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Bureau County - Early Settlers
Submitted by: Bob Johnson. Source: MAP & SKETCHES OF BUREAU COUNTY, ILL., BY N. MATSON 1867


A Yankee in the city of London, some time after the close of the Revolutionary War, while in conversation with some of the British subjects, said, "Providence in its wisdom never had creaed but one Washington," with equal propriety we might say the same of Bureau County; although there are many counties that may excel in some particular thing, but for health, beauty, quality of land, wealth, public improvement, education, agricultural, and mineral resources it certainly has no equal in the State; in point of population it rates the seventh out of 102 counties - those seven includes large cities within their boundaries, leaving these out Bureau would stand at the head with the 34,000 inhabitants; its 89 miles of railroad and 28 miles of unfinished railraod; its proposed canal, with the Illinois River washing its south-eastern boundary; its eighteen villages; its 204 School-houses; its 58 Meeting-houses; and its large commercial and manufacturing interest-viewing it in all its relations, we are warranted in the conclusion that there is no county equal to Bureau.

*The origin of the word Bureau is not known, it is said to have been the name of an Indian Chief, that lived at one time, near the mouth of Bureau Creek, others say this name is French, and called after a Frenchman by the name of  Bureau, who was one of the early explorers; but I can find nothing reliable on the subject. In old maps, published before the settlement of the country, Bureau Creek had the name of Robinson's River, this is said to have originated in this way; after the massacre of the garrison at Chicago, in 1812, Governor Edwards fitted out an expedition against the Indians at the head of Peoria Lake, when he burned their village - one, Lieut Robinson, who accompanied this expedition with a company of soldiers, came as far north as the Stream, hence the name.


At the time the settlement of this County commenced, the whole northern part of the State was one vast wilderness, with scarcely a house North of Fort Clark (now Peoria), two or three families had settled near Lacon. An Indian trader, belonging to the North-western Fur Company, by the name of Hubbard, had built a cabin  on the Illinois River - opposite the mouth of Bureau - but one family (Captain Haws) had settled on the Oxbow prairie, in Putnam County, with these exceptions, I believe, there was no one living in any of the adjoining counties, or we might say from the Wabash to the Mississippi River.

A person living here, at the present time, can have but little idea of the wild, and yet beautiul appearance of this country, in a state of nature. Here was the rolling prairie, stretching out as far as the eyes could reach, all covered with flowers of every hue, from early spring until late in the fall, intermingled with beautiful groves of timber, where the woodman's axe had never fallen; here too ran beautiful streams of water, as clear as crystal, at all seasons of the year, no ploughman had broke the sod to muddy their fair current.

Such was the appearance of the country, on the 5th day of May, 1828, when Henry Thomas built the first  house within the limits of this County, his location was the Northwest quarter of Section 33, Town of Bureau, on the farm now occupied by Eliss Carter; the same summer Edward Justus and John L. Ament settled at Red Oak Grove, for the purpose of trading with the Indians in connection with farming; in the fall of the same year, Reason Hall built a cabin on Section 34, Town of Hall, near the residence of J. Wasson, but abandoned it for a location South of the river; the next year, 1829, Amos Leonard and Daniel Dimmick settled in Selby; the same year Timoth Perkins settled in eepertown, and John Dixon at Boyd's Grove, and Bulbona, at Bulbona Grove; in 1830, Ezekiel Thomas and Abram Stratton settled in Bureau, and John Hall and Wm. Hoskins in Selby, Elijah Epperson in Princeton, John M. Gay in Wyanet, Dad Joe* at Dad Joe Grove; in 1831, others came in, and many settled on the east side of Big Bureau and built their cabins in the grove, by the side of springs.+

The hardship and inconvenience of settling a new country, few can form a correct idea, deprived of almost every comfort of civilization; there were no roads, no schools, no law, only such as the settlers made among themselves. There was no store or place of trade nearer than Peoria; the only place for grinding their grain was at a horst mill, six miles east of Peoria; most to the settlers pojnded their corn in a homeiny block, and ground their wheat in a coffe mill, and sifted out the bran - living in constant fear of the Indians. The reader will recollect, from 1827 to 1833, the frontier settlers of all the Northwest were frequently alarmed by reports of Indian hostilities. Th settlers on Bureau were out of the reach of protection; there was no garrison nearer than chicago at the time of these panics, some would go South and leave their crops to be destroyed, and their stock to run wild on the prairies; others would send their families off, while they would remain to raise a crop, always keeping a watch for the enemy; sometimes having their guns with them while working in the field, leaving their cabins at night and sleeping in the grove, to prevent being surprised by the Indians.

After Steamboats commenced running on the Illinois River, emigrants could bring their furniture and provisions with them and enjoy many of the comforts of life, but these luxuries the early setters did not have, all they had was brought with them in a wagon, and they had to live in a tent until a cabin could be built. Their living was mostly, hominy and potatoes, getting their supply of meat from game, such as deer and wild turkeys; their sweetening from bee-trees in the grove, which were plentyat the time; their houses were rude cabins, mostly containing only one room, with puncheon floor and a clapboard door hung on wooden hinges, with the latch string hanging out to be pulled by visitors. Stoves, sofas, and carpets composed no part of their furniture; those using tobacco could always find a convenience, in the absence of a spittoon, by spitting through a crack in the floor between the puncheons.

As a general thing the best of feeling existed between the neighbors. A person livin close by was made a friend and associate by the force of circumstances; there was no classifying on account of wealth, all were equal - rich and poor alike - codfish aristocracy was unnknown in those days.

A majority of the first settlers were men of enterprize and intelligence, if I have more respect for one person than another, it is for those who underwent the hardships and have borne the burden of the settlement of a new country.

Thirty-nine years have past since the settlement of this County commenced; how changed things are, no longer the howling of wolves and the yelling of savages; but the Church and School bells, and the whistling of engines are heard in their place.

*Joseph Smith, but was known everywhere as "Dad Joe."
+For further accounts of settlement, see Towns




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