Biography of Peter Hedrick Nelson

Peter Hedrick Nelson. For fully half a century Mr. Nelson has known Champaign County. The development of its resources and the transformation of its lands from raw prairie into beautiful farms have taken place before his own eyes. In that development he has shared as an individual, has made a name for himself as a substantial and public-spirited citizen, and has acquired those things an ambitious man most desires financial independence, the rearing and training of children to lives of usefulness and honor, a good name and many friends. For many years he and his good wife worked side by side in the mutual task of making a home and bearing their responsibilities as good citizens, and they are now in a position to enjoy the fruits of their well spent earlier years.

Mr. Nelson was born in Jefferson County, Iowa, July 24, 1856. He was the youngest of three children, two sons and one daughter, and is the only one now living. His parents were John and Barbara (Burrough) Nelson. His mother died in Iowa. His father was born in 1824, in the Old Dominion State of Virginia, and died in 1886. When but a young boy he went with his parents, in a wagon drawn by ox teams, over the mountains and across the prairies of the Middle West. The family first halted near Mahomet in Champaign County, but soon proceeded westward to Iowa. John Nelson began life in Iowa as a renter, but about 1862 returned to Illinois and located at Bloomington. From there he removed to Hayworth, and a year later chose a location near Bloomington. For seven years he was engaged in herding and handling cattle for the Orendorf farm along Salt Creek in McLean County. The Orendorfs and the Nelsons were close friends.

About 1865, in the spring, John Nelson and his son Peter brought a herd of cattle into Champaign County. It was customary to drive cattle into this county and keep them during the summer and then return to Bloomington for the winter.

During these early years Peter Nelson had some interesting experiences. At one time he was employed by James Orendorf to cut a cord of wood. He walked a mile and three-quarters to get to the timber, and was paid for his labor $1 a cord. He and his father lived the rough outdoor life of the real cowboy while herding along Salt Creek. In order to get a dining table they knocked one end out of a large box and thus improvised a rude table.

Peter Nelson when in his eleventh year was directed by the Orendorfs to take charge of a bunch of cattle consisting of 202 head. He began his duties as herdsman on the 5th of May and kept the cattle on good pasture until October. He then returned with them to Bloomington, and the cattle, being weighed on the same scales where their first weight was taken, showed an increase of 330 pounds apiece. Perhaps this record for cattle grazed on the open pasture has never been excelled. For this work of five months Peter Nelson was paid $45 a month, boarding himself. While he was in the herd house there came up from Farmer City, seven miles away, a hunter. Half a mile from where the headquarters of the herders were this hunter came upon a great flock of water fowls which in those days frequented by thousands and thousands the marshy places of Champaign County. In two shots from his gun the hunter killed thirty-four ducks, two brants and one goose. Had this been told Mr. Nelson he would not have believed it, but having witnessed the feat with his own eyes he is able to vouch for the complete accuracy of the count.

His father, John Nelson, began life without means and had only such education as was supplied by the old log cabin schools of the primitive style, the furnishings of which were wooden benches and the curriculum of the most meager classifications. He followed agriculture as his life-work, and was a Jeffersonian Democrat and a man of good character. He died in McLean County and was laid to rest in the Bellflower Cemetery.

Peter Hedrick Nelson attended common schools, but through the necessity of work his education was somewhat limited so far as books were concerned. He not only looked after his own prosperity, but cared solicitously for his father during his declining years. When the time arrived for him to start life on his own account he possessed a team and buggy, and the fortune he has since accumulated has been only a just recompense for many years of strenuous labor and effective management. While the years brought him considerable property, Mr. Nelson chose the role of a farm tenant or renter. He was the type of farmer such as any large land owner would delight to have as a tenant. In 1893 he rented a farm from M. W. Hays, and was continuously with Mr. Hays as a renter until 1916. This period of twenty-three years perhaps sets a record, so far at least as information is available, for continuous renting on one place.

Many years ago Mr. Nelson became widely known over this section of Illinois as a stock buyer. Much of his success in life has been due to his enterprise in that direction. He has bought stock from the leading farmers of McLean, Ford and Champaign counties. He has sold not a little of his own stock, and for many years has bred and raised Poland China hogs, Shorthorn and Hereford cattle.

The farm which Mr. Nelson owns and where he and his good wife now” reside in comfort and plenty comprises 320 acres in Newcomb Township. In 1915 they erected there a beautiful home. It is only two and a half miles south of Fisher and is convenient to schools and other advantages which they enjoy. Their home is modern in every detail, is furnace heated and lighted by acetylene. Mr. Nelson also owns property in Fisher.

The real beginning of his life’s happiness was with his marriage on December 14, 1887, to Miss Mary Ann Jervis. To their marriage were born ten children, five sons and five daughters, and nine of the number are still living. Gertrude Irene, the oldest, was educated in the Busey School and is now the wife of Earl Campbell, a practical agriculturist living in Newcomb Township. Mrs. Campbell is a member of the Shiloh Methodist Episcopal Church. Ernest John, the oldest son, completed the work of the eighth grade and for three months was a student in the Illinois Normal University. He married Miss Daisy Hawkins. He is also a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Alta Mae, after finishing the eighth grade, spent one year in the high school at Fisher and has also taken musical instruction. Harry, the second son, had the full eighth grade course and two years in the high school at Fisher. Leslie Dell is now in the seventh grade of the public schools. Cecil Calvert finished the work of the eighth grade and had one year in the high school at Fisher. Randall Linden is now in the eighth grade. Fern Rosetta is attending the sixth grade. The youngest, Lela Hannah, is in the fifth grade of the public schools. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson are to be commended for their earnest desire to give their children the best home and school training.

Mrs. Nelson is a native of England, having been born in that industrial district around Manchester and Liverpool in the county known as Lancastershire. She was born July 24, 1863. She was the third in a family of twelve children, consisting of seven sons and five daughters. Nine of these children are still living, five of them in Champaign County. Her sister Sarah lives in West Lebanon, Indiana, her brother Andy is a resident of Continental, Ohio, and her sister Kate is a milliner at Granite City, Illinois. Mrs. Nelson is a daughter of Andrew and Hannah (Shergold) Jervis. Her father was a native of England and was educated in the National schools there. Farming was the occupation he took up in early life, and about 1864, when Mrs. Nelson was an infant, he brought his family by sailing vessel from Liverpool to New York City and from there to Champaign County. He acquired 120 acres of good land in Newcomb Township and was quite a successful man. Politically he cast his vote for the Republican party. His death occurred January 21, 1900, and he is now at rest in Mount Vernon Cemetery at Champaign. Mother Jervis is still living at Fisher with a daughter. She was born in 1839 and had a common school education. She and her daughter Lizzie reside together at Fisher.

Mrs. Nelson was educated in the local schools of Champaign County, and was well qualified for the duties which she assumed as a home maker. Her children have been all with her, and her practical wisdom and encouragement have many times sustained Mr. Nelson in his work. Their beautiful home is known as the Walnut Dell Stock Farm. It is a home of peace and comfort, of widespread hospitality, and is a favorite resort for the many friends of this worthy couple. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson keep in close touch with the modern world, and they share in its enjoyment. As a means of getting about the country and better commingling with their friends they have a large Case touring car. Mrs. Nelson is a member of the Methodist Church, and they have always endeavored to exemplify the tenets of true Christianity in their lives. They have aided financially in the erection of churches at Osman, Bellflower, Weedman, Walker, Shiloh, Oak Grove, Fisher and Blue Ridge. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson were visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Politically Mr. Nelson is a Democrat. The success he has gained in his own affairs has naturally made him the object of confidence on the part of his fellow citizens and for two terms he was township assessor and for a dozen years or more was a director of his home school district. Thus he has lived usefully and well and played a part among the men of affairs in Champaign County.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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