REMINISCENCE OF ELIJAH ILES
"My name is Elijah Iles. I was born in Kentucky, March 28, 1796 (now in my eighty-sixth year.)
"My father, Thomas Iles, was born in Pennsylvania, in 1765. At the age of sixteen he was sent by his father about one hundred miles to collect some money, and was furnished with a good horse and a good outfit of clothing. After collecting the money, not being on good terms with his step-mother, concluded to put out and set up for himself. He went to Virginia and emigrated to Kentucky, with a family by the name of Trumbo. The Indians were troublesome, committing murder and stealing horses, and much of his time was employed in guarding the settlers, and driving the Indians across the Ohio river into the Territory of Ohio. He was in several skirmishes with the Indians. The Indians finally stole his horse, and by this time his clothes and money was about used up. He then went to work for wages in the summer, and to school in winters, paying for his board by his work mornings, nights and Saturdays. When he got an education enabling him, he taught school in winter and worked on farms in summer. After occupying himself in this manner for a time, he married Betsey Crocket, and then formed a colony with my mother's brother, John Crocket, and a few others, and settled on the Prickly Ash creek, on the waters of Licking river, in a heavily timbered section, and cleared ground for raising corn. They relied on game for their living, such as turkey, deer and bear. They could not raise hogs until the bear was killed out, as they eat the pigs. But they made good use of the bear by killing them and curing the meat as we do pork. At that day most everything used for housekeeping was brought from Virginia to Kentucky, on pack-horses. We had to do with little. Our tableware was pewter plates, spoons and Japanned tumblers. Our cooking utensils, a frying pan, skillet and oven; our bread was mostly baked on a board, set up before the fire, and called Johnny-cake, or in the ashes and called ash-cake, the meat often hung up and roasted before the fire.
"My mother, with her wheel, wool cards and loom, manufactured all the wearing apparel used by herself and family, other than buckskin pants, mostly used by men and boys.
"My mother died in 1802, leaving five children: Polly, Elijah, William, Washington and Betsey, the youngest eight days old. We were in a bad fix; but my Aunts Carlyle and Harper of Woodford county, Kentucky, took my sisters and brother Washington home with them, and my Aunt Crocket, in the vicinity, took myself and brother William until my father visited his sister (Aunt Barnet), at Winchester, Virginia, and bought and brought home a negro woman, and myself and William were taken home and put under her charge and care; we were taught to call her Aunt Milly, and to obey her; she proved to be a good woman. After living eight years a widower, my father married the Widow Wheeler, with two children (Samuel and Eliza); and my brother, Washington, and sisters were brought home.
"My education was limited; never advanced to study English grammar. My father, being a good scholar, taught me some at home in spelling, writing and arithmetic.
"At the beginning of the war of 1812, my father was sheriff of Bath county, Kentucky. I was then sixteen years old, and acted as his deputy, after which I bought one hundred calves at $3 a head, which I wintered in a very rugged section, remote from settlements, on the waters of Little Sandy, three summers and two winters. The cliffs were very high and precipitous, shelving over in places, so as to form shelter for the cattle in the winter. The valleys were very narrow, but by changing from valley to valley, my cattle wintered without being fed. My only companions during the two years, was my horse, dog, gun and cattle, other than occasional hunters. I had an object, enjoyed it, and did not feel lonesome. I then sold my cattle for a sum, though small, was at that day a good start for a young man. Being then of age, I concluded to hunt a new country, and set up for myself (although Kentucky was yet new), so I took my money and put out for Missouri.
"Now, for incidents and events of some of my numerous footsteps wanderings and doings from the time I left my father in 1818, to the present year, 1881. My object was the Boomlick country, in Missouri, in Howard county. I started on my trip in October, 1818. My route was via Lexington, Frankfort and Louisville, Ky., Vincennes, Ind., St. Louis, and St. Charles, Mo., thence to Franklin, in Howard county, the extreme western settlement at that day. The towns were all small, St. Louis the largest, about 2,000. Franklin was the only town west of St. Charles on the Missouri river. My object was farming. The lands were not yet brought into market. After getting to Franklin and exploring the country to some extent, I was employed a portion of my time as clerk in a store, and also to select lands for speculators. I made good selections for myself and laid out every dollar I had, and in a short time on one tract I realized one hundred dollars. I got homesick and determined to visit my old home in Kentucky, but before doing so, I desired to explore more of Missouri so as to satisfactorily decide where I should permanently locate. A young man and myself prepared ourselves for camping out. We went west on the north side of the Missouri river, and into the then Indian Territory more than a hundred miles above the border line, then meandered the river down to Fort Osage, twenty miles below the mouth of Kansas river. The officers sent a boat over for us. The fort was commanded by colonel Sibley. From here we passed down the south side of the river, camping out one night, to the settlement above where Boonville is now situated.
"In January, 1821, I made my visit to Kentucky. About this time I heard of much talk about the Sangamon county in Illinois, and determined to explore it, and on my return in March, about thirty miles west of Vincennes, at a place called Maysville. When I got there I was told a party had just staked out a road to Vandalia and to Sangamon. It was easy to follow the route by the stakes and fresh made track of the wagon that had hauled the stakes. There were but few in Vandalia at that time. I followed the staked road to Macoupin point, where I struck the trace to Sangamon river, then the only trace from St. Louis to Sangamon. After exploring to some extent I went to St. Louis and then to my home in Missouri. I liked the people and the lands bordering on both sides of the Missouri river - could not be excelled to the Indian border - yet, the distance from market, and the thought that Missouri would remain a border State during my life time, determined me again to visit Illinois, which was more interior and more accessible to market. My route back to Illinois was mostly without a road or trace. After leaving the settlement on the Missouri river, I crossed the prairie to the head waters of Salt creek, or river, above the settlement. There I camped out one night. It did not trouble me a bit to camp out as I had been accustomed to camping out with my cattle in Kentucky. I felt at home. I then meandered the river to the settlement near New London, thence to Louisiana, then crossed the Mississippi river to a colony in Illinois, headed by the Rosses, (now Atlas) of a dozen families, who had just landed, living in tents and were erecting their cabins. I then meandered the Mississippi to near the mouth of the Illinois river, to another colony of eight families. These two colonies were the only whites residing on the Military Tract between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
"I there swam my horse across the Illinois river at the mouth, then meandered the Macoupin creek, to a trace leading to Diamond Grove, now Jacksonville. There I found three families in the grove, Kline, Abrams, Wilson, and Wyatt and some others in the vicinity. I then went up the Mauvester creek about ten miles, until I could see the timber in the Island grove, then crossed the prairie to the grove. No one was then living in the grove. Leaving the timber on my right, I followed the prairie to a trace leading through the timber to a place where I found a stake, set up for a temporary county seat, to be called Springfield; and here I found Charles R. Matheny, living in a one-room log cabin, with a large family of little children, near the stake. (Mr. C. R. Matheny was judge of probate and clerk of the circuit and county courts). Within the distance of two miles of the stake, I found the families of John and William Kelly, Andrew Elliott, Samuel Little, John Lindsay, Peter Lauterman and Jacob and Levi Ellis. The reason given me why the temporary county seat was located here, was that it was the largest neighborhood in the country, and, as it was only to be temporary, until the land sales, the judge and lawyers could get quarters among the farmers. This was in 1821. A rough log house, was erected with a dirt floor, for a temporary court house.
No one had settled in the place during the first year, other than Matheny and myself. In 1822, although on government lands, seven families erected temporary cabins and moved to the town before the land sales.
"In 1825, commissioners were appointed to select and locate a permanent county seat. We had a hard row to hoe and manage to get the commissioners to select this place for the permanent county seat. The growth of the place was slow until after it was selected for the capital.
"After I got to Springfield in 1821, and explored the country to some extent, I determined to make this section my permanent home; my intention was farming, but as the land was not yet in market, I erected a cabin, sixteen feet square with sheds, and went to St. Louis and bought a general assortment of goods, and opened the first store in Springfield, in June, 1821. (I had no competition for two years.) After I bought the goods, I chartered a boat to bring them up the Illinois river. On my trip, the only house at now Alton, was the residence of the ferryman; the next was at the mouth of Illinois river; the next a vacant cabin at now Beardstown. At that day there was no other house on the Illinois river from head to mouth, other than a trading house for Indians at the foot of Lake Peoria (now city). My good were landed at the vacant cabin and the boat discharged. I was alone with my goods on the bank of the river. After a search, I found a dim trace leading out to a Mr. Jobe, fifteen miles out, was the first house on the route; but, before I got to his house, I met two teams, driven by Lauterman and Broadwell, going after furniture which was brought up the river by dug-outs and left at the cabin. As neither had a full load, I went back and made up their loads with some of my most perishable goods. It was more than a month before I got all my goods from the river, yet nothing was molested; there was no one to steal then. I did a good business, and aside from whites, I had a good trade with the Indians. In 1823, at the land sales, I bought land, and, in addition to selling goods, opened a farm, and drove hogs and cattle to St. Louis, until 1830; then sold my goods to my clerk John Williams, now Colonel Williams, and established him in business.
"I then occupied myself in farming, buying and selling hogs and cattle in St. Louis, and mules to Kentucky, and buying and selling lands and town lots, to the year 1838. In this year, I packed hogs at Alton, with others, and lost more than $10,000. This closed my career in pork packing, after which I occupied my time in farming and buying and selling lands and lots. In 1838, I erected the American House, in Springfield, then the largest hotel in the State, now torn down and built up with large store houses by Lawrence & Britton.
"In 1826, I was elected State Senator, and again in 1830. At that time, the Senate consisted of thirteen members, and the House of Representatives twenty-five. In 1821, when I came to Springfield, twenty miles north were the extreme northern settlers. All north of that was occupied by friendly Indians, but after the lead mines were discovered, at Galena, and settlers began to move up and work the mines, the Indians became troublesome. This was in 1827. Troops were mustered, under the command of Colonel T. M. Neal, who marched to Galena, to drive them off. I was elected Major. This was called the Winnebago campaign. A treaty was made at Prairie DuChien, and we were disbanded.
"In the Black Hawk War, of 1832, I went as a private. Our route was from Oquawka to the mouth of Rock river, thence up Rock river to the road crossing to Galena (now the city of Dixon). The army was commanded by General Atkinson, of the United States Army. Here we called a halt, and General Stillman's command advanced fifteen miles above, on Rock river. He met the Indians, had a battle, and a number of his men killed, and his command completely routed. We were ordered next day to the battle-field, and collected and buried the dead; then returned to Dixon and got news that some of the Indians went over to the outer settlement on the Illinois river, committed murder, and took two young girls prisoners. We then crossed over to the Illinois river to what is now known as Ottawa. The term of service of this army having expired, they were mustered out. A call was made for volunteers from the disbanded army, to remain and protect the frontier until new troops could be enlisted. Several companies were organized for this service for twenty days. I was elected Captain of one of the companies, and felt proud of my company. They were men I could rely on, many being officers from the disbanded army. Among them were A. Lincoln, late President; John T. Stuart, of Springfield, and others who afterward became prominent.
"My company was mustered into service by Lieutenant Anderson, Acting Adjutant (of Fort Sumter memory). My company was held in camp as a reserve, by General Atkinson, whilst others were scouting. Colonel Taylor, late President, was left stationed at Dixon, with two companies, to guard the road to Galena. One company was ordered to Dixon and to report to Colonel Taylor, but just as it got to Dixon, one man made his appearance and reported that he, with six others, were on the road to Galena, and not far from Dixon, the six were killed, and he only, escaped. General Taylor ordered the captain to proceed, collect and bury the dead, and go on to Galena (Captain Snider, of Belleville, was a brave man), but the frightened men disobeyed the orders and returned to Ottawa, helter-skelter.
"General Atkinson was anxious to get all the information possible of the whereabouts of the Indians, by the time the new troops were ready to march, and selected my company, which was ordered on the trip, and to report to Colonel Taylor. He ordered me to proceed, collect and bury the dead, and go on to Galena, making a careful search for Indian signs, to see if they were aiming to cross the Mississippi below Galena, and gather all possible information from inhabitants at Galena.
"On our route we saw signs of Indians, but not in large numbers. Fifteen miles this side of Galena, the inhabitants were in a fort, the day before we got there they stole some horses and shot at some of the citizens. We then went to Galena and got all the information we could on our trip. All the houses were vacant and on our return all were burned.
"I married Malinda Benjamin in 1824; we had two children, Louisa E. and Thomas Iles. My daughter died in 1857, my wife died in 1866 and my son died in 1877. After the death of my wife, I felt mentally and physically used up and quit all business, as much as I could."