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article number 199
article date 01-10-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Challenges of the Early Settlers of Jasper County, East-Central Illinois
by Martha Robins

From the 1938 book, Historical Development of Jasper County Illinois.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was somewhat crudely written in 1938. The book was written on a typewriter and has plenty of errors but the information if excellent. Thank you Martha Robbins of 1938.

FEDERAL LAND POLICY. During the pioneer period (1831-1870) the federal land policy which brought about the great Western movement in the nation as a whole was of outstandiflg significance to Jasper County. The federal land ordinance of 1785 provided for a rectangular system of survey to be used in the territory north of the Ohio River.

Township units, each containing thirty-six square miles were formed by meridians drawn north and south, and base lines drawn east and west. Each range township and section was numbered and a tract of land could be very definitely located. Land offices were established and the individual could purchase land directly from the government. The terms of purchase were changed from time to time.

When Jasper County was created in 1831 land could be bought for $1.25 per acre. It is said however, that most of the people living in the county until about 1845 were squatters. They had come into the county, selected a desirable spot, and established their homes without the formality of purchase. Increase in the population forced them to procure from the federal government, the titles for their land.. They were protected in their claims by the Pre-emption Act. This gave to the individual who had improved a piece of land, the opportunity of buying it. But liberal as this policy seems today, because of the fact that there were no methods of marketing the products, paying for land at $1.25 per acre was very difficult.

This map may help you with references to towns given in this article.

EARLY SETTLERS. An estimate placed the number of settlers living within the area now included in Jasper County in 1830 at about 1,000. Life here during that period, was as in all other pioneer regions. The individual was dependent almost entirely upon his own effort for the protection of his life, his property, and his family. Among the first settlers there is reported to have been a Dr.Sultzer, his son, and son-in-law who settled near what is now the boundary line between Jasper and Lawrence Counties, about 1820. They were suspected of being counterfeiters. They did not remain long.

About the same time a Cornelius Taylor, likewise suspected of being a counterfeiter was living near Mint Creek. It is said that the creek received its name because of the counterfeiting done nearby. About the same time, or possibly a few years later, William Price settled near the present location of Sainte Marie. About 1826, James Jourdan located on the farm later known as the Boos farm. According to one of his descendants, his son was the first white boy born in the county.

About 1826 William Lewis settled on Evermound Mound in Willow Hill Township. In 1827 Job Catt settled about two miles north of the present location of Sainte Marie. As others came, settlements were widely scattered. Here, as elsewhere in the state, the first settlements were in the forests. The pioneers seem to have reasoned that since there were very few trees on the prairies, they were less productive than the forested lands. Another factor that doubtless influenced the choice, was the supply of building material, fuel, and water available in the forests.

PROBLEMS OF THE PIONEER. Shelter. The first problem of the pioneer was to erect a permanent shelter Until he could do this he lived by his camp fire, or if he had come in a wagon, in his wagon. For building a log house, the first settlers had only their own strength, ingenuity and such crude tools as they brought with them. In time saw mills were built. This made the task much easier. The houses were rectangular in shape and often contained only one room. Those built later were larger and were often divided into two or more rooms. They were in most instances, heated by a fireplace which also served as a provision for cooking the food. Some families who had come from neighboring states brought pieces of furniture with them. But by far, the greater part of them furnished their homes with articles made from the products of the forest.

Nicholas Raef, an 1839 settler. Most settlers farmed.

PROBLEMS OF THE PIONIER. Clothing and Food. At the time Jasper County was formed there were, in some of the states, factories from which articles of clothing or food could be procured. Some of the pioneers, doubtless brought with them from their original homes, supplies enough to meet their needs until others could be grown. In the new homes materials that were always at hand were the skins and furs for clothing and meat for food. The pioneer knew the secret of preparing both of these for use. According to a letter written by W. H. Wade, son of Hiram Wade for whom Wade Township was named, “The pioneers came to Newton to court dressed in Coonskin Caps and buckskin suits, and always carrying a gun.

According to Wade and to other writers, there were a few stocks of merchandise brought into the county by the pioneers. Benjamin Harris brought a small stock from Cincinnati, Ohio, but soon sold it and turned to farming. Picquets, in addition to milling and farming, conducted a store. By 1850 there were stores in Newton. In 1866 the editor of the Newton Weekly Press called attention to the advertisement of John T. Ross of a “Permanent establishment of meats, vegetables, and general provisions of all kind with the comment, “It will be welcomed by all.” The planning and the locating of a number of villages between 1850 and 1860 indicates that a number of general stores were established elsewhere. According to the reports of the United States Census Bureau, the pioneers produced agricultural products for use as clothing as well as for food. In 1850 and again in 1860 there was considerable flax reported. And in 1860 there is an indication of an effort to produce silk. From the very earliest settlements there were the sheep for providing wool. As late as 1870, the hand loom was given a considerable amount of space in the advertising columns of the newspapers.


METHODS OF AGRICULTURE. A few of the pioneers have passel to their descendants, facts concerning the agricultural methods. Among those who left some account of his experiences was Martin Kibler, whose death occurred in 1875. He came to the county from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Thinking the prairies non-productive, he selected a spot in the wooded district now included in Crooked Creek Township. Outstanding in his memory were the many wild animals and the necessity of protecting crops and domestic animals against them. Deer passed
his cabin in flocks and the bears chased the dogs to the cabin door.

In 1874, a citizen from St. Peter wrote: “St. Peter was settled twenty-eight years ago by foreigners from Germany. Few of them had money enough to buy forty acres of land. Abler neighbors broke the land with oxen. Horses were so rare as to frighten the children when they passed. Threshing was the most difficult task, done either with the flail or by having the oxen tramp it out The wheels of the wagon were made from a sycamore log. A farmer was considered well off if he owned a plow with a wooden moulding board and a yoke of oxen.

R. W. Ping describes life on the prairies. His grandfather and four sons settled on the prairie east of Willow Hill about 1854, and entered a large tract of land. With a plow and four yoke of oxen they cut the prairie sod which never broke from one of the fields to the other. With an ax, the sod was opened and the corn was dropped. This was all that was needed for a good crop. For making a path or road across the prairie, two yoke of oxen were hitched to a large jack oak bush and the tall grass was dragged down. He, too, remembered the use of the oxen tramping the grain out. He recounted, also, the story of the first threshing machines with a crude fan mill to blow the chaff out. For the pioneer of the prairie, the prairie fire was something that had to be guarded against. A small spark often started a fire in the tall grass that swept everything before it. The settler protected his home either by plowing a strip around it or by setting a fire to meet the oncoming one.

In the mid 1800’s, Alam Clagg moved from Ohio to farm.

AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS. Generally speaking, the length of the seasons, the climatic conditions, and the type of soil of the county are favorable to the growing of all kinds of grain except rice. But the irregularity of rainfall during different years must always be taken into consideration when planning the years work. In some years the springs are favorable to the sowing of oats; in others, the rains are so late that the season for planting corn is at hand before the soil is dry enough to be plowed.

The report for the county given by the United States Bureau for 1850, lists corn as the most important crop, measured by bushels produced, and oats second. For hay at this time and for several years that followed, wild grasses were used. In addition to corn, wheat, rye, buckwheat and barley were grown for flour. Vegetables were grown for summer use. For other seasons there were only such fruits and vegetables as could be produced and preserved by drying, making them into butter, or by sealing them in earthen jars.

Of the domestic animals, the cattle listed as oxen, milk cows, and other cattle led in numbers, swine ranked second, sheep third, and horses fourth. However, if the number of oxen, horses, and mules were added together, the total provided only a few more than one team for each family in the county. The 762 milk cows allowed a second cow for about one-third of the 588 families. 5,831 swine were reported. They provided meat for home use and also a valuable article of commerce. Salted and smoked, the meat could be kept during the summer, could be sold to incoming emigrants, or could be rafted down the river to be added to other articles that were sent to St. Louis or to New Orleans.


Throughout this period, all domestic animals were allowed to roam at will in search of food. Each owner was given a mark for his animals - so important were these marks that they were registered at the court house in the county records. For instance, in the first volume in which deeds to the land were recorded, the following stock marks were recorded, also:

Lewis Jourdan - brand with figure 96
Michael Grove - a crop of each ear
Timothy Garwood - swallow fork in the right ear, and crop in the left
Samuel Garwood - crop in right ear and split in the same, under slope in the left ear

By 1870 the Population of the county had increased to 11,234 and the amount of agricultural products produced had increased accordingly.

LUMBERING 1831-1870

FOREST PRODUCTS. The individual who buys land is entitled to all of the natural resources connected with it. Approximately half of the land of the county was originally forested. In this early period, in the transitional period, forest products ranked second to agricultural products in value. Building materials, the rails for the fences, the fuel as well as lumber for furniture and other necessities came from the forests. One of the first requirements of every community was a mill. When Newton was laid out, the only public building was a mill for sawing lumber. In 1837 Richard Eaton built a lumber mill on North Fork and attached, a mill for grinding corn. During the same year J. F. Hammer built one on Crooked Creek for grinding corn, and later attached one for sawing lumber.


The first mills were along the stream and the currents were used for providing power. Logs were rafted down the streams in times of floods or dragged to the mill when the snow was on the ground. Different species of lumber were used for different purposes. Out of the hickory, handles for farm implements, yokes for the oxen, and other articles requiring strength were constructed. Out of the soft lumber, bowls and containers of different kinds were constructed. Out of the walnut and out of the cherry, furniture was manufactured. By the close of the period, apparently the log most in demand was black walnut. In 1869 S. R. Barker advertised for 5,000 of them.


HUNTING. All references to the early history of Jasper County indicate that there was a great deal of wild game. One writer, writing in 1893, remarked that he had lived in the county fifty years, and had known an old French hunter from near Vincennes who had visited this region before the county was formed. The Indians as well as the French had carried provisions, furs, and buffalo robes down the Embarrass River in canoes. According to this writer, it was because they had found the river so full of drifts and had been forced to drag their canoes around them, they had given the river its name. There is no evidence upon which to base conclusions as to the commercial value of the wild animal products of this early period. In July, 1866 the following notice appeared in the newspaper:

“ATTENTION SPORTSMEN! The hunting grounds of Jasper County ,Illinois affords superior inducements to Sportsmen. Deer, Turkeys, Quails, Prairie Chickens, Pheasants, and smaller game in abundance. The well known hunter, Boeckman, will conduct any party visiting the county to the best grounds. Ice plenty and cheap. Teams always in readiness for the conveyance of passengers and game at reasonable rates. Mr. Boeckman will he found at the Prairie House, J. M. Vanmeter, Proprietor, where he trusts his hunting friends will meet him. Hotel charges low. Newton, Illinois, July, 1866.”

Another item that the products were of commercial value appeared in November, 1869. “Messrs J. B. Stevens and James Honey are going to buy Game, Furs, Poultry, Pelts etc at T.J .Martin’ Store, Boos Brothers & Company’s Store”

FISHING. Doubtless fishing was done all along the Embarrass River and in some of the other streams. The following items have reference to Newton. “April, 1861, Hundreds of pounds of fresh fish have been caught in the Embarrass River at this place by our local fishermen during the past ten days.” In May, 1868 “Some very fine fish have been caught from the waters of the Embarrass this week.” April, 1868 “On last Tuesday, over 500 pounds of fish were netted in the river.” Like other products at that time, those that were sold were sold locally. Since there was no provision for bringing fresh meats into the county, it is very probable that there was a local market for fish.


ROADS 1830-1850

TRAILS. With one exception, the early settlers of Jasper County found the region as nature had created it - pathless. In 1823 Gordon S. Hubbard, a fur trader, established a trading post at Danville, Illinois. From it, trails led to different parts of the state. One of them led across what is now Jasper County to Vincennes, Indiana. But unfortunately for the county it lay, not on the important trails, but between them. Consequently for more than a quarter of a century it was without any roads except the crude ones made by local traffic.


Usually these trails followed the edge of the forest. The trails could be marked more easily there than on the prairies and there was nothing there comparable to the swarms of flies of the prairies that were pests to both man and beast. There were no fences to bar the passage but there were streams to be crossed. These were forded. In rainy seasons they were often so deep as to necessitate the animals swimming, or to bar passage entirely. Or if the passage was on foot, they had to be crossed on fallen trees or drifted logs.

FERRIES. At the commissioner’s court in 1836, supervisors were appointed, and were ordered to call every able-bodied man subject to road labor to work upon the roads five days during the year. But due to the few subject to road labor and the crude tools available, not a great deal was accomplished by this plan. At an early date, Timothy Garwood built a ferry for crossing the river at Newton. In 1837, the State legislature appropriated $300 for the building of a bridge. This was not enough and the county was not able financially to supplement the amount. The $300 was loaned to the county at ten percent interest to Construct County buildings and the ferry continued to operate until 1857. In 1848, a second ferry was built on the river at Sainte Marie. In time, others were built on the river and on North Fork. To maintain them, the owner charged a fee for each animal, vehicle, or individual ferried across. The fees for hogs sheep, and goats were three cents per head; for loose cattle, from three to five cents per head; for horses, five cents per head; for a four horse team and wagon, fifty and twenty cents; for a carriage and one horse, twenty-five cents; and for a footman five cents.

ROADS. Among the first roads connecting the interior of the county with the outside world was one blazed from Newton to Greenup in 1836, and another from Brockman’s mill west to the road from Palestine to Vandalia. By 1844 one led from Newton through Sainte Marie to Olney for stage coaches. In 1857 the appropriation of $300 made by the state was supplemented by the accumulated interest and some money from the county and used for constructing a bridge across the river at Newton. But building bridges at that time was a difficult and hazardous task. The bridge, when completed, was not a very substantial one. Three years later it gave way.

In 1861 it was replaced by a covered bridge. In the same year, a covered bridge was built across the river at St. Marie. But as yet, almost all other streams were forded. Some idea of the conditions of the road in the latter part of this period may be obtained from the following descriptions:

“In 1862 the Jasper County Democrat was transferred from Newton to Paris. Six yoke of oxen were hitched to a heavy wagon which transported the press and its material, while the editor and family took passage behind a team of horses. Shortly after leaving town, the road became a bottomless bog. Not until the next day after the ox team had been relieved of a part of its load, did they come into Effingham. The bare-legged young teamsters were scarred and bruised by the thin ice that covered the road and the poor beasts were worn out by dissipation with the heavy progress of civilization as indicated by the press.”

March, 1867: - “There are few of our citizens who are not aware of the importance and necessity of a bridge across Brush Greek, at the crossing of the Olney road. A large proportion of the surplus products of the county pass over this creek. It is also the only mail route of any consequence in the county, and yet strange as it may seem, we are not aware of any attempt having been made to construct a bridge across the above stream ... the character of the creek is well known. The rapidity with which it rises effectually stops the mail and prevents every kind of vehicle and even animals crossing.”


MAIL 1831-1870

CARRYING AND DELIVERING MAIL. The carrying arid the delivering of mail is one of the rights and duties that the federal government has reserved for it own. The number of letters sent during the pioneer period was not great. Postage was high. As late as 1844, a single sheet sent a distance of four hundred miles cost twenty-five cents, and sent only thirty miles cost six cents. The cost was increased with every additional sheet. At the time Newton was located, mail was being carried across the county once a week, when the waters were not too high. The trip was made from Vincennes, Indiana one week and the return trip was made the following week. It is said that since there was no building to be used as a post office, Lewis Jourdan, who was appointed as post master, carried the letters in his hat until he met the individual to whom they were addressed.

In the year 1839, a second office was established with a Mr. Harrison as post master. It was on a hill in the Embarrass River bottom in the northern part of what is now Crooked Creek township. It was moved from place to Place until it was finally located at Rose Hill. As late as 1870, this continued to be the only route through the County. In 1860 R. C. Jones was advertising a hack line leaving Newton at seven o’clock and Sainte Marie at nine. The trip was made by stage until after the completion of the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad in 1876. The mail was carried by stage and then by horseback until 1879 when arrangements were made with the railroad officials to have it carried by train. According to the memory of citizens today, volunteer citizens from Willow Hill met the carrier at Sainte Marie and carried the mail from St. Marie to Willow Hill arid to Hunt City. About the same time, another carrier was bringing mail from Bellaire in to Yale.

NEWSPAPERS 1831-1870

FIRST NEWSPAPERS. Before 1870 several attempt were made to publish newspapers. The first one was in 1856 when George Hoar brought the Enquirer from Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1858 Hoar sold his paper to Mahaffey and Odel. They changed the name to the Jasper County Democrat and continued the publication until 1862. They moved it to Paris. The next attempt was by J. H. Graham who, in 1858, established the Plain Dealer. This was an independent democratic journal and was soon followed by the Democratic Watchman. In 1865 it was sold to Dr.T. H. Walker. The name was changed to the Newton Weekly Press and the publishing was continued under the direction of Dr. Walker’s brother, A. N. Walker.

PROBLEMS OF THE PUBLISHER. Like every other phase of life in the county at that time, the publishing of newspapers was in its pioneer stage. There were many difficulties to be overcome as well as advantages to be gained in successfully doing it. There were difficulties connected with the collecting news for a paper, of acquiring the paper upon which to print the news, printing the news, and the distributing the paper after it was printed. For gathering news, there were no trains, no telegraphs, no telephones, no radios, and only a very few letters.

Local news that were considered significant were likewise few. Consequently, the greater part of the printed material consisted, of articles copied from city newspapers or of long editorials expressing the political opinions of the editor. Paper upon which to print was expensive. Until after the building of the railroad, the cost of transportation was high. The process of printing was slow. All typesetting was done by hand. The publish and or editor often depended upon the tramp printer’ - the printer who was an expert at setting type but who for one reason or another went from place to place to work.

The problem of distribution was also difficult. The one mail route accommodated only a few people. Then there was very little money in the county with which to pay subscriptions. As late as 1870, the editor appealed to those having no money for vegetables, fuel, or other products in payment of delinquent subscriptions. When the mail route was established between Newton and Greenup (1874) the day of publication was changed in order to make possible the delivery of the paper to all subscribers “in three days at most”. Of these early papers, only the files of the Newton Weekly Press are available. It is interesting to note that in these early files, almost as much space was given to Olney as to local news.

SCHOOLS 1831-1870

INTEREST IN EDUCATION. At the time Jasper County was formed (1831) there was nowhere in existence a public school system such as exists in Illinois today. In the latter part of the eighteenth century an interest in an educational system for this part of the United States had been expressed in the Ordinance of 1787. The clause states that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” The enabling act passed by congress in 1818 provided that section sixteen of every township should be granted to the state to be sold for the use of schools. It further provided that three per cent of the net proceeds from the sale of public lands should be granted to the state for the encouragement of learning. In 1837, Illinois made her part of the surplus revenue distributed among the states by the federal government, a part of the permanent school fund. The fund is invested and the interest distributed annually among the schools of the state.


STATE SYSTEM. Several attempts to establish a state system of schools were made before Jasper County was created. In 1821 Joseph Duncan, originally from the state of Kentucky, introduced a bill into the legislature providing for the opening of free schools in every county. But it was not until four years later, under the influence of settlers from the northern states and from foreign countries, a bill was passed. There were a great many objections made to it, and in 1829 it was repealed. From then until 1855, it is said, the only free schools were the Sabbath Schools. In 1854 the legislature passed another bill providing for free schools in every county; for the formation of school districts; for the payment of teachers; for a state superintendent of public instruction; for examination of teachers in the seven subjects - reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, spelling, history, and grammar. In 1857 the first state normal school for the training of teachers was established at Normal, just out of Bloomington. Later other institutions were established by the state.

COUNTY SYSTEM. According to the early historians, the first school in the county was taught in the log building erected as a court house. The first school district was laid out in Towns 6 N. and 7 N., Range 9 E. in 1838. It included approximately 72 square miles. Other schools were established soon after - one in Crooked Creek precinct, one in the neighborhood of St. Peter, and one in the Mint Community. But these were individual, and private. The pupil paid according to the length of the time he was in attendance and the subjects for which he subscribed, Like everyone else in the county, teachers accepted payment in products. According to the report of the Census bureau for 1850, there were in Jasper County, 6 public schools, 6 teachers, and 108 pupils. The schools received $200 as public support. The first report made by a county superintendent of schools in 1861 reports 3021 pupils in 70 public schools. In 1870 there were 3894 in 85 schools. Some of the first public school buildings in the county were built out of logs. In 1880 there were three log buildings reported as in use.

RECREATION 1831-1870

RECREATIONAL INSTITUTIONS. Bare indeed is the life that has no opportunity for recreation! Any activity practiced continuously may become drudgery, On the other hand, an activity that may be drudgery to one individual may be a means of recreation to another. During the pioneer period there were no recreational institutions such as exist today. Recreational activities varied with the taste, the ingenuity, and the strength of the individual. The three outstanding organized institutions were the home, the church, and the court. The settlements were so widely scattered that many of activities were in connection with the home. For men, the possibilities of variety were greater than for women and children.

RECREATION FOR MEN. For men there were always the visit to the county seat, especially when the court was in session. Because of the distance and the difficulties of travel, some remained at the county seat throughout the session. At the first term of the commissioner’s court, February, 1835, license was granted for a tavern in Newton. As time passed taverns were established in the villages. They were always open to the public. Drinking was common.

Barn Raisings were both constructive and recreational.

Brawls often occurred on the streets. Then, when groups came together, those who were fortunate and owned a horse, enjoyed horse racing. Every pioneer family was the possessor of one or more guns. The gun was a means of recreation as well as a necessity. Ammunition was not to be wasted. Skill in marksmanship was something to be proud of. It was often exhibited in recreational activities. In August, 1866 the following notice appeared in the paper:

“SHOOTING MATCH! Tomorrow at one o’clock P.M., the marksmen of the county will hold a Festival in the vicinity of Newton, on a trial of skill. Beef, Turkeys, Oysters, Sardines etc. will be on the grounds.” Such matches occurred not only when advertised, but whenever a group came together.

RECREATION FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN. For the women and children, recreational activities were more closely connected with the home than were those of men. For children, they usually consisted of imitations of the activities of the adults. In only a few of the homes were there books other than the Bible. There were very few magazines or newspapers. Until the last decade of the period there were no schools except private ones, and they were often several miles away.

There were a few musical instruments. Most of them were those that could be carried in the hands. As early as 1860 the brass band and the Sainte Cecelia Society of Sainte Marie gave a concert. And, in 1866 a new band was organized “through the indefatiguable exertions of the musicians of the two old bands.”

For the women, the only relief from the daily round of toil was an occasional visit to the neighbors, the church, or the village. The trip was made on foot, on horseback, or in an open wagon usually by the shortest route. As late as 1870 the appearance of a spring wagon which passed through town, was novelty enough to bring forth the comment:

“That splendid spring wagon which passed through town yesterday belonged to Mr. Noe, the livery stable man.”


As population increased there were the quilting bees, the corn husking, the house raisings, and other activities that brought together those who lived in the community. Such gatherings were always planned to provide some recreation as well as labor.

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