Biography - Harris Ridenhower

HARRIS M. RIDENHOWER, of Vienna Township, Johnson County, was born at Western Saratoga, Union County, Ill., January 23, 1855. His father, Harris M. Ridenhower, was born in Cabarrus County, within fifteen miles of Concord, N. C., January 23, 1824, and his father, Aaron Ridenhower, was a native of the same State. The great-great-grandfather of Harris M. Ridenhower, the subject of this sketch, was born in Germany and was there reared and married. He came to America, accompanied by his wife, in Colonial times, settled in North Carolina, and there spent the rest of his life. His son, John Ridenhower, was born in that State, and lived there during his entire life. Aaron Ridenhower, son of John, was also born in and lived and died in North Carolina, dying in 1824. The maiden name of his wife was Caroline Miller; she was also a native of North Carolina. Her father, John Henry Miller, was born in Germany, emigrated from that country to North Carolina, and settled there. He was a tanner by trade, and was engaged by Ephraim Drake Harris to manage a tannery, but eloped with that gentleman's daughter, Ann Barbara, and married her. Mr. Harris was an extensive planter, and managed several other branches of business besides, His wife was a native of Pennsylvania, of German ancestry. John Henry Miller established a tannery in North Carolina, which he operated for many years, and lived there the remainder of his life. His wife also died in North Carolina. The grandmother of our subject survived her husband many years, and in 1860 came to Illinois and resided in Johnson County until her death, in 1867.
The father of our subject was ten years old when his father died, and he began going to school when seven years old. When his father died his mother was left in rather straitened circumstances, and he was then compelled to assist her in the support of the family, working by the day or month, as circumstances rendered necessary or convenient. When fifteen years old he received but $3 per month and board, except in harvest time, when he received twenty-five cents per day, working from early morning to late at night. After his father's death he had no opportunity to attend school until he was eighteen years of age, but being a very apt scholar, he soon acquired sufficient knowledge to enable him to teach school, and he remained in North Carolina until 1846. As there had been a failure of crops in that State the year before, times were very hard, and corn and wheat sold from $1.10 to $1.50 per bushel, and hay at $10 per ton, and many farmers had to let their cattle starve.
At that time there was a great tide of emigration from North Carolina to Illinois, and Mr. Ridenhower concluded to come to this State also. In March, 1846, with his wife and one child and two other families, one of the two being that of his father-in-law, they started with teams for an overland journey to the Prairie State, bringing with them their household goods, and camping and cooking their meals along the way. Mr. Ridenhower kept a diary of his travels, and in that gives a very interesting account of his trip and a description of the scenery and people and places that they saw. In one place in this diary he mentions crossing the Frost Road, and says that the principal wealth of Mr. Frost, the owner of this road, appeared to be his children, twenty in number. Mr. Frost said that he and twelve of his sons built the road themselves. On April 30 these emigrants reached Pulaski County, Ill., and the following day pushed on to Union County. At that time Mr. Ridenhower's entire wealth consisted of his team, his household goods, and a few dollars in cash, but he immediately found employment in a tanyard near Jonesborough, and followed that occupation a short time, when he engaged in teaching school. He taught in Union County until 1855, when he removed to Johnson County, and was engaged in teaching there until 1860. His time was taken up with his official duties until his death, September 28, 1869. He was a great reader and was for many years probably the best-informed man in this section of the country.
Mr. Ridenhower very early took an interest in public affairs, and when fifteen years old was the champion of the Whig party in the section of country in which he lived. He relates an incident in his early life which he desired to impress on his posterity in order that they may not let their prejudices lead them into the error into which his prejudices had led him. He had the opportunity to enter the office of a Democratic paper to learn the art of printing, but he was so prejudiced against the Democratic party that he refused to accept the offer and regretted this very much in after life, as it quite probably changed the course of his entire life. He was always a strong anti-slavery man and a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, and one of the first in his section to join the Republican party when it was formed. In 1856 there were but two votes cast in Johnson County for Fremont for President, his and that of Merida Spence. In 1860 the Democratic party through an oversight failed to nominate a candidate for Coroner, and the few Republicans there nominated Mr. Ridenhower and carried on an original still-hunt campaign, and, although they cast but forty votes in the county, Mr. Ridenhower was elected. The Sheriff soon died, and according to the laws of the State the Coroner was Sheriff ex officio.
During the war Mr. Ridenhower was appointed Internal Revenue Collector for Johnson and Union Counties, and in 1864 he was elected Surveyor of Johnson County, which office he held until his death. At the time of his death he was a candidate for member of the Constitutional Convention of 1870 for the State of Illinois for the district composed of the counties of Johnson, Massac and Pope, and would, if he had lived, in all probability have been elected, as the candidate who came out in his place after his death was elected by a large majority over the opposing candidate. He married in North Carolina Lavina Miller, a native of Rowan County, that State. She was the daughter of Dawalt and Elizabeth (Canup) Miller. After her husband's death she married George Gibson, and now lives in Goreville Township. She reared nine children by her first husband, viz.: Otto L., Peninah A., Erastus K., Mary A. E., Harris M., Carrie L., Addie M.; Rob Roy, who is now Sheriff of Johnson County; and Fleta. Six of these are living, and all of them lived to maturity.
Harris M. received his education in the public schools of Goreville and Vienna Townships, and he afterward attended the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He began teaching school at the age of sixteen years, and followed teaching, attended school and read law until 1878. He was in that year admitted to the Bar, and has practiced law in Vienna ever since. He soon afterward commenced buying land, and is now one of the largest, if not the largest, land-owner in the county, and, in addition, owns some of the finest town property in Vienna.
Our subject first married in 1878 Miss Augusta A. Hess, a native of Vienna and a daughter of Col. Samuel and Augusta IT. Hess. She died in 1887, and he married January 23, 1890, Nettie L. Beaupie, a native of Metropolis, Ill., and a daughter of William D. and Mollie Beaupie. He has one child by his first wife, Augusta, and by his second wife two children, Ruby and Lavina. He is a Republican in politics, and the only official position he ever held for which he was a candidate was that of State's Attorney, to which he was elected in 1884, and held the position four years. He is a member of Vesta Lodge No. 340,I. O. O. F.; and also of Vienna Lodge No. 248, K. of P. He has considerable literary taste, is a great reader and has written some, both of prose and poetry, for newspapers and magazines, and his collection of books and private library is the best in the county, and said to be one of the best in his section of the State.

Extracted 28 May 2002 by Rick Girtman from 1893 Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope, and Hardin Counties, Illinois.

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