Old Times In Schuyler 

Chauncey Hobart Tells of Those Early Days
By Howard F. Dyson, 1918

Rev. Chauncey Hobart in his book, “Recollections of My Life,” published at Red Wing, Minn., in 1885, gives an authentic account of the first settlement made in Schuyler county and the events that led up to it, which makes an interesting chapter in our review of pioneer events.

The Hobarts were of Revolutionary stock, who emigrated from England in 1632, and settled in Massachusetts and later removed to New Hampshire. It was here that Calvin Hobart first heard of Illinois from soldiers who had been stationed at forts along the Mississippi river, who were discharged in 1819, and returned to their New England homes. They brought wonderous reports of the west. They told of tons of hay that could be cut for nothing; corn that grew so high it could not be harvested by a man standing on the ground, and a soil that was inexhaustibly rich, where you could plow a furrow six miles long without touching a stone, stump or tree. These stories fired the imagination of the eastern settler, and Calvin Hobart decided to seek a home in the west and accordingly sold his farm and bought three sections of land in the Military Tract.

Preparations for the journey were made during the summer of 1821, and the Hobart family left their New England home in August of that year. They traveled westward thru Utica, N.Y., and Buffalo, skirted the shore of Lake Erie, and spent the winter in Portage county, Ohio. Here Calvin Hobart was taken ill, and it was not until August, 1822, their journey was resumed. They were joined in Ohio by a cousin, Wm. H. Taylor, and Ruth Powers, who accompanied them to Schuyler county. They journeyed by way of Cincinnati and Terre Haute, Ind. Rev. Hobart, in describing the journey says:

“These days of toil brought us to Terre Haute, Ind., where we crossed the Wabash river and entering Illinois we drove to Col. Austin’s near where Paris has been built. His home was situated on the eastern border of that wonderful plat of fertility and beauty, ‘The Grand Prairie.’ This was the first prairie that we had seen in its natural state, and is no exaggeration to say that in those lovely October days the sight to us was a grand one far beyond our expectations.

“At this point we laid in provisions for man and beast for four days, as it was more than one hundred miles to the next house. On the fourth day we reached the cabin of Mr. Stephens,’ about three miles west of the present site of the city of Decatur. Here we remained three days and on taking the trail crossed the Sangamon, leaving Springfield three miles to the south. We camped at the head of ‘Clary’s Grove’ and from there set out for ‘Job’s Settlement,’ sixteen miles west across the prairie. The next day a drive of twelve miles brought us to the cabin of Timothy Harris, living at the foot of the Illinois Bluffs, and six miles east of the Illinois river. Here was the Ultima Thule of settlement. Beyond this or west of it, except for a deserted cabin at Downing landing (now Beardstown) there was not a shanty this side of the Rocky Mountains.

“Mr. Harris’ cabin was about twelve feet square, and was already occupied by himself, a Mr. Brown, Ephraim Eggleston, wife and six children. But stop there we must and stop we did. To add to the novelty and strangeness of this situation there were about three hundred Pottowatimie Indians camped along the creek above the house. These with about as many dogs as there were people swarmed out to greet the newcomers, giving us a noisy welcome, and appearing as much astonished as if we were an embassy just arrived from the moon.

“That night the floor of the little cabin was actually covered with beds, and these only accommodated about half of the company; the other half finding shelter in the wagons. To add to the embarrassment of the crowded situation, the second day after our arrival Nathan Eels, wife and seven children made their appearance at the cabin door.

“Two things now demanded immediate attention: First, bread–something must be had to eat! Secondly, shelter–a place must be made ready to live in. To meet the first necessity we gathered about twenty bushels of corn and shelled it. My mother took one of our teams and with my brother Norris went back sixty miles to where there was a horse mill to get it ground. While mother was gone on this expedition all hands furned out to cut and haul logs to build cabins for the coming winter.

“It happened that in getting the corn ground mother had succeeded better than father could have done had he taken it to mill. When she arrived there were enough there waiting who had come before her to keep the miller busy for three days. But because she was a woman and had come so far, the generous hearted Illinoisians kindly waived their claim and allowed her to have her grist ground immediately. On the fourth day she returned safely with her wagon load of meal, and found a kind of double log cabin well advanced toward completion. In another day or two the cabins were ready for occupancy.

“Floors made of basswood puncheons hewed; doors and roof made of shakes, called boards, four feet long, six to eight inches wide and half an inch thick, split with a froe, from white, black and burr oak. The process was to find a tall, straight-grained oak, three or four feet thru, saw it into blocks four feet long, split it into bolts, and then ‘rive’ it into boards. An experienced man could make boards enough in a day to cover a house if the timber was good.

“The next thing was for my father to make a trip across the river to see the land he had bought. He was much pleased with the country, but not quite so well with his purchase, so far as the quarter section which he saw was concerned–it being heavily timbered and hilly.

“Still he determined to move over as soon as posible. For this preparations must be made. Accordingly he went back to the older settlement and traded a wagon, watch, etc., for a yoke of oxen, plough, chain, two cows, and seven hogs. Another trip back to the settlement secured enough of meal and corn to last until mid-summer.

“All things being in readiness, goods packed and teams harnessed, on the 22d of February, 1823, we vacated the first cabin, and which we had occupied about three months, drove six miles to the Illinois river and staid with Mr. Eggleston, who had lately moved into the deserted cabin at Downing’s Landing. The next morning, the 23d, we crossed the river on the ice. We proceeded up the river three miles, when we crossed the bottom, drove up the bluff and stopped to cook and eat our dinner. A drive of ten miles then, brought us to the prairie, where we found a camp of basswood puncheons, which had been made a week before by two young men, Orris McCartney and Samuel Gooch, and in this we stopped.

“In three days we had a log cabin ready to occupy and were soon settled in it. This being necessarily hastily completed, my father, Wm. H. Taylor and S. Gooch, who joined us, proceeded to build a more substantial house for our family about sixty rods west of the first house. This for three years was our home; while the first cabin built, after being made more comfortable, was occupied by my grandparents and their granddaughter, Ruth Powers, who crossed the river about two weeks after us.

“This location was on the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of section sixteen, town two north of range one west,, and we began to feel that our wanderings of eighteen months were ended.

“To meet the growing necessities of our settlement after other settlers came in, father had built a band mill, a primitive affair, driven by horse power, which would grind two or three bushels of corn an hour. This was of much benefit to the neighborhood, tho it proved of but little pecuniary advantage to its owner. Before its construction we had been dependent on hominy mortors, tin graters or hand mills for our bread. This was the first mill in the county and my father the first millwright.

“His next enterprise was in company with two other men to get out a raft of logs. These were cut along the Illinois river. Upon the raft were placed several thousand staves–intended for the St. Louis market. In April they were taken down and sold which sale procured a supply of goods and groceries for the season.

“In the spring of 1824 we enlarged the farm by breaking about thirty acres and putting the whole into corn and oats. The crops were good and food abundant, but there was not cash value for anything. Corn was, in trade valued at five cents a bushel, oats so plentiful that there was nobody to buy. Good cows, with calves, $8 in trade, and everything cheap in proportion.

“One of my main occupations at this time was in assisting mother in her part of the labor of preparing material for the clothing of the family. This consisted in preparing the flax, carding the tow, helping to put in the web, and an occasional hour at the spinning wheel, at which I must confess I was in my own estimation an awkward hand. But we were brought up to be industriously occupied, and to contribute, so far as we were able, to the welfare and comfort of the family. Even our recreations, and of these we had an abundance, and all that our childhood and growing years demanded, were to be made conducive to our own and others’ advantage. We knew almost nothing of fun and nonsense, which means too often getting rid of time, because we were little folks. And to habits of industry, acquired in youth, and to some proper valuation to the importance of time, I am indebted for whatever I have been able to accomplish in after years, that has been of service to others and satisfaction to myself.”

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Copyright © by Judi Gilker 2006