I have often wondered why our ancestors from Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee stopped off in Southern Illinois to settle when looking for new land. I have found some reasons.
The first reason was that after George Rogers Clark and his soldiers had conquered Southern Illinois from the British during the Revolutionary War, it was annexed to Virginia. Later, some families from Virginia came and settled here.
Next, settlers from Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee came after hearing about the availability of land from these earlier settlers.
Another reason was that the land in Southern Illinois is similar in many ways to the land they had left in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee. Our land is mostly rolling land with hills. When these settlers saw prairie land, they did not think it was farmable. They thought, if the prairie land wouldn’t grow trees, how could it grow a crop of any kind. Also, they needed trees to build their cabins and houses.
They could have, I suppose, built a house out of sod as was done in some places in the Dakotas and Montana. I have seen pictures of one built in that area by a cousin of my maternal grandfather. I know I would not want to live in a sod house although I guess they are well insulated against the heat and the cold.
So our ancestors settled on the type of land they were familiar with. They cleared forests of trees and built their houses, barns, and rail fences out of the logs from the trees. They farmed the cleared land with their farm implements pulled by horses, mules, or yokes of oxen. Times have really changed since my ancestors came to the Norris City area between 1814 and 1854, before Norris City existed.
I mentioned in my last article, that today, it seems like it takes a long time to drive a car from Nashville, Tenn. to Norris City, Ill. I wonder how long it took in the early 1800s to come in a wagon over this same route from Nashville.
I have driven a wagon pulled by one horse, two horses, four horses, and a team of mules, but I have never driven a yoke of oxen. I imagine a yoke of oxen plodded on at a slow pace, slower than the pace of horses and mules.
Roads were not paved highways and bridges over rivers and streams were scarce in the early 1800s. Sometimes trails had to be cleared ahead and rivers and streams had to be forded by swimming the wagons and teams across the streams, or by making flat boats from logs cut and tied together to haul the wagons and teams across the streams.
Several years ago I looked at an old Indian Creek Township Trustee Minute Book of their township meetings. Road commissioners did not exist back then. Each farmer was assigned the responsibility for a certain amount of the road in the area of his property. They had to keep these roads in good repair, and they were responsible for whatever the cost was to maintain these roads. There was no tax money for roads back then. Of course, back then, neighbors helped each other out in everything from farming, building houses and barns, putting up meat for the winter months, and with the road work.
Our pioneer ancestors wouldn’t know what to think about our present times which are so different from theirs.
Anyone with comments on these articles or having information or pictures to share with the readers of these articles, please contact me at Edward Oliver, P. O. Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869, telephone 618-378-3176, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.