Early Settlement of Salt Creek Township, Mason County, Illinois
From: Centennial History of Mason County
BY: Joseph Cochrane
Rokker's Steam Printing House.
Springfield, Ill., 1876


The early settlement of what is now the township of Salt creek was Ain and around what was then so generally known as Big Grove. For a long time the improvements were all near the timber. Land situated three or four miles from the timber was at a discount, and for a long time there were congress lands on the prairie, subject to entry, after all the land near the timber had been taken up. The original settlers never imagined that the time would come when they and their children could not have the benefit of all the prairies around Mason City for stock range. The first settler was Wm. Hagan, who came in 1830, and located on the bottom, near old Salt creek bridge, where he remained till 1850, when he sold out to Ephriam Wilcox, and removed to Missouri. None of his family have ever lived here since. The farm on which he lived is the one which has latterly been owned and occupied by Charles L. Montgomery.

Austin P. and Robert Melton came to Big Grove in 1832. Austin P. Melton settled on the farm afterwards owned by Geo. Virgin, where he remained a few years, and moved to Tazewell county and remained till 1862, when he moved to Walker's Grove, in this county, where he now resides.

In 1835, Daniel Clark, from Warren county, Ohio, settled in the immediate neighborhood of Mr. Hagan, and remained until his death, in 1854, leaving three sons, Daniel, now of Mason City (see Biography), Alfred, in Crane creek township, and 'William, in Dubuque, Iowa.

In 1836, the Virgin's, George, Kinsey, Abram and Rezin all came and settled in the Grove, and remained till they died, which occurred as follows: Kinsey, in 1853; Rczin, in 1872; George, in 1855; and Abram, in 1873; the latter, the only one who left any children living in this county. He left three sons and three daughters, all here, and the only ones of that name in the county. Kinsey Virgin left one daughter, the wife of James Hoyt, in Cass county, Iowa. George and Rezin had no children. George, for a number of years previous to his death, kept a store at this place, first in a small log house, and afterwards in a frame house built for the purpose, near which George Young erected a mill, John Pritchett a blacksmith shop, and Louis Bushong a shoe shop. To all of these, and the residences necessary for themselves and families, they gave the romantic name of "Hiawatha."

For a number of years the place had some notoriety in the eastern part of the county, furnishing supplies to many of the inhabitants In the vicinity, but after the railroad was located through Mason City, instead of this place, as originally surveyed, notwithstanding the romance of its name, which, though of Indian origin, was said to have been suggested here by an eminent physician of the neighborhood, the town gradually dwindled away, till now Ed. Auxier's cornfield marks the site. Sic transit glories mundi.

In 1837, Edward Sikes, John and Eli Auxier, John Y. Swaur and John Young, all from Ohio, came and settled near the grove.

Edward Sikes settled on the farm formerly occupied by Robert Melton, and now owned by F. Auxier, where he since died, leaving a numerous family. John Auxier settled in the eastern part of the Grove, where he acquired, by raising and feeding cattle, a large tract of land, where he died, in 1859, leaving a numerous family, who have since moved to Iowa. Eli Auxier had previously died, leaving a widow and two children, viz: Rev. E. E. Auxier, who now owns the site of the obsolete town of Hiawatha, and a daughter, the wife of Nelson Dody. John Young settled in the western part of the grove, near the farm of Col. Abner Baxter (who came a year afterwards), and died, leaving a numerous family, among whom were William, who settled on the north side of the Grove, and died in 1865, leaving a family, and where his widow (since married to Joseph Lemley) now resides; and George, who was engaged in the practice of law in Mason City, and died there, in 1873.

John Y. Swaur, the only survivor of the party who came in 1837, now lives on the north side 'of the Grove, where he, with his sons, McDonald, William and George, have by their industry and discretion in raising and feeding stock, risen from poverty to affluence, and become the possessors of fine large tracts of land and fine herds of stock.

In evidence of the above fact, it may be here stated, that in this centennial year they gave the assessor the largest personal property list in Salt creek township, where many large lists are made.

Among the early settlers may also be named George H. Short, who settled and improved a farm, adjoining the Hagan's place, where he now resides, but owing to ill health for many years, has remained closely at home; and, also, Jonathan M. Logue, familiarly called Uncle "Jot," whose name has long been familiar to the inhabitants of Big Grove; Eli H. Sikes, who came to the Grove with the Virgins, when he was quite a youth, and settled on the north side of the Grove, married a daughter of Wm. Warnock, Sen., and died in 1868, leaving a widow and several children in affluent circumstances, the result of his industry, and the inheritance of his good name. Suplina Judd, best known as "Squire Judd," figured with, and for, considerable notoriety for several years on account of his judicial character.

Coming down to the present time, there are but few persons remaining that lived about Big Grove twenty five years ago. John Y. Swaur and family, before named, E. E. and J. W. Virgin, sons of Abram Virgin, Edmund E., son of Eli Auxier, Robert A., son of Austin P. Melton, and Ludwig and Wm. L., sons of Granville Davis, are the only ones remaining of the original settlers and their descendants. While the place will compare favorably with any locality in the west for health, many have died; but make the same review of the changes wrought in twenty five years, and the numbers who have died are below an average mortality. Since, the neighborhood has become somewhat isolated, being five miles from a railroad station, Big Grove, though possessing comparatively less notoriety than in former times, yet these early settlers have been succeeded by a class of unpretending citizens, that for industry, intelligence and prosperity will compare favorably with any part of the State, and consequently of the world.

Among the present inhabitants of the neighborhood of Big Grove, in addition to those above named, are Cortes Hume, Wm. F. Auxier, Wm. P. and John R. Faller, John Hill, George Lumpee, H. C. Burnham, J. A. Hendrickson, J. H. Varnholt, Wm. Brown, Aaron Werner, Michael Malony, John McCarty, A. A. Blunt, and others.

The social habits of the place have of course changed in the last fourth of the century. While the present inhabitants arc eager for the daily papers, lest their interests may be affected by the "spring" or "decline" in the "hog market," the pioneers were content with mails once a week, or less frequently during bad weather or high water. Yet they had their social enjoyments, and it is with no regret that we remember listening to their discussions of the respective merits of "gourd seed" and "flint" corn, or the prominent points of a favorite "coon dog."

The old "timber school house," long since removed but still remembered, "Though lost to sight, to memory dear," as the place where the people of the eastern part of the county went to vote, and the "spirited" manner in which elections were sometimes conducted, their opinions being sometimes defined, and arguments enforced by physical as well as logical means, yet they never dreamed of the crookedness of some of the political combinations of the present day. Where now stretch the broad farms of those we have named, the writer has seen growing prairie flowers,

Side by side, graceful, affianced, destined to meet and unite

One by the other, in beauty, all decked in their coloring bright,

Reaching and quickening, all their fragrance is scattering around,

The earth is made proud with their beauty, rejoiced of its offspring the ground.

And now, with a separate life, swells proudly each little shoot, While veiled in its sheltering womb lies secret the germ of the fruit,

As they sink to the earth, once by one, the seed of another is sown;

And so the great whole, as the parts, live a life of their own.

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