History of Crawford County by Hon. Ed. S. Wilson

The Robinson Argus, 7 January, 1920
Recollections of a Busy Life--Personal, Historical, Political and Otherwise
by Hon. Ed. S. Wilson
Attorney at Law, State Treasurer 1891-1893
A Native of Crawford County
Over a half Century Resident of Olney, Ill.
Transcribed by Cindy McCachern

In My Early Days

I am 80 years old and am living in a different world from that into which I was born. Its the same old earth, but if I could have shut my eyes when I was five years of age and opened them to day, I would not know that fact. I wish I could remember society and my surroundings then so that I could describe to my readers. What a pity we could not describe our experiences when young truthfully, but that is impossible. When young we take things as a matter of course, and never imagine that they can or should be different in the future. Things and events are natural because, we are born into them.

I was born in a two-story log house, 16 x 20, with a one story leanto of the same size, and all under one roof. At one end of the house was a fire place that would take in a back log three and a half feet long and two and one-half feet in diameter, which lasted two days. At nights after supper, I would sit as a child and build pictures as the log glowed and faded with the fire. I suppose I imagined I was the only person who could see these pictures, as I do not remember that I ever spoke to them to any one, or that any one even spoke of them to me. These logs would burn for forty-eight hours, and it required three men to put them in place. The chimney was furnished with a crane and pot hooks.

Where Cooking Was Done

Much of the cooking was done at the fire place in iron skillets, and a large skillet with a cover and no handle, known as a dutch oven. Before breakfast over this oven was placed on the hearth and filled with three measures of corn dough. And for dinner this bread was cooked and known as corn dodgers, and was the sweetest and best bread ever eaten. Not a live coal was put on or under the oven, only hot ashes, and the same process repeated for supper. Don't imagine this was the only bread, for we had all the forms of wheat bread we have to day.

In this house and lean to kitchen was housed my parents, eight children and two maids, then called hired girls; and I never knew that we were cramped for room. I suppose my mother and the girls recognized that fact. The girls received one and one-half dollars a week for wages, the hired man thirteen dollars a month and board, and they saved money.

Home Spun Clothing

There was no loom in the house, but there was a spinning wheel, and during the summer an extra woman came and spun the rolls into yarn. This was knit into socks and woven into jeans for clothing, the yarn being sent out to a woman who wove it. There were two colors, one gray or butternut, the coloring being made from the bark of the white walnut tree. The blue made from indigo, I believe. My clothing for years consisted in winter of shoes and woolen socks; a shirt of heavy cotton shirting, a pair jeans trousers and a wamus. A wamus was about two yards of jeans drawn in at the neck and belted around the body. One button or a hook at the neck, no underwear, and while I was not uncomfortably warm in very cold weather, I don't remember suffering from the cold. But when out doors I walked more than I rode, and this was the clothing of all people. In summer we dressed more lightly, and the less I had on the happier I was. On Sunday they dressed me, and I had to go to church, and Sunday was the longest, dreariest day of the week, and to me the unhappiest. I was not religiously inclined. I was like some older people I know now, I wanted other people to be good but I wanted to be happy. Can a boy be happy on a hot Sunday dressed up in his Sunday clothes and in a hot church, with the wild birds singing just outside, and the preacher droning in the pulpit on some doctrinal question he knows nothing, and cares nothing about? He would much prefer to be at the "swimmin' hole", or playing mumble peg in the shade of a tree.

The Day of the Indian

The Indians had disappeared, but he was still in the memory of the young men and middle aged. Many men I knew had been in the Black Hawk war and some I knew in the war of 1812, and one or two in the battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed and the British under Procton were defeated by General Harrison, and many an account I have listened to about the hardships the narrators suffered while fighting during Indian raids. Then I would determine when I grew older that I would fight the Indians. Many arrow heads were picked up, and many Indian mounds existed where Indians had been buried. And one large mound I remember of, a soil entirely different from any soil known in that county. Whether it was a burial ground or a look out no one knew.

Wheeled Vehicles and Threshers

There were very few wheeled vehicles on the farm. Sleds were largly used, drawn by oxen. Some wagons there were, the wheels made from cross sections of logs, principally sycamore, I think. The plows were primitive mostly with wooden mould boards. The hoe was used much. The grain was cut by sickle until the cradle came in and the grain was threshed on a threshing floor as in the days of David, either with a flail or trampled out with horses. I have ridden horses to tramp out the wheat until I would have been willing to eat chaff and all rather than ride longer. After being tramped out the chaff was taken out by a faning mill. They were wonderful machines in my mind. It was many years before we had a machine that would separate the chaff from the grain. Next to the hoe and perhaps more important was the axe, and every one was more or less of a woodman. A very important implement was the fro. All the houses were roofed with clapboards made from white oak largely. The plasterer split his lath from timber, usually four feet in length. Lime was made largely from muscle shells, and I presume many pearls were burned in the making of the lime.

Largely Woodland

It was largely a timber country, and the roads were dim in many places, and you frequently followed them by the blaze or notch on the trees, and if you wnt dreaming and lost your marks you had to hunt for them before you could proceed on your journey, unless you knew the general direction, and was woodsman enough to follow that direction. As for me, I can lose myself in a river bottom in five minutes to such an extent that it would take a regiment to find me, and when found I would deny that fact so when a boy I was never sent on a dim trail and never left the beaten track. They knew my limitations in the woods, and when with another, I paid no attention to where we were going. I had no responsibility, and my companion always knew that fact. For a wood land with dim road, I was a ____; so much so that if I were lost the sun was never in the right place, and the compass would never point to the north, everything was wrong but, and I did not know where I was--I was lost, so was the sun, and the compass had gone crazy. Yet how enjoyable were those same woods to me. They were full of life, the squirrels always and sometimes coons or a possum, and on extraordinary occasions a single deer or a doe with her fawn, or an entire herd, all busy. But I was never so fond of them, or they of me, that they would eat out of my hand as I have read of their doing, for those impossible people that writes who know nothing about it have told of. Man is a killer, and all animals who know anything about it know this fact.

What a wealth there were in these same woods. A man who knew them could always find his dinner there six months in the year.

Wild Fruit in the Woods

Paw paws, better than any persimmons--have you ever eaten a large luscious persimmon that had had a heavy frost, that you have seen fall, being shaken from the tree? It's food fit for the gods, and after you have eaten of a dozen, you want no dinner. Then the wild grapes. Of these you could never eat as many as you wanted. The large and small hickory nuts, the pecans and the hazel nuts in their season, the strawberry, the black and dew berry, not all found in the same place, but all in the woods, waiting for you to come and get them. Bugs everywhere; once in a while a snake which on Mother Eve's account you killed, although nine out of ten were harmless. And in some places plums more deliscious than you can find now. I am sure there never was anything more beautiful or sweet than the blossom of the wild crab and pum. On a morning when raid was threatening and they were in full bloom they could be smelled for two or three miles.

But they are gone. No plum thickets now, but a few scattering nut trees and the pawpaw is found only because it will grow under adverse circumstances.

The People and Their Ways

The people who then lived there were North Carolinians, Virginians , Tennesseeans, and Kentuckyans, a few educated families among them, but they were mostly mountain and hill men, and illiterate--illiterate in the technical, not in the general sense. Although they could not read the book written and printed by man, they could read nature and nature's productions. They needed no road nor compass in the deepest woods. There were a thousand indications to tell them which way to go to get to their journeys end. They knew the habits and the habitat of all the animals inhabiting the woods, the trail of the ____, where the wild turkey fed, the time of the day to look for the game they were after. Few of them hunted with a dog. They depended on their eyes and their knowledge of their game as to when and where to find it.

There were some few who were fox hunters, and they would keep a pack of hounds and frequently spend a whole night chasing that animal. Their dog knew what they were after and would hunt or follow no other animal. They, as well as their masters, were out for a fox, and would be led on by no other scent. But like the woods, the fox hunters and their hounds are gone, they are only in the memory of old men and myself, who can just remember the music he heard in the bay of the hounds when he was a small boy, and was told it was a man and his hounds chasing a fox.

Education and Music

There were few books, and those largely being biographical. I remember a life of Gen. Frances Marion, written by Col. Peter Harry. I have tried and tried to get this book but it's out of print and I would be ashamed to ask an old Carolina family to part with their copy if I could and such. There being few books the people had nothing to do after dark and in consequence turned to music and the principal instrument was the fiddle. In all my younger days I never heard but two violinists; but twenty-five or thirty of all I knew when quite young were fiddlers, and some filled the descriptions of Wandering Willie as to what constituted a fiddler. They could make themselves cry with their own fiddle, and you too if you had any sentiment in your souls.

In twenty-five men that gathered haphazard around my father's fire one night, twenty were fiddlers and two violinists, and one fiddler, who was quite drunk and played with his left hand, brought the tears to my eyes, although I was quite small and did not know why I cried.

There were when I first remember few papers circulated, and little mail facilities, the mail maybe twice a week. So we were more or less an isolated backwoods community. The boys were country boys, and their way that of country boys. They knew horses and oxen but not one in all could milk a cow: that was woman's work. But they could shoot a square through the eye with a flint lock rifle, they could sit by a deer lick in a tree and kill the deer by moonlight, they could ride any horse, run and wrestle, and do a day's work when fourteen or sixteen years of age.

The Girls of the Period

The girls--but why try to describe a country girl? Did you ever see a lot of country girls who have never knew what a corset or stay is for whose body has always been free to develop as nature intended; who never saw a powder puff, and who thought she was all right although the sun has painted freckles all over her face, who has never thought a bad thought or done herself or others a wrong. If not, then you have not seen the most beautiful woman--I don't mean handsome-- the world has ever produced. And yet, they were women as simple, as complex, as guileless and as graceful as girls are to day. They fell in love, and they married, and they loved and bossed their husbands and loved and spoiled their children just the same as their descendants will do a thousand years from now because they were women, and that one name tells the whole story.

 

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