The rifle was an important adjunct in the equipment of the pioneer, and for many years after their arrival, the forest supplied the settlers with the greater part of their subsistence. Furs and peltry were the circulating medium of the country, and they had little else to give in exchange. Constant practice, and the fact that their means of support depended upon it, made every man a marksman. In those pioneer days, each gun was hand-made, and while they looked crude compared with the perfect mechanical excellence of the present day, they were oftentimes costly weapons, for the hunters took pride in their guns and had them made to their special order.
Another source of revenue that the pioneers were quick to take advantage of was bee-hunting. This was followed as a regular business by some of the young unmarried men, and, during the year 1823, a joint company, composed of Thomas Beard, Samuel Gooch, and Orris McCartney shipped 27 barrels of strained honey to St. Louis, in addition to a large quantity of wax. Bees were then so abundant that it was no unusual thing to find 10 swarms in one day, and the yield ran as high as 30 to 40 gallons per tree, but such a find was an unusual one. This product found a ready market in St. Louis and was one of the main sources of supplying the early home seekers with the necessities of life.
Rafting logs, staves, and hoop-poles down the Illinois river to the St. Louis market was another of the early business enterprises of pioneer days which yielded good returns, and it was continued long after the country became thickly settled. The great majority of the early settlers shunned the rich, flat prairie land, now the very finest in Illinois, because it was wet and “boggy,” and in looking for an ideal location for a home, chose the timbered country. Here many years of their life was spent in clearing off the heavy timber and grubbing stumps in their cultivated fields. But while thus engaged in clearing their homestead, they were getting a little ready money from the sale of logs and staves, and the cooper shops gave employment to men who otherwise would not have been able to establish a home of their own.
It was not until 1828 that the first steamboat came up the Illinois river to Beardstown, from St. Louis, but in the years preceding that the settlers carried on a regular traffic with St. Louis, which was in fact the only market. The young men of the settlement looked forward with great glee to the trip down the river on the log-rafts and keel-boats, and it had a fascination sufficient to cause many of them to leave the settlement and engage in rafting as a business. It was a rough, hard life, full of danger and privations, but the sturdy youths were accustomed to no other mode of living and chose it in preference to the routine work of the farm.