Old Brownsville Days
Old Brownsville Days was written by Will Husband, published in
1935. Excerpts are provided here.
To the memory of my dear companion of many years, Who was a descendant of
Jackson county pioneers, and who passed away suddenly, April 15, 1934, this
pamphlet is lovingly dedicated.
IT HAS BEEN one hundred twenty-three years since my maternal grandfather
migrated from Virginia to the Illinois country with his father. Grandfather
was then ten years old, having been born in 1800. The trip was made by
flatboat down the Ohio river to Shawneetown, then an Indian trading post.
From there they drove overland to Kaskaskia ("Kaskia," grandfather called
it). Then, in 1815, the family moved to what is now Jackson county and
settled near where Brownsville was established the following year.
Grandfather said when making the trip to Kaskaskia in 1810 they passed only
two clearings along the entire route of one hundred twenty miles.
Grandfather died many years ago at the age of ninety, but I remember him
distinctly. He was tall and lean, slightly stooped. He had keen, grey eyes,
white hair and beard. Also, well do I remember some of the tales he told of
the days when Illinois was young.
The old gentleman used to tell of Doctor Conrad Will, "Father of Jackson
county;" of Governor Joseph Duncan, "Father of Free Education in Illinois",
who lived in a "white mansion" at the foot of Big Hill; of Captain William
Boon, leader of the Illinois Rangers during the War of 1812, and who settled
at Sand Ridge in 1806; of Alexander Jenkins, the young carpenter who became
Lieutenant Governor, and of his pretty sister. Diza Jenkins, the "Belle of
Brownsville", who married Joel Manning, efficient and grouchy county clerk;
of genial Jesse Griggs, first sheriff of the county, and proprietor of the
Brownsville Tavern; of the Logans and other prominent pioneers who lived in
the Brownsville community in those golden days of yore.
Nights, when the wind moans through the trees — when the rain beats against
the windows and the water drips from the eaves; or on cloudless autumn days,
when the distant, tranquil hills appear to be hazy and mysterious, the
thought seems to wander here and there like a zephyr and finally comes to
rest on those hardy men and women who conquered the wilderness — those men
and women who wore clothes of homespun and buckskin and underwent the most
severe hardships on the wild Illinois frontier. For long, long years their
tired bodies have been resting — many in forgotten graves.
And Old Brownsville, which a century ago was said to be the third largest
town in Illinois; Old Brownsville, first seat of Jackson county, has
vanished! Its site is now a wheat field and there is scarcely a trace left
of the town. And Kaskaskia, the scene of Colonel George Rogers Clark's
brilliant military triumph in 1778, and which became the first capital of
the great State of Illinois, too, has vanished. The waves of the mighty
Mississippi now roll over the spot where the lights of "Kaska" used to
Colonel Clark was only twenty-six years old when he won an empire for the
new American nation by the capture of Kaskaskia and Vincennes, thereby
taking possession of the vast domain from which have been carved the States
of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Colonel Clark was
grandfather's hero, and he delighted to talk about that officer's campaigns
against the Indians.
You see grandfather's father ("Pap," grandfather called him) was one of
Clark's boy soldiers when that intrepid leader captured the above mentioned
posts during the Revolutionary War. Grandfather had the very rifle his
father used in this campaign. It was a long-barreled, heavy, flint-lock gun.
In 1782 ho again carried it when a member of Colonel William Crawford's
ill-fated expedition against the Indians when that officer was captured and
burned at the stake by the savages.
How the story of Crawford's awful fate would chill my blood! And little did
I think then that my future wife would be a descendant of the heroic
Crawford! It has been only within the past few years that I learned that my
father-in-law, the late William Crawford McCormick ("Uncle Billy"), was the
son of Colonel Crawford's granddaughter, and was named in honor of the
The Crawford expedition left Pittsburg in May, 1782, with the object of
punishing the Wyandotte Indians on account of depredations against the
settlers. The expedition marched westward for ten days, but no Indians were
encountered. It was decided to continue the march one more day, then to
return to Fort Pitt in the event the enemy was not encountered. In the
afternoon of this last day's march, the expedition suddenly found itself
surrounded by yelling Indians. It appears that Colonel Crawford (marched
into a trap, as did General Custer nearly a hundred years later when his
command was massacred in the battle of the Little Big Horn with the Sioux
Indians in 1876.
As soon as Col. Crawford realized his predicament, he threw his men into
battle formation and heaver fighting continued throughout the day. Fighting
ceased at nightfall and was not resumed until next afternoon, the Indians in
the .meantime having been heavily reinforced. As Crawford had only 500 men,
some of whom had been killed and wounded in the engagement, he proceeded to
retreat. It was the second day of the retreat that he was taken prisoner by
"Pap was taken at the same time," grandfather would say in telling of the
death of Crawford, "and witnessed the horrible affair; had he not made his
escape, he would have met the same fate." Here is grandfather's account of
the tragedy as nearly as it can be remembered by the writer.
"Pap always said that Simon Girty, the white renegade, could have saved
Crawford's life, had he so willed, but did not do so because he held a
grudge against Crawford. It seems it was because of a love affair. Girty
wanted to marry one of the Colonel's daughters, and Crawford would not give
his consent. Some years later Girty turned renegade and joined an Indian
tribe, over whom he had a powerful influence and led them on many raids
against the settlers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky.
"Crawford was taken to an Indian village, where he was beaten by the squaws
and boys. He was then chained to a post about fifteen feet high. The chain
which held him to the post was just long enough to permit the victim to
circle the post twice, then he would unwind the chain by walking in the
"A large heap of brush was placed around the post, just beyond the victim's
reach, and set on fire. Before the flames got under headway, Colonel
Crawford asked Girty to intercede for him, which the renegade refused to do.
After the fire began to scorch the unfortunate man, he implored Girty to
shoot him and put an end to his misery. Girty was seated on his house a few
feet away, and replied 'Why, Colonel, don't you see I have no gun?' After
hours of torture, the victim fell to the ground and his body was finally
consumed by the flames. The Indians intended to bum Pap the next night, but
he managed to escape through the help of an Indian he had once befriended."
The scene of the Crawford tragedy is in Wyandotte county, Ohio, and a
monument now marks the spot.
Then there was the story of a sad incident which occurred in the hills near
Brownsville when the pioneer period was drawing to a close, or about the
time of the beginning of the Civil War. The story concerned a little girl
who was lured to a lonely spot in the woods and killed by a panther. The
child had been sent by her mother to borrow a: thimble from a neighbor
living about half a mile away. She arrived at the neighbor's house safely,
lingered a few minutes, then started homeward with the thimble.
Full of life, the girl went skipping and hopping along the path through the
forest. It was near the close of a serene day in autumn time, and all nature
seemed calm and peaceful. There was nothing in the surroundings to suggest
danger, even if the sun was getting low.
But hark! What was that? It sounded just like a baby crying! For a wailing
sound had reached the girl's ear. She paused. Again carnie the sound,
seemingly from a clump of brush near the path. She went to investigate, but
on reaching the spot, the sound was deeper in the forest. Thus was the
panther luring the girl to her death by its human-like cry. Again she
followed the sound, unaware of the awful doom awaiting her.
She peered here and there through the underbrush, but no one was there. Then
suddenly there was a savage growl in the branches of a nearby tree. Looking
upward, the girl was terror-stricken to see a large cat-like creature
crouched on a low limb, ready to spring. Its teeth bared, its fierce eyes
ablaze, its ears laid back, and the end of its tail weaving to and fro.
Uttering a frightened cry, the girl turned to run. With an angry snarl the
animal jumped on her, and as it crushed her to the earth, buried its cruel,
sharp fangs into her soft, white throat. There was a sickening crunch, a
gasp, a quiver, and the little form was stilled forever. As the warm blood
gushed from the torn flesh, it was greedily lapped up by the panther. And
that evening while the residents of the community were Seated at their
supper tables, something too horrifying for words was taking place in their
midst. For over yonder in the silent woods, a, little girl was being
devoured by a ferocious wild beast!
Meanwhile, the girl's parents were wondering why she did not return home and
started to investigate the cause of her delay. Upon learning that she had
left the neighbor's house a short time after arriving there, an alarm was
sounded and a search party organized. This party was out all night, but no
trace of the girl was found. The searchers confined their hunt along and
near the path, thinking the child may have fallen and injured herself.
Next morning the search was resumed and more ground was covered. Then it was
that they discovered evidences of the tragedy a considerable distance from
the path. Blood spots, fragments of her flesh and clothes were scattered
about. Further search resulted in finding what remained of the unfortunate
girl buried under leaves beside a log, where the beast had secreted it.
Grandfather said when the search party, all of whom were rugged pioneers,
beheld the ghastly sight every man wept unashamed. Hunters scoured the woods
for the animal and a few days later a panther was killed some miles distant
from the scene of the tragedy which was supposed to have been the one that
slaughtered the child. There are doubtless persons still living who remember
this sad occurrence.
Yes, indeed, grandfather could tell any number of pioneer-day stories — many
from actual experience, and those he had heard told by his father and other
old Indian fighters. He served in the Black Hawk war, which ended Indian
troubles in Illinois. As a soldier in this campaign he carried the old rifle
heretofore mentioned. "Old Trusty," he called it. He enjoyed telling of
running a foot-race with Lincoln during the Black Hawk war. "I thought I was
a swift runner," he would say, "but shucks, Lincoln could run as fast as a
deer and finished the race before I got started." Then, with a chuckle, he
would add, "but I got even with him; I beat him shooting at the mark!"
Jefferson Davis also participated in this war as an officer in the United
States Army, Years later, Abraham Lincoln was President of the United
States, and Jefferson Davis President of the Confederate States, when the
North and South were engaged in deadly combat over the slavery question.
Grandfather's old rifle — the gun that had blazed at Kaskaskia and Vinccnnes
in 1778 and 1779, as well as at numerous other places — the gun that had
made more than one redskin "bite the dust" always fascinated me. It had a
deep dent in the stock where an arrow had struck it in some Indian fight.
After all these years I remember how the old gentleman used to fondle the
historic weapon. "Lad," he would say to me, 'Old Trusty' has been in many a
hot scrap and has done its part in taming the wilderness and spreading
He had a wonderful memory. Important events made an everlasting impression
on his mind; hence, it was an easy matter for him to relate of incidents
that had happened many years before, and to give the exact dates of their
occurrences. Having listened to his narratives of pioneer days, at an early
age I became intensely interested in the history of Illinois, so full when a
fair-sized crowd had assembled, Doctor Will mounted a stump and addressed
the men something like this:
"Fellow citizens, I am glad so many of you have turned out as requested. As
some of you have come a considerable distance, I will at once state the
object of this meeting. It occurs to me that we settlers should take
immediate steps to organize a new county. Kaskaskia is too far away for us
to go to transact our business. We ought to have a county of our own, and a
trading place nearer hotme. Captain Boon and I have been discussing this
matter for some time, and finally decided to call this meeting in order to
get an expression from other settlers. By investigation it has been found
that we have sufficient population in this region to form a new county."
Turning to a man standing beside the stump, he asked:
"Captain Boon, just how many white people live in this region?"
"Nearly twelve hundred" was the reply. "Of course, you understand that this
number includes all the settlers living within twenty miles or more of this
"Then there are approximately two hundred families living in this part of
the country," stated the doctor. "That should be a sufficient number to
answer our purpose. Well, fellow-citizens, what do you think of the idea?"
"The idear is a crackin' good'un!" spoke up one.
"Shore, we need a county all our own," said another.
"Doc, how do we go about gittin' this here new county?" one wanted to know.
"A petition will have to be submitted to the territorial authorities making
a demand," explained the doctor.
"What air we goin' to call our new county?" asked a pioneer.
"That is a matter that will have to be settled later."
“Wal, responded the other. Us fellers that fit, bled and died with Old
Hickory, want the county called Jackson."
Others wanted to name the new county after their heroes and there was a
heated argument for several minutes over this question. Finally, it was left
to a vote, and the Jackson men won.
"Three cheers for Old Hickory Andy Jackson!" shouted the Jackson leader.
These cheers were given in a hearty manner.
After the excitement had died down, Doctor Will again spoke. "I have the
petition already drawn up," he said, "and it is now ready for signatures."
"Say, doc, how about us fellers that caint swing the quill?"
"Make your mark!"
After the petition had thus been signed by those present, Doctor Will
addressed the assembled pioneers.
"Fellow Citizens," he said: "We are making history here today. We have
demanded a county of our own, to be called Jackson. While this region is now
a dense wilderness I look forward to the day when smiling farms and busy
cities will dot this land. Illinois is one of the fairest countries I have
ever seen and it will soon take its place among the great states of this
nation. While it is still a territory, it will be admitted to statehood ere
long. Big things are going to be done in this land during the next fifty
years, for this wilderness is going to be transformed into a land of plenty.
While we who are gathered here will all be gone when that has been
accomplished, I am proud that we pioneers of today are the trailblazers for
those who are to follow. I am also proud that our children, grandchildren
and their children will enjoy the full fruitage of the hardships through
which we must pass in making Illinois the mighty state it is to be! Let us
fondly hope that our sacrifices will not have been in vain."
A hush fell over the assemblage, and the men stood leaning on their guns
with a far-away look in their eyes. Like statues they stood as they caught
the vision which the speaker portrayed, for every true pioneer must have
"Unless I am mistaken," continued Doctor Will, "Jackson county will be a
reality before the spring flowers bloom again!"
There was a triumphant note in his voice, and those of the audience who had
been in deep reverie galvanized to action.
"Hoo-ray for Doc Will!" yelled one. "Let's give him three cheers, boys!"
"Three cheers for Doe Will!"
"Now, three cheers for Cap Boon!"
"Three cheers for Cap Boon!"
"Three cheers for Jackson county!" shouted Captain Boon.
"Three cheers for Jackson county!" thundered the crowd.
When all was quiet again, Captain Boon explained that he would take the
petition to the homes of settlers who were not present, for their
signatures. The crowd then dispersed and started toward their cabin homes
along the streams and among the hills. In due time the petition was
presented to the authorities at Kaskaskia, and on January 10, 1816, the
County of Jackson was created. Until the year 1795 it was included within
the boundaries of St. Clair county. In that year Randolph county was
organized, and for a period of twenty-one years Jackson county formed a part
of Randolph. At the time Jackson county was organized it included what is
now the southern part of Perry county. Its present area is 538 square miles.
On December 3, 1818, Illinois was admitted to the Union, or almost three
years after the organization of Jackson county.
The act under which Jackson county was created specified that the capital
should be called Brownsville. Doctor Will offered to donate twenty acres;
near his salt works on the Big Muddy as a town site. His offer was accepted;
thus was Brownsville founded. It was not a favorable location for a town,
being off the main trail and difficult to reach. Nevertheless, regardless of
this handicap, it was a lively place for years.
Many of the present generation do not know just where Brownsville was
situated. By referring to a map of Jackson county, it will be noted that the
Big Muddy river swings northwestward at Murphysboro, flowing in that
direction some two or three miles, then swerves slightly to the southwest
for a considerable distance. It was on this stretch of the river that
Brownsville was located, on the north bank of the stream, on the dividing
line of section two and three, Sand Ridge township, about five miles west of
Murphysboro. Route 144 now passes within a short distance of the historic
Brownsville was a raw, crude town and the majority of the houses were built
of log. Even Doctor Will, who was probably the most prosperous citizen,
lived in a log house. But, notwithstanding its crudity, it became one of the
largest towns in the state, being exceeded in size only by Kaskaskia and
Shawneetown. Of course, it must be remembered that neither of these towns
were large. Grandfather estimated that Brownsville had a population of four
or five hundred when at its best, about the year 1834.
But the town attracted business from a large territory. It did a large
shipping and receiving business by flatboat transportation. Its streets were
crowded with pioneers, hunters, trappers and Indians. It had quite a large
floating population. Pioneers coming to the county would make Brownsville
their headquarters while seeking a favorable place for a home in the
wilderness. There were several business houses, carpenter shops, blacksmith
and wagon-making shops, also a tannery.
"Doc Will was the mainspring of the town," grandfather said. Doctor Will
came to Illinois from Pennsylvania in 1814, locating at Kaskaskia. He made
that place headquarters for several months while looking the country over.
It was then he learned of the saline springs on Big Muddy. He bought up a
large herd of cattle and drove them to Pennsylvania, returning to Illinois
the following year with his family, making a permanent location at the
springs, where Brownsville was established the following year. He deepened
the springs, then went to Pittsburg in 1816 and purchased thirty cast-iron
kettles from a foundry. Each kettle was of sixty gallons capacity and
weighed 400 pounds. He brought these kettles by flatboat down the Ohio, up
the Mississippi and Big Muddy rivers to Brownsville.
The springs were then equipped with pumps operated by horse-power, which
raised the water into the reservoir from which it was distributed to the
evaporating kettles placed side by side on a long furnace fired with
cordwood. The plant was then ready to make salt, which was done in the
following manner: the heated water in the first kettle was ladled into the
next one, then into the next, and so on until the salt was scooped out of
the last kettle and put out to drip and dry. Grandfather said it required
one hundred twenty-five gallons of water to make one bushel of salt. When
ready for market, the salt was placed in sacks and shipped to Kaskaskia, St.
Louis, New Orleans and other points. Salt was an important item in pioneer
days, a product difficult to obtain, hence the Brownsville Salt Factory
Doctor Conrad Will was a. unique character. He was a physician, salt
manufacturer, merchant and also conducted a tannery. In addition to these
activities, he was also a statesman, serving in the state legislature more
than 20 years. He was of a jovial nature and delighted to play jokes on his
friends. Doctor Will and James Hall, Jr., were delegates to the
Constitutional Convention at Kaskaskia in 1818, in which year Illinois was
made a state, and from that time onward he took an active part in the
destinies of the new state. His death, while a member of the State Senate,
was a severe blow to Brownsville, one from which it never recovered. He
passed away June 11, 1834, at the age of 56 years. "Many of his descendants
and other relatives still live in this county.
Laborers were scarce during the early days of Brownsville and Doctor Will
was compelled to bring slaves from Kentucky to operate his salt works. These
slaves had to be returned to their owners every thirty days for
identification. There were also other slaves in the county at that time,
having been brought from the South when their owners migrated to Illinois.
Slaves were not permitted in the state, however, after the year 1823.
Grandfather use to laugh over a joke Doctor Will played on him when he was a
boy. "One day," he said, "I was in Doc Will's store buying some ammunition.
While I was making my purchase, Doc Will came out of his office and seeing I
was buying ammunition, he told me he wanted some eagle gizzards for medical
purposes; said he would give me a dollar for every eagle gizzard I brought
him. I accepted the proposition and went home in high spirits. There were
plenty of eagles and I figured I could earn a neat sum of money. Doc told me
not to cut the eagles open, as he was afraid I would not do a very good job.
Next day I went out and killed two of the big birds, and hurried to
Brownsville with them. When I took them to Doc's office he proceeded to cut
them open. 'Why, bub,' he said, 'these eagles have no gizzards!' Well, that
made me feel disappointed. I had killed lots of eagles but had never cut one
open, so did not know they had no gizzards. Doc noticed my disappointment,
and gave me a big treat of gum-drops, saying, "Now, bub,' you have learned a
lesson in natural history." All of Doctor Will's jokes contained a lesson
and it was given in such a way as to be remembered."
It was the custom in early days to have log rollings and house and barn
raisings, on which occasions the settlers would gather from miles around.
The women folk often attended these affairs to assist the housewife. At the
end of the day's work there would be a dance or play-party, participated in
by old and young. Doctor Will often attended these social events and was
always the life of the party, entertaining the guests with "wise cracks", or
a comic song or poem. But if occasion demanded, the jovial doctor could also
quote the classics as easily as he could those of a humorous vein. Life was
harsh on the Illinois frontier a century and more ago, and a social
gathering was a great event, one thoroughly enjoyed by those pioneer men and
women who felled trees, grubbed stumps, wove cloth and operated the spinning
Another energetic pioneer was Captain William Boone, who was captain of
the mounted rangers during the War of 1812. Captain Boone first settled in
Jackson county in 1806, along the bluffs in Degognia township. The following
year he moved to what is now Sand Ridge. There his son. Benningsen Boone,
was born in the same year, the first white child born in Jackson county.
Captain Boone originally came from Kentucky and was a relative of the famous
Daniel Boone. Captain Boone has a number of direct descendants living in
Jackson county. He and Doctor Will were close friends and both worked
unceasingly for the advancement of Jackson county. Captain Boone died in the
year 1836 at a landing on the Mississippi river near the present town of
Grand Tower, where he operated a wood yard to supply fuel to steamboats. He
was a frequent visitor to Old Brownsville and trod the streets of the town
that is gone. Captain Boone was the first state senator from Jackson county.
Joseph Duncan, father of the Illinois free school system, located at the
foot of Big Hill about the time Jackson county was created. He served
several years in the legislature and was elected Governor of Illinois in
1834. It was during his legislature days that he originated the free school
bill. Until that time schools were few in the new county, as but few of the
pioneers could afford to send their children to subscription schools. The
first school in the county was taught in the home of Captain Boone, at Sand
Ridge in 1806-1807, Captain Boone paying the teacher's salary.
Alexander Jenkins came to Brownsville with his father in 1817 and learned
carpentry. One of his sisters, Diza, married Joel Manning, county dork;
another sister married Doctor Logan and became the mother of the famous
General John A. Logan. Alexander Jenkins was elected lieutenant-governor in
1834. Thus, the governor and lieutenant-governor were citizens of Jackson
county. It was during the Duncan-Jenkins administration the state capital
was moved from Vandalia to Springfield.
Jesse Griggs, first sheriff of Jackson county, was an early comer, having
settled in the county on the Big Muddy in 1804. He also conducted the
Brownsville tavern a number of years, during which time he served as
sheriff. In early days, the county officers were appointed instead of being
elected, and as Griggs served until about 1836, is evidence he was an
efficient officer. He resigned office and moved to Missouri.
A young man named Wilson was sent to Brownsville from Kaskaskia to act as
temporary clerk until the official clerk, a gentleman named Humphries,
became familiar with the duties of the office. Wilson acted as clerk only a
few months. Humphries served until his death in 1820, when Joel Manning was
appointed to fill the vacancy. Wilson later became
Judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Very little is known of Manning. He
was said to be of a positive nature and sometimes inclined to be somewhat
"grouchy." After serving as county clerk several years, he moved to northern
Illinois and died there.
Elections in pioneer days were simple affairs. When election day arrived,
the citizens entitled to vote assembled at Brownsville and voted VIVA VOCO
for candidates of their choice on national and state tickets, important
issues were also voted on in this manner. As elsewhere stated, county
officials were appointed to office. This custom prevailed many years.
Election days and muster days were big events in Brownsville a century ago.
For a number of years after the war of 1812, the militia law required every
able bodied man to perform military duty and to drill every month of the
year. The battalion drills, however, occurred only twice a year. Naturally,
the drill ground for Jackson county was at
Brownsville. Batallion drill days always attracted great crowds. It was then
the old pioneers greeted friends and acquaintances, exchanged stories,
swapped horses and dogs; in short, had a good time in general. A barbeque of
venison was also one of the attractions of these occasions.
While the barbeque was in preparation the military exercises were conducted.
Fifes would shriek and drums would roll, while the men marched and counter
marched. Muster days gave the company officers a grand opportunity to swell
up with pride, strut and "bawl out" the awkward ones. Then came the feast!
After the "inner man" had been properly taken care of, there would be foot
races jumping and wrestling contests and various other sports. Sometimes, on
these occasions, the pioneers would partake of a little too much hard cider
during the excitement, and fights were not uncommon. To take care of this
situation, those who were inclined to make a few fistic passages at one
another were taken to the astray pen on the river bank. There the
belligerents would be allowed to fight it out, while the spectators sat on
the top rails of the pen. Grandfather said no weapons of any kind were used
in these fights. The men stood up to one another and fought "fair and
square." He said they went at it "hammer and tongs'" until one man whipped.
Then the fighters would shake hands and be friends. On one such occasion,
while the victor was pouring water for the vanquished one to "wash up", the
latter remarked, "Well, you licked me all right, but your woman can't whip
my woman!" Indians would attend these muster day exercises and look on with
solemn dignity, grunting "ugh, ugh", instead of laughing at some comical
The pioneer boys had their company of militia. John A. Logan was captain, of
this boy company. Even at that early day he displayed the military genius
which made him famous. Years later, many of Logan's boyhood companions
followed him to victory through some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil
War. Doctor John Logan, father of the general came to Brownsville, in 1823,
married Elizabeth Jenkins and settled five miles east of Brownsville, now
the site of Murphysboro.
At the time Jackson county was organized, all the settlements in Illinois
were in the southern part of the state, along the Ohio and Mississippi
rivers. The central and northern portions of Illinois were occupied by
Indians, as was also the interior of southern Illinois. The most formidable
tribe was the Kickapoo. The "grand village" of this tribe was not far from
the present city of Springfield.
The Kaskaskia tribe was formerly the strongest in Illinois, but after they
moved to the Mississippi river about the year 1700, they lost much of their
former prowess. Shortly after they made this move, a Catholic mission was
founded near the Kaskaskia Indian village, which later became the site of
the town of Kaskaskia. Many of the Indians became converted under the
teaching of Father Morest, who had charge of the mission. Father Morest,
like other pioneers, went through severe hardships and his situation was a
most discouraging one. "Our life," he writes, "is passed in roaming
through the thick woods, in clambering over hills, in paddling the canoe
through lakes and rivers, to catch a poor savage who flies from us and who
we cannot tame neither by teaching nor caresses."
Father Morest seems to have been highly successful, however, for he later
made the following report: "Christianity has softened the savage natures,
and they are now distinguished by their gentle and courteous manners, so
that many of the French have intermarried with their daughters. Moreover, so
find in them a spirit of docility and ardor for the practice of Christian
virtue. The fervor with which these neophytes frequent the church at the
different times of service is admirable. They break off from their
occupations and run a long distance to arrive in time. They generally
terminate the day by holding assemblies in their homes, where the men and
women, forming, as it were, two choirs, recite the rosary and sing spiritual
hymns to a late hour of the night."
The Kaskaskia Indians had frequent fights with the Shawnees, who lived along
the Wabash river. It was finally mutually agreed to have a fight to settle
the matter, the victor to have possession of the hunting grounds. A certain
day was appointed in the autumn of 1802 when the battle was to occur. When
the day arrived both tribes faced one another near the Big Muddy river in
what is now Franklin county. After several hours of severe fighting, the
Kaskaskias were forced to retreat. A running fight followed, which continued
throughout the day. When they reached what was later known as Six Mile Pond,
in the southern part of Perry county, the once formidable Kaskaskia tribe of
Indians made what was to be their last stand. A desperate fight ensued at
this point, but the tide was against the Kaskaskias. Realizing the
seriousness of their situation, a runner was dispatched to the town of
Kaskaskia for reinforcements. But before the runner had time to reach town
(it was later learned he made the run of more than 20 miles in two hours)
the Kaskaskias were again forced to flee. The Shawnees followed them up to
within a few miles of Kaskaskia, killing many of the retreating Indians. For
years their bones could be seen along the historic Kaskaskia trail. The
Kaskaskia tribe never recovered from this severe blow and declined from that
time onward. Chief John Du Quoin was the leader of the Kaskaskia tribe in
Chief Du Quoin later lived near the present town of Du Quoin, which was
named in his honor. When General Lafayette visited Kaskaskia in 1825, a
daughter of Chief Du Quoin was introduced to the General, at which time she
exhibited a medal which had been presented to her father by General George
Washington during the Revolutionary War. Chief Du Quoin was well liked by
the citizens of Kaskaskia, which feeling was reciprocated by the Chief. When
he died a few years after making his last stand, he was buried in the white
cemetery at Kaskaskia. The young brave who made the famous run during the
fight, lived at the Indian village on Kinkaid creek until the Indians were
removed from Illinois to Indian Territory in the latter 1830's.
No wheat was raised in Jackson County at the time of its organization.
During those early years the majority of the pioneers ate corn bread or
"pone". Much of the bread was made of meal made on the premises where the
corn was grown, by pounding the corn in a mortar. Here is the way meal was
made before any mills were in the county, as told by grandfather:
"You first cut off a block from a big log, standing it on end like a
butcher's block, only it had no legs under it. Then a fire was made on top
of the block, burning it out dish-shaped until you got it as deep as you
wanted it; then the charcoal was scooped out. You then put this corn in the
hole and crushed it. A small maul was used for a pestle. This was made out
of a pole about six inches in thickness, and for the first foot full sized;
then the pole was whittled down so as to make a handle. With that pestle and
mortar you then lit in on the corn and crushed it into meal. The meal was
then sifted with a hand sieve, the coarse part put back and crushed again."
Pioneers who did not do their own "milling" in the above described manner,
were compelled to go to Kaskaskia for their meal. The mill at Kaskaskia,
known as Edgar's mill, also made flour, as wheat was raised in that
vicinity, it being a much older settlement. If the pioneers wanted flour to
make a wedding cake, they could obtain it at the Edgar mill.
Boys generally went to mill astride a horse, using a sack containing two
bushels of corn for a saddle. The boys would fish or play games while
waiting for their "turn". There would generally be several boys at the mill
at the same time from different points in the county. The boys considered a
trip to the mill as a pleasant holiday. The mill owner would deduct
one-seventh of the corn as toll.
General Edgar obtained possession of the historic Kaskaskia mill in 1795.
Before that it had been owned by a Frenchman, but had gone to wreck long
before Gen. Edgar purchased it. The former owner, whose name was Paget, was
killed by Indians. One day while engaged in operating the mill, a band of
Kickapoos attacked the place. A negro escaped through one of the windows and
hurried to Kaskaskia to give the alarm, (the mill being situated on the east
side of the Kaskaskia river, opposite the town.) When reinforcements
arrived, Paget was found on the floor, his body cut to pieces. He had been
scalped, his head cut off and thrown into the hopper.
One of the first mills in Jackson county was operated by John Bower, on
Kinkaid creek, about three miles from Brownsville. This was a water mill.
About this time, probably 1830, a little wheat was being raised in Jackson
county and the mill ground both corn and wheat. It also had an up-and-down
saw for sawing lumber. This was hailed as a great improvement. A few years
later a mill was built on Beaucoup creek and operated by Dillinger brothers.
Five acres of wheat was considered a big crop and had to be cut with a
mowing blade. A man received one dollar per day for supplying the power to
operate this harvesting machine, while the binders were paid seventy-five
cents per day.
The cost of food did not cause much worry for the residents of Jackson
county during Old Brownsville days. Grandfather said when fresh meat was
needed, all one had to do was to take his rifle and go a short distance from
the clearing and kill, a deer or wild turkey. If the appetite demanded
something different, there were thousands of wild ducks and geese on the
lakes in the bottom. Wild pigeon also served as meat. These were so numerous
that they hid the sun when in flight. They were not hunted with a gun, but
were killed at night while on roost. They had certain roosting places and
hundreds would be found on one tree, hence it was an easy matter to make a
big kill. The pioneer produced most of his foodstuff and clothes, depending
on wild game for meat.
Brownsville continued to flourish until about 1835, when it began to
decline. There were several reasons for this. Doctor Will, its leading
citizen, died the previous year and his various enterprises ceased
operation. Again, settlers began locating in the northern and western
portions of the county and they demanded a more central county seat. While
this matter was being discussed, the court house at Brownsville was burned
on the night of January 10, 1843, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the
birth of the county. But very few records were saved, and for this reason
records of pioneer days are few. After the destruction of the court house
Doctor Logan offered to donate twenty acres as an inducement to relocate the
county seat on his farm, where Murphysboro now stands. His offer was
accepted and the new town was started. Many citizens of Brownsville moved to
Murphysboro, same of them wrecking their buildings and taking them along.
Other buildings were bought by various persons and removed. Thus, in a few
years the town had vanished.
When Brownsville was established in 1816 the population of Jackson county
was about 1200; now it has a population of nearly 40,000. At that time not a
bushel of wheat was grown in the county. In normal years it now produces
approximately 500,000 bushels per annum, and greatly exceeded that figure
when the grain was more generally grown. In Old Brownsville Days it is
doubtful if the county produced 25,000 bushels of corn; now in normal
seasons it yields more than a million bushels. Also, |a great abundance of
other crops is now produced which were not raised in pioneer days. For
instance, in a recent year the total crop value of Jackson county amounted
to nearly $3,000,000!
Jackson county is also rich in natural resources of various kinds. It has
long been a producer of an excellent grade of coal, and contains oil and
gas. While the oil industry in this locality is now dormant, only a few
years ago the Ava field was producing millions of cubic feet of natural gas
per day, as well as considerable oil.
A century ago "railroads were just coming into being, and there was not a
foot of trackage in the entire state of Illinois; today Jackson county is
traversed by the Mobile and Ohio, Illinois Central and Missouri Pacific
railroads. It is interesting to note that the latter line passes through the
site of Old Brownsville.
When Jackson county was being settled, pioneer's traveled over dim trails in
ox-drawn wagons; now her people ride in luxurious trains, speed in
automobiles along concrete highways, or fly over the country in airplanes!
There was only one newspaper in the whole of Illinois Territory when Jackson
county was created in 1816 — The Illinois Herald, published at Kaskaskia;
today there are five papers in Jackson county alone.
One hundred years ago, when Brownsville was the business center of Jackson
county, Chicago consisted of only a few huts; today Brownsville is gone and
Chicago is the second largest city on the American continent, and as these
lines are being written, is entertaining the whole world with its
magnificent Century of Progress Exposition!
The telegraphy electric light, telephone and all other modern inventions now
used by residents of Jackson county, were undreamed of back in the year
1833. What a change since Brownsville Days!
A century is considered a long span of time when mentioned in connection
with the age of a person, yet it is a brief period when considering the age
of a state, nation and objects of nature. For instance, many forest trees
are yet standing in Jackson county which were full grown long before Old
Brownsville Days. This county is still young.
But gone are the Indians! Gone are the pioneers! Gone is Brownsville! The
same hills are still there, and the same sun still shines that once smiled
on the old town. The same moon sends forth its beams to play on the rippling
waves of the same river, just as it did a century and more ago. But no
longer does the gentle voice of the pioneer mother, singing sweet and low,
float out on the evening air. For the pioneers are gone! Nor do the candle
lights gleam at night through the windows of the little cabin homes on Big
Muddy, as of yore. For Old Brownsville is no morel Like a wild rose it
bloomed and withered away.
Not without thy thrilling story,
Old Jackson, Old Jackson,
Can be written the State's story,
Old Jackson, Old Jackson,
On the record of thy years.
Old Jackson, Old Jackson,
Gallant John Logan's name appears,
Old Jackson, Old Jackson,
Boone, Conrad Will and our tears,
Old Jackson, Old Jackson,
Boone, Conrad Will and our tears,
Old Jackson, Old Jackson.
Brave men and women of Old Brownsville Days, your descendants most lovingly