History of Will County
Although this is the newest township in regard to name, it was, nevertheless, one of the first organized. The territory now embraced within its boundaries was, in reality, Reed Township, though the portion containing eighteen sections of the original forty-four sections recently struck off from the west side now bear that name. The earliest settlements were all made along or near the bank of the Kankakee River, and when the organization of Reed was effected, there was scarcely an inhabitant in Reed outside the present boundaries of Custer. However, as the proposition to "secede" came from the eastern portion, the west end retained the name of Reed, and the east end was left to seek a new one. As Custer Township (it having existed as such only two years), its story would be soon told; but its early history not being included in the one headed Reed Township (that being but little else than the history of Braidwood, whose interests and peculiarities are entirely different), we find it necessary to go back many years. The history of this portion of the county, though not so ancient as that of some others, is yet sufficiently so to give it that desirable flavor which makes a narrative of this kind interesting; for to repeat only what everybody already knows is a task quite as irksome to the writer as it would be tedious to the reader. The township, as now laid out, consists of all that portion of Congressional Towns 32 north and 9 and 10 east, lying southwest of the Kankakee River and east of the section line separating Sections 3 and 4, in Range 9; and is bounded on the north by Wilmington Township, on the east by the Kankakee River, on the south by Kankakee County, and on the west by Reed Township. But little can be said in favor of the soil, as it is usually of a poor quality. Some good farms are interspersed with the sand ridges, but for the most part the land is adapted only for grazing. Doubtless, a considerable portion of the west side of the township has, underlying its surface, a deposit of coal of the same character and quality as that found at Braidwood, and only awaits the miner's pick to make it of equal value. The township is watered by the Kankakee, Horse Creek and another small branch of the Kankakee. The Chicago & St. Louis Railroad crosses the northwestern corner, cutting off an eighth of a section, and furnishing, at Wilmington and Braidwood, commercial facilities for the western part. The Kankakee being navigable for small steamers to the eastern point, an outlet is thus furnished for the upper portion. Though navigation has been improved by the building of the dams at Wilmington, it has in reality been used for that purpose during wet seasons since the earliest settlements of the adjacent country. As early as 1834, the products of the farm were boated down the Kankakee to the Des Planes, and up the latter river to Chicago. It is related that during the year named some parties loaded a boat on Sugar Creek, a tributary to the Iroquois, with 300 bushels of oats, 300 bushels of wheat and some hams, with the design of taking them to Chicago to supply the garrison stations there. The trip down the Kankakee was accomplished without accident or unusual trouble; hut after entering the Des Planes, when near Treat's Island, the boat dipped water and so dampened the grain that they were obliged to unload and try to dispose of their produce at that point. At that time, settlers were arriving in that neighborhood quite rapidly, and they had no trouble in disposing of their whole cargo—the oats at 50 and the wheat at 75 cents per bushel. At present, small steamers owned by Messrs. Small, of Wilmington, and Stephen F. Hanford, of Warner's Landing, ply regularly between these points and Chicago, carrying to that city corn, oats, rye and other products, and bringing back lumber, salt and other heavy articles. The "Landing," which is located near the eastern point of the township, is considered the head of navigation during the dry season, but when the river is ordinarily full, boats can run much higher.
In 1871-72, considerable work was done on the proposed Decatur & State Line Railroad, which was to cross the river at a point a short distance above the landing. Large sums of money were expended and a good portion of the road was ready for the ties. At this time a dozen huge pillars rear themselves from the bed of the Kankakee, over which the trains were to pass, like great-monuments, reminding one of both the sincerity of its projectors, and of what must be the disappointed hopes of them and of the inhabitants of this vicinity. About the time that this work was in progress, the great fire in Chicago occurring, so crippled some of the friends of the enterprise that work had to be suspended. Then it was proposed to interest some Boston capitalists, but before arrangements were complete, a repetition of the Chicago catastrophe also occurred in Boston; and, other reverses following, work has never been resumed. Some hopes are still entertained that the line will yet be completed.
The very earliest settlements occurred between the years 1836 and 1840, Andrew Yeates, Thomas Hatton, Samuel Taft and Nathan Smith were the first who could, with propriety, be called permanent settlers. There were a few others during this period, but as they did not remain long, their mention is not a matter of importance.
Andrew Yeates was a native of Ireland. He was a man of means and ability. It is doubtful if he was ever fully appreciated in the community, as it was not generally known that his education and capabilities were of a superior character. Unlike most emigrants from foreign lands, who come to this country on account of poverty and for the purpose of simply gaining a livelihood, Yeates came with plenty of money, and could have lived without work. He removed to Kankakee County some years ago, and has since died. His widow is still an inhabitant of the township.
Thomas Hatton was a brother-in-law of Yeates. Samuel Taft was a native of New York. Like many others, he was attracted to this neighborhood by the abundance of game, and made its capture and destruction a means of livelihood. At that date, this was one of the easiest means of subsistence. The woods swarmed with deer, turkeys and other game; and the hunter could, in one day, bring down enough to last his family for weeks. The skins of the deer and coon, and the scalps of wolves brought a small revenue, that supplied him with such clothing as the pioneer customs of the country demanded. The river teemed with fish, and these could be caught at all seasons of the year.
After Taft's death, which occurred many years ago, his wife married Darwin Dodd, by whom she has had twenty-four children, all of whom are alive and well. They live in Minnesota. It will not be surprising to learn that Mr. and Mrs. Dodd are thorough "grangers," and believe in ignoring the small merchants and middle-men. They buy directly of manufacturers, hats, shoes, calico and all kinds of eatables not produced on the farm. Nathan Smith, now a citizen of Wilmington and Police Magistrate of that city, is a native of Vermont. He was for a few years a citizen of Wesley Township, and his name appears as one of the first School Directors of District No. 3 in 1841. James Hines came to the township in 1846, by which time had also arrived John S. Hoyte, Joseph Wood, Jeremiah Gray, Elias Winchell, Patrick Judge and R. S. Noble.
Henry Hudson, from Ohio, also came in 1846, and still resides in the township. Hudson carried the mail from Wilmington to Pontiac for nine years, ending in 1854, at which date the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad was completed, and Hudson's services were no longer required.
Stephen F. Hanford is a resident of thirty years. In 1848, he came to this place, and entered, with soldier's land warrant, a large tract of land, of which he still owns over one thousand acres. He is a native of Ohio, and came to the State six years before his advent to this place.
G. H. Blanchard, John Wing, Orlin Miller and Abramand John Wurts had also settled here by 1846.
One of the most prominent and able men who ever resided in this part of the county was Richard Warner, a native of Ohio, who came to this township in 1853. Warner had been a member of the State Senate of Ohio, and had filled other positions of honor. He was for several years Supervisor, and it was largely due to his influence during his occupancy of that office, that the magnificent bridge across the Kankakee at Wilmington was erected. His death, which occurred nineteen years ago, was considered a public calamity. At the time of his demise he was possessed of a large estate.
John Kahler, now a resident of Wilmington, but prior to coming to this county a resident of Pennsylvania, was also an early settler. He farmed here for many years, but old age compelled him to give up agricultural pursuits and engage in lighter work.
Religion in this township is not indicated by church spires, but we do not doubt that there is real, genuine piety here. Though there are no church buildings or organizations, the inhabitants are not without church privileges. On every side in the adjoining townships are churches and buildings—especially at Braidwood and Wilmington—where many of the religiously inclined attend. There being no village within the limits, it has not been a natural abiding place for lawyers or doctors, the people supplying themselves with law, physic and theology at the neighboring towns.
Due attention is given to the subject of education, and five schools are in successful operation, the first of which was established in 1846.
Full school statistics in regard to this township are not obtainable from reports, as the territory embraced in Custer lies in two Congressional towns.
In 1876, the citizens of the eastern portion of Reed Township, seeing that their interests were entirely different from those of the western portion, and that the tastes, habits and pursuits were somewhat inharmonious, petitioned to the Board of Supervisors to be set off as a separate precinct. A majority of the Board coinciding with the views of the petitioners, a division was made as described, and an election of township officers ordered. The tragedy of the brave Gen. Custer and his troops being fresh in mind, the township was named in his honor. The first officers elected were: George Petro, Supervisor; M. L. Russell, Clerk; I. T. Palmer, Assessor, and John Evans, Collector—all of whom continue to hold the respective offices. John Meadern and Lewis Monteith are Justices of the Peace; James Bradford, Constable; Henry Miller, A. G. Taylor and Ira Smith, Commissioners of Highways. The highest vote yet polled was 103.
Warner's Landing, though not a laid-out village, contains a store, blacksmith-shop and other conveniences common to a small country town. Grain is shipped from here in large quantities, as indeed it is the exclusive market for the products of the farm for this neighborhood.
Horse Creek Landing answers about the same description, and affords the same facilities for shipping grain, etc.