The following was written in 1844 and republished in the Lake County Independent newspaper (Libertyville, Lake County, Illinois, H. C. Paddock, publisher) on page 4 of the July 7, 1905 edition:
Stories of the Past . .
INCIDENTS OF EARLY DAYS IN
THINGS YOU’VE HEARD AND FORGOTTEN
Fort Hill Reminiscences
“The following article appeared in a Chicago publication, in the spring of 1844, called the Gem of the Prairie under the title of Fort Hill and later reproduced in Hains’ (sic Haines) history of Lake county and gives us an insight into the new country from the view point of the settler who came hither to establish a home and rear a family.
This is the name of a beautiful tract of country situated in the western part of Lake county, Illinois., containing about sixty-four square miles. Its superior advantages as a farming country have been, until a few years back, but little known abroad.
In the spring of 1836, while seeking a location in the western country upon which to spend the remainder of my days, I was by chance led upon the tract in question. I immediately saw the numerous advantages which it possessed over the surrounding country, having about an equal quantity of prairie and timber, both of the best quality, being also well watered by streams and small lakes, so that nearly every farm could be accommodated (sic) by living water; and knowing that my neighbors, if civilization should ever reach me, would possess equal advantages with myself, so far as location of a farm was concerned, I resolved to settle myself here and go no further.
The country was at this time but a wilderness, and not a mark of civilization was to be found within the distance of several miles, and many an immigrant passed on to Big Foot, Rock River and other places of note, thinking and making it an objection that this part of the country would always be in the background. And another reason why immigrants passed was that this was not a part of the country which they had ever heard of before, and imagined, therefore, that if it were superior to other parts around it, its name would certainly have gone abroad.
Let us now take a view of the country at the present date — but mark the change! The progress of eight years has wrought a change which I had not expected to see short of the space of twenty. The country has become thickly populated, nearly as much so as the Eastern States, from which most of the settlers have immigrated. Public roads have been established in every direction and well improved. The prairies are in a high state of cultivation and covered with fields of grain; and, in short, Fort Hill is now acknowledged to be the most flourishing part of the country.
A town which bids fair to be a place of importance, (Little Fort) has been commenced upon Lake Michigan, which is about twelve miles distant, where our farmers are taking most of their produce. There are many who, seven years ago, shunned this part of the country and settled fifty miles to the west, who are now returning and paying from three to five dollars per acre for wild land, for the purpose of settling nearer to a market.
When I came to this country,” said the old bee hunter, “Things looked very different than they do now. The prairie to the west of DesPlaines river was, in the spring time, a vast flower garden. Away over the rolling hills for miles, from April until the frost cut the flowers in the autumn, there was a succession of bloom and in the heavy timber along the streams the hollow trees were the store houses of wild bees of the neighborhood.
Along in September when the bees excited by the approach of winter, became more anxious than ever for the nectar of the wild flowers it was a custom for those wishing honey for use at home to hunt for these bee trees. Going out on a warm sun-shiney day a few bees would be captured and placed in a box until they had filled themselves with honey from a comb. On being released they would go straight to the home tree and in a short time return for more, often bringing others with them.
When the direction had been carefully noted by the hunter they would be carried as far as thought advisable toward the tree and again set free. As they would always return to the last place released for more honey they could very easily be traced to the hidden hoard.
When the tree was found, usually it would be a mammoth oak or basswood, material for a fire would be gathered and the tree chopped or sawed down. The latter method was greatly in favor as it would not unduly alarm the bees. As soon as the tree was down a smoking fire would be started under the hole used as an entrance by the bees and they would be either burned or driven away. Often one tree would yield several hundred pounds of honey.
One old beeman tells of having captured a swarm one day before the wild prairie flower gardens were turned into fields of grain and placing them in a barrel. Before fall they had completely filled the barrel with honey.”