Putnam County

SKEEL, Lewis Erastus

The history of Putnam county would hardly be complete without mention of Lewis Erastus SKEEL, who has celebrated the eighty-second anniversary of his birth and yet he is a man of much vigor and enterprise, who would hardly be accredited with such a length of years by those who are not familiar with his history. He is pleasantly located upon a farm about a half mile east of Hennepin, where he has long resided, and he belongs to one of the honored pioneer families of this part of the state.

His birth occurred at Xenia, Greene county, Ohio, June 22, 1824, his parents being Nathan and Olive (BACON) SKEEL, in whose family were nine children, of whom he is the only one now living. The father was a native of New York and the mother of Vermont. The SKEEL family is of Welsh extraction, being descended from three brothers who came from the little rock-ribbed country of Wales to America at an early day. The parents of our subject were married in the Empire state, where the mother had gone when a child of six years, and later they became residents of Greene county, Ohio, removing thence to Cincinnati when their son Lewis was only three years old. Three years later they started by team for Illinois in the fall of 1830, and were accompanied also by their eldest daughter, then Mrs. Peter ELLIS, and her child. A brother-in-law of Mr. SKEEL, Ezekiel STACY, had come to Illinois four years previously, locating near Springfield in Sangamon county, where part of the family spent the winter, while the remainder came to Ox Bow prairie in the fall of that year. In the spring of 1831 they were accompanied by Mr. STACY to Putnam county. He located first on Ox Bow prairie and later removed to the west side of the river, where he laid out the little town of Webster, which at one time became quite a village, but has now disappeared. There Mr. STACY died.

The summer of 1831 was spent by Mr. SKEEL and his family at Payne's Point and he made a claim where his son Lewis now resides, erecting a cabin near the site of the present residence. There the family removed in the following fall, their nearest neighbor being Samuel PATTERSON, who was a half mile distant. In the fall the Indians began to gather and three or four hundred camped on the river near the trading post, but in the spring scattered again. They belonged to the Pottawattamie tribe. In the following spring the people became frightened because of the Indian troubles and the SKEEL family lived a part of the time in HARZELL's building, which had been removed to the village of Hennepin, the women largely spending their nights there. Some of the time was passed at Fort Cribs, which stood at Florid and was so named on account of being constructed from two old corn cribs and surrounded by a stockade. They also spent a portion of the time at old Fort Caledonia. The Indians, however, never molested them and that year more settlers were added to the community.

The SKEEL family were in limited circumstances and during those pioneer days lived quite frugally. In the first cabin erected upon his place the father died June 1, 1841. He was an industrious, energetic man and had succeeded in placing eighty acres of land under cultivation. Wild game was found in abundance and furnished most of the meat used by the frontier families. In the winter of 1831 a man by the name of GALLAGHER started an ox mill near Florid, which ground some corn meal and even flour. At the time of the father's death four of the children, three daughters and one son, were married, while Lewis E., aged seventeen, and Louise Jane, aged ten, were still at home. The other son, Linus B. SKEEL, married Minerva PAYNE, who died at the age of twenty-seven years, and he afterward wedded Miss Flora MORRISON, a native of Scotland. He entered one hundred and sixty acres adjoining his father's farm, where he lived until 1846 and then removed to Payne's Point. He later returned to a farm near Florid, where the following twenty years were passed and then went to Gibson City, Ford county, Illinois. He had served in the Black Hawk war. The sister of our subject, who was married on coming to this state, located at Payne's Point. Another sister, Lucy Ann, was married in 1832 to Daniel WARREN, of New York, who made a claim on Big Indian creek in La Salle county and there died. She later became the wife of Peter H. DICK, who also lived in that county, and is again a widow, making her home in Ottawa. In May, 1832, with her first husband, she located twelve miles north of Ottawa and was living there when Black Hawk started on his campaign. The old chief, Shabbona, who was friendly with the family, notified them that some Sac and Fox Indians were on their way to that timber. When Shabbona arrived at the house Mrs. WARREN was alone, but she called her husband and his brother, who were at work at the mill and they at once started for Ottawa, while Shabbona went on to warn others. Two weeks later Mr. WARREN and his brother went back to see what damage had been done and a captain and young soldier volunteered to go with them. On reaching the cabin they found that the Indians had disturbed nothing and after resting they started back to Ottawa. When half way, on reaching Buck creek, they stopped to gather wild strawberries, which were plentiful at that point, and let their horses graze. Mr. WARREN suggested that they start on, as they might be attacked by Indians, but the captain scouted the idea and Mr. WARREN and his brother started on ahead. Hearing the report of guns they looked back and saw that the young man had been shot and his horse had escaped. The captain was also shot, the ball passing through his leg into the horse, which stood quite still for some time and then started on a run until it reached the WARRENs, when it fell dead. After his father's death in 1841 Lewis E. SKEEL assumed the management of the home farm. He has hauled wheat to market in Chicago, where he would receive from thirty-eight to seventy-five cents per bushel and the trip would require nine days. On his return he would bring freight, often hauling lumber. He has extended the boundaries of his farm and throughout his entire life has carried on agricultural pursuits.

On the 28th of October, 1847, Mr. SKEEL was united in marriage with Miss Nancy JONES, who is also a native of Greene county, Ohio, and came to Illinois in 1831, with her parents, Abram and Mary (HAYS) JONES, who were married in Greene county, where they lived in the neighborhood of the SKEEL family. Her parents located at Evans Point, Marshall county, but in 1833 removed to Princeton, Bureau county, where the father died in 1858. Their farm included that part of Princeton where the depot now stands, and the brick house, in which Mr. and Mrs. SKEEL were married, stands one-half mile west of the depot. The mother died in 1885, at the age of eighty-three years. Mrs. SKEEL is the only one of the family now living. Barton JONES died in Columbia City, Iowa. One sister, Mrs. William S. WILSON, died in Ohio, Bureau county, and James, Daniel and John, all farmers, also spent their last days in Bureau county. No children have been born to our subject and his worthy wife, but from the ,age of eleven years they reared Huron WARREN, a nephew, and have given homes to other children. The mother of Mr. SKEEL died at the old home, September 30, 1879, being ninety years, three months and eleven days old.

Formerly Mr. SKEEL supported the republican party, but his interest in the cause of temperance has led him to ally his forces with the prohibition party and he has frequently attended its state conventions. Both he and his wife are devoted members of the Methodist Episcopal church, belonging to a congregation which was organized in 1833, and of which his mother was one of the original members. He and his wife attended the general conference of the church held at Los Angeles, California, in 1904, leaving Chicago on the 4th of May and spending two months in the west, during which time they visited several cities on the Pacific coast, going as far north as Seattle and Spokane. For many years Mr. SKEEL has been an officer in the church. He continued the operation of his land until eight years ago, since which time he has rented it and now practically lives retired. He still lives, however, upon his place of eighty acres where the log cabin was built in 1831. He owns altogether, however, one hundred and eighty acres, all of which he rents and which brings to him a good return. He has long been a most honored pioneer resident of Putnam county and few men enjoy in as large measure the respect and confidence of those who have known them as this venerable pioneer, whose interest in the county dates from pioneer times down to the present period of progress and development.

Source: The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois  published in 1896, page 206.

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