History - Customs

When civilized or semi-civilized man set foot in a new country, he brought with him ax, dog and gun. These weapons meant food, and safety. In the early day when one entered a home, somewhere he saw a gun rack, usually over the door, and there were just as many guns as male members of the family who were large enough to handle them. In those pioneer days hotels were few and far between, and many times the traveler was forced to take shelter in an isolated farmhouse. The story is told of a traveler stopping at a farm house for the night; about dusk a stalwart young man came into the room and stacked his gun. Soon another and another came until there were five or six. The traveler was paralyzed with fright thinking he had fallen among a den of murders, but knew not how to escape. When bedtime came the father took up the Book read a chapter and all kneeled in prayer. The travelers fears vanished and he slept as peacefully as if in his mother's trundle bed. This incident may not have happened in Johnson County but it could have.
Just as the head of the house brought his tools of warfare to a new country the housewife brought hers. The spinning wheel, the cards, and loom. The looms were larger and more cumbersome than those now in use, but were very much on the same order. Home manufacture of cloths has long since been discarded, but coverlets of wool and rag rugs are still woven in the county. Everyone does not know the process of putting in cloth in a hand-loom but if they should be obliged to separate warp a thread at a time and hand it to someone on the other side of the gear of a loom, they would possibly appreciate more fully the debt we owe the pioneer. Please don't think that the cards the frontier mother brought, were the little pasteboards decorated with colored spots that are now so necessary to the overworked housewife to divert her mind from the cares of her large family. The cards the pioneer woman had were thin pieces of wood about six by twelve inches with small steel pins on one side and were used for carding wool and cotton. They had a flat handle about the middle of the card so that one could hold a card in each hand. The cotton or wool was put on these little sharp pins one held firmly while the other was rubbed across until the material was all smoothed out. Then it was gently folded together into a lovely soft roll. This was attached to the spindle of the spinning wheel and was pulled out into a thread with one hand while the other one buzzed the big wheel and twisted the thread. This process was continued and soon a large broach of fine or coarse thread for knitting or weaving was ready. The spinning wheel had a body, a large and small wheel, a head, a gear, and a spindle.
The body was raised on legs to a height convenient for one to walk on the floor since it required a great deal of walking turning the big wheel and pulling out the roll, all at the same time, and strict attention to your work, to make the thread the size one desired. There was no button to press or lever to raise to regulate the hand manufacture. The coloring and dyeing were also done at home and in some instances the indigo for coloring the blues was raised in the garden. Indigo blue, madder, cochineal red, and copperas were the principal colors. The following incident related by an elderly lady of the county will corroborate the statement about, at least one of the home dyes. She said she was married the summer of 1853 and moved into a new neighborhood. The following Sunday, she and her husband went to church. The services were held in a brush arbor, made by putting leafy branches of trees on a large frame of forked poles for supports, and straight poles laid across them. This shielded the people from the sun and used because there were no church houses. The minister this day wore trousers made from home woven cotton cloth, colored with copperas and was barefoot.
The thrifty housewife was not content to bring the mere necessities to the new country, but brought seed, both garden and flower, also scions of roses, fruits and herbs, which she divided with her neighbors. Instead of looking over the multitude of catalogues that flood the farm house in early spring and late winter at the present, the women folks visited each other and took home plants, seeds and shrubs for the early planting. Mrs. Harrell who came here with her family from Kentucky about 1820, was one of these pioneer mothers who brought supplies from her yard and garden of her native state. She was the mother of the late Mrs. Minnie Bain, long a resident of this county and she is the authority for this story of thrift. The old fashion garden and its walk through the middle with marigold, larkspur, flowering almond, and fortune grass, chamomile, bachelor buttons, garden pinks and all the old fashion flowers on either side, and the long weedless rows of vegetables beyond the flowers was the pride of the home maker of that time, and no neighborly visit was complete during the growing season till one had been down the garden walk, admired the many varieties of kind and color, and carried away a huge bouquet.
While these pioneer mothers were adepts in the textile art, they not only made the cloth but designed and built their own gowns, tailored their husband's and sons' dress suits, and had ever at hand snowy linens for the tables and beds which were the fruits of their labor. Quilts, blankets, linens and feather beds for the daughter's wedding dower which was in lieu of the hope chest of the present. The following will illustrate the resourcefulness of the pioneer women of this county. An early historian of this state says, "John Grammar was elected to the first Legislature of the Territory from Johnson County. It is said after his election he and family gathered a large quantity of hickory nuts, took them to the salt mines and traded them for blue strouding, like the Indians wore for breech cloths. The neighbor women gathered in to make up the cloth. It was discovered that he had not purchased quite enough cloth to make a full suit, and after measuring and counseling for a time, they decided to make a bob-tail coat and a long pair of leggings. Dressed in these he appeared at the seat of government, continuing to wear his primitive suit during the greater part of the session."
Other trades beside the manufacture of cloth were required of the pioneers. The first settler tanned the leather, made their own shoes, saddles, bridles and harness. Joseph McCorcle owned a tan yard on the east side of town in 1821. A description of an old road says that it was where the road crossed the street leading south from town. The remains of this old yard could be seen there as late as 1875. It was operated in later years by Duke Smith. G. N. Thacker had a tannery in this county as late as 1890, near Pond on the Simpson road.
The law allowing imprisonment for debt was practically abolished in the United States by the beginning of the nineteenth century, but Johnson County kept up the practice much later. If one should visit Edinburg, Scotland, he would be shown the debtor's line, which Sir Walter Scott raced, many times, madly to cross to escape the debtor's prison, while he was writing the Waverly Novels. Johnson County had no such line, but we find Peter Prow and Catherine Crice confined for debt as late as 1816. The following is a description of the plot of the prison grounds as they stood in old Elvira at that time, "Beginning at a large poplar in Judge Finney's lot, running north 46 degrees, east 20 poles, to a high black gum stump, in Isaac Worley's lot, north 38 degrees, west 80 poles to a large sweet gum just below the spring, then south 50 degrees and west 22 poles to a large white oak, then 342 degrees east 81 poles to the beginning. Elvira, Johnson County. Illinois, 1816." Judging from papers served in the court proceedings, Prow was imprisoned at the suit of Weir and Campbell. Catherine Crice's suit was brought by parties from Kentucky.
This was not the only law enforced in this county for the benefit of the merchant. The estate of J. W. Gore paid two dollars interest on nine dollars and seventy cents to W. E. Morris for merchandise as late as 1853. There is no especial spite harbored against our ancestors that their mistakes should be arrayed in print, but one would scarcely think that they trafficked in human flesh. Such, however, is the case. We have only to turn to the records made in the courts to find our early residents bought and sold slaves up to 1814, although Congress in 1784 passed a law saying, "There shall be no more slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the states made from the Northwest Territory."
As has been stated, this county, at its early settlement abounded in game and wild animals. In fact, all kinds of animals found in the Temperate Zone were here. The wolf was an enemy to the early settlers and a bounty for wolf scalps was paid by the county at the rate of fifty cents to two dollars. Since the gun was so necessary at that time, there must be amunition and powder must be made and one could not go out and buy shells ready to put in his gun. Sometimes the ingredients for the powder was hard to get. Salt peter was necessary for the making of powder and great was the joy of the neighborhoods when a Mr. Mercer discovered salt peter in a cave in Cedar Bluff. This is the bluff where the Charles stone quarry is located. Salt peter was found in several other places in the county in small quantities. These first settlers manufactured their own bullets as well. Running bullets, as the process was called. Lead was melted and poured into molds made something like a nut cracker, that opened and shut on a hinge. The melted lead was let cool a minute- the molds were opened, the neck of the bullet cut off, and "there you are." Each one meant a venison steak, a baked turkey or some other delicious game for the coming meal.
The first merchants, possibly storekeepers would be a better name, as that was what they were called in those days, handled very little dry goods or shoes, as everyone made these things for themselves. Their stock consisted, principally of sugar, coffee, tea and liquor, some of the necessary articles not raised on the farm or manufactured in the home. One can scarcely realize how few things were necessities, when money was scarce and there were no markets for products. Real money w r as not always at hand, in fact, salt, salt peter, cattle, hogs, furs, deer pelts, corn and other things of this kind were used in trade instead of money. In one instance, an early resident relates, he used pumpkins in trade with the Indians, getting two pounds of coffee for one Pumpkin, the coffee had been issued to the Indians by the government. Coon skins were also legal tender, for some time after our organization, as the following story will illustrate. The custom of selling whiskey, as has been mentioned, was engaged in by a great many of our citizens. One of our county officers had stocked up and was retailing at a quart for a coon skin. His store was the room in which he slept, and when he bought a skin, he threw it under the bed. There was a large crack between the logs of the outside wall and some practical joker brought in a coon skin and bought a quart of whiskey. Someone went outside, slipped the skin from under the bed and sold it to the officer again, not only once but a good many times during the day. He finally decided he had quite a number of skins and went to count them, much to his surprise there was only one skin.
The early stores were located at cross roads or some farmer would keep a stock of goods in a small house in the yard near his home, if the nearby settlers would justify. In time the peddler made his appearance. He would take his wares in a wagon or cart, travel through the country and exchange them for such things as the settlers had to trade and take the produce to some town or settlement on the river. The merchant with his pack on his back also invaded the country and tempted the house wife with his dress goods, laces and bright colored ribbons. Giles Stewart was the first person to take out retail license to vend merchandise in this county in 1813, and Joshua Gross- the second receiving his license in 1814.
This county was rather a long time in getting access to markets. Mrs. Mary E. Chapman who began housekeeping in the early fifties, said she sold eggs at five cents per dozen and hens for two dollars per dozen regardless of weight. This was before railroads had reached us, but almost unbelievable, since the high prices which were paid for such things during the World War. Eggs sold for eighty-five cents per dozen and hens at thirty cents a pound in our home markets.
Tavern rates in 1828, which were regulated by law, were, meals twenty-five cents, lodging twelve and a half cents, half pint whiskey, six and a half cents, half pint brandy, twelve and a half cents, keeping a horse with feed, corn, hay or fodder, twenty-five cents, single feed for a horse, twelve and a half cents. These prices as against two and one half dollars for one half pint whiskey, from fifty to seventy-five cents per meal in the county, in 1924, show how prices have increased.
Much of our revenue was gained from the manufacture of liquor. All merchants and tavern keepers dealt in it, and home-brew was not unknown, as the court records will show. One William Conway is convicted of stealing two dollars worth of methiglon. This was an entirely new commodity and whether dry goods or groceries, was difficult to determine. Finally a person was found who explained that it was a beer made from persimmons. The name of the maker of the beer could not be deciphered. The penalty was to pay the owner four dollars and a four dollar fine to the court. From this it appears that the makers of home brew at the present have nothing on the pioneers, except the present manufacturer would pay a fine instead of the one taking the beer.
A law of that time which is not now in force, and doubtless, made life hard for many orphans was the binding out of such children as had no parents, by the court. At a court held in September, 1816, Cyrus Butler, an orphan bov about nine years old was bound to Thomas C. Paterson. In a court held the same year Cynthia Davis, a minor daughter of George Davis- deceased, was bound to Jacob Hunsaker Jr., until she arrives at the age of eighteen years, and the said Jacob gave bond and security in the sum of one hundred dollars. At the December session, the application of Mathew Sparks to have an orphan girl by the name of Nancy Collins bound to him, was granted, on condition that the said Sparks file a bond with security to be approved by the court, in the sum of one hundred dollars, to have the said Nancy, well and carefully treated, clothed and given one year's schooling. When she arrives at the age of eighteen years, to give her a bed worth thirty dollars, a good suit of clothes or a full dress fit to wear on Sunday or holidays, over and above her common wearing apparel. The said Nancy is supposed to be about eight years old. Another order is that Jeremiah Collins, an orphan boy of about 12 years old. be bound unto Giles Parmerly, until he arrives at the age of 21, and that the said Parmerly execute a bond of one hundred dollars for his well treating, clothing, and taking care of the said Jeremiah until he is of age, and that he will cause him within that time to be learned to read, write and cipher, as far as the rule of three. And when free that he will give him a good horse, saddle and bridle of a common good quality, which together with the horse shall be worth eighty dollars. The security for the performance of same to be approved by the court.
Such are a few of the obsolete laws and customs which governed our forebears.
The first animal that was used to till the soil or save man from long tramps of distant journeys was the ox which served our pioneers in this as well as all other frontier countries. The wagons in which many of the first settlers came to this county were drawn by oxen. These wagons had long beds which scooped up at each end and were called schooners. They had long 1 hoops fastened on the side board and extending over the top, which were covered with cloth. This protected the family and its possessions from the weather while traveling. Many immigrants to this new country did not even nave wagons but transported their household goods on their own backs or that of a horse or cow or often in a two wheeled cart drawn by the family cow. Oxen were used to draw wagons, carts and plows but not often to ride. J. J. Simpson, a native of this county and nearing eighty-six years old tells the story of riding an ox, when a small boy from his father's farm near Simpson to De Soto, Illinois, a distance oi fifty miles. After the ox as a domestic animal, the horse came into use. He was more fleet of foot and lessened distances, when roads came into use the ox wagons and carts were succeeded by two horse wagons, hacks and buggies. Mr. George Elkins, born in this county in 1825, says he was twenty-one years old before he saw a wagon and team of horses. This team was owned by Stephen Hendricks, and the second one he remembers was owned by Henry Mathis. Mathis hauled a load of shelled corn to Vienna for Mr. Elkins which he sold for ten cents per bushel.
One wonders in this time of rapid transit how people of that period made a journey of any length. The automobile enables one to go from place to place in a few hours which formerly took a whole day or two. This machine has displaced most all other modes of local travel; also the horse for plowing and hauling to a great extent. One would scarcely think an ox would evolve into an automobile, but such appears to be the case. J. F. Farris, an implement dealer of Vienna owned the first automobile in the county, about 1907. It was an auto carriage and some what different from the models of 1924. The number of machines increased rapidly in the county till now, 1924, there are 666.
In this day of railroads, automobiles, and flying machines, one can scarcely realize the inconvenience and infrequency of travel to any distant point. Mrs. Fannie Jackson, daughter of John Bain, tells the story that on one occasion her father was going to Louisville* Kentucky, to buy goods and her mother was going along for the trip. All the neighbors came in to tell her good-bye, and the children from a nearby select school came. It was considered a wonderful journey at that time and many accidents might befall Mrs. Bain, while on the journey. Hence the solicitation of her friends. Another incident was related by an old citizen regarding one of our early merchants in connection with Louisville, which was, that this merchant went as usual to purchase his season's stock of goods. A salesman waiting on him asked him what per cent he calculated to make on his sales. He replied, he knew nothing about per cent but when he bought an article for one dollar, he sold it at home for two. Some of his descendants must have been doing business during the World War.
Farming in a primitive way, of course, was the occupation of the early settler. Corn was the most generally grown grain in the beginning as it was cultivated with a hoe. The grains were dropped in hills or crosses made with a plow. The wheat was sown broadcast and cut with a sickle. One of the first wheat cradles used in this county was made by Ishmael Veach. He brought the scythe or cutting part from Kentucky and made the framework himself in 1825. This more easy method spread and continued to develop until the reaper was invented. Now the farmer hitches up his tractor to his wheat machine, drives around the field a few times and the thing is done. Originally the wheat was tramped or flailed out, but as population increased and markets became accessible the modern inventions were brought in. The Axley Brothers, Jack and Jim, as they were familiarly called, owned and operated one of the first threshing machines in the county, in the neighborhood of West Eden. These threshers were called ground hogs and the power was furnished by horses. The man who could "holler" the loudest was elected to drive, and one could tell where the thresher was located by the noise of the driver then, as you may now know by the whistle of the engine.
The raising of grain for his own use was all the early farmer undertook. There were no markets near and no transportation for any products. A few hogs and cattle, for home consumption, and to supply the local market, were all he needed, and the range was sufficient for the raising of these. The farmer fenced in his field then, to keep the stock out, and not his entire farm, as now, to keep the stock in, consequently not so much fencing was needed, which was fortunate as all fences were made of rails like Abraham Lincoln split and rail making was a very laborious job. The cattle and hogs ranged at will and had cuts on the ears, called marks. Each farmer had his own peculiar way of marking his stock. These were recorded in the County Clerk's office so as to make it easy to settle any dispute regarding ownership of livestock. The mark of S. J. Chapman recorded in 1820 was ''under half crop off of right ear and a slit in the left." In 1814, Benjamin Peters' mark, a half crop out of each ear and underneath a bit out of the corner of the right ear.
The making of sorghum for home use has been an industry of this county since long before the Civil War. To illustrate how customs and good things spread from community to community the story of the introduction of sorghum making in this county, will not, it is hoped, be amiss. Miss Mary Smith, a young lady of West Eden, made a visit to Judge Hugh McGee's in Pulaski County, from where she brought some stalks of sorghum cane, which she exhibited at a gathering in the neighborhood. Pleasant Axley of the same locality went over to the Judges the following spring, and secured some cane seed. That was before the halcyon days of government distribution of seed. That year he raised some cane but having no machinery, one of his neighbors, J. P. West, made a crusher to extract the juice from the cane and Uncle Pleas., as he was called by his neighbors* borrowed all the wash kettles in reach to boil it down. The molasses was not very satisfactory, being black from the iron kettles. He later procured the proper machinery and thus began the manufacture of the famous Johnson County sorghum.
Salt, although needed in small quantities, is a very necessary article in household economy. The salt mines at Equality was the nearest point where that article could be obtained by the residents of Southern Illinois. Since there was no other means of transportation, settlers had to go on horseback, in wagons or cart, and many times one person would bring enough for himself and other neighbors to last a year. Before wagons and wagon roads had come into use the salt was often carried in bags on horseback.
Randolph Casey, whose father settled here in 1808, said when a young man he went as far as Equality to work by the day for fifty cents per day at the salt works, or at other times he would go to the river with other men and cut cord wood, which was used for fuel on boats at fifty cents a cord. They had to pay at that time, fifty cents per yard for calico and factory which is known now as domestic. He further says that when his father first settled here, they had to house their pigs, sheep and young calves to keep the wolves from killing them.
While the men were learning in the school of experience the women were not idle. Our first mothers manufactured their own light. The most primitive light was a lamp made by twisting soft cotton rags or thread into a wick, immersing it in a vessel filled with grease and leaving one end of this wick sticking up over the edge of the vessel, so that it would burn. Next the tallow candle was introduced as a much more convenient light. A candle mold was a part of the furnishings of every household. These molds were made of tin and large enough to hold six or a dozen candles. The wicks, like the grease lamps were of soft cotton, and were pulled through the molds and made tight at each end. Then, oh what a feat! If mother would let you pour in the melted tallow, fill them full, let them stand till cool, clip the knots and out slips some firm, smooth candles, by which the family could read, sew or study. The candle was followed by the oil lamp, but now the Delco has out-classed them all, and with a little engine, hidden around somewhere and puffing a short time each day, the house, barn, and outhouses are made almost as light as day.
For many years all cooking was done by the open fire, often only one fireplace to a home, to heat the room and cook the meals. The families who could afford it had the cranes or pieces of iron, both long and short, with a hook on either end, one to hook over, the long iron rod, extending across the fireplace from jam to jam; the other to hang the pot or kettle on. The bread was cooked on a rock by the fire, in a skillet or oven, if these utensils could be had. The skillets and ovens were made of iron and had short legs, which raised them high enough to put hot coals under them. A heavy iron lid fitted over them which was also covered with hot coals. Sometimes the handy father would build a Dutch oven where bread and pastry were baked in large quantities. The cook stove finally made its appearance even in Johnson County, though not in its present form. In the first ones the back part was higher than the front and was called a step stove, others had the oven on the back part, with a door on one end and looked very much like an old fashioned wood heating stove set on the back of the cook stove. Owen Peterson, father-in-law of F. B. Thacker, living then in the southwest section of the county, owned, if not the first, at least one of the first cook stoves in the county. It was a great curiosity and people came for miles to see it work.

Extracted 09 Apr 2016 by Norma Hass from 1925 History of Johnson County written by Mrs. P. T. Chapman, pages 67-78

Templates in Time