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Family Life cont.

April 30

John Beck lived some five or six miles north west of Springfield and we went direct to this place and spent several days resting from the arduous journey we had made.

For some days past it had been raining and the roads were getting heavy and the streams high. The first night after leaving John Beck’s we were told it would be necessary to carry fuel for our next few camps as we would see no timber for many miles. The rains came on afresh and the country was flooded; the roads cut up so they were rivers of mud.

When we came to Horse Creek it was bank full, but it had to be crossed. The teams were weary and the women were discouraged and heartsick. With much effort we reached the other side but in going up the bank in the big wagon stuck hard and fast, and it looked like a disastrous end of our journey. It would not be safe to leave the wagon then with a rising river and we decided the contents must be taken out in the hope that the wagon might be pulled out when empty. Just then a man appeared with a prairie team of four yoke of oxen with chains and couplings. He hitched on to our wagon and in five minutes it was out on high ground and a load bigger than that in the wagon was lifted from our hearts. It was a most welcome deliverance. As the day was near ended we camped right there. The place was then called McGoupin Point and had one lone house. After two more days travel we came to a small settlement and there I saw a tread mill, so called for the first time. It was operated by two oxen and used for grinding corn and wheat. Through long experience the oxen had become wise and when no one was watching to keep them at their work would brace their feet and by throwing their weight upon the rope around their horns stop the mill. Shortly before reaching this place our loose cattle had become very thirsty, as we had come a long distance without reaching water, and broke away from me and started for a creek a mile or more away where they had smelled some water. The next stage of our journey took some two days. We now began to notice a change in the appearance of the country. Instead of the long rolling prairie we found some low land, an occasional showing of gravel, some lakes with bull rushes an similar vegetation on the banks, the prairies were not so broad and we were no longer out of sight of timber. We realized we were approaching the Illinois river.

When we reached the Illinois river we were opposite the town of Havana. Here we crossed on the usual primitive ferry, the cattle swimming which was now not difficult as they were used to it and readily took to the water when driven. After leaving the Illinois river bottom we followed up the Spoon river valley a short distance where we found a place called Waterford, the homes of Asa Langford and a man named Shelby, both brothers-in-law of Alfred Slocomb. Here we rested a few days and the rest was badly needed.

Then we began the last stage of our journey, passed through a little place called Lewiston and then on Northward reaching our destination some three or four miles south of Knoxville, in Knox county, after three or four days of uneventful travel.

We landed at the home of James Newitt, another brother-in-law of Alfred Slocomb and here we lived in the door yard largely in our traveling wagons, while we built a house on a claim known as “Military Tract”, a large territory that had been reserved by the Government for the veterans of the war of 1812. Few of these old soldiers located on this tract the most of them selling their rights. It was a long time before title to these lands was perfected but in the meantime the settlers continued to live on and improve their farms.
During the summer we broke some forty or fifty acres, planted a garden on some previously broken ground that a neighbor let us use and broke some ground on an additional tract of Government land. We harvested a crop of wheat on shares and after it was threshed Slocumb took a load of it to a mill at straddle creek, on Spoon river, and while he was away a prairie fire came and nearly burned us all out. The grass was rank and dry, the wind blew a gale and the fire traveled very fast. When we saw the danger I ran for our nearest neighbor, about a mile away, and he came and helped us. The cattle ran into the timber and a call that was picketed near by broke loose after the fire had passed and ran into the brush. His hair was all burned out but otherwise he was not injured. We lost everything but the house, including some one hundred tons of hay we had put up. The fire went onto the timber in places and was burning in some of the tree tops for a week. The chips from the hewn logs for the house were in piles scattered around the yard and I carried water from a spring one hundred yards or more away to put out the fires continually breaking out among them. We fought fire all that night and well into the next day. It was an experience that remains a vivid picture until this day.

Winter was approaching and the severe loss by fire hampered us greatly. We had been depending on the hay to cover temporary structures to shelter the stock. Other arrangements had to be made. Hay and grain had to be bought and many eatables for the table. One thing, we had in abundance was honey. We had gathered more than a barrel of clear strained honey from bee trees found in the timber near by.
I recall that we had a man working for us in the fall named Gridley. One day he showed us a drawing of a machine which he said one day would cut the hay and grain and do away with the then slow and laborious hand work. He went to Chicago when he left us and in a year or two the McCormick reaper came into the neighborhood and there was the identical Gridley machine.

One frosty morning in early fall the fire in the house was out and I made a trip to the nearest neighbor a mile or so away and brought back a chunk of fire.

There were no schools or churches, but occasionally a minister would come along and hold a service in some prairie home.


Collected and Transcribed by

Georgeann McClure


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