The following article is chapter IX from The Story of Illinois and its People by O.P. Barnes 1910.

Real Settlement of Illinois Begins

At the close of Clark's campaign, many of his soldiers returned home and spread among their neighbors and kinsmen of Virginia and Maryland glowing accounts of the beauty and fertility of the Illinois country. They declared it to be a land of high promise, and when the war was over, many of these soldiers came back to settle, bringing their families with them. 

The Hunter-Pioneers

But. while a few of the early American settlers were from the eastern states, southern Illinois was first occupied mainly by the hunter-pioneers of Kentucky and Tennessee, most of whom had seen service in the Indian wars, and were accustomed to the rough life of the frontier. The Ohio and Mississippi were the routes by which these backwoodsmen entered the state. They gradually chopped their way northward along the wooded banks of the Illinois river and other streams, not venturing out on the open prairie.  

The seized upon the hardwood forests bordering the rivers, in order to have fuel and logs with which to build the cabin and fence the "corn patch." The timber also served as a wind-break in winter, protecting the cabin and the few domestic animals, and in summer it afforded shelter from the swarms of flies infesting the prairies. Then, too, the river furnished the needed water supply for home use and for the stock.

These early pioneers lived mainly by hunting. They loved the simle frontier life, and when other settlers began to approach their lonely cabins, they moved farther into the wilderness. The crack of their rifles told heavily upon the large game, such as the buffalo, elk, and deer, which gradually grew scarcer, until by 1800, the shaggy buffalo had disappeared forever from the prairies of Illinois.

The Woodland-Pioneer

Close upon the heels of the hunter-pioneer, came the woodland-pioneer, who, being unable on account of the scarcity of game to bring down enough for his needs, was forced to lay aside his rifle and seize the ax and plow, and to depend mainly upon the crops he raised to support his family. He, too, clung to the woodlands, preferring to clear the land of trees to breaking the prairie sod. The trees upon the open prairie were so scarce and stunted that thse early settlers concluded the soil was too poor to grow them, so they called the treeless prairies the "barrens." They blindly passed by some of the finest farm lands in the world, until every acre of the woodland was taken, even though some of it was so low and swampy as to require draining. These marshy lands were very unhealthful, and the settlers suffered much from fever and ague. In places, running water was scarce in summer, and wells had to be dug to water the stock. Reports were noised abroad that the Illinois country was full of dreadful diseases, and this turned some away. 

Wave of Immigration Widens

As the years went by the westward home-seekers grew in numbers. They toiled through the mountain passes of the Alleghanies to some tributary of the Ohio. In 1810, emigrants from Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee were pouring into Illinois. Day after day the ferries on the Ohio, at Shawneetown, were crowded with passing families with their negroes, wagons, carts and carriages.

The National Turnpike 

When Ohio was admitted as a state, 1803, Congress promised to take part of the money received from the sale of public lands and with it build a hard wagon road across the Alleghanies. This promise was kept, and by the time Illinois became a state, 1818, this great national road had been built from the headwaters of the Potomac, at Cumbersland, Maryland, to Wheeling on the Ohio. In this way, the long toilsome journey over the Alleghanies was made easier.

Down the Ohio

Once the Ohio was reached, a raft, a keel boat, or an ark was built, and provisions laid in for the long journey. Pittsburg was the great supply city for rafts and flatboats on the Ohio. For seven months of the year, the streets of this frontier city were crowded with emigrants arriving and departing, and its waterfront was fringed with boats of every description. Boat-building was the chief industry, and, as none of these early boats ever came back, the business never flagged.

The poorer emigrant tied some logs together and made a raft on which he placed his family, tools and livestock, and pushed out into the current. Several of these rafts were sometimes hitched together. Keel boats were fuilt with a view of protection from the Indians, as well as for carrying great loads. The upper work was of wood with loopholes. They often carried several families. Three hands were necessary to man them, one to pilot and two to row. Occasionally there were side wheels kept in motion by horses walking in a treadmill. One such boat carried eighteen persons, horses, cattle, hogs, geese, ducks, and farming tools, from wagons to hoes, besides household furniture and a year's stock of provisions. The trip to Shawneetown lasted three or four weeks. Similar boats came down all the tributaries of the Ohio, and drifted slowly towards the west, with unbroken forests stretching about them in all directions. 

Flatboats on the Ohio

"All day long flocks of turkeys littered the trees overhead, and at times a bear or elk might be seen swimming the river. At night the woods on every hand resounded with the bark of wolves. Then it was that the lonely emigrants were tormented with all manner of fears." They dreaded to go on at night for fear of being wrecked or stranded on sand bars, and they hesitated to tie fast to the bank because of lurking Indians. They usually spent the night moored to the shore, with a sentinel standing ready to cut the ropes if an enemy were sighted while the others slept. 

Some of these boats stopped at Shawneetown and were sold, while others floated on to the mouth of the Ohio, and from there were pushed by long poles to St. Louis, where they were sold or exchanged for wagons. Over these wagons, was spread a canvas, and tar was smeared on the outside to make it waterproof. After a visit to the land office, the emigrants were off to locate their quarter sections. 

The woodlands of southern Illinois were soon taken up, and newcomers had the choice of making their homes on the open prairies or moving farther west. The northward advance was checked by the Black Hawk war, in 1832, which drove the people in from the outlying settlements to the more thickly populated section. 

Home Building 

The early pioneer, after choosing a site in the wilderness for his home, set to work to build a log cabin. With his own ax he cut down the forest trees and built first the open camp, the corners of which were notched together. The roof, of thatch or bark, was supported on poles. The open side served for window, door and fireplace. Skins were often hung up to keep out the storm. In his boyhood days Abraham Lincoln lived in such a cabin. 

Everybody, whether invited or not, went to the raising of the log cabin. The heavy lifting called for many hands. While four men notched the logs, the others ran races, wrestled and played leap frong, kicked the hat, and did everything then considerd an amusement. Usually it was put up in a day, and the family moved in that night, after having lived in a camp during the weeks while the logs were being cut in the clearing. 

Clapboards were split out for roofing and weighted down with stones. There were no nails, hinges, locks, nor glass in those early forest cabins. Doors were hung on wooden hinges or straps of hide, and the latch string was always out. The cracks between the logs were "chinked" in with wedges of wood and clay. 

Some cabins even had no "chinking." In a certain part of the country a "settler while sleeping, was scratched on the head by the sharp teeth of a hungry wolf, which thrust his nose into the space between the logs of the cabin."

The floor was often the bare ground, but cabins sometimes had the luxury of puncheon floors. These were made of the halves of logs, the flat sides of which had been hewed smooth with an adz. One early settler's wife pleaded to have the cabin built around a splendid flat stump, which served as a dining table. A small platform along the wal, two feet high and supported by posts, formed a bedstead. The bed consisted of the boughts of trees, sometimes of the skins of animals. The chimneys were made of logs coated with mud six inches thick.

The fireplaces were vast in size, often so big that the fore-logs for the fire had to be dragged by a horse. These, except in the coldest weather would burn for several days. The home-made furniture was the rudest pattern. Here and there were a few pewter spoons, dishes, and iron knives and forks. 

How They Obtained and Prepared Their Food

Their food consisted of corn bread, bacon, bear and deer meat, and other wild game and fowl, as well as vegetables, which they called "roughness." Bear meat was a delicacy in the fall. It is said to be as good as venison. Salted down, it became an important item of the winter's supplies. Sometimes a hunting party would return with the carcasses of thirty or forty of these beasts. A single sportsman often killed as many as a half dozen deer in one day's hunt. To approach a deer on the prairie, the hunter crawled on the ground, holding a green bush before him, stopping when the animal showed signs of becomeg alarmed. 

Of corn, they made many dishes. There were pone, hominy, samp, "roasting ears," popcorn, and succotash. Besides, there were pumpkin, squash, beans and dairy dishes. Mills were so few and far apart that remote settlers often had to go fifty miles on horse-back, with a bag of corn, a journey of from two to four days. The building of a mill was hailed with more satisfaction that that of a church. When the mill was too far a way, or could not be run because of low water, they pounded the corn into course meal in mortars. Sometimes the stump of a tree was hollowed out for this purpose, and a block of wood shaped to fit in it. 

The bread was, for a time, baked on "johnny," or journey, boards, which gave it the name of johnny-cake. These boards were smooth, two feet long by eight inches wide. Corn meal was mixed with water, the dough spread out on the board and then turned up to the fire. After one side was baked, the dough was turned and baked on the other side. 

Clothing; Books; Money 

Clothing was made of dressed skins of the deer, wolf, or fox, while buffalo and elk skins were made into caps and moccasins. There were neither books nor libraries, schools nor churches. Arithmetic was studied a little in the evening by the light of a tallow dip. Sunday was spent in hunting, fishing, getting of stock, gathering wild honey from hollow tree trunks, breaking young horses, shooting at marks, and in foot racing and horse racing; but no labor was done on that day. Peotries and furs were used as money. Deer skins passed from hand to hand at the value of three pounds to the dollar. Raccoons and muskrats were numerous, and their skins in great demand. 


A favorite form of merry-making was the "shucking bee." To these festivities gathered both old and young, for miles around. Sides were chosen, and equal piles of corn in the husk placed before them. Those who had made records as the best corn huskers were made captains, and the contest was on. Whichever party first finished husking its pile was the winner. The lucky finder of a red ear was entitled to a kiss from the girls. 

After they had feasted upon the fat of the land, came the dance. The only music was the violin, and "fiddlers" were in great demand. "They often danced all night and went home with the girls in the morning," some on foot, some on horseback, the only mode of conveyance. 

At weddings, there was the run for the bottle. A bottle was filled with whisky and decorated with ribbons. the judges held this at the end of a mile course, and all who had pride in their fast horses, entered the race. 

There had been introduced a fine blooded horse, noted as a racer. Soon there were many fast horses in the settlements. horse races became common. Everybody talked about them and went to see them. At these races, business was transacted, horses swapped, and debts paid. They had foot races, wrestling, jumping and shooting matches here. Small kegs of whisky were brought to the races on horseback, a keg in one end of the sack and a stone in the other, thrown across the saddle. Notwithstanding the boisterous nature of these gatherings, they were a means of education to the people, both morally and socially. 

After 1800, game of all kind became scarcer, and the people began more and more to depend upon farming. Wheat was cut with sickles or reap hooks, and threshed by being trod upon by horses. Cotton was raised, and for years it was believed that his crop would thrive here. In later years flax was raised and made into clothing. 

The great drawback to farming was the want of a market for the produce. It was a long distance to town, and when they arrived there they found no demand for the produce they had brought. To reach the cities on the Atlantic coast by overland route was out of the question. Some trade in tobacco, flour and live stock, sprang up with New Orleans. 

When these pioneers did go to town, which was seldom, they would often see for the first time, improved articles for the house or farm. For these they exchanged vegetables, grain or live stock. A farmer having seen for the first time, in the Black Hawk war, a team of horses driven abreast, sent for a set of double harness; but when they arrived he found himself totally unable to fit them to the horses, and had to send a long distance for a man who knew how to put the harness, horses and wagon together properly.