Sangamon County ILGenWeb © 2000
In keeping with our policy of providing free information on the Internet, data and images may be used by non-commercial entities, as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or for other presentation without express permission by the contributor(s).

By Joseph Wallace, M. A.
of the Springfield Bar
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, IL

WILLIAM E. McKEE - The life history of William E. McKee, if written in detail, would present a clear picture of pioneer conditions in Sangamon county. He was born in Gallatin county, Kentucky, December 9, 1826, and when about two years old was brought to this county by his parents, James and Jane (Burch) McKee. The father born in 1798, was a farmer who owned a plantation and distillery in Kentucky, and in the years 1824 and 1825 he engaged in peddling the old tall clocks in use at that period. He was married in 1826 to Jane Burch. Her mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Burch, transacted the first business ever done in Mechanicsburg, Illinois, conducting the tavern and stage business there, and she was noted throughout the country as a good cook. Her husband died in Kentucky and afterward, coming to Illinois, she lived at Mechanicsburg for a number of years. In 1828 James McKee brought his little family to Sangamon county. Arriving at Lick Creek, he purchased eighty acres of land and lived in the edge of the timber for a time but afterward sold that and entered one hundred and sixty acres near Mechanicsburg, where he remained until 1875, when he purchased eighty acres, on which he built a brick house and in it he died July 30, 1876. at the age of seventy-eight. The family were living here at the time of the "big snow," one of the memorable events in the history of the county. Mrs. McKee had passed away in 1850. In the family were eight children: William E., Eliza, Ann, Rebecca, Mary, Emily, Preston and John B.

William E. McKee was educated in a log building, where school was conducted on the subscription plan and was afterward a student in the Mechanicsburg Brick Seminary. His history is that of pioneer experiences. He tells that the word Sangamon comes from St. Gama and that the French and Spanish claim the discovery of thism region. The country became known as Sangamo and when a journalist established a paper he called it the Sangamon Journal, adding the final "n," which has since been retained in the county name. In his youth Mr. McKee spent much time in hunting and fishing and he frequently gathered much honey, stored by the wild bees. There were also wild hogs and the first permanent settlers all paid five dollars for an interest in these hogs. In the fall of 1830 James McKee hired Archie Ward to kill his hogs on the shares and Ward delivered five hogs to Mr. McKee, each weighing one hundred and fifty pounds. They were frozen so hard that the meat was cut with an ax. The deep snow exterminated the wild hogs, but for some years thereafter deer were plentiful and there were also many prairie wolves. In 1828 the father found in his cabin about twenty bushels of peaches which came from an orchard located on what is now known as the Thomas Morris farm southwest of Mechanicsburg. In 1829 there was again an abundance of that fruit-harvest such as Mr. McKee has not seen since. The doors of the pioneer cabins were hung with wooden hinges and there was a wooden latch for use at night, but in the day time the latch string always hung out. The floors were made of puncheons and the roofs of clapboards, and the furniture was of a primitive kind; weeds and hazel brush were used to make brooms. In 1831 there came a heavy frost, killing the corn and the settlers had to send to Tennessee and Kentucky to get seed corn, some paying as high as four dollars per bushel for this. The wheat was "tramped out." A pitchfork would be driven into the ground and served as a stake to which one end of a sheet was fastened, and on this the wheat was tramped out after which it was taken to mill and ground.

When about fifteen rears of age. William McKee was injured while tramping out some wheat with an uncle and for some years was in poor health. When about twenty-two years of age he began selling medicine for Dr. Linn of Mechanicsburg, and was thus engaged for about two years, but during the greater part of his business career he has devoted his energies in an undivided manner to his farming. At the age of thirty-eight Mr. McKee married Mrs. Allzria Collier, the widow of Cyrus Collier and a daughter of Edward and Caroline (Withrow) Shane. When Mrs. McKee was two years old her mother died and she went to live with an aunt, who reared and educated her. At the age of fifteen she was first married and became the mother of two children: William T. Collier, of Clinton, Missouri, who is married and has six children, and Annie C., the wife of Milton Etter, of Grove City, Christian county, Illinois, by whom she has two children. Mrs. Collier gave her hand in marriage to Mr. McKee February 23, 1865, and unto them were born six children: John B., of Berry, Illinois, who married Jennie Utterback and has four children, Norman B., who wedded Mary Thuett and has two children; Elizabeth H., the wife of A. C. Black, of Oklahoma, by whom she has three children: Mrs. Myrtle R. Daily, who died in July, 1902, leaving three sons; James E., who served for two years with the army in the Philippines, and Archie, at home.

For many years Mr. McKee carried on farming. He had worked with a wooden mold-board plow, and later had a cast iron plow of thed a cast iron plow of the Kerry pattern. He cut grain with a sickle and later cradled it, and corn was dropped by hand and covered with a hoe and jumper. Afterward Mr. McKee used the improved farming machinery and profitably carried on his work until 1889, when he turned over the farm labor to his son, and in 1901 removed to Buckhart. In March, 1902, he came to Berry, where he is now living in retirement from labor. On various occasions he has been called to public office. In 1863 he took the census of all able bodied men eligible for draft; for fifteen years was a school teacher; for two years constable, and for two vicars road commissioner. His knowledge of the county's history is that of close and intimate connection with the events which form its annals, for he has been either a witness of or a participant in all of the progress of the county from the early pioneer times down to the progressive present.

Return to 1904 Biographies Index
Return to Sangamon County ILGenWeb