Early days in Will County Illinois
From: History of Will County, Illinois
By: August Maue
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1928

Early Will County Days.—(By Mrs. J. D. Frazer, mother of J. D. Frazer, deceased, and grandmother of James Frazer of Homer 1928 and Lyle Frazer, formerly of Homer, now in New Lenox. Published in Joliet News, Sept. 18, 1906.)

In the year 1833 three men living in the town of Pittsford, N. Y., who had become tired of working among the stumps and stones decided to go to the then far west.

Their names were Captain Jirah Rowley, Mr. Garrett and John Saneson, the inventor of the steel plow, who was my father.

They had heard such glowing descriptions of the prairies in Illinois where all that was necessary to raise a crop of corn was to break the sod with an axe, chop a place and drop in a kernel.

Then the problem was the best way to get there and at last they thought best to go by water. They went to Buffalo and chartered a schooner to bring them to Chicago. In four weeks arrived in Chicago, stayed one night in that place. The vessel was owned by Captain Ransom. When we arrived in Chicago it was found that it was marked with a "C" which meant "condemned."

As far as I know I am the only living one today that took that trip on the condemned schooner. The only way to travel about on the prairie at that time was in a prairie schooner. I suppose many old settlers remember them. They were large covered wagons with five or six yoke of cattle to draw them. Captain Rowley left Chicago the next day and came to the town of Holmes then known as Yankee settlement. There was a log house on the site that is now owned by Charles Wilson. Two of Captain Rowley's sons were there. They went the year before and when their two families arrived there were about twenty in all. Captain Rowley's family consisted of himself and wife and three sons. Mrs. Rowley had four children with her by a former marriage—all grown. Their name was Grey.

My father, mother and four children and a young mart named Steve Hartwell comprised our family.

I recollect very little of that trip from Buffalo to Chicago as I was a child only three years old. Some few things impressed me. I remember Aunt Rowley and mother complaining about those hard sea biscuits and wished for a piece of good bread. I had a bowl of molasses and water to dip my biscuit in and thought it delicious. Just then the schooner gave a lurch and away went their cups of tea and biscuits to the floor.

When the big boom of the schooner used to swing around I learned to drop down on the deck and let it swing over me. Then, too, I remember the boat sometimes refused to move. I think we made a stop at Detroit and the young people went on shore and picked strawberries.

My father was fortunate in finding a log house built that some one had deserted. It was on the farm that Hall Reed lives on.

My people suffered many hardships. The first winter the house wasn't properly "chinked" and mother used to tack up quilts and blankets to keep out the cold. The chimney was poor. The lower part was built of stones and then topped out with sticks and clay. It was built outside of the house and sometimes it used to catch fire and how it used to smoke. It was the case of a chimney that would not draw. Father had another built as soon as he could get it done and a great black log was rolled on every morning. Mother did the cooking a number of years in that old fire place. The baking was done in a tin set up in front of the fire and also in a bake kettle, that was a kettle set on hot coals with a cover and hot coals on it. My father made the crane and pot hooks. With what pleasure I remember that old fire place and now imagine I can see every stone in the hearth we all used to sit around.

We had no matches in those days. The fire must be covered at bed time to keep and if it burned out we had to go to the nearest neighbor's to borrow some coals. That was fun for us children.

The door of the house was hung on wooden hinges and had a wooden latch with a string attached. Father replaced them by hand forged hinges and latch.

At that time there were no trees, road or any improvements, nothing but the wild prairie grass and flowers of every kind and waving in the wind like the ocean.

In the next two years, 1834 and 1835 a great many young men came from the East. They were rail splitters and found plenty of work to do as many farms were taken up and all had to be crossed so corduroy roads must be built, that is, logs cut and laid together over the swamps.

All our supplies came from Chicago, even if it was no more than a spool of thread or a broom. At one time we were six weeks without flour.

Then a prairie schooner came from Kankakee with a load and it was worth $16 a barrel. The first apples were brought in the same way from the southern part of the state.

When we first came to Illinois, Indians were very numerous. I very distinctly remember the first ones that came to the house. It happened that the men folks were away, mother and the four children were alone. There were two beds in the room with a narrow space between them. Mother put the children into this space, then took her arm chair and sat just between the beds, as she afterwards expressed, "she would go first." The Indians left their tomahawks sticking in the corner of the house, came to the door, looked in then went on. After that they used to come in frequently. They were always friendly to us and used to give me beads. I never remember of an Indian asking for anything to eat. My sister gave a squaw a biscuit one day and she spun it on the floor like a top. One squaw brought in her papoose tied to a board which she carried on her back. I felt very sorry for one, she came to the door crying and sat down and made a little grave in the dust to make us understand that her papoose was dead.

In a few years a school house was built. It was made of logs with benches made of split logs hewn off, some holes bored in and legs driven in them. Along the wall was a very rudely constructed desk. When I started for the school I had but one book and that was an elementary spelling book. I was called out on the floor once in the forenoon and once in the afternoon to read and spell. I spent several years with only that book. I went through it from cover to cover, abreviations and all. In the back were three stories; The Lawyer and Farmer, The Old Man and Rude Boy and the Country Maid and Her Milk Pail.

I had no slate, pencil or tablet, just the spelling book. I often think how different it is now with such interesting books with the beautiful illustrations, how happy children ought to be. When I was about ten years old a new book was introduced into the school called, "The National Preceptor." Oh, how I wished to have one of those books. At last my mother made a trip to Joliet and I became the happy possessor of the long wished for book. I have it yet as one of my most precious treasures. As I look back I can only recall one of my old schoolmates, that is Mrs. Frank Collins of your city.

We had no papers or magazines in those days. The Bible, English reader, spelling book, and almanac, were about all the books we had to read. I was about 9 years of age when my father had in his employ a man with literary turn of mind. He heard of a place where he could get books to read. Among those he got were Burn's poems. I used to read it over and over, and committed many of the poems to memory.

My people brought from York state, peach pits and apple seeds which they planted the fall they came and in three years we had a few peaches and the apple trees did nicely.

My oldest sister was thoughtful enough to bring flower seeds and soon had the side of the house covered with morning glories.

The first religious services were held in private houses. I very well remember the first minister I ever saw. It must have been 1834 or 35. His name was Asbur Chenwith. He was a Methodist and my idea was that he was a being to be afraid of.

I have a very vivid recollection of the riot on the I. & M. canal. One morning at daybreak a man came to the door and warned every able bodied man to appear forthwith, armed and equipped to quell a riot. My father immediately put his flintlock musket in order and went to the scene of bloodshed but all was quiet when he arrived. One man by the name of Lonagon was killed. He was chopping some pumps to pieces or something of that sort.

In those early days there were few amusements for the young people in comparison with those of the present time.

My father in Pittsford, N. Y., was a member of the choir in the Presbyterian church where he sang and played bass viol for many years.

Every Sunday evening the music book was brought out and we all sang and often the young people for miles around would come in.

As I look back at the seventy-five years that have passed and think of the great change that has taken place in the country, it seems more like a beautiful panorama than reality and it is a wonderful thing to have seen the old prairie schooner and an automobile, the spinning wheel and the modern sewing machine, the old flail to thresh the grain and the up-to-date threshing machine.

Surely truth is more wonderful than fiction. Signed—Mrs. J. D. Frazer, (Sept. 17, 1906.)


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