Early Settlers of Martin, Illinois

The first settlements were, of course, along the river, and most of those who broke the land here and put up their little cabins along the Mackinaw, still live here, enjoying the well-earned fruits of their early privations, trials and hopes.

John Wiley and his sons, William, Lytle R. and Silas W., came here from Indiana in the fall of 1835, the year that the land came into market, and entered land on both sides of the Mackinaw, near the head of the timber belt. The elder Wiley made his little home, with the help of his sons, then young men, on the south bank of the stream, where Silas has lived until this year, near the bridge. Here the old gentleman lived and died, and Silas remained on the homestead. As soon as the older sons got their father’s farm into good working order, they took up land on the north side of the stream, and commenced making homes for their future families. They were induced to come into this part of the country by the Pattens, who were relatives of theirs, and had preceded them. William built a house, and married in 1841. Eight children were born to them, most of whom are living. He owns and works a farm lying in this and the adjoining township.

Lytle R. Wiley remembers well the early days here. The fall of their migration was rainy and unpleasant. The roads, where there were any, were muddy, and there were no bridges over the streams. The first winter, there was excellent sleighing, though not as good as the recent one of 1878-79. He never has seen a winter equal to this. At first, they went to the mill at Kankakee. There was later a horse-power mill at Cheney’s Grove, which they sometimes patronized, and sometimes went to Ottawa. At certain seasons of the year, the patronage at these distant mills was tar beyond their capacity to grind, and the settlers had to go prepared to camp out for a week around about the mill, waiting for their turns. There was no voting place nearer than Pleasant Hill, and there they had to go until township organization was effected in 1858. The nearest store was at Bloomington, and, in case of sickness, they went there for a doctor. They brought some stock with them, and had great trouble with wolves. Sheep were a necessity to the early settlers; without them they did not know how to clothe themselves; but it was almost impossible to save them from the depredations of wolves. During the early years, there was no money to be had. The breed of hogs then known in these parts would hardly pass muster as ” lard hogs ” in any wellordered market. Cattle and horses were good, and easily raised, but there was no demand for them for cash. What the pioneer had to eat or wear he must make or raise, and store-clothes were at a discount. They raised some wheat, which, by hauling to Chicago, would bring 50 to 60 cents per bushel, but it ,was a good two-weeks, trip to go and return. When Lytle got ready to go to Indiana and marry, he decided to build the best house in this neck o’ woods. The house still stands to show its good workmanship. It stands at the road near his present residence. The logs were all nicely hewn, and evenly laid up, framed in at the corners, rather than notched; the gable-ends clapboarded ; the rafters and roof-hoards were sawed stuff. This was in 1843, and sawed lumber could be procured then. The shingles still cover the roof which were put on thirty-five years ago, and, until recently, there was no leak in it. In 1865, Mr. Wiley built his present residence, which is a large, roomy building, and cost, at the time it was built, $3,000. It was the largest and finest house in this part of the country. It stands exactly on the line between Section 4 in Martin and Section 33 in Lawndale. His sleeping room is in Martin, but he gets his washing done” over in Lawndale. He never has had his vote challenged in Martin in consequence of having his week’s washing done in the kitchen. He owns over four hundred acres of land, and has always been a good, careful farmer, never taking any speculative risks. He is the father of nine children, eight of whom are living.

Next to the Wiley family came Curtis Batterton from Kentucky, in the fall of 1836. He came here on horseback from Madison County, and went on to Missouri, but did not like the looks of things there, and returned here and bought eighty acres on Section 5, and went back to Kentucky. He returned here the following year, and soon after married here, Melinda Henline. He brought apple seeds with him from Kentucky and planted. When two years old he grafted them and soon set them out, and still has a good orchard. He lived in a log house until he was able to build the present snug brick house. The bricks were made on the place, and it is the first, as indeed it is the only, brick house in Martin Township, and cost about $1.600.

The first schoolhouse in the town was built on his land in 1856, and is still used as a schoolhouse.

For some years after coming here, it was almost impossible to sell anything. He drove hogs to Bloomington and sold for $1.25 per 100, dressed. Those who drove to Chicago did two bits” better, but it was a hard, long trip with hogs. He considers one of the greatests curses to this country the cockle burrs, which were introduced here about 1852, from Kentucky. He never allows one to grow on his farm. He is an extremely careful man. His farm and buildings are nice, clean and tidy. He and his two sons farm half a section. Their stock is good and fences in order. He is a very positive man and does his own thinking. Early in life he was a Democrat, had voted for Jackson, but became estranged from that party at the time of the Cincinnati platform, and the rebellion made him an ardent Republican. His oldest son died in the army at Jackson, Tenn., and he brought his remains home for burial. He was not a member of the church, so had no particular one to go to, to conduct the funeral service, He sent for Elder Sharpless, whom he knew as a clergyman, but was too unwell himself to attend the service. After he recovered from his sickness, he learned that the Elder was a Democrat, and be went off and got a Republican minister and had the funeral over again. Had he attended the first funeral, however, it is not likely that he would have had the second, as David Sharpless was far too good a man to allow political feeling to take even possession of his mind on so sad an occasion. He well remembers Lincoln in the olden time, and speaks of him as a very plain, unassuming man, whom any one would have taken for a plain country farmer instead of a lawyer.

S. W. Bray came from Indiana in 1855, and entered land at Bray’s Clump, a little five-acre patch of timber about three miles up the stream, on ” Bray’s Branch,” and about one mile, by direct line, from the Mackinaw, on Section 15. He was a son-inlaw of John Franklin, of Lexington. He entered 160 acres of land, and still lives on it, surrounded by a housefull of children and grandchildren, enjoying a pleasant old age. The only neighbors were the Wileys and Batterton. The nearest post office was Pleasant Hill, and the nearest school was at Batterton’s, three miles away, and this was supported by subscription.

There were some singular features of the school-law of thirty-five years ago. The teacher must “board around ” a week for a scholar. Each scholar, or rather the parent, was required to furnish a quarter of a cord of wood. It took as much wood to keep a schoolhouse warm in those days as to burn a brick-kiln. It was almost invariably furnished ” sled length,” always green and full of sap, and the boys had to chop it up noon-times and recesses. Almost hourly the request was made of the teacher to permit one to go out and bring in some wood, for by so doing he could get a half-hour’s spell of chopping. Then the wood was almost always too long for the stove. Then the little fellows would ask to stand by the stove, to get warm, ostensibly, but really to scrape the sap off the ends of the sticks, as it “sizzled” out, and eat it. Another thing which seems strange to us now was, that no child who had even a drop of African blood in its veins could attend school under any terms.

Dr. Paine, now of Lexington, entered and improved a farm of eighty acres, at the head of the timber, in 1854. He remained on it a few years and sold to Richard R. Williams, who farmed it ten years and sold to John Bradford, and moved to Lexington.

The Puett farm, of 160 acres, in Section 2, in the same neighborhood, was taken up the same year. It is now owned by James E. Wood, who has gone to Indiana.

In the year 1856, James E. Wood took up 160 acres in Section 3, and lived on it several years. It is a good farm, with good buildings.

Perry’ Parker took up or purchased about three hundred and fifty acres of land in Section 3, about the year 1853, and, in 1858, sold it to W. G. Anderson, who had moved from Indiana, but had lived near Bloomington. Mr. Anderson was a man of intelligence and good education, and at once set about improving and beautifying his farm and home. He was an ordained Elder of the Christian Church, and devoted much time to the religious interests of the people with whom Providence bad cast his lot. He established a Sabbath school, and commenced preaching in the schoolhouses as soon as there were any, and carried on, with the aid of other brethren, regular religious meetings, from which grew the ” Antioch ” Church, a notice of which will be found under the proper head.

He carried on his farm successfully for fifteen years, making cattle-feeding the principal business. He introduced pure blood cattle and hogs, and now has a herd of about thirty-five short-horns and a large lot of Berkshire hogs, which variety has always been a favorite with cattle-men, from their ability to take care of themselves among cattle.

Four years ago, he was appointed Financial Agent of Eureka College, in Woodford County, and has but just returned to his farm, which has been in charge of his son. His energy and zeal have never flagged in the work he has found to do, and he has been a valuable and useful citizen.

The large farm known as the ” Harpole farm ” lies just opposite these farms, consisting of the east half of Section 10 and all of Section 11, at the head of the timber, and includes the separate grove known as” Funk’s Bunch.” The Mackinaw runs across both sections, and that it is one of the best cattle-farms in the town or county is evidenced by the fact that it was early selected by Mr. Isaac Funk for one of his farms, and he was never known to select anything but the best when he had his choice. In 1858, lie put J. S. W. Johnson on it, to improve it and feed cattle. Johnson was a good manager, and continued in control of it until 1866, when he died. Mr. Funk having died, it came into possession of his son George, who sold it to Peter Harpole. At the latter’s death, two years later, his widow went to Bloomington to live. Alfred Harpole now has charge of it., carrying about two hundred head of cattle, feeding some, but, like all these farmers, much fewer than they formerly did. There is abundance of water, fine feedyards, good buildings and good accommodations.

Soon after this, the prairie began to be made into farms. Prof. Turner had demonstrated that the Osage orange, which was a native of a southern clime, would stand our winters, and could make a fence. Coal had been found to burn well, and it began to appear that men could live on these prairies. Capt. James Kennedy (or Jeems, as he insists upon calling it,) is a character which few men in Martin do not know, and whom to know is to get acquainted with at once. Born and raised in the blue-grass region of Kentucky, he found, as his boys grew up around him, that he ought to get out of that country, not that he expected to find any better one, but his shrewd foresight told him that the stern logic of events must lead to war sooner or later, and he did not want to be in it. He knew that this country never could be divided, and that the attempt would be made, and he did not mean to be in it. He was a firm Whig in politics, and expected always to be.

In 1852, he sold out there and came to Bloomington with means enough to buy him a good farm and stock it. Being particular about his future home, he did not buy at once, but rented a farm at Bloomington on the Peoria road. He carefully looked over all this country, and found in the place he now lives on, Section 21, just what suited him, but it was not for sale. Peter Folsom, who owned it, was holding it, but afterward sold to Alexander Miller, and Capt. Kennedy bought of him.

He had been Captain of the militia, in Kentucky, and raised a company for the Mexican war, but it was not accepted, as the regiments were all full. He brought a thorough-bred, short-horn herd with him from Kentucky, and was one of the early and most efficient friends of the County Agricultural Society, of which he was for some years President. In 1860, he was the candidate of the Democrats for Representative from this county.

He is full of early incidents, one of which is worthy of repeating, as showing the currency troubles of olden times. He started once on a business trip to Bloomington, Ind., and took money out of the bank at Bloomington, before starting. Arriving at Terre Haute, he stepped on the cars, and, when the conductor came around, he had not a bill which would pass in the sovereign State of Indiana. He tried every plaster he had, and none would fit on that soil. He asked the conductor what he must do, and received the reply that he would have to get off. He then asked whether, in the opinion of the conductor, he would be permitted to walk on the. track after the train had gone, with that money in his inside pocket. This sally so amused the conductor that he did not put him off, and he got to the end of his journey by borrowing from an entire stranger.

After he bought the farm he now lives on, there were, for a time, so few people living here that they could not have a school. For a year they did keep a school in a private house, hiring the house-wife to teach it, but in 1865 and 1866 the rush of settlement was so great that schoolhouses were built, and everything moved off smoothly.

He has always taken a lively interest in public affairs, and especially in township affairs. For years this town has been without any pauper expense. He has been repeatedly elected Supervisor, and made a very useful member of the County Board. He has a good farm, bountifully supplied with fruit, and, at seventy-five, he is spending a green old age, with nothing to complain of, and few regrets. He does regret however, that the people of this prairie country did not earlier learn that they could get along without having to fence against other people’s cattle. He says he did not know, until after the people over in Cropsey Township adopted their ordinance against cattle running at large, that it could be done. Had it been done twenty years sooner, it would have saved the farmers the millions they expended in fences.

Capt. Kennedy is a member of the Christian Church; has been a liberal supporter of religious affairs, and contributed largely to building four different churches. He has been three times married; is the father of six children, four of whom survive.

The township contains many excellent farms, some of the best of which have been already mentioned.

James Gillan, who for several years has represented the town on the County Board of Supervisors, came here from Tremont, Tazewell County, in 1865, and bought, and commenced improving, what is now a fine farm in Section 23. He is of Irish birth, and a man of excellent judgment, and is held in great respect. At that time land was selling at from $7 to $10 per acre.

Isaac Bunn, originally from Pennsylvania, esteemed by all one of the best farmers. came here in 1$64. He farms three-quarters of a section in Sections 18 and 19. He has excellent land, good buildings, and is comfortably fixed. He formerly fed cattle largely, but that line of farming has become much depressed since the opening of the great cattle-fields of Colorado and the West.

John Ritter was here, on Section 34, as early as 1864, and James Hagler on Section 29 at the same date. They have both good farms and high rolling land. These men came at a time when they had their pick of thousands of acres of as good land as the sun ever shone on.

Jacob H. Richie, on Section 35, and Mr. Springer, on Section 36, have nice farms, and both are among the best farmers in town.

William Wilson has half of Section 16, which is also a well-managed farm. John Nickerson owns a large farm in Section 28, with fair buildings, extensive orchards and comfortable appointments. J. M. Sells has a fine farm of 480 acres, with comfortable buildings and improvements.

J. E. Walden was born in McLean County. Early went into the army, where he served until 1865. On coming home, he bought eighty acres of land in Section 27, where be still resides. His brother, Solomon K. Walden, lives on the large Henline property, which has recently been purchased by Gen. Gridley. The two sections belonging to the Henlines had never been plowed until 1878, when the north one was put into corn, and the south one will be this year. The Martin tract will also be planted this year for the first time. Renters on these new lands give two-fifths, and the chances are a premium at that.

There is noticeable throughout an appearance of thrift and healthy improvement. There are no very rich men to cause jealous emulation ; no very poor to call for pity or pauper bills. A friendly Christian spirit seems to pervade. No neighborhood quarrels, and no expensive litigation have estranged friends or broken in upon the general good feeling.

There is no post office in Martin, the people generally going to Arrowsmith or Saybrook on the south for trade and for postal facilities. They do not greatly desire railroads, either. They seem remarkably contented, peaceful, successful and happy. What more can any neighborhood want?


Le Baron, William., Jr. & Co. The History of McLean County, Illinois: portraits of early settlers and prominent men. Chicago. W. Le Baron, Jr., 1879.

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