Putnam County

1907 Past and Present



In this simple narrative it is not possible to name each individual settler as he came into the county, suffice it to generalize and localize.

The very first white man who holds unchallenged the distinction of being first in any particular thing is Adam, the progenitor of the human race, and even the man from the Garden of Eden has been called by some fellows from the zoological gardens. It matters little who is first on the ground in an enterprise; the important question is. "Who did the work?" In the pioneer days of Putnam county everybody worked. In the days we sing "Everybody works but father," which is only true when, father has earned his surcease from labor by years of braving the storms of life until the going down of the sun comes the calm that he is entitled to enjoy.

It is as true today as of yore that "Woman's work is never done." Our mothers back to Mrs. Eve Adam were inveterate workers and not until the decrepitude of years or the inroads of disease has sapped her vital energy does mother cease her family ministrations. "Mother" immortalized herself by her consecrated devotion to her maternal relationships.

It matters little to what rank or station man may climb in this life, he instinctively ascribes the source of inspiration to mother. That same element that lavishes itself on her offspring develops first in her devotion and fidelity to him whom she honors as her lord and protector, the father of her child. Since first the flight of years began the historian has made man the whole thing in life's doings. Looking down the vista through six thousand years of human existence in which men have played the star acts in life's drama, we are able to discover that back of it all the incentives to the noblest, grandest accomplishments have come through the woman in the case. Men are inclined to think in these days that there is a new being in existence, part angel, part woman, some devil and some man, and they have named this creature "The New Woman." In the process of evolution the spiritual side of woman's life has developed so much faster than she could work it out through her sons that it has become a matter of necessity that she work out a portion of her spirit through her daughters, at the same time supplying all the moral vitality that her sons will appropriate. Because she has thrown herself into the breach that bids fair to wreck her home and life, by some shallow-pated weakling she had been chided for her presumption and assumption.

All hail to the mother who stands shoulder to shoulder with the father in the efforts to make their union count for the betterment of our civilization. Should misfortune, Maud Muller like, cast her lot with a man who dozes in the chimney corner or the grogshops hard by, the more the necessity that she assert her personality and bestow upon her children the spirit of doing something for self and humanity.

True to the spirit of ascribing everything to the fathers, the historians of this county have given us a few names of the pioneer ladies, but the evidence remains that there were ladies among the pioneers and to them belongs much of the glory for an advanced state of social, civic and religious life. Most of the very first settlers came up from the older settlement down the state; in fact, the state had been admitted to the union before anyone had really settled in the county, although a few traders, as the early merchants, were called, had located along the river as early as 1817. There remains about a mile above Hennepin today, the ruins of an old trading post where Thomas Hartzell did business in the twenties.

To Captain William Haws is ascribed the credit of being the first permanent settler in the county.

He came up from Springfield in the spring of 1821 en route to Galena, became enamored of the country about Magnolia and decided to locate there. He blazed his name upon a tree and went on to Galena, where he remained till the fall of 1826, when he returned and took formal possession of his claim.

He built an exceedingly primitive house of round poles. He split puncheons for the floor and doors and carried rock from the creek for the chimney and a former historian has said that not a nail was used in the construction of this house, but like the building of Solomon's temple no sound of a hammer was heard, for he had none.

He kept batch the first winter, existing on the result of his skill as a hunter and some corn he had brought with him from the south. This first cabin stood near the northern limits of the village of Magnolia. The following spring he put up a more pretentious cabin near the first one, in which he and his family lived for years. His first crop of winter wheat yielded twenty to thirty bushels to the acre which he threshed by tramping it out and cleaned by hand. His corn crop he disposed of to newcomers at twenty and twenty-five cents a bushel. This early pioneer had few domestic animals his oxen, a cow and calf and a few pigs. His hogs ran wild in the timber and multiplied until they became everybody's property and were worth nothing until dressed.

Naturally enough the newcomers, as they approached from the south, were favorably impressed with the beautiful country about Mr. Haws' claim. Consequently the south end of the county received the first attention. After locating there many of them branched out on prospecting tours to other parts of the county, and eventually spread out along the timber line from Magnolia to the river on the north. These early people took to the woods. Many of them thought that the prairies never would be settled. The probable reason for this was the fact that the material for building, fences and fuel, and protection from the storms, afforded by the timber, caused them to seek its friendly shelter. Thus we find the little openings in the timber lands were the first settled.

From 1826 to 1835-6 we find the county rapidly filling up in all parts. The first settlers becoming courageous, disposed of their claims to the new arrivals and moved farther toward the frontier. In the volumes that have been written heretofore great lists of the names of these pioneers have appeared that cannot even be mentioned in a simple narrative, and whose descendants, many of them, are still the leading citizens of the community, and the matter has resolved itself into such proportions that family histories have been written and printed.

We shall not attempt to name the people who have made history in Putnam County except in as much as their names appear in connection with the events which we shall select to show the character of such people.

In 1831 by act of legislature a committee was appointed to examine various localities in the county for the purpose of locating the county seat. The most promising outlook was the village of Hennepin, which was selected as the capital of the county. The first county commissioners under the organization were Thomas Gallagher, George Ish and John M. Gay. Seventy-five years have elapsed since that time, which has demonstrated the wisdom of the choice of that committee. Hennepin is situated on the east bank of the Illinois river on a high and level bluff, a most beautiful natural situation for a city. In the early days Hennepin was a very active and busy city, the river affording a means of transportation to the market at St, Louis and the return of the necessaries of life from that point.

Very little money was in circulation. The tiller of the soil brought the product of his labor to Hennepin and bartered it for his family wants. It is really interesting to know how few articles, that are not home-made, are absolutely necessary to our comfort and existence.

Mr. John Swaney, who came to the county in 1840, and who still lives, told us that wages were very low in those days. He worked for Jim Jones a quarter of a day and got six and a fourth cents. Fifty cents a week for hard work was good pay. The day began at sun-up and lasted till after sundown. A school teacher got $12 or $13 a month. His sister taught at Granville and rode back and forth across the prairies every night and morning. She is still living and is eighty-five years old.

Mrs. Mary Massie, who came to the county sixty-seven years ago, tells us that during the war her husband and brothers were in the army and she supported herself and child by working at twenty-five cents a day; that she paid thirty cents for calico that may be bought now for three cents, and seventy-five cents a yard for eight or ten-cent muslin. Parenthetically, let us suggest that reading between the lines we may note a little something of what it cost the wives and mothers of the country to preserve the Union.

There were many necessities in the development of the homes in this new country that could not be gotten at Hennepin, nor did Hennepin become a general market until boats began to ply the river. The farmer would load his grain and start on the long trip to Chicago, requiring from nine to fifteen days, taking with him feed for his horses and a scythe; he would mow the grass by the wayside and sleep under his wagon at night, or stop in the winter time at the inns along the stage route. Many incidents are related in which, by unavoidable delays, the proceeds of the whole of his produce would not defray the expenses of the trip. For example, twelve and one-half and thirteen cents for corn and thirty-one and thirty-eight cents for wheat. All the lumber, shingles, doors and windows had to be hauled from Chicago. Boys went to Chicago oftener then than boys do now.

Gradually Hennepin became a great market, remaining so until Lacon and Peru, with greater attractions, began to draw trade thitherward. Villages sprang up in various parts of the county with their shops, stores, schools and churches, thus creating new centers around which clustered the interests of the communities.

Hennepin was surveyed in 1831 by Ira Ladd on government land. The new town was extensively advertised, by what means we are not advised, and the first sale of lots ranged from $11.68 to $87.86 each. The first lot was sold to J. and W. Durley, who proceeded at once to build on what is now the corner of Front and Court streets. Dunlavy and Stewart built a trading house at the same time, preceding the Durleys a few days in commencing business. J. S. Simpson; Ira Ladd, who became the first sheriff of the county, and a man named Gleason each built a log cabin in the fall of '31. Thus just three-quarters of a century ago came into existence the county seat. The next spring the first hotel was built, a double log cabin. About this time Thomas Hartzell built a store in the new town and transferred his stock of merchandise from his log store a mile above the town into Hennepin.

In 1832 the Black Hawk war broke out and Hennepin was made the rallying point of the rangers. The settlers were poorly equipped with arms and means of defense. Thomas Hartzell offered to donate his old store for a block house, and in forty-eight hours the community had transferred and rebuilt the same on what is now Front street. This building was used as a fort during the exciting months that followed, though we are informed by the older settlers that the dusky warriors did not cross the river at any time during the war. In moving Hartzell's store the brick chimney was left standing where a Frenchman and his half-breed wife, occupying a cabin nearby, resorted for cooking purposes. One day while thus engaged a high wind blew down the chimney, killing the woman instantly. The exact location of this chimney is marked today by a little mound made by the falling brick over which has grown a luxuriant sod.

The settlement of the county is more fully treated under Villages and in the biographies of the work. The biographical feature is a brief record of the life of the individual, written of him from facts gathered from him and others. Anything that might seem out of place in an autobiography may be perfectly proper in a biography. The items of praise have been expression? of kindly friends and neighbors. Some subjects on hearing the story of their lives as herein written have objected because the writer said so many good things about him, but so long as the truth only appears, let it stand; seldom do men have too many good things said about them while they yet live.

"The evil men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones."

Extracted from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, authored by John Spencer Burt and W. E. Hawthorne, published in 1907, pages 72-77.

Visit Our Neighbors
Bureau LaSalle
Search Our Archives

Putnam County Archives