankin Cemetery) in Cincinnati Township.

Not long before her death on Dec. 27, 1901, a narrative of her life on the central Illinois prairie during the 1820s and 1830s was obtained. At the time she was the oldest living pioneer in Tazewell County. Her memories were published by Ben C. Allensworth in his 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 699-701. Following are excerpts from her narrative.

“I was born in Green County, Ohio, Jan. 14, 1818, and am a little older than Illinois is as a State. My father was Seth Wilson. I came to this county in the fall of 1820 with my parents, when I was two years of age. We came to Sangamon County in 1820 and in February, 1825, we moved from Sangamon to this county. The first night after we reached the county we stayed at Nathan Dillon’s. The house we built was near the residence where Peter Unsicker now lives. Finding, however, that we had located on a school section, father came to where I now live, Section 17, Elm Grove Township, and built a second house which has been moved to the spot where I now live. Father made rails with which he fenced in ten acres of ground, and raised corn enough to last us through the season until the next crop should come in. We had to go to Elkhart and to Springfield for our dry-goods. . . . There was no money in those days; there was merely an exchange of those things which other people had and we did not have. We made our clothing from flax and linen which we raised ourselves. We had no leather shoes, we went barefooted most of the time. We got along the best we could. Father was a saddler by trade and could have made us shoes, but there was no leather to be had. . . .

“The families of John and George Cline were our nearest neighbors, they moved by us when we came from Sangamon County. George lived near where the Sugar Grove school house now is, and John lived about half a mile from where Leslie now is. . . . There were no doctors closer to us than Peoria at that time. When people got sick they doctored themselves. I remember a man by the name of Turner, an entire stranger, stopped at the house of Francis Cullom, who then lived where John Summers now lives, and taken seriously sick. A doctor was sent for to come from Peoria, and upon arrival wanted to know of Cullom why he had sent for him to see a dying man; and Mr. Cullom replied that the man was a stranger and they thought it no more than right they should do their best to save his life. The doctor laid down and, some little time later, when the sick man became aroused from a stupor and showed some signs of life, the doctor was called and they seemingly recognized each other as members of some fraternal order. The doctor then took off his coat and proceeded to do all he could to save the man’s life. His efforts were successful, and Turner, who lived for a number of years afterwards, was a Justice of the Peace in the neighborhood. This was before the deep snow.

“I remember very distinctly the time of the deep snow. The weather before this had been cloudy for some days, and I and my brother and sister went to the school house by John Cline’s place. The snow commenced falling in the morning in the latter part of December, 1830, and must have been 18 inches deep before night. Father came after us, but missed us on the road. Snow kept falling until it was three feet or more on the level, and the tops of stakes on the rail fences in many places could just be seen. It occasioned great inconvenience. The crops had not been gathered; people had to take horses with a sack and ride in the corn field and husk out corn enough to supply present needs. . . .

“There was a great deal of wild game when we first came here, but there was not very much after the deep snow. Wild turkeys could get nothing to eat, and neither could the deer, and they perished in great numbers. Father used to chain his dogs to keep them from slaughtering the deer – the dogs could run on top of the snow crust, while the deer with sharp hoofs would sink through and become an easy prey to the dogs that might be loose. . . .

“In July 1834 there was a serious epidemic of cholera. Seven out of Mr. Haines’ family went with the cholera, and seven from Thomas Dillon’s. A man by the name of Hiner went to Pekin, and said if there was any cholera there he was going to see it. He saw it – he died.

“When we first came here there were a great many Indians here. The Indians were scattered all around over the country, they had no particular place at which the staid any length of time. They did their trading at Wesley City. A trail ran right along the west side of our farm from Wesley City to the Mackinaw. They were the Pottawatomie Indians. They were peaceable. An Indian by the name of Shimshack was their chief. I do not know where they had their burial grounds. They had some trouble among themselves at Wesley City, which resulted in the death of a squaw. They took her over into Peoria County to bury her. They put her in the ground in sitting posture with the top of her head just even with the surface. Jonathan Tharp said that he saw her three times while the body was frozen in that position. They buried a butcher knife, a piece of dried venison and a bottle of whiskey with her.”

In this Find-A-Grave photograph is shown the gravestone of Margaret Wilson Young, who is buried with her husband John Stillman Young (1816-1880) in Haynes Cemetery (also called Rankin Cemetery) in Cincinnati Township.

#cholera-epidemic, #deep-snow, #francis-cullom, #george-cline, #grandma-young, #john-cline, #john-stillman-young, #john-summers, #jonathan-tharp, #margaret-wilson-young, #nathan-dillon, #old-settlers, #peter-unsicker, #pottawatomi, #preblog-columns, #sarah-wilson, #seth-wilson, #shimshack, #thomas-dillon

Nasty winters and ‘Snowbirds’

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2012, before the launch of this weblog.

Nasty winters and ‘Snowbirds’

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

Today the term “snowbird” can be a slang term for U.S. retirees from northern states who own a second home or condominium in places like Florida or Arizona, where they live during the winter months, returning north with the return of warm weather in the spring. Tazewell County’s 19th century “Snowbirds” didn’t have that luxury but may have wished they did.

As “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (2004) explains, the Snowbirds of Tazewell County were “survivors of the deep snow that fell over Tazewell County in late December 1830, leaving drifts as high as 20 feet in some places. It snowed 19 times from December 29, 1830 to February 13, 1831. It was told that after the spring melt one could walk for a quarter acre stepping on the bones of the deer that perished.

About 50 years after that unusually harsh winter, the county’s Snowbirds who were still alive got together for a group photograph at the Tazewell County Fair in Delavan. That photo is reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

Tazewell County survivors of “the deep snow” — the unusually harsh winter of 1830-1831 — were known as “Snowbirds.” About 50 years after that winter, the county’s Snowbirds who were then still living got together for this group photograph at the Tazewell County Fair in Delavan.

Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates has more to say about that winter in his “Souvenir of early and notable events in the history of the North West territory, Illinois, and Tazewell County,” which Bates published in commemoration of the June 21, 1916 dedication of the new Tazewell County Courthouse. (Bates’ “Souvenir” is not in the library’s Local History Room collection, but it can be accessed free of charge at www.archive.org.)

On page 12 of his “Souvenir,” Bates wrote:

“The deep snow of 1830-31, was not only a record breaker, but established a record: Snow began falling December 29th, 1830, and continued for three days and nights, leaving the earth covered with a white mantle about four feet thick, with some drifts at least twenty feet deep. Many cattle and hogs, also all kinds of wild game, met death by freezing. The early settlers suffered many privations through hunger and cold. Between December 29, 1830, and February 13, 1831, snow fell nineteen times. The sun was seldom seen and a general gloom pervaded the settlements. Corn that had been left on the stalk in the field had to be gathered by digging in the snow for it. Many of the brave settlers had to travel on snow-shoes to the more favored places, to secure food and necessaries to save their families from starving. They stood on the crust of the frozen snow, and for fuel, cut off trees so high that after the snow had melted away some time in April, 1831, the stumps left above ground were tall enough for fence rails.”

That extreme winter weather apparently was part of a generally cooling trend at the time, because further on Bates commented, “There was frost during every month of 1831, consequently poor crops followed the efforts of the pioneer husbandman.

The county had another bout of crazy winter weather just five years later. On page 14, Bates shared this recollection:

“’What a sudden change!’ is an expression often heard — but later years have not produced one equal to that of January, 1836: Snow had fallen to the depth of four inches, which was followed by a drizzling rain, leaving the earth covered with ‘slush’. A cold wave came from the northwest, and so sudden was the change that cattle, hogs, chickens, etc., froze fast where they were standing and had to be cut loose. Men and women, out in the fields and gardens, and short distances from their homes, nearly froze to death before they could seek covered protection, owing to the bitter cold.”

#bates-souvenir, #deep-snow, #pekin-a-pictorial-history, #preblog-columns, #snowbirds, #william-h-bates

When Pekin was only a town

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

For the first 19 years of its existence, from 1830 to 1849, Pekin was a pioneer town, with much of the character that is associated with the Wild West rather than a modern semi-rural Midwestern city. A Native American village even thrived near the new town until 1833, first located on the ridge above Pekin Lake and later on the south shores of Worley Lake.

However, as Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates tells in the 1870-71 Pekin City Directory, it was in that first period of Pekin’s history that the crucial groundwork was laid for Pekin’s civic development.

Thus, Bates tells us that Pekin’s nascent economy got a boost in Pekin’s first year with the opening of two stores – one belonging to Absalom Dillon and the other to David Bailey – and a hotel or tavern operated by Pekin co-founder Gideon Hawley. Religion in the new town also made its debut in 1830, with the construction of Rev. Joseph Mitchell’s Methodist Church on Elizabeth Street between Third and Capitol.

The following year, Thomas Snell built the town’s first school house, located on Second Street between Elizabeth and St. Mary. Thomas’ son John was the school teacher. The same year, Thomas built Pekin’s first warehouse.

The most significant of 1831’s milestones for Pekin was the transfer of the county seat from Mackinaw to Pekin. When the Illinois General Assembly created Tazewell County in early 1827, Mackinaw was designated as the county seat because it was near what was then the geographical center of Tazewell County. But Pekin’s location as a port on the Illinois River meant Pekin was less remote than Mackinaw. That greater accessibility gave Pekin better prospects.

Another thing that may have played a role in the decision to move the county seat was a memorable extreme weather event: the incredible “Deep Snow” of Dec. 1830, a snowfall and sudden freeze that had turned life on the Illinois prairie into a desperate fight for survival. Pekin was closer to other, larger towns and settlements than Mackinaw, and therefore safer for settlers.

With such considerations in mind, the county’s officials decided to relocate to Pekin even though Illinois law still said Mackinaw was the county seat.

Pekin remained the de facto county seat for the next five years. During that time, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Lockwood presided over the Circuit Court in Tazewell County. Court at first took place in the Snell school house, but later would convene in the Pekin home of Joshua C. Morgan, who simultaneously held the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, Master in Chancery, and Postmaster. That house was later the residence of Pekin pioneer doctor William S. Maus.

The Black Hawk War, Illinois’ last conflict with its Native American population, broke out in 1832. The war lasted only a few months. It began disastrously for the Illinois militia with the debacle at Stillman’s Run in northern Illinois, where the untrained and undisciplined militia recruits quickly succumbed to panic and fled, leaving behind the few brave men in their number to be butchered and scalped. As Bates sardonically put it, “The balance of the command, so history hath it, saved their scalps by doing some exceedingly rapid marching to Dixon on the Rock River.” Among the fallen was Pekin co-founder Major Isaac Perkins.

The town of Pekin itself was not directly affected by the fighting, although the townsfolk did build a stockade around the Snell school house as a precaution, renaming it Fort Doolittle. The fort never had to be used, however, which was a very good thing, because, as Bates commented, it “was so constructed, that in case of a siege, the occupants would have been entirely destitute of water.”

Despite the war’s inauspicious start, the Illinois troops quickly gained the upper hand and Sauk war leader Black Hawk (Makataimeshekiakiak) was forced to give up the struggle. The outcome of the war was the greatest calamity for the remaining Indian tribes of Illinois, who beginning in 1833 were almost to a man forcibly relocated to reservations west of the Mississippi – including the Pottawatomi and Kickapoo bands who lived in Tazewell County. Tazewell County’s Pottawatomi were soon joined by the harried remnants of their kin from Indiana, whom state militia soldiers forced to march west from their homes in Indiana in 1838 along a route that is remembered as the Pottawatomi Trail of Death.

In July 1834, an epidemic of Asiatic cholera struck Pekin, causing the deaths of several pioneers, including Thomas Snell and the wife of Joshua C. Morgan. The victims were hastily interred in the old Tharp Burying Ground, the former site of which is now the parking lot of the Pekin Schnucks grocery store.

Given the challenges and upheavals of the first five years of Pekin’s existence, it should not be surprisingly to learn that there are no surviving records of the town’s elections prior to 1835. On July 9, 1835, the townsfolk elected five men as Trustees: David Mark, David Bailey, Samuel Wilson, Joshua C. Morgan, and Samuel Pillsbury. Two days later, Pekin’s newly elected Board of Trustees organized itself, choosing Morgan as its president and Benjamin Kellogg Jr. as clerk.

One of the first acts of the new board was passing an ordinance on Aug. 1, 1835, specifying the town’s limits. At the time, Pekin’s boundaries extended from the west bank of the Illinois River in Peoria County eastward along a line that is today represented by Dirksen Court, reaching out as far as 11th Street, then straight south along to 11th to Broadway, then westward along Broadway back across the Illinois River to Peoria County. It is noteworthy that land in Peoria County has been included within the limits of Pekin ever since 1835.

This detail from an 1864 map of Pekin has been cropped to match the town limits of Pekin as they stood in 1835 — extending from the west bank of the Illinois River eastward to what is today 11th Street, and from Broadway north to what is today Dirksen Court. Many of the 1864 streets did not yet exist in 1835, of course.

Pekin’s first Board of Trustees continued to meet until June 27, 1836, when the county seat was formally relocated by Illinois law to Tremont, where a new court house had been built. Pekin then elected a new board on Aug. 8, 1836, the members of which were Samuel Pillsbury, Spencer Field, Jacob Eamon, John King, and David Mark. King was elected board president and Kellogg was again elected clerk.

Board members served one-year terms in those days, so Pekin held elections every year. Getting enough board members together for a quorum was evidently a real challenge. The board addressed that problem by passing of an ordinance on Jan. 4, 1838, stipulating that any board member who was more than 30 minutes late for a board meeting would forfeit $1 of his pay.

Another notable act of Pekin’s board around that time was a resolution of Dec. 29, 1840, adopting “an eagle of a quarter of a dollar of the new coinage” as the official seal of the town of Pekin.

On Dec. 29, 1840, the Pekin Board of Trustees officially adopted an American eagle like the one shown on this mid-19th century quarter as the seal of the Town of Pekin.

Throughout these years, Pekin continued to see economic developments. The first bank in town, a branch of the Bank of Illinois, was established in 1839 or 1840 at the rear of a store on Second Street. There was not yet a bridge across the Illinois River, but ferries were licensed to operate. Alcohol distilleries also were established in the area that is still Pekin’s industrial district, and around those years Benjamin Kellog also built the first steam mill near the river between Margaret and Anna Eliza streets.

In spite of a scarlet fever epidemic in winter of 1843-44, these economic developments were signs of Pekin’s continuing growth and progress, notwithstanding the loss of the county seat to Tremont. The pioneer town was poised to attain the status and rank of a city.

#benjamin-kellogg-jr, #black-hawk, #black-hawk-war, #david-bailey, #david-mark, #deep-snow, #dr-william-s-maus, #fort-doolittle, #gideon-hawley, #illinois-bicentennial, #isaac-perkins, #joshua-c-morgan, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-town-seal, #pottawatomi, #pottawatomi-in-pekin, #pottawatomi-trail-of-death, #rev-joseph-mitchell, #stillmans-run, #tharp-burial-ground, #thomas-snell, #tremont, #tremont-courthouse

Tazewell County’s Old Settlers

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” devotes an entire chapter (Chapter VII) to the Tazewell County Old Settlers’ Association, a group that formally organized in Delavan in 1884. Even before then, however, it was already common to think and to speak of the earliest pioneers of the county as the “Old Settlers.” Thus, we see that the biographies in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” frequently bestow the designation of “Old Settler” upon various individuals.

By 1884, according to Allensworth, many of the Old Settlers felt a desire to form a permanent association “to promote acquaintance and friendship among those who had lived in the county forty years, thereby cementing the ties which have bound the pioneers of the county together during that period, and to keep an accurate record of the birth-place and age at which each came to the county, as well as the date of the death of those who have passed away.”

The Old Settlers’ Association began with about a dozen members, who elected Ira B. Hall as their first president and Cyrus M. Kingman as secretary. The group would have an annual meeting or reunion at the Tazewell County Fair in Delavan. An account of one of their meetings is found in an old newspaper clipping from the collection of Darlene Hamann of Green Valley. The clipping, dated Wednesday, Aug. 29, 1900, was reprinted in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, June 2014, page 1030. Under the triple headline “Tazewell’s Old Settlers,” “They Assembled 400 Strong at Delavan Yesterday – 21 Died During Year,” and “Officers Re-Elected – Fair News,” we read the following:

“The feature of the opening day of the Tazewell county fair at Delavan yesterday was the gathering of the old settlers from all parts of the county. In round numbers there were 400 of the county’s ‘early birds’ on the grounds, renewing acquaintances and exchanging reminiscences. The organization has over 700 members and during the year 21 have been called to their reward. The morning was consumed by routine business and a number of very interesting short talks were made. President James Haines of Pekin, Ira B. Hall of Delavan, Judge N. W. Green of Pekin, and M. D. Pettett of Lincoln all spoke briefly. Mr. Pettett was 90 years old last May and is as spry as the average man of 60. Mr. Hall is 88 years old and has lived in the county over 60 years. The oldest woman present was Mrs. Margaret Young of Pekin aged 82. She came to this county in 1820. The business meeting was concluded by the election of officers for the ensuing year as follows:
“President – James Haines Sr. of Pekin; fourth term
“Vice-President – C. M. Kingman of Delavan; second term
“Secretary and Treasurer – W. F. Copes of Pekin; sixth term
“In the afternoon Judge William Don Maus of Pekin of Pekin delivered the address of the day. It was an eloquent and lengthy discussion upon the scenes and incidents of the times of the pioneers. The address was eagerly listened to by a great crowd of people and all expressed themselves as enjoying it very much.”

Allensworth wrote in 1905 that there was little change of the Association’s officers during the two decades following its organization. After the 1884 founding, Allensworth wrote, “The next year, Ira B. Hall was elected President and W. F. Copes, Secretary and Treasurer, which position he had held for nineteen years and is still in office. The same year, S. M. Woodrow was elected President and held the position about a year. Then Mr. Hall was elected to that office and held it for ten years. Mr. James Haines was then elected President and still holds the position.”

During the 19 years that Copes was secretary and treasurer, the Old Settlers’ Association had 768 members, 182 of whom had died by 1905, in which year there were 587 members of the rolls.

Among the Old Settlers of Tazewell County was a select group known as the “Snowbirds” — pioneers who had survived the unusual “Deep Snow” of the  extremely harsh winter of 1830-31. Shown below is a group photograph of the surviving “Snowbirds” at a gathering of the Tazewell County Old Settlers during a Tazewell County Fair in Delavan circa 1880.

#deep-snow, #old-settlers, #snowbirds, #tazewell-county-history