In New Lenox Township was embraced the larger portion of what, in the early times, was termed the Hickory Creek Settlement — a neighborhood celebrated for its hospitality, and for more pretty girls, perhaps, than any section of the county, unless we except Homer’s famous Yankee Settlement, and with it, Hickory Creek was, in this respect, a foeman worthy of its steel. There are many old grizzled fellows still to be found whose countenances become animated, and whose eyes kindle with pleasure, as they recall the pleasant reminiscences of Hickory Creek Settlement — of the quilting parties, “kissing-bees” and miscellaneous gatherings of young and old. How, at those little parties and upon those interesting occasions, they followed the poet’s advice,
“We won’t go home till morning, Till daylight doth appear,”
and throughout the long Winter night kept up the fun, untrammeled by society rules or modern etiquette. A newspaper correspondent, writing under the-name of “Styx,” describes a “kissing-bee” he attended there in the good old days of the long ago. With such interesting and innocent little plays as “Old Sister Phoebe,” “Green Grow the Willow Tree,” “Johnny Brown” and all others of like character, laid down in the programme, the night waned, and as the first faint streaks of dawn began to gild the eastern horizon, they decided to wind up the affair with one grand kiss all around. The girls were placed in line, and the boys were each to begin at the head of the line and kiss all the girls. As the business proceeded, one little dark-eyed lass, who stood at the foot of the line, exclaimed, impatiently, “Why don’t you kiss at both ends of the line, and get through quicker.” This remark brought the performance to a close rather abruptly, by some one remarking at the moment, that it was “broad daylight and time to be off home.”
New Lenox is known as Township 35 north, Range 11 east of the Third Principal Meridian, and is well drained and watered by Hickory Creek and its North Fork. These streams, at the time of early settlement, were lined with fine forests, much of the timber of which has since been cut away. Perhaps one-fourth of the town was timbered, while the remainder is prairie, much of it rolling, while some of it is so uneven as to be termed knolly. It is intersected by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, and the Joliet Cut-Off of the Michigan Central, the history of which is given in another department of this work. The township is devoted almost entirely to farming and stock-raising. Corn and oats are the principal crops and are grown in abundance, while much attention is devoted to raising and feeding stock, of which large quantities are shipped from this section annually. Taken altogether, New Lenox is one of the wealthy towns of Will County. Its population, in 1870, was about 1,120 inhabitants.
The first whites to erect cabins in the Hickory Creek timber, were, probably, two men named, respectively, Joseph Brown and Aaron Friend, but of them very little is known. They were here as early as 1829, and Friend was a kind of Indian trader. He always had a rather rough set of French half-breeds and Indians around him, and when the latter moved West to grow up with the country, he followed them. Chicagoans used to come down, and they would get up a ball at Friend’s; and once upon a time, some young fellows from Chicago had their horses’ tails shaved there. He went to Iowa after the retreating Indians, and died there, when his wife came back to Illinois, and went to live with her daughter, on what was then called Horse Creek. Of Brown, still less is known beyond the fact that he died here in the Fall of 1830. In 1830, the Summer and Fall preceding the deep snow, several new-comers settled on Hickory Creek. Of these, perhaps, the Rices were the first, and came early in 1830. They were from Indiana, and consisted of William Rice, Sr., his son William, and their families. They laid claim to the place where William Gougar afterward settled, and where his son John Gougar now lives. They built a log cabin on this place and had broken five acres of prairie, when John Gougar came on in the Fall of 1830 and bought them out. After selling out to Gougar, they made a claim where the village of New Lenox now stands, put up a shanty, and, after a few years, moved out somewhere in the vicinity of the town of Crete, where some of the family are still living. In September, 1830, John Gougar came from Indiana and, as stated above, bought Rice’s claim. A man named Grover had been hired by the elder Gougar to come out with his son and assist in preparing quarters for the family, who moved out the next June. William Gougar, Sr., was a native of Pennsylvania, but moved to Ohio in 1818, and, in 1822, to Indiana, where he resided until his removal to Illinois, and to this township, in the Summer of 1831. As already noted, he settled on the place where his son, John Gougar, now lives. William Gougar, Jr., another son lives within a mile of the village of New Lenox. He went to California during the gold fever of 1849-50, and remained about three years and a half, during which time he did reasonably well in the land of gold. The elder Gougar died in 1861. John Grover, who, as stated, had been hired by Mr. Gougar to come out with his son in 1830, brought his family with him and remained with the Gougars a year or two. He then made a claim in the Haven neighborhood, where he lived four or five years, then sold out and moved down near the present Will County Fair Grounds. Here he made a claim upon which he lived several years, when he finally sold out and removed to Iowa, where he died. Mrs. Stevens, a daughter of Mr. Kercheval, mentioned below, remembers Grover and of his being out on the prairie one cold day when the piercing wind caused his eyes to water, which froze on the lashes, until he became totally blind for the time, causing him to lose his way, and to nearly freeze to death before he succeeded in reaching home.
Lewis Kercheval came from Ohio and settled in this township, arriving on the 19th day of October, 1830. His wagon was the second that crossed the prairies south of this section of the country. In his trip to the new country, in which he designed making his future home, he had no way-marks across the trackless prairies but his own natural judgment as to the direction of this promised land. The compass, then unknown, except to a favored few, he did not have, and thus was forced much of the time to travel by guess. Upon his arrival here, he erected a tent in which to shelter his family until he could build a house, or cabin, as the habitations of the early settlers were usually called. This tent was simply four posts driven in the ground, with slabs or puncheons laid across for a covering, and quilts hung around the sides. He cut logs in a short time, and raised a cabin when his wife and daughters, who were anxious for a more substantial house than the tent, “pitched in” and assisted the husband and father to “chink and daub” this primitive palace. Perhaps it did not deserve the name of palace, but it was their home in the wilderness, and as such a palace to them. In two weeks from the time of their arrival, their house was ready and they moved into it. Mr. Kercheval seems to have been a man of the strongest sympathies and the most tender heart. Mrs. Robert Stevens, a daughter of his, now living in the suburbs of the city of Joliet, and from whom we received much of the information pertaining to the early settlement of her father in this section, says she has often seen him shed tears over the hardships his wife and little ones were forced to undergo in these early times. His first Winter in the settlement was that of the “deep snow,” the epoch from which the few survivors who remember it, date all important events. During the time this great fall of snow remained on the ground, and which was four feet deep on a level, he used to cut down trees, that his horses and cows might “browse” upon the tender twigs. With little else to feed his stock, from sleek, fat animals in the Fall of the year, they came forth in the Springthose that survived the Winter — nothing but “skin and bones.” He would sit down and weep at the sufferings of the poor dumb beasts, and his inability to render them material aid in the way of nourishing food. But it used to exhaust his wits to provide food for his family at all times during that first Winter. Once they run out of meal, and though he had sent to Chicago for a barrel of flour (the mode of communication with Chicago not then being equal to what it is at the present day), it was long in coming; and before its arrival the larder had got down to a few biscuits, laid aside for the smallest children. Mrs. Stevens says her father declared if the flour did not come he would take as many of his children as he could carry on his back, and attempt to make the settlements, but good luck or Providence was on his side, and the barrel of flour came before they were reduced to this extremity.
A sad story was told us by Mrs. Stevens, who, though but a little girl of fifteen or sixteen years of age at the time, remembers the occurrence distinctly. It was of a family who had settled near the present village of Blue Island, and during this deep snow their store of provisions became exhausted, and the husband and father started for the settlements to procure fresh supplies. Being unavoidably detained by the snow, the last crumb disappeared, and the mother, in the very face of starvation, started for Chicago, as is supposed, to get food for her children, and got lost on the prairie and was either frozen to death or killed by wolves. The former supposition is probably the correct one, and after freezing was devoured by wolves, as nothing was ever found but her bones, which were recognized by her shoes. Her children were discovered by some chance passer-by when almost starved to death, and were taken and cared for by the few kind-hearted people in the country at the time. The husband’s return was a sad one. His wife dead and eaten by wolves, and his children cared for by strangers, it would almost seem that he had little left to live or care for. The reader will pardon this digression, but it is given in illustration of the privations experienced by the few settlers in the country during the time of the deep snow; and to return to the original subject, Mr. Kercheval, we are informed, hauled most of the provisions consumed by his family during the first year, one hundred and fifty miles, from the Indiana settlements. He died in February, 1873, a man honored in the community where he lived, and a much-respected citizen.
Samuel Russell came from the Nutmeg State among the very early settlers, and bought land of Gurdon S. Hubbard, of Chicago. He settled in this township and lived here for a number of years. Judge John I. Davidson came out in the Fall of 1830, and bought Friend’s claim. He was originally from New Jersey, but had lived some time in Indiana, and after purchasing the claim of Friend, returned to Indiana, and removed his family to the settlement in the Spring of 1831. He had two daughters, one of whom married a Mr. Thompson, and still lives in the township, while the other married a man named Higginbotham, of Field & Leiter’s, Chicago, and is living in that city. Joseph Norman was from Indiana, and settled here in 1830, before John Gougar, of whom much of this information is obtained, came to the settlement. He eventually returned to Indiana, and died there a number of years ago. A man named Emmett was here during the Winter of 1830-31, but where he came from, we do not know. He went off with the Mormon Prophets and Elders, and perhaps became one of their “big guns.” A man of the name of Buck also spent that Winter here, and he, too, turned Mormon, and followed the elect to Nauvoo. The Winter that Buck spent in this settlement, which was that of the deep snow, he had nothing in the way of bread during the entire Winter except that made from two bushels of meal, and yet he had a wife and three children. He had two cows, one of which he killed for beef, hung her to the limb of a tree, and when he wanted meat, would take an ax and chop off a piece of the frozen cow. John Gougar gave him half a bushel of corn, which, with his two bushels of meal and cow, was all that he is known to have had to keep his family during the Winter-Gougar once found him during the Spring in the Woods gathering what he called “greens,” and asked him if he was not afraid of being poisoned. He replied that one would act as an antidote to another. John Stitt was another Indianian, and settled here in 1831 or 1832. He moved to Missouri, where he died a few years ago. Col. Sayre settled here probably about 1829, as he was here when John Gougar came, in 1830. He lived alone, was either a bachelor or widower, and as he had few associations, living a kind of hermit-life, little was known about him. He built a saw-mill near where the Red Mills now stand in Joliet Township, though he lived in New Lenox Township. Mansfield Wheeler, who settled on Hickory Creek in 1833, went into partnership with him in this mill.
Cornelius C. Van Horne came from New York, and settled in this township in 1832. He was a man of considerable prominence and intelligence, and is noticed elsewhere as holding many positions of importance. He died in Joliet several years age. The following incident is given in “Forty Years Ago” as illustrative of Van Horne’s bold, outspoken way of giving vent to his honest convictions. In 1840, an old man, over six feet high, came through the settlement, making his way to his former home in Pennsylvania, on foot. He was troubled with some kind of nervous affliction which often ended in fits of a rather serious character, rendering him entirely helpless and at the mercy of whoever might find him. He was found in a fit in an old blacksmith-shop near where Samuel Haven lived, when it was discovered that he had a considerable sum of money upon his person, and he was taken to the house, of one McLaughlin. After recovering partially, he went on his way, and nothing more was heard until he was found in another fit, near “Skunk’s Grove,” and in his mutterings were something of having been robbed, and search revealed the fact that his money was all gone. In a few days he died and was buried by charity. Suspicions rested upon McLaughlin as having robbed the old man. Van Horne was outspoken and made no hesitation in avowing his belief as to McLaughlin’s guilt. The matter was taken up by the grand jury and a bill found against old McLaughlin’s son, principally through the instrumentality of Van Horne. The young man gave bail for his appearance at court, and when the term came on he started on foot for the town, as he gave out, but he never made his appearance at the Court House. The Van Horne party said he had run away to avoid trialthe McLaughlins alleged that he had been foully dealt with, and charged it upon the Van Hornes, whom they charged as being the real robbers of the old man, and were afraid to have young McLaughlin’s case tried, lest the truth should come out. The excitement run high. Old McLaughlin spent days in traveling up and down the creek and searching in the woods, ostensibly for his lost son, while others, feeling some sympathy for him, assisted in the search. In the old mill-pond, just above where the Rock Island Railroad crosses Hickory Creek, was discovered a wagon-track running by a blind road from one of the Van Horne’s, and from where the wagon track terminated a wheelbarrow track to the mill-pond. The wheelbarrow was found in the mill and upon it some hair. The pond was dragged and the body of a man considerably decayed was found. Old McLaughlin was told of the discovery, and he said that if it was his son certain teeth would be missing. The body was examined and found to correspond with the old man’s description. The excitement was intense and public opinion divided. The Coroner held an inquest, which resulted about as satisfactorily as such things generally do. Old McLaughlin and his wife swore positively that they believed the body was that of their son, while many others believed it too tall, aged and too much decayed. But notwithstanding these discrepancies, the Coroner’s jury found it to be the body of young McLaughlin, and while they did not bring a charge against any one, old McLaughlin swore out a warrant and had Van Horne arrested. And in the excitement and division of sentiment, many were ready to hang Van Horne without judge or jury. It became an object to those who sided with Van Horne, and who did not believe the body “sat on” by the Coroner to be that of young McLaughlin, to find out whose it was. At length, some one thought of the grave of the old man who had been robbed, and a delegation was sent to examine, when it was found to have been recently disturbed, and when the coffin was opened, it was tenant-less. In the mean time, a surveillance had been put upon the post office, and a letter having come for old McLaughlin, mailed somewhere in Pennsylvania, it was opened by consent of the Postmaster and found to be from the missing son. The tide of public opinion had changed when the discovery was made at the grave, and now those who had been so eager to hang Van Horne were still more eager to hang McLaughlin and his wife. The development of the matter shows that old McLaughlin, his wife and son had conspired to ruin Van Horne, and that they had dug up the body of the old man, taken it to the mill-ponda distance of two milesexamined it closely enough to detect the missing teeth, or extracted them on purpose to make it correspond with the son, and then deposited it in the water. They had taken the wagon of Van Horne and drawn it to the creek and back to turn suspicion on him. The old man got wind of the turn affairs had taken upon the opening of the letter, and made his escape before the infuriated people could get hold of him, or perhaps the historian would have the melancholy duty to perform of chronicling a sure-enough murder story, instead of one with the murder left out.
Samuel Haven was also a New Yorker, and settled in this township in 1835 or 1836. He had four sons, viz., Dwight, Carlos, Rush and Alvin. Rush Haven is a physician, and lives in Chicago; Carlos died here, and was buried in the little cemetery of New Lenox village; and Dwight and Alvin are still living in the township. Joseph S. Reynolds was from Ohio, and settled in the town in 1833. He had lived some time at Ottawa before coming to this settlement. He died some twenty-five years ago, but has sons still living in the township, who are honored and respected citizens. Jason Rugg and David Hartshorn came from Vermont in 1836, and settled near where the village of New Lenox now stands. They had made arrangements for removing here in 1832, but rumors of the Indian war going on at that time deterred them, and their coming was postponed until the date given above. They have both been dead several years, and both sleep in the pretty little village cemetery. James C. Kercheval was a son of Lewis Kercheval, mentioned in an earlier part of this chapter. Though but a boy, he took part in the Black Hawk war until the settlers were forced to flee to the older settlements for safety. He died in 1873, and his widow is still living in the town.
The Francises came from Ohio, but were originally from England. John Francis, an Englishman, removed from England to Ireland in the year 1690, settled in the county of Cavan, and married Jane McGregory, a Scotch lady, whose father fled from Scotland to Ireland in the time of the persecution waged by the Catholics against the Protestants. They had two sons, William and John. William died when a young man. John married Mary Sharp, by whom he had five sonsWilliam, John, Richard, Edward and James; and three daughtersMary, Jane and Margaret. John married Margaret Cranston, of Scotland, by whom he had two sons. James married Esther Ingram. William married Jane Love, who was of Scotch ancestry; and Jane married Alexander Meharry. William Francis, who married Miss Jane Love, had four sons — John L., Thomas, Abraham and Isaac; and three daughters — Jane, Margaret and Mary. William Francis, who married Jane Love, emigrated from Ireland in the year 1815, and settled in Brown County, Ohio, where his family all remained until the year 1831, at which time Abraham married Mary Ann J. Davison, of Adams County, Ohio, and moved with his brothers Thomas and Isaac to the site where the widow of Abraham Francis now lives with her son, A. Allen Francis, in the town of New Lenox, Will Co., Ill. The next Spring, Mary, with her husband, Aaron Wear, came and settled on the section just west of Abraham Francis. Thomas removed to Bates County, Mo., where he died two years afterward. Aaron Wear removed to Morgan County, Mo., in the year 1857, where he died a few years later. Abraham Francis had five sons and six daughters, of whom four sons, A. Allen, John, Charles and George L., and four daughters, Margaret (wife of N. P. Cooper), Mary A. J. (wife of John S. Blackstone) Lydia E. (wife of A. S. Haven), and Addie A. (wife of Jesse Meharry), are still living, and all but two of them live in their native town, New Lenox. Abraham died on the place where his widow now lives, an active, intelligent lady, apparently but little beyond the prime of life. She was married when but 16 years of age, and came at once to Illinois, and with her husband made a home where she still lives, awaiting the summons to join the companion of her youth, up beyond the blue sky. She relates the following of Father Beggs, the pioneer Methodist preacher: He came to their cabin one day, soon after they had settled in the neighborhood, and asked where her father was. She told him he was at home in Ohio. He then inquired what she was doing away out here in the wilderness, so far away from her father’s; when, with naivete, she answered that she “had come here with her husband;” at which revelation he seemed a little surprised, from her childlike appearance. John Francis, another of her sons, is living within a short distance of her; while a married daughter, Mrs. Cooper, also lives in the immediate neighborhood. The four sons reside on one street, and their farms join each other, making a continuous stretch of two and a half miles. Henry Watkins, father of the pioneer school-teacher, came from New York and settled in New Lenox Township in the Fall of 1831, where he lived until his death, about fifteen years ago. Of others who settled on Hickory Creek at a very early period, we may mention Michael and Jared Runyon, Isaac and Samuel Pence, Joseph, Alfred and James Johnson, and Henry Higginbotham. There were, perhaps, others who are entitled to mention as early settlers, but their names have escaped the few who survive them. Higginbotham bought out Col. Sayre in 1834, and the saw-mill firm before alluded to became Wheeler & Higginbotham. The Johnsons settled near the line of Yankee Settlement, on Spring Creek. The Pences and Runyons were among the very early settlers. The Pences were in the settlement before the Sac war, but the exact date of their coming is not remembered. Edward Poor, an old soldier of the war of 1812 and of the Black Hawk war, is living on Maple street with his son, Robert Poor. He first settled in Homer Township, where he receives further notice.
As stated in the beginning of this chapter, settlements were made on Hickory Creek as early as 1829, which were among the first made in Will County, perhaps Plainfield, or Walker’s Grove having a little the precedence. As a natural consequence of this early settlement, births, deaths and marriages occurred here at an early period. The death of Mr. Brown, mentioned as one of the first settlers on the Creek, who died in the Fall of 1830, was the first death in this township, and is supposed to be the first person who died in Will County. The first marriage was Miss Anne Pence and Thomas Ellis. The marriage took place on the 4th of July, 1834, and was a part of the programme of the “day we celebrate,” and the happy event was solemnized in Joliet, by B. F. Barker, a Justice of the Peace. This wedding is graphically described in “Forty Years Ago,” to which our readers are referred for particulars of the bridal costume and “fixins.” It is also supposed to be the first wedding in the county. The first white child born in New Lenox Township, and perhaps in the county, was Elizabeth Norman, born in January, 1832, and Margaret Louisa Cooper, nee Francis, was the next child born in the township, and was born the 3d of January, 1834. The first practicing physician in the Hickory Creek Settlement was Dr. Bowen, now of Wilmington, and the first preacher was Father Beggs, or Rev. Mr. Prentiss, who located in Joliet in an early day. We are informed by A. Allen Francis, who derived the information from the man himself that Joseph Shomaker was the first settler in what now comprises Will County, probably arriving in the Spring of 1828, in what is now known as Reed’s Grove, in the township of Jackson. We have it from Mr. Francis, also, that the first marriage in the county was that of Jedediah Woolley, Jr., of Troy Township, to Betsy Watkins, daughter of Henry Watkins, of New Lenox Township, January, 1832; and that Father Walker preached the first sermon, in 1832, in the fort or blockhouse, and Stephen Beggs, the second.
The first mill was built by Joseph Norman, on Hickory Creek, about 1833 or 1834. Col. Sayre’s mill was built previously, but was just over in Joliet Township. The first bridge was built across Hickory Creek, near John Gougar’s. It was built of logs, and was a rough affair. The township is well supplied with excellent bridges at the present dayhaving two iron bridges of improved patent, one across Hickory Creek, at New Lenox village, and the other across the north branch, while there are a number of excellent wooden bridges of substantial build. The first road laid out was the State road from Chicago to Bloomington, but was a little off the direct route, and was never used. The first traveled road was from Joliet east to State line, and passed by Gougar’s. The first post office was kept at Mr. Gougar’s, though C. C. Van Horne was the Postmaster. This was not only the first post office and Postmaster in New Lenox Township but in Will County. The mail was carried on horseback from Danville to Chicago. Sometime after its establishment in 1832, the office was removed to Joliet, and Dr. Bowen became Postmaster. The first Justice of the Peace was C. C. Van Horne. The present Justices are: T. G. Haines and Dwight Haven. Township Clerk, Sinclair Hill; Township Treasurer, T. G. Haines, and John Francis, Supervisor. Since township organization, the following gentlemen have represented the town in the Board of Supervisors: J. Van Dusen, 1850; A. McDonald, 1851; B. F. Allen, 1852; G. McDonald, 1853; J. C. Kercheval, 1854-55; D. Haven, 1856-57; J. C. Kercheval, 1858; D. Haven, 1859-60; Allen Francis, 1861-63; T. Doig, 1864; D. Haven, 1865; T. Doig, 1866-67; D. Haven, 1868; T. Doig, 1869; C. Snoad, 1870-71; John Francis, 1872; P, Cavenagh, 1873; John Francis, 1874, and is still Supervisor.
The first school was taught in New Lenox Township in the Winter of 1832-33, by C. C. Van Horne. In the Summer of 1832, a schoolhouse had been built in the timber on Hickory Creek, which was a small log structure, and in this building Van Horne taught the following Winter. John Watkins, the pioneer teacher, taught in this house afterward. He, it is said, taught the first school in Chicago. The school facilities of New Lenox have increased since that day, as, in 1872, the reports showed 8 schoolhouses; 366 pupils enrolled; 14 teachers; amount of special tax $2,896.88; amount paid teachers, §2,210.13; total expenditures for the year, §3,342.57; balance in treasury, §1,338.96. The first church edifice built in New Lenox Township was the Methodist Episcopal Church, erected in 1850, and was called Bethel Methodist Church. Before this church was built, services were held in the schoolhouses, and before schoolhouses, in the people’s cabins. The Mormons were the first who preached in the settlement, and used to promulgate their heavenly revelations as early as 1831, and next after them came the Methodists, who are mentioned as the first “real, sure-enough” preachers. The camp grounds of the Methodist Church, belonging to the Rock River Conference, located a little west of the village of New Lenox, in a beautiful grove, are very beautiful, and admirably adapted to the purposes for which they are used.
The name New Lenox was taken from Lenox, N. Y. The first Supervisor under township organization was J. Van Dusen, and came from Lenox, N. Y., and when asked to name his township by the County Commissioners, gave to it the name of his native town. Previous to that it was known as Van Horne’s Point, from a point of timber near the center of the town, and at a still earlier date it went by the name of Hickory Creek Settlement. Maple street is a road running through the north part of the town from east to west, and was so named in consequence of the first settlers planting a number of maple trees along the line of the road. On the political issues of the day, New Lenox is pretty evenly divided. Some years ago it was largely Republican, but with National Greenbackers and Democrats, the Republican majority has been whittled down to the little end of nothing.
As this is one of the early settled portions of Will County, its history could hardly be considered complete without some special reference to the Indians and the Sac war of 1832, so often mentioned in these pages. Although nearly a half-century has passed since those rather “ticklish” times, and most of the participants are gone where “wars and rumors of wars” come not to disturb their peace and tranquillity, there are a few left who remember well the great excitement of that period. And the very Indians themselves are almost forgotten by the masses, or only remembered through the reports from the distant West of their robbing, plundering and murdering. But on the 18th day of May, 1832, Hickory Creek Settlement, for the small number of inhabitants it contained, perhaps was about as excited a community as one will generally meet with in half a life-time. On that day news was brought to the settlement of the death and destruction being dealt out by Black Hawk and his dusky warriors. A committee of a dozen men who had the best horses were appointed to go to Plainfield and reconnoiter, and bring back news as to the truth of the reports. Thomas and Abraham Francis were on the committee, and the news brought back was not calculated to allay the existing excitement in the least. On approaching Plainfield, they discovered Indians firing on the fort or blockhouse, and the committee stood not on their retirement, but fell back precipitately, to put it into the mildest form possible. On their return, they reported ho the settlers that the Indians were coming and killing everything before them. A council of war was called at “Uncle Billy” Gougar’s, and it was determined to seek safety in flight, and on the 18th of May they commenced the line of march. The majority retreated toward the Wabash settlements, while some few went to Chicago. The bustle and excitement of getting ready to start, and the momentary expectation of hearing the terrific yells of the savages, gave rise to some ludicrous scenes, as serious as was the cause of alarm. Mr. Pence’s girls came to Mr. Gougar and asked him to yoke up their oxen for them. “Yes, in a minute,” said he; but before he could get ready to do so, the brave girls had yoked the cattle themselves, hitched them to the wagon, and were gone on the way toward safety. (Young ladies of Will County, how many of you could perform such a feat to-day, if an emergency should arise to demand it?) The first day the cavalcade arrived within four miles of the Kankakee River, where they encamped for the night, intending to start at daylight and drive to the river before breakfast. But just after starting the next morning, a man named Lionbarger came up hatless, riding bare-back, and did “a tale unfold” of Indians in pursuit and of murder and carnage, that completely dispelled the appetites of the already frightened fugitives, and they did not stop for breakfast until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and “thirty miles away” from their encampment of the previous night. As the women and children would see the trees along the way that had been burned and blackened, they would shriek, Indians! and thus the march or retreat was continued through to a place of safety. It was discovered afterward that Lionbarger had mistaken fence-stakes for Indians, and hence his story of the pursuit and of his own extreme fright. He rode, it is said, eighty miles without stopping, bare-headed and without a saddle, a feat that has never been excelled, as we are aware of, even by Jim Robinson the great bare-back circus-rider. But the storm of war soon passed; the dark and lurid clouds rolled away toward the west, and the sun came forth in all his glorythe olive-branch of peace waved over the land, and the fugitive settlers returned to their claims in July of the same year which witnessed their precipitate retreat, never more to be disturbed in their peaceful pursuits by the red men of the forest, who, like Dickens’ little Jo before the “peeler,” have moved on before the “superior race,” the white men, and are still moving on toward the “golden sunset,” where erelong they will hear the roar of the last wave that will settle over them forever.
The Village of New Lenox
This pretty little village is situated on the banks of Hickory Creek, and on the Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, thirty-three miles from Chicago, and about six miles from Joliet. It is surrounded by a beautiful grove of timber, and grand old forest-trees shade it in Summer and protect it against the storms of Winter. The village of New Lenox was laid out in 1858 by George Gaylord, of Lockport, and surveyed by A. J. Mathewson, County Surveyor. The village is known on the original plat by the name of Tracy, and was given in honor of the General Superintendent of the railroad at the time of the laying-out of the village. But with a modesty rarely met with in the present day, he shrank from such notoriety, and at his urgent request, the name was changed to New Lenox, to correspond with the name of the township. A man of the name of Robinson built the first residence in the village, and Van Horne put np the next one. Both of these were built before the village was laid out. David Letz built the next house, which is now a part of the hotel kept by Doxtader. The first storehouse was erected by Paschal Woodward, who owned both the building and the stock, though it was managed by a man named Haines. The first post office was established in 1858, and John B. Saulsbury was appointed the first Postmaster. The mail-bags are now handled by Ward Knickerbocker. An excellent grain warehouse, was built by Samuel Woodward, and is now owned by the railroad company and rented by George Hilton, who handles grain pretty extensively. The first schoolhouse was built long before the village was laid out, and stood just across the street from Ward Knickerbocker’s store. The present handsome school edifice was built in 1869, is a two-story frame and cost about $3,000. Prof. Frank Searles is principal of the school, and employs an assistant during the Winter season. The following is a summary of the business carried on in the village: Three stores — W. Knickerbocker, Tunis Lynk and George Hilton; three blacksmith-shops, one grain warehouse, two wagon-shops, one hotel, one tin-shop, one physician — Dr. F. W. Searles. J. B. Saulsbury carries on a butter-factory, which is quite an establishment, and adds materially to the importance and business of the village. He does not make cheese, but devotes his entire attention to the manufacture of butter, and works up from four to five thousand pounds of milk daily, which is made up on shares for his patrons.
The village has two pretty little churches, viz.: The Methodist and Grace Episcopal. The Methodist Church was built in the village in 1859, and is the same, as mentioned in another page, as being built in the township in 1850, and called Bethel Church. It was taken down in 1859 and moved to the village and new material added to it and the present edifice erected, at a cost of about 91,000. It has about sixty members, under the pastorate of Rev. George P. Hoover. Allen Francis is Superintendent of the Sunday school, which is well attended. Grace Episcopal Church was opened to service in September, 1870. It is a frame building, painted stone-color, and cost $2,000, with a membership of about fifty, under the pastoral charge of Rev. Mr. Turner. Quite a flourishing Sunday school is maintained under the superintendence of Sinclair Hill. Upon a sunny slope of the village, where the south winds sigh through the forest-trees that shade it, is the beautiful little village grave-yard, where sleep the loved ones, who have gone to their rest. It is a pretty spot and shows many traces of loving hands in the planting of shrubs and flowers above the sleeping dead.
The village of Spencer is situated on the cut-off division of the Michigan Central Railroad, about nine miles from Joliet, and is two miles from New Lenox village. It was surveyed by A. J. Mathewson, County Surveyor, for Frank Goodspeed and Albert Mudge, who owned the land on which it is located. It was laid out in 1856, about the time the railroad was built through this section. The first storehouse erected in the place was the one occupied by Russell Kennedy in 1856, the same year the village was laid out. The post office was established in 1857, and James Holmes was appointed Postmaster, an office he still holds. The first grain elevator was built in 1857 by the railroad company, and, on its completion, was dedicated by a rousing ball, in which the boys and girls of the surrounding country participated to their entire satisfaction. In 1875, H. S. Carpenter built another large elevator, and this, likewise, was similarly dedicated. Indeed, this seems to be the usual mode of opening elevators in this section of the country. It is now operated by W. M. Dudley, who, also, has the other elevator rented, in order to keep other parties out of the business at this point. He handles annually something like 800 carloads of grain — principally corn and oats. The general business of Spencer is two stores, by N. P. Holmes and Knapp Brothers; one saloon, a post office, a blacksmith-shop, a shoe-shop, two grain elevators and one grain dealer. There is neither a church or schoolhouse within the limits of the village. A considerable amount of business is transacted in this little and apparently unimportant village — far more than a stranger would imagine at first sight; but it is in the midst of a rich and fertile region, and immense quantities of grain and stock are annually shipped from this little station.
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.