Past and Present of Will County, Illinois
By W. W. Stevens
President of the Will County Pioneers Association
Assisted by an Advisory Board,
consisting of Hon. James G. Elwood, James H. Ferriss,
William Grinton, Mrs. Kate Henderson and A. C. Clement
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Dedicated to the Pioneers of Will County
Custer township was organized, as such and under that name in 1886, but it was settled long before when it was a part of Reed township,—in fact, there were inhabitants in what is now Custer township before there was in Reed township, as now organized. The whole township of Reed and Custer was organized in 1850, under the name of Clinton. Soon after, however, it was changed to Reed, and under that name it continued as one large township until 1886, when the inhabitants of the eastern portion seceded, and set up a township of their own, naming it Custer in honor of Gen. Custer, the Indian fighter. It is a small township containing but twenty-six sections, or ten less than a full congressional township. The soil is usually light and poor, except along the Kankakee river where may be found some very good farms.
The boundaries of the township as organized is all that part of Reed lying southwest of the Kankakee river, and east of the section line running south between sections three and four, in Town 32, Range 9 and 10, east of the Third Principal Meridian. The township is well watered by the Kankakee river, Horse creek and several small streams emptying into it. Settlements were made on those streams as early as the year 1840, and good crops raised there, but the only market was Chicago, and the only way to transport their crops to market was in flat boats, which they floated down the Kankakee, and thence up the Desplaines. On one occasion a boat load consisting of three hundred bushels of oats, three hundred bushels of wheat and a quantity of hams, had successfully navigated the two rivers until it reached Treats Island, at the lower end of Lake Joliet, when it dipped water and so damaged the grain that the owners were obliged to dispose of it there. There was a rush of emigrants into the country at that time, so they easily disposed of their cargo at fifty cents a bushel for oats, and seventy-five cents for the wheat, which was fully as well as they could have done with it had it reached Chicago.
Formerly small steamers plied between points on the river and Chicago, carrying the surplus crops of the farmers, but the dams that made the lack water navigation on the river possible have long since been carried away by the floods, and now the only communication the citizens have is by railroad. The Wabash road which passes through the town, has a station on the south side of the river, which affords every facility for the traffic of the township. There is a postoffice at the station, a store and a grain elevator, so that the people are well supplied in that regard for so small a town. The population of the township at the last census was 610, and the highest vote cast was 149.
The earliest settlements in the town were made about the year 1840 by Andrew Yeates, Thomas Hatton, Samuel Taft and Nathan Smith. There were a few others who came there about that time, but they did not remain long.
Mr. Yeates was a native of Ireland and was a man of means and ability. Thomas Hatton was a brother-in-law of Yeates. Taft was from New York, and was attracted to the locality by the abundance of game that was then to be found there, and that was the manner in which he gained a livelihood. The skins of the deer and coon, and the scalp of the wolf brought him in a considerable revenue. He died many years ago, and his widow soon after married Darwin Dodd, by whom she had twenty-four children, all of whom were alive and well a few years ago. They all removed to Minnesota some thirty years ago.
Nathan Smith was a native of Vermont. He was a man of ability and quite popular in the township. Several years later he removed to Wilmington where he served as police magistrate for several years. He died in March, 1888.
In 1846, James Hines came to the township, and also about the same time John S. Hoyt, Joseph Wood, Jeremiah Gray, Elias Winchel, Patrick Judge, R. S. Noble, G. H. Blanchard, Orlin Miller, Abram Wertz, John Wing, and Henry Hudson. The latter was the mail carrier between Wilmington and Pontiac, from 1845 to 1854. Robert Hawley came there in 1847. Stephen Calhoun and Stephen Hanford in 1848.
In 1849, Ithamer G. Palmer, Martin F. Tilden, Jacob J. Palmer, A. J. Taylor and Hiram Taylor, 1850, W. B. Steward, 1851, William B. Small, 1852, James Curran, 1853, Robert Trainor, Richard Warner and William Trainor.
Mr. Warner was one of the ablest and most competent men the township ever had. He was a member of the state senate of Ohio before removing there, and held other positions of trust and responsibility. After settling there, he was for several years the supervisor of the township, and it was largely through his influence that the bridge across the river at Wilmington was erected. He died in 1859.
John Kahler came there from Pennsylvania in 1859. He farmed there for several years, and then removed to Wilmington where he died several years ago.
Ira W. Smith came there in 1857, and settled on a farm on the bank of the Kankakee.
There are no churches in the township, but there are several around it, so that the inhabitants have no lack of religious instruction. There are five schools in the township, and all in successful operation, the first having been established in 1846.