History of Chouteau Township, Madison County, Il
From: Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and its People
Edited and Compiled by W. T. Norton, Alton
Associate Editors: Hon. N. G. Flagg, Moro
J. S. Joerner, Highland
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York 1912

By L. M. Southard

The name Chouteau island and later Chouteau township, is given in honor of Pierre Chouteau, who was largely interested and closely identified with the early history of St. Louis.


This township lies wholly in what is known as the American bottom and possesses a rich alluvial soil composed largely of a dark sandy loam. Chouteau is bounded on the north by Wood river, east by Edwardsville? south by Nameoki and on the west by the Mississippi river. It is interspersed by a number of lakes and sloughs - the most important of which are Grassy lake, in sections 2, 3 and 11, embracing some four hundred acres, and Long lake, which begins in section 4 and ranges in a southeasterly direction entirely through the southwestern part of Chouteau and continues into Nameoki township.

Long lake is about five miles long and has an average width of some four hundred feet. It was probably at one time the channel of Wood river. Chouteau slough, in the southwestern part of the township, has an average width of some two hundred feet and parallels the Mississippi a distance of about four miles.

Grassy lake has long been a favorite resort for sportsmen in quest of wild geese, ducks and other water fowl, while Long lake and Chouteau slough have been equally famous as pleasure resorts for fishing and boating parties. As late as the seventies, at times, in the spring of the year, wild geese and ducks fairly swarmed in the vicinity, nor was it an uncommon sight to see a number of beautiful snow white swans flying over it or floating gracefully and peacefully on Grassy lake - peacefully, for at that time there were no rapid fire shot guns and few hunters in that locality.

Chouteau island, originally called Big island, is surrounded by the waters of the Mississippi river and of Chouteau slough and contains about two thousand acres. It was formerly nearly twice its present size, having been reduced by the Mississippi river, which is gradually and mercilessly eating it away.

With the exception of a tract in the southeastern part, very appropriately termed the Wet Prairie, Chouteau was originally covered with a heavy growth of timber, consisting of walnut, oak, ash, hickory, elm and cotton wood - the latter growing to giant proportions along Chouteau slough.


The honor of having the first white settlement in Madison county, unquestionably belongs to Chouteau township. As early as 1750 the French established a settlement on Chouteau island.

The events leading up to the first settlement, in Chouteau by an American was one of those incidents in which good results from evil.

In 1794 James Gillham passed through this part of Illinois in quest of his wife and children who had been taken captive in their Kentucky home by a band of Kickapoo Indians in 1790, who had made a raid across the Ohio river. Pursuit was immediately made, but the trail was lost and the raiders escaped to their hunting grounds in Illinois. Mr. Gillham sold his improvements in Kentucky and devoted himself to searching for his family. After a prolonged and wearisome search of five years he located them with the Kickapoos on Salt creek in what is now Sangamon county. With two Frenchmen as interpreters and guides he visited the Kickapoo town and found his wife and children alive and well. Through the good officers of an Irish trader of Cahokia, named Atchison, he was enabled to ransom them. During his long search for his family he became so favorably impressed with what he saw of Illinois, her grassy prairies, fertile soil, abundance of timber and water that he determined to make it his future home. Accordingly in 1797, together with his newly reunited family, he left Kentucky and settled in Illinois, near old Kaskaskia. About the year 1800 he again moved and settled on Long lake in Chouteau township. Thus James Gillham was the first American settler in Chouteau.

In 1815 Congress donated 160 acres of land to Mrs. Gillham - what is known as the old Hackathal farm, in Chouteau township - in testimony of the suffering and hardships she had endured during her captivity among the Indians.

The seven sons of James Gillham, as they became of age, settled near their parents in Chouteau - Samuel, the oldest, in section 15, while Isaac, Jacob, Clemens, John, Harvey and David made their homes in section 4. Isom Gillham was the first sheriff in Madison county. He was the second son of Thomas, who was the first son of the original Thomas and lived in section 3 of Chouteau. Mrs. Krome, wife of Judge W. H. Krome, of Edwardsville, a direct descendant, now owns the farm. Isaac Gillham was sheriff about 1830.


Following are some of what was known as Military Claims, which were entered in Chouteau by authority of an act of Congress, in 179o, granting a domain of 16o acres to each militiaman, in the district of Kaskaskia, enrolled and doing duty. Claim 1869; Jean Bougier, Nicholas Jarrot, 100 acres; claim 115, Charles Herbert, Nicholas Jarrot, same amount of land; claim 113, Joseph Ives; Nicholas Jarrot, also 100 acres. These claims were all placed adjacent to the Mississippi and are now in the river. The first land entered in Chouteau was by David Stockton, a small tract in section 4, on September 13, 1814. On September 14, 1814, James Gillham entered 200 75/100 acres in section 1 and entered an additional 160 acres in section 13, the same year. On September 17, 1814, he entered 63 37/100 acres in section 17.


The following is largely a copy of the reminiscenses of the late Samuel P. Gillham as given in "Brink's History of Madison County," published in 1882. The writer well remembers Samuel Gillham (affectionately called Uncle Sammie) and knowing his truthful natures, painstaking ability, and upright character, can safely vouch for the accuracy of his notes: "In 1811 the Indians manifested a warlike spirit, giving evidence to the settlers that it would be wise, on their part, to prepare for an emergency in case of any hostile demonstration on the part of the Indians. Indeed, they had already murdered one of the settlers and wounded another near Hunter's Spring, now in the city of Alton. This overt act threw the people into a fever of excitement, and they soon gathered together and erected a block house situated on the farm now owned by P. S. Southard. It was understood by all the families in the neighborhood that in case of any signs of Indian hostility the news was to be spread abroad in the settlement, and all were to flee to the fort for protection. In after years this building was used for school purposes. No signs of the old fort now exist.

"The pioneers tilled the soil but little, and their wants were few. A small patch of corn, enough for family use, and a little wheat, with a few garden vegetables, were sufficient to satisfy their wants, so far as food was concerned, with the exception of their meats, which were principally confined to wild game, then so plentiful in all parts of the west. Deer and wild turkeys abounded in great numbers, and bee trees were so common that they were found without an effort. The settlers also cultivated small patches of cotton and flax of which to manufacture their garments; the men, however, were dressed more or less in buck skin,

"Nearly every settler had his tan trough, whereby he tanned his own leather and manufactured the material for his family shoes. Their means of transportation in conveying what little they had to market was chiefly an ox team and wooden art. Cattle and hogs were their chief reliance for money. These were marketed in St. Louis. The articles of barter were mainly deer skins, honey and bees wax. For these they got in exchange their supply of groceries, and other indispensables for housekeeping. And yet, with all their hardships and inconveniences, they were a happy and contented people." The first marriage solemnized in this township among the Americans, was probably that of James Gillham and Polly Good, January, 1809.

One of the oldest places of interment of the American settlers was a neighborhood burial ground, situated on the premises of Samuel Gil'ham. It was at his house that church services were held in an early day, and his land was also the camp ground for the militia when called upon to muster.


The first school was taught in the summer of 1813, by Vaitsh Clark. The school house was the little fort or block house situated on James Gillham's farm, in section 1, which has already been mentioned The second teacher was M. C. Cox, who taught in the summer of 1814. It seems that there was an interruption in the school until the winter of 1817-18, when it was again revived, and taught by a man named Campbell, in the same old fort. He taught at intervals for nearly two years, and here the young pioneers enjoyed their only school privileges.

It is said that the religious privileges were much better than the educational. There were several pioneer preachers, and their meetings were frequent. The services were conducted in the cabins of the settlers.

The earthquake of 1811 caused many accessions to the church, it being a prevalent idea among them that the world was about to come to an end, and those outside of the fold made haste to join the church. Several good and lasting conversions were made, while others, after the fear had passed away, soon fell back to their old habits. Some such shaking up might not be entirely out of order in this year of our Lord 1912, after the lapse of too years. The first post office was established at Old Madison in 1839, Moses Job being the postmaster. At that time a stage line extended from Galena to St. Louis and Madison was situated on the route.


The first mill was built by a man named Dare about 1819 or 1820, located in section 32 on the William Sippy farm. It was a rude affair, the power being furnished by oxen. About 1837, the property was purchased by Samuel Kinder, who operated it but a short time, when it went to decay.

In 1839 Moses Job kept the first store. The business was conducted at Old Madison; he had a small stock suitable to the wants of his customers and conducted the store in connection with the post office.

In 1809 the Methodists formed a society at Old Salem, at the house of Isaiah Dunnagan. There were seventeen members, viz: Isaiah Dunnagan, James Gillham, Polly Gillham, R. C. Gillham, Susanna Gillham, George Davidson, Jane Davidson, Polly Davidson, George Sanders, Hannah Sanders, John Kirkpatrick, Sally Kirkpatrick, Thomas Kirkpatrick, Polly Kirkpatrick, Anna Dodd, Sally Salms. In the absence of a church building religious meetings were held at the homes of the members of the society.


Abundant evidence exists that Chouteau was originally the home of various Indian tribes as far remote as the time of the Mound Builders. Several of these Indian Mounds yet remain. Some on the eastern border of Grassy lake, on the old Sebastian, now Hugh Poag farm, and others in the vicinity of Mitchell, in all of which have been found numerous Indian relics. Uncle Ben Wood, late of Nameoki township, who, in his day, was a noted hunter, informed the writer that, during the flood of "44," when the greater part of Chouteau township was under water, he landed his boat at the largest of the Indian mounds, near Mitchell, and killed several deer which were marooned thereon.


One of the old land marks closely connecting the present with the early settlement of Chouteau is the old Salem cemetery, in section 1. In 1834 Abner Dunnagan set apart two acres to be used as a public burying ground. The first interment therein was the body of Nellie Gillham, and one week later the body of Anna Dunnagan, both in 1834. Four soldiers of the Revolution, Thomas, James, John and Isaac Gillham, sons of Thomas the first, were buried in Chouteau township, each one on his respective farm, except John, who is the only soldier of revolutionary fame whose body rests in the old Salem - the present Wanda cemetery. In 1867 Sarah M. Dunnagan deeded the above mentioned two acres to the trustees of the Salem Methodist Episcopal church to be used as a cemetery.

For many years the cemetery, while used as a burying ground was sadly neglected, but in 1893 a society was formed the duty of which was to care for and improve the cemetery. This "Mite Society" is still in active existence, and since its formation the old cemetery, at all times, presents a fairly well kept appearance. Additional land has recently been purchased from Harry Poag, the present owner of the original Abner Dunnagan farm, to enlarge the cemetery. Since the formation of the "Mite Society," annually on or near the first Sunday in May, the people meet in the cemetery and hold memorial services consisting of a few songs and a sermon.

The beautiful idea, conceived in the mind of Gen. John A. Logan, to annually decorate the graves of fallen soldiers is observed, but these people go farther and decorate the graves of all - the old, the middle aged, the young. Truly an hour spent in caring for and beautifying the resting place of the dead, elevates and purifies the minds and touches the hearts of the living.

The bodies of the following eighteen soldiers of the Civil war rest in the Salem cemetery: Col. S. T. Hughes, William Hughes, John Redman, A. J. Poag, Captain Schrader Cotter, George Fahnestock, Jacob, Fahnestock, Sergeant John Ryan, James Luttrell, Herman Bender, Lieutenant Gershon, Gillham, John Marshall, W. M. Davidson, James Scot, Perry Hathaway, George Blainey, Tom Cox and Cas. Murphy.

The names of thoswhichricans who received the first land grants in Chouteau are now but a memory. In most instances those t1900om they consigned their land are dead or have moved from the township, the title, in many instances, being held by non residents. The nameinteresting of the present owners are so clearly a matter of record and so easily accessible as to be of little historical value.


Perhaps the only tract of land in Chouteau township, now owned and occupied by a direct descendant of the original owner is the farm in section 12, entered by James Gillham, a part of which is now owned and operated by Lemuel Southard, Sr., soldier of Mexican war, now eighty eight years of age, whose wife was Martha, the youngest daughter of James Gillham. The balance of the farm is now owned and occupied as follows: The west half by L. M. Southard, and the east half, which contained the fort and block house, by P. S. Southard, of the third generation from their grandfather; James Gillham. A tract in section tz, entered by R. C. Gillham in the early part of the Nineteenth century, now a part of the late R. C. Gillham's estate, is farmed by E. L. Gillham, of the third generation from his grandfather, R. C. Gillham.

Many of the present owners have post life's meridian and the titles to their land will ere long pass to others. Truly man does not own the land, but is merely, for a time, its custodian anit is his duty to make three blades Of grass grow where but one grew before, to cause the land to be fruitful and produce sufficient to feed the most people possible.


Chouteau is strictly adapted to the farming industry has no mines, factories, incorporated cities or villages. Old Madison, in section 17, was established by Nathaniel Buckmaster and John Montgomery in 183o. In the day of its greatest glory it contained only a postoffice, a combined blacksmith and wagon shop, a store and saloon. In 1865 Old Madison was washed away and the same year another village, also called Madison, was settled one fourth mile south of the old. Here Amos Atkins Gillhamstore house, purchased and placed a stock of goods therein and, for a time, was proprietor of this general store.

After a short time Mr. Atkins sold his store to William Harshaw, his son-in-law, who conducted a store and saloon for several years, but the ever greedy Mississippi has claimed the second Madison and the place that knew it knows it no more.


Wanda postoffice, formerly Old Salem, is located in the northeast corner of section r. Near the present residence of E. K. Fahnestock, in a small building, used as a broom factory, a postoffice was established with Abner Fahnestock as postmaster in 1859. In 1874 J. K. Fahnestock built and opened a general store; to whith the postoffice was moved, in which building he acted as merchant and postmaster until his death in 19oo. His nephew, LeRoy Fahnestock, occupies the same building, somewhat enlarged, as merchant and postmaster at the present time. It is an interestii.g fact that since its first establishment, a Fahnestock, either as postmaster or assistant, has at all times had charge of the Wanda postoffice, Mitchell, situated in section 33 and 34, was laid out by the C. & A. railway and has several business houses. It enjoys the benefits of a good Catholic church and parsonage as well as a nice commodious, non sectarian, Protestant church. This little village possesses so many natural advantages that it may reasonably aspire to future greatness. It is located only a few miles from St. Louis, in close proximity to the Mississippi and is a splendid railroad center. The Chicago & Alton, Wabash, Big Four, Alton, Granite City & St. Louis Traction and Allen lines, the last two being electric - pass through Mitchell. These things, together with the fact that her level site and natural facilities for driven wells especially adapt this hamlet for the location of factories, give promise that, at no distant day, it will rise to importance.


There are few open wells in Chouteau. The strata of various grades of sand and substrata of gravel lying at various depths beneath the surface especially adapt this township to the more sanitary driven wells, which furnish unlimited supplies of purest water. These wells are formed by driving galvanized iron pipe, one and one quarter to one and one half inches in diameter, to depths varying from thirty to seventy feet. The first joint (the point) is from three to five feet in length, closed with a solid point at the lower end. The entire surface of the point is perforated with one quarter inch holes, which are covered with a fine gauze of copper wire through which the water percolates in entering the pipe. The pipe is driven to such a depth that the full length of the point rests in a stratum of gravel. A pump is then attached and the well is complete at a cost of a few dollars. These wells are not affected by drought and are absolutely inexhaustible, at least so long as Lake Michigan, the source of supply, remains. At Poag station, on the eastern border of Chouteau, the city of Edwardsville has established a pumping plant, which through these driven wells, of a larger magnitude, furnishes Edwardsville with a constant supply of pure water sufficient for all purposes.


Chouteau has been represented, on the county board as follows: 1876-7, Amos Atkins; 1878, D. A. Pettingill; 1879-83, Amos Atkins; 1884, L. O. Gillham; 1885-7, Conrad Rath; 1888-1901, Frank Troeckler; 1902-4, L. M. Southard; 1905-12, C. W. Smith.


Chouteau has had periods of adversity. The floods have at intervals made havoc with the products and improvements of the people. The Mississippi has made serious inroads in sections II, 12 and 17. However pluck and energy have been manifested by her people in their efforts to avert destruction from floods.

The American dyke, completed in 1866, at an expense of $100,000, was a great enterprise. It commences in section 9 and extends southward, paralleling the Mississippi through the township and extends into Nameoki. It has a length of twenty one miles, with an altitude of from three to twenty feet. This dyke has been of immense value to the people, in many instances, being the salvation of their industries; but the most stupenduous work ever undertaken in Chouteau is the Diversion canal now nearly completed.

The first actual work done of this "Cahokia Creek Diversion Channel" was on June 12, 1911, and on January 31, 1912, the following force and mechanism were employed on the enterprise: 203 men, 51 teams; six drag line excavators, one 100 ft. boom, two 70, one 80, one 85 and one 60; one steam shovel, sixty five dump cars, fifteen wheel scrapers, twenty slip scrapers, eight dump wagons, one grading machine, three narrow guage locomotives, one mile of track, as well as pumps, pressure tanks, dynamos, electric lights, etc.

This Diversion Channel is a part of the six and one half million dollar proposition of the East Side Levee and Sanitary district. The canal begins at the junction of Indian and Cahokia creeks, Edwardsville township, and ranges west through Chouteau to the Mississippi. It is four and one half miles long, 18 feet deep, 100 feet wide on the bottom, and one hundred and fifty feet wide at top, with levees on each side averaging eighteen feet in height.

The distance from levee to levee is three hundred feet. The cost of constructing the canal proper is one million, dollars, but in addition the canal is spanned by four steel highway bridges with reinforced concrete floors, each 303 feet long and 16 to 24 feet wide, and five deck girder railroad bridges and one steel interurban railway bridge. All the bridges are finished, or nearly so, and cost including approaches, over $200,000. The object of this canal is to divert the flood waters of Cahokia creek, thus preventing overflow of a large area of bottom land, to provide for effectual drainage and protection of over too square miles of territory, embracing over 100,000 population and the great industrial centers of East St. Louis, Madison, Venice and Granite City.

With the completion of this gigantic canal and drainage system, together with her many natural resources and acquired facilities Chouteau will rank with the leading townships of Madison county.

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