Reuben Smith Botsford (1833-1918) was an early pioneer of Avon Township in Lake County, Illinois. He was the son-in-law of Levi Marble (1790-1874) and Elizabeth “Betsey” (Granger) Marble (1791-1878), who were one of the earliest settlers of Fort Hill Settlement. Reuben married their youngest daughter, Elizabeth Electa Marble (1833-1910). A great detail of genealogy and history of the Botsford and Marble families was written in the book, “An American Family – Botsford-Marble Ancestral Lines” compiled for Otis Marble Botsford by Donald Lines Jacobus in 1933. Mr. Botsford writes a first-hand experience in his autobiography published in the book, portraying his life in early Lake County, the Fort Hill area and the Civil War.
Transcribed by Vernon B. Paddock
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A LAKE COUNTY PIONEER
By Reuben S. Botsford
Photo from “An American Family – Botsford-Marble Ancestral Lines”
A life history is often interesting, especially if the subject be an eminent or prominent person: in lesser cases because the history thereof more nearly resembles our own. The biography of an individual of a long and varied experience must necessarily contain many interesting events, scenes and vicissitudes which, if properly and fully portrayed, cannot fail to be of general interest. The life and times of early pioneers has heretofore afforded material for an instructive as well as an interesting story to us, in our younger days, describing our country and people when it was first being settled: notwithstanding, the settlement of the “Far West” as the country around Chicago was called, and the great and wonderful achievements made within the lifetime of many residents now in the decline of life, will add a readable chapter for their posterity. I shall confine my remarks more especially to Lake County and its people, as I found the situation now more than half a century since.
To those emigrants coming from the old settlements of Eastern New York and the New England states, Chicago was, to them, known as a frontier region – “The Far West.” a wild, almost uncivilized, if not terrorizing region, abounding in Indians, wild beasts and a blizzardy climate, as the majority believed. The landscape in the vicinity of Chicago was far from inviting to the Easterner in those early days. The low, bare surface: sand dunes thrown up by the wild unobstructed gales from across the unbounded prairies or across the raging waters, as you rounded the great lake, lent a discouraging thought to the enthusiast: but grand old Lake Michigan was a redeeming feature as it came into full view; it was of itself inspiring; somehow it indicated greatness and unlimited possibilities.
Chicago at this time was a bustling city, poorly built, low and level, with perhaps sixty thousand inhabitants. On the north side from the north branch of the Chicago River a better scene presented; while still low and level, the general surface was covered with heavy timber as far as Milwaukee, extending west to the O’Plain River. After reaching Evanston, then only a name occasioned by the location of the Northwestern University in a dense wood where a building had been erected to identify the future city and the great institution, there were no railroads to the north at this time. The Illinois and Wisconsin R. R., now the Northwestern, was built out a few miles toward Elk Grove. As you reach what is now known as Winnetka to the north, the land rises in some places sixty feet or more above the lake. To the west in Lake County and beyond the O’Plain river and undulating prairie (Gages’) appeared in all its pristine beauty and fertility. To the north were occasional groves of stately burr oaks, “openings” so called.
These lands were just settled. One of these early settlers, Stephen Druse, adjoining Druses Lake, said to me one day in a conversation that when he staked his claim he “had in mind plenty of wood and water.” Surely, he got both.
The county at this time had been partially settle for a number of years and many of the first settlers were now middle-aged. The log cabin and shack were about to give way to frame houses, panel doors and carpeted floors. While the markets were yet far away for the pioneers of the west half of the county, Waukegan had forged to the front as a market town.
D. O. Dickinson and William M. Case, both enterprising men in the mercantile business, each had built a warehouse and pier, and were in the market to purchase the farmers’ products. Lumber, dry goods and groceries could be purchased at reasonable prices but a great deal of barter was still a factor, owing to the scarcity of money. In this respect I have heard Levi Marble, Post Master and Justice of the Peace of Avon Township, say that a letter with twenty-five cents due for postage could not be furnished by the consigner. Many a quarter was lost to him on account of his sympathy and generosity. The opening of a market at Waukegan induced trade from as far as Belvidere, Boone County. Teams – horses, mules and oxen, were the means of transportation. Some were obliged to stay over night before they could unload their wagons.
Such, in brief, were the conditions when I first saw the prairies of Illinois in the early fifties. It is my purpose to sketch a brief history of my life, more especially that part of it since becoming a citizen of Lake County.
Having been solicited to write out my recollections of personal experience and acquaintance with the old settlers, and such other reminiscences as may come to mind, with some reluctance I attempt the task.
I landed on Dickinson’s pier from the steamer Travelers, August 6th, 1854, after along and tedious journey by rail from Albany, N. Y., to Chicago, Ill., without incident, if I omit a description of railroad travel in those days. The train was made up with a small, wood-burning engine; small, low, ill ventilated cars, coupled together with link and pin and that old appliance, the twistbreak. The jerks and jolts on a poorly ballasted track, were something that modern travelers cannot imagine. If you became thirsty a boy with a tin water can and cup might pass through the car at uncertain intervals, and it you got a drink without spilling half of it on your vest you were lucky. Sleeping cars were unknown and therefore the luxury could not be appreciated. An occasional lapse into dreamland was rudely interrupted by a bump or a jerk, and they were not so very far apart either.
To give an illustration of how little Chicago was known in these early days, it would be intensely amusing could the accent, emphasis and pronunciation of the name Chicago, be given in the language of the day to wit: Checaggo, Shecargo, Shycaggo, Chickargo, and a dozen other ways of pronouncing and accenting the word. Conductors too used to provoke a laugh in answering questions of their passengers with reference to the new city by a peculiar twang or play on the word, as the case might happen. It was a long time before it settled down to the present pronunciation. I trust this diversion may be allowed the generous reader, so we will resume our narrative: I first saw the light of day July 31, 1833, in Albany, N. Y.
My ancestors were among the first settlers of the Hudson river country and Connecticut. My father later sold his business, purchased a farm in Potters Hollow, N. Y., near the birthplace of Potter Palmer, one of the first merchant princes of Chicago. Becoming dissatisfied with farm life he again sold out and moved to Saugerties, N. Y. Dafflin & Smith, powder manufacturers, were residents of Saugerties. The hard times of 1837 ruined him as well as thousands of others in the mercantile business. It was in this romantic locality, in the picturesque village of an historic old county, Ulster, that my career began. Not a rod of ground in that vicinity but my boyish feet have traveled: over hill and dale: bathing in or sailing the creek and river: chasing a hoop, sliding down hill in winter or skating on the pond or river, and such other pastimes as an active boy finds to amuse himself. As I now recollect those times I must admit that I was not a very good boy. But a change was coming. About the age of ten, from a fancied or real cause, I ran away from home, making for Rondout, the river end of the Delaware and Hudson canal. I soon got a job to drive a horse on a tow-path. Then I began to realize my mistake: however, I stuck to the job. Arriving at the Dock a waxen, a stone wall, had been built to protect the tow path, perhaps some eight or ten feet high. Just at this point I noticed that the horse was pulling heavily on the tugs and tried to hold him up or to keep him on his course. At the time I did not know what was the matter but, – over the bank we went among the rocks below. The horse was “stifled” and I stunned and bruised. The cause for the mishap was afterward explained, that the girth holding the traces in place broke and thus choked the animal. Another horse was procured and we pursued our journey to Honesdale, the other end of the canal. Anthracite coal at this time was not in much demand for domestic purposes: mostly used in furnaces. The boat being loaded, we made the return trip and upon arriving at Ellensville an officer was on the lookout for me. Of course, that ended the escapade, but it did not cure me of my roving disposition, for, a few years later, June 1844, together with a chum, I worked my passage on a sloop to New York with the intention of shipping on some vessel bound for London, Eng.
In this connection it is proper and right to remark that my parents had paid my tuition fee, but the schooling I did not get – too much of a truant. In those days children were taught by hired teachers: no public schools were known as now administered.
I had now arrived at the age of thirteen, a critical time in the life of a boy then as now. In the meantime, when I could get away from school I was down to the docks, and if I could get a boat with a sail it was my greatest delight to handle the tiller. By this means I became familiar with much unskilled nautical experience, and like boys of that day was listening to the yarns of experienced sailors. Of course, these same old tars would use our ability, such as it was, and we gave it cheerfully for the favors received.
In this way my chum and myself learned much of seafaring life and were thus prompted to put it into execution. The result was that we proposed to take a trip to London, Eng. We tried in vain to get such a berth. Baffled in this effort, somewhat discouraged too, we took up with the only chance offered, a voyage to New Orleans on a packet ship. At the time we didn’t know that the vessel was likely to be ordered to Vera Cruz, Mexico. This was about the close of the Mexican War. The voyage was an eventful one. It must have been the last of May or first of June, 1848, when we shipped as boys “before the mast” on the ship Arkansas, destination as above.
Everything went well until by some miscalculation we got into the Gulf Stream where we were becalmed for two weeks: not a breath of wind, the sails flopping against the masts with every throb of the ocean. In the meantime the sailors were kept busy scraping “between decks” as smooth as a house floor and varnishing everything in sight. At last a favorable breeze filled the sails and we got under motion only to be caught again, a few days later, by a miscalculation or design on the part of some officer, for about the time the morning watch was called we found ourselves violently thrown out of our berth on the deck – a shock caused by striking a coral reef. All hands were ordered on deck; the sails ordered aback. Luckily a gently breeze barely filled the sails or we might have suffered a catastrophe. As it happened “wreckers” were coming from all points to board us. The captain had ordered all the old weapons, pikes, muskets and pistols that could be found to repel the wreckers. A man was sent to the “fore top” to look out for black spots, rocks, and to report below, thus to avoid them, and there were plenty of them in sight. A kedge anchor was ordered astern to half stop the ship’s headway.
In the confusion and haste the ship’s carpenter had his arm broken in getting the anchor over the ship’s side. After some parley with a wrecker who was allowed to come aboard, and under the fine management of the captain, we managed to gain deep water and safety. Bear in mind that this incident occurred nearly sixty years ago, and the boys of that day were reading Ned Buntline’s Sea Stories and the U. S. Naval Histories of 1812. To say the least they didn’t profit by them.
The wreckers were understood to be little better than pirates, but their only object was to get control of the ship for the salvage, often a large sum.
It was rumored among the mess that the second mate, a Swede, was to blame for the disaster. The captain put him under arrest but I do not remember what became of it.
After this event we bowled along under fair skies and a full sail breeze. Having lost so much time, all hands were anxious to get to our destination. However, there was still more trouble in store for us.
It was soon after eight bells that the captain ordered me aloft to furl the main royal. At the time I could not understood the reason, but as soon as I had climbed to the crosstrees of the masthead, a glance showed that the white caps were rolling off our starboard quarter. A black cloud back of them looked ominous. There were a large number of sails in sight, some of them evidently preparing for trouble. Quickly gathering the sail together I soon had the “gasket” tied and, leaning against the shrouds taking a look over the scene, a lurch of the mast at that height nearly threw me off my balance. Those who do not know the sway or vibration of a tall mast as a ship rides an ocean wave, cannot appreciate the violent motion. I quickly got down from my perch and as I struck the deck more trouble was in sight. The storm had come up suddenly, but it was foreseen by the captain and therefore the ship met the storm prepared. I had no sooner struck the deck than I noticed a big vessel about to cross our bow. The wind howling and whistling through the rigging beyond anything I had ever heard before.
As I looked at that ship, evidently caught unaware of the storm, her sails ribbons, apparently unmanageable, scudding before the wind, it missed us only by a ship’s length: and rain: I never saw anything like the pour: it seemed to fall out of the clouds. in half an hour the sun came out, the wind went down and everything was as serene as though nothing had occurred.
Without further incident or accident we reached the Balize, mouths of the Mississippi, where a powerful tug, The Conqueror, towed us to the port of New Orleans.
Many details are lost to memory, but I remember being employed to attend a boiling kettle of pitch on the 4th of July. It was extremely warm without the fire, which together came very near producing sun-stroke. Some one seeing my condition sent me aboard and after giving me a dose of Castor Oil, ordered me to my berth. Recovering, I made up my mind that I had all the sailoring I wanted. Occasionally, after working hours, we were allowed to go ashore. It was on these occasions that I first came in contact with slavery as practiced in new Orleans at that time, – negro wenches chained together in gangs of six swooping the markets, some of whom were knocked down by the white hoodlums’ auction block. I have no doubt but that the impressions then received had their influence in my taking an active part on the Union Side in the Civil War. I found out that we had signed ship articles as boys before the mast so there was no other way to get out of it than to run away. That ill-fated ship Arkansas was afterwards totally wrecked on the coast of California during the gold fever, 1849.
Smuggling myself and small effects aboard the St. Mary, bound for New York, I arrived in due time. This ended my sailor experience, and a career of sober earnestness commenced. I took up the carpenter’s trade at a wage of three shillings (37 1/2 cents) for a long day, sun to sun, boarding myself. Continuing to work at this trade until I became somewhat proficient, I then went to New York City for better opportunities and wages. I remember witnessing the great procession in honor of Henry Clay as his body was brought form the Battery to the City Hall where it lay in state, 1852.
The city at this time was thinly built at and around 19th Street and 2nd Avenue. Broadway was then the main thoroughfare, 3rd Avenue a close second. Both extended much farther but were thinly built. no street railways then, and the din over the granite cobble stones was deafening. Houston Street was considered almost out of town.
The wages for journeymen carpenters was but $1.50 to $2.00 per day of ten hours, board $3.00 per week.
Tiring of the city, I concluded to go home and soon worked up to contracting on my own account. My last contract, a brick school building, was completed in spring of 1854, when an event happened that changed the current of my whole career in life and was the cause of my family moving to Lake County, Illinois, as before stated. I was then just twenty-one years of age. upon our arrival at Waukegan we proceeded up the hill to the Vollar House, Moses Patterson proprietor. After dinner I began to look for a conveyance to Hainesville, where an uncle, Jacob M. Botsford, resided. It is my impression that Fred Converse kept the livery stable – the old red barn, both torn down. I was not astonished to learn that there was not a spring wagon in the village, or for that matter in the county. The nearest approach to a conveyance was a lumber wagon with a spring seat made of hickory poles on each side of the box. Mother and the driver occupied that and we, brother, sister and myself, occupied seats over the hind axle. We took the dirt road as it was called, then in good condition, via Gurnee Bridge. Father had come on before us to prepare some place for us when we arrived, and had partially bargained for some land belong to Enoch Morse – virgin prairie – which we afterward purchased and improved near Fort Hill. We were obliged to live with our uncle’s friends while we built a house.
This land was two or more miles from Hainesville, and we were compelled to walk the distance morning and night. Later we secured board with John Fuller, about a mile north from our work, on Allegeny Street.
It was a hardship for us two boys to dig the cellar, gather field stone, and build a foundation for the house, for neither had been called upon to do such work heretofore. This was harvest time and labor was scarce and the crop, wheat and oats, most excellent.
All grain and gross were cut with the cradle and scythe. Some big stories were told these days about cradling seven acres in one day: and I have heard Mr. Morse say it was a fact that Gilman Goodell did do the deed on his farm.
Unfortunately I was induced to build a house of wood blocks, a fad then popular, but a miserable failure practically, and which cost us a great deal of extra labor in constructing a home and ever after an unsatisfactory job. The house was 20 x 30 with a wing.
In the meantime we were getting anxious about our tool chest, a valuable asset in those days, which had not arrived. Steamboats could not at all times land at the pier, Waukegan, and freight and passengers were carried to Chicago on such occasions. At last it got to be imperative to get this chest of tools. So, to Chicago I must go, taking the steamer Traveller, again. The officers furnished such information as best they could. It was on this occasion I first met Flavel K. Granger, then a deputy under his brother Augustus Granger, Sheriff of Lake County. The acquaintance was intimately maintained until his death. Going ashore, I rushed from one freight house to another until I reached a large low shed, I think in the neighborhood of LaSalle Street, where the familiar object was in search of stood in front of me. Well it was a glad sight, sure enough.
The work on the house had progressed to where it was necessary to set the window frames. The house had been designed to be plastered and then pencilled to resemble block stone, but it was a silly idea. Along in October we had managed to get the kitchen and two rooms finished so that mother could move in. All of us had been living with our uncle’s friends in a small log house owned by E. M. Haines, Hainesville, and of course, overcrowded. The folks were glad to have us go, and so were we. We had brought along with us a good deal of bedding and some other household goods, but no furniture. Father had managed to get a few things, but we were short on many necessaries, among others a table. It was getting near supper time when Mother said, “What are we going to do for a table?” I said, “You’ll see.” I don’t think it was more than an hour before a cross-legged table, three feet by four, as ready to set, and mother kept that table as long as she lived. By this time we were getting used to pioneer life. While accommodations were limited, the bill of fare the same, yet there was a plenty of port and potatoes. It was a query sometimes, how and where the folks were going to sleep when there was more than the usual number. Sheets and quilts were the only partitions, and the roof was not far above your head. The patter of rain on the shingles often sent me to sleep, and I wouldn’t object to it now.
The best water we could get was from a nearby slough and yet no typhoid fever made its appearance. Along the O’Plain and Fox Rivers malarial fevers and ague were quite prevalent. It would be a novelty to say the least, to look at some of the improvised tools, wagons and other necessary implements to carry on the work of the farm. Andrew Tucker of Newport Township had constructed a wagon without spokes to the wheels or a nail in its construction. Ox yokes and bows were a common thing to make at home, – a shaving horse the only bench with many. Batten doors hung with wood hinges and the latch the same: to raise the latch a stout string pulled up the latch from the outside, and when the door was fastened the string was pulled inside and the folks were as safe as with modern doors and their bolts and chains.
The good housewife looked out sharp to catch rain water in a barrel or tub from a board. Common wood ashes were freely used to soften the water for washing purposes, otherwise the leach barrel or tub was as common as the rain barrel. Soft soap for cleaning was all that was used.
The new houses were seldom more than 16 x 24 feet with twelve to fourteen foot posts, and they were the envy of their poorer neighbors.
Hovels for barns, covered with slough hay, were still common and they were very comfortable for stock. Maybe an addition could be attached for a grain bin: very often these grain bins were constructed of fence rails, the interior lined with straw or hay to keep it from running out, and roof of the same material.
Our clothing consisted of blue denim in summer; woolen or part cotton in winter; underclothing as now used unknown. Footwear was wholly of cowhide and calfskin boots, no shoes except for women’s wear.
As a rule these old pioneers were religious, as everybody is more or less. They maintained religious services every two weeks in almost every neighborhood where facilities existed or could be improvised, Elders, Kapple, Gilbert, Sheppard and others officiating – some worldly ones there were who thought that they had not a very loud call to preach the gospel. But Elder James Kapple, while much of a humorist, was none the less a good citizen and neighbor. Spiritualism flourished in those days among the people of several townships. it was a meeting held in the Marble schoolhouse 1843, when it had been prophesied that the world would come to an end, and the people had assembled to confess their shortcomings and prepare to go to heaven, that George Thompson, one of the oldest settlers, together with Chancey King, had conspired to put up a mild conspiracy on the prevailing delusion, by writing with an acid on an egg. “Time will end April 3rd, 1843.” A son of the widow Granger happened to see the egg and hearing the comments by Thompson thought he had a mission to perform, bolted for the road and next neighbor and shouted “I See it. The World’s coming to an end.” The mass of people were greatly excited, many confessing and among others, a Mr. D________ admitted he had stolen a log chain from Thompson, when Elder Kapple cautioned the neighbors by saying, “Tut, Tut, Mr. D________, you shouldn’t compromise your family by such admissions,” thus diverting attention of the audience, and realizing their foolishness the meeting broke up. None went to Heaven on that occasion but, I hope, as all are now long since dead, that they did find the Heaven they hoped for. Seances, table tipping, slate writing and other fads continued for many years after, but it was not general and gradually died out.
And in these latter days, multiplicity of religions, however strange and fanatical, seem to interest and engage very many people. The different orthodox organizations do not seem to meet the requirement of the masses if we are to believe the complaints of pastors, or to judge by the number of vacant seats in their several churches. none the less, these worthy old pioneers established and encouraged schools, even if they were of the most primitive character. Singing and debating schools were well attended, and if the exercises were somewhat quaint and crude there was much good, sound sense expressed. A singing school was conducted by Adrian Douglass in and around Hainesville, for many successive seasons. With the exception of dancing parties, they were the only means of learning, amusement and recreation. Dancing parties were a great delight to the young folk in winter seasons: couples going many miles to attend – in conveyances of every description, more frequently with an ox team drawing a long sled with a goodly supply of clean straw or hay thrown over the bottom boards, and comforters or quilts for robes. I have been told there was much enjoyment on such rides, even on the coldest of weather. Dancing halls were far apart and long distances had to be traveled by many to indulge in the pastime. Bryant’s string band usually furnished the music.
Hainesville was the center for a large tract of country. Nearly all of these people have passed away, as well as the halls of amusement.
Transportation was often a serious inconvenience owing to the scarcity of labor. It was a perilous trip to get a load to and from Chicago. Unavoidable sloughs and creeks were rudely bridged or filled with logs laid side by side, but there were many places that had to be waded. Many times, at all hours, a neighbor was called upon to help pull out a stalled wagon, or it was partly unloaded carrying the load to the shore.
The rude, cheap bridges over the O’plain (Or Des Plain) River at Rudd’s Tavern, Gurnee and Gondy’s on the Plank Road, were very much longer than now, reaching nearly, in both cases, to the higher ground near the taverns mentioned, thus showing the greater volume of water flowing in that stream fifty or more years ago.
Squaw Creek, too, then an important stream, was capable of furnishing the motive power for White’s sawmill in the town of Avon: and Chittenden’s grist mill, Warren Township, was run by a branch of Mill Creek.
During the spring of 1856 I built a house for Christian Thomas in West Fremont, generally cutting across lots from my home, near Fort Hill, to shorten the distance rather than make a long detour via Squaw Creek bridge.
A warm rain came one Sunday and with the melting snow over-flowed the ice in the main stream and made a wide and rapid river of the creek. Not liking the idea of a journey of several miles in order to get to my work I pulled off my boots and stockings, rolled up my trousers to the highest extent, and forded the stream over the submerged ice. I thought it was a big river on that occasion. Ditching and tile draining has made the difference between then and now. From Waukegan to the O’Plain River, Belvidere Road, was a dense woods for many miles south, and the roads through these woods were something fearful to travel over in the late fall and spring of the year. It was one reason for building the plank road: both have disappeared long ago.
The early settlers had much to contend with in many ways: not only from hardships and inconveniences in their outdoor and indoor work, but for the want of ready money. There was but little demand for surplus farm products on account of a want of market: consequently barter was the means of adjusting differences, whether labor or commodities. Even in Waukegan, as late as before the Civil War, it was difficult to obtain cash for anything except wheat. Many had gone in debt to pay for land: taxes had to paid in coin, and it was a serious thought how to meet these obligations. All kinds of farm products were cheap, labor ditto: for instance, eggs 6¢ per doz. in trade, common brown sugar 8¢, butter 8 to 10¢, calico 6 to 8¢, farm hands by the day 50¢ and board, mechanics $1.00 to $1.25. By the month laborers received but $12.00 and board. Chopping cord wood 25¢ per cord and piling it. A day’s work was from sun to sun.
Then, too, the currency of the country was in a very bad condition. Gold and silver scarce and at a premium. A farmer or business man away from central towns didn’t dare to take a bank bill of any description, on account of its uncertain value from day to day. The merchants in town issued “tokens” representing one cent to make change, redeeming them of course, in trade. It was during these years that the much talked of George Smith, and his heirs, made his immense fortune by establishing the Bank of Atlanta, Georgia; the issue thereof was good and passed at par. All other bank bills were compared with a “detector” and that somewhat voluminous, to learn how much a bill had depreciated, even over night. A Mr. Ball, school treasurer of Avon Township 1856, living near what is known now as Avon Center, lost a valuable farm by reason of the depreciation of currency in his possession as such official.
January 9, 1859, I married Elizabeth E. Marble, Avon Township. Three children living: viz.: Otis M., Nellie E. Person and Anna D. Botsford, Waukegan. In the fall of 1863, I engaged in the grocery business. The Civil War called for more men. Enlisted in a cavalry regiment but soon after a commission was offered me from the Lt. Col. of the 39th Ills. if I could raise 25 recruits. Recruited 51 men, and my fortunes were linked with that regiment until the muster out December 1865 at Norfolk, Va. After arriving home, I was elected Sheriff of Lake County, but later was appointed agent at Waukegan of the United States Express Co. and stayed with them for seven years.
I built a country store and small warehouse at Wadsworth, Ill., on St. Paul Railroad. This business not proving satisfactory, passes over the Northwestern and St. Paul R. R. were offered me by officials to points in the then Territory of Dakota, notably Huron and Mitchell respectively, in October 1880. I gave the St. Paul pass to my son Charles who was to meet me at Huron via Stage Route from Mitchell, Dakota.
During this month and still in Huron a violent snowstorm caused me to stay longer than I had intended, the storm closing the railroad for travel for two weeks. many prospectors were caught in their summer clothes and hats and wee a much disgruntled lot over their forced stay and want of funds. I have often wondered, in view of that unprecedented blizzard, the always high winds and utter wildness of the country, why I concluded to make a settlement in that primitive wilderness. But a consoling thought followed – it gave the boy, Otis, an opportunity which has resulted in a social and financial success to him.
At this time there was no civil or other organization in the embryo city or County Beadle.
The graders having finished their work on the branch railroad running north to Oakes, had returned to Huron for final payment. After setting up their tents they proceeded to fill up on booze, and later got into a row among themselves, and an indiscriminate gun firing commenced, scattering the onlookers to places of safety. Many of the younger prospectors were well equipped with bowie knives and guns.
An all day ride over the country resulted in locating a section of land; one half by my son Charles. We saw no game on this occasion, but it was not uncommon to see small herds of antelope stealing their way within sight at Huron.
Buffalo bones were plentifully scattered over the prairies, and later gathered and sold in Chicago for buttons and other purposes, by the car load.
Returning to Waukegan the wife and family seemed pleased at the account of my trip. We sold what goods we could, boxed up the balance and put them, with supplies, on board of car at Waukegan. On the 19th day of January, 1881, the car in charge of our son Otis started for Huron, Dakota.
He got as far as Waseca, Minn., where and when the train was stalled by storms of snow. Finding it impossible to get on by reason for frequent storms, the boy unloaded the cow and chickens and prepared to stay a while.
Along in March General Manager Wheeler said to me in his office, “They are not likely to turn a wheel this winter: it is snowing and blowing a blizzard right now.” At my suggestion he ordered the boy home by telegraph. It was not until May 10th that I got the car out of the great mass of stalled cars then on side track at Waseca. In the meantime the baggage room where our baggage was stored, awaiting the opening of the road, took fire and burned the whole of it, and a serious loss to proved to be. While I am not a fatalist there does seem to be something in luck.
I had rented the only store building vacant in Huron; it stood idle all winter. Knowing that the people would want many things in the spring I had ordered the express a lot of goods to meet the demand. For some unknown reason these goods were delayed until other dealers had supplied the trade. Heavy showers of rain filled the cellar with water, destroying much stuff stored there, and later the earth walls caved in, and it was a big job to save the building from a broken back.
Along in the summer there was much sickness from malarial fevers. The oldest daughter was taken sick with typhoid fever and died. A fine girl about 15 or 16 years of age. Soon after this sad event a great scare occurred over a reported Indian raid at Redfield. A carload of our people volunteered to go to the rescue, but the raid was a fake.
Crops were good that year where “breaking” had been done the year before, but there were only a few ten-acre patches in our vicinity.
The railroad officials had started a flood of settlers by free passes and cheap freight rates, and the delay in reaching their destination had caused a congestion of all kinds of goods. It was cruel to see so many valuable goods, pianos and furniture too, set out in the open prairie for weeks.
At this time Huron was little else than a shanty town, hammers were driving nails day and night to get shelter. Rent for an ordinary building was high, 20 to 30 dollars per month and none to be had.
Closing up the store I took up contracting and building, investing the proceeds in improving the farm, in buildings and implements.
Three years before 1890 crops had failed and the contracting business followed. At last it had become an imperative necessity to find something to do to live. Where to go was a serious question.
Seattle, Wash., had met with a ruinous fire that year before, and being well acquainted with the Governor of the State, E. P. Ferry, also Charles Haines, Attorney for the N. P. R. R., decided the question. Charles, the oldest son, and his family had gone to Chehalis, Wash., the fall before. We had arranged to meet in Tacoma. Reaching Seattle we found the city overrun with mechanics of all trades from all parts of the U. S. The situation looked desperate.
While there was a great deal of work to do to build up the city, there were still a great many more men than could be employed.
An incident occurred about this time, during the wistful waiting and watching, that is worth recording. Early in March Charley had heard that a Mr. Hall of Chehalis owned a lot on Jackson Street, Seattle, and was thinking of building on it, and that it was worth while to see him. After much hesitation for it was 100 miles away and funds were low ebb, I made the venture. It was successful although we were prefect strangers to each other.
After a few days he came to Seattle. We looked over the ground and concluded to build a three-flat building. He made arrangements with a bank to furnish the necessary funds and went home. I set several of my new made friends, carpenters, to work clearing off the lot and getting it ready for the new building, paying them laborer’s wages until we were ready to do skilled work, then $3.50 per day. Mr. Hall was taken sick and unable to come and see what we were doing.
After we had the frame up, which looked quite imposing, he suddenly appeared on the scene. Well, that man was so rejoiced at its appearance that I thought he would faint on the spot. He was entirely satisfied with the work and my weekly reports. The circumstance led to further jobs upon his recommendation.
The rain season was now near at hand, and letters from home saying the Capitol of the State was likely to be located at Huron, caused my action to return; but before doing so and having decided to return to the Coast in the spring, I made a visit to Olympia to have a talk with Governor Ferry, for I wanted to make sure of some kind of employment if I brought the family with me.
Suffice it to say that I was promised the Warden of the penetentiary at Walla-Walla.
Huron failed in its efforts to get the Capitol. There was no work and, having been offered transportation by my son Otis, I concluded to visit Waukegan. During the following winter Gov. Ferry was taken sick and died at San Bernardino, Cal. This sad event spoiled my expectations in the Coast, and being in ill health myself, the family located again at Waukegan. Since then I have been elected and re-elected to the office of Justice of the Peace until 1917, and then retired.
BRIEF MILITARY HISTORY
Of Co. F, 39th. Illinois Volunteer Infantry
By Capt. Reuben Smith Botsford
Photo from “An American Family – Botsford-Marble Ancestral Lines”
Accepting Lt. Col. Mann’s appointment to 2nd. Lieut. providing I recruited 25 men for Co. F., 39th. Regt., Ill. Vols.: The annexed poster was one of the means used to induce enlistment. The late Union defeats (Gettysburg and Chickamauga), which were so understood at the time (especially Gettysburg) made recruiting men for the army extremely difficult. The “draft” was being enforced in many states, and enthusiasm among the people had nearly vanished. Then too, the 17th. Cavalry Regt. had, it was thought, absorbed all that cared to volunteer.
To make the effort still more discouraging, the 64th. Ill. had a recruiting office in the field by offering a Captain’s “Com” for the same number of men to a fellow townsman. The result, after extreme hard work and expense, was 50 men accredited to Lake County and mustered in U. S. service.
The regiment rendezvoused at Camp Fry, Chicago, where all the recruits were sent to muster, January 1864.
Toward the last of March 1864, the regiment was ordered to Washington, D. C., where we spent a disagreeable night in rude and dirty barracks under the eaves of the Capitol.
The next day we marched to Camp of Distribution, some three miles toward Alexandria, Va. Our time was occupied in drilling the recruits, some three weeks, which was practically all the instruction we received before entering into active field service. About the last of April we struck tents and moved to Alexandria, where we boarded transports for the seat of war. Passing Mt. Vernon down the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, rounding Gloucester Point and into York River, we landed at a point opposite Yorktown. Here the whole command (30,000) had a grand review.
May 5th. we embarked and proceeded up James River unmolested. On the 6th. we managed to tumble ashore at Bermuda Hundreds and formed line, immediately pushing to the front. The day was excessively warm, the troops soft and inexperienced: it was not long before the new men began to throw away one thing after another until they had but little left but their guns and cartridge boxes. The road must have resembled the route of a defeated army by reason of the cast-off blankets, knapsacks, and in fact everything that goes to make up the equipage of the soldier just out of camp. The negroes or residents along that line of march must have struck a bonanza. Marching toward Richmond about seven miles we halted. Here a line of earthworks was outlined and the troops set to work night and day.
On the 8th. a brigade met with disaster near Petersburg.
On the 10th. our division (1st. 10th. A. C.) had our first initiation in actual war – that is, for the new men. Our company was ordered out as skirmishers and I was in charge of the line. I found it difficult to post the new men and hold them in their proper places. While doing so a batter of 6-lb. brass field pieces commenced firing over our heads. The fuse was cut so short that it seemed as though some of the shells exploded among us.
I think I never was so scared in my life: every hair of my head felt as if it stood up straight, and whether I jumped or not, it did seem as though I went up in the air ten feet at the first explosion. It was so unexpected, and I had not heard an explosion or report of a cannon since a boy attending a general training. It was the first and last real fright, and I often wondered why no notice of it was taken by some one, but I never heard a word from anyone about it. One of my men said afterward that I sent him back to tell the Captain to send me some old men to place alongside of the new, in order to keep them in their proper places. It was a brisk engagement for the first.
About this time we occupied the Howlett House, afterward the site of the famous (Confederate) Howlett House battery, which was the cause of digging the equally famous Dutch Gap canal. This house was sacked and burned as was a grist mill nearby. in the meantime a large force was kept busy building the fortifications between the James and Appomattox Rivers, and it was a lucky thing for the Army of the James after the fateful days of May 14, 15 and 16th. Our next general engagement was the attack on the enemy May 14th. driving him into Fort Darling at Dewey’s Bluff. On the 16th, early in the morning, Butler’s entire command lay in two lines of battle before Fort Darling. The night, towards daylight, was extremely foggy. Our regiment was posted on the extreme left of the line two miles from the river. Co. F. had been detached the night before and instructed to take a position on the left of the regiment, with our left thrown forward and extended to “guard against cavalry.” During the night I was satisfied that the enemy was unusually busy in throwing reinforcements into the fort. Our line was as still as the grave. I was nervous over the situation. I wanted to go to Headquarters and report the condition but I knew I should be arrested if I did. All of a sudden an attack seemed to occur before it was scarcely light. As I said, a heavy fog prevailing – the attack seemed repeated. The question arose, are our men being driven off in detail? Such proved to be the case. It was after sunrise when we knew our regiment was being attacked.
The bullets came into our front thick as hail. We had in the meantime closed up our company and posted the men behind trees and stumps for safety – having no orders we did not know what else to do, and as it proved, it was the wisest thing to do. Although I was sent to the regiment to get orders, I knew that they had been driven off the field, because I noted two different attacks at short intervals. in obeying this order I went in front of our line and that under a heavy fire. Many of our men were wounded, protected as well as they were. I reported that the regiment had left their position and were nowhere in sight. The next question, what shall we do next to save ourselves from capture? The enemy was shelling our forces furiously at the time. My suggestion was “that the enemy was shelling our troops, it was the only course to take in retreat, for the enemy was on all sides of us, – to go any other way we were certain to fall into their arms.” The suggestion was accepted. The Co. then large (80 men for duty) was closed up in two platoons and we marched under the rebel firing to the rear. We first came to a swollen creek where we found a large number of our men and many wounded, our adjutant one of them, – he was dying then. Continuing our course we came up to what proved to have been Gen. Gilmore’s H. Q’s. Well, weren’t we lucky – We had met with no disasters, and coming up in such good form, and as it happened Gen. Mann had just arrived too. Here we were halted and formed “line of battle,” the nucleus of an organization that finally saved the fortunes of the day, for on our small battalion we closed in every straggler that came up, to the number of thousands. Co. F. did great service that day as the sequel proved. The whole of Butler’s line had been driven back “in detail”. It was no organization at all. The few thousand stragglers we had gathered together made a formidable command. After much consultation and waiting for something to turn up we at last got in communication by signals, with the main body of our troops beyond the rebels, for we were cut off and in the rear of the rebel lines. Sometimes after dark we attempted to make our camp. By careful, quiet and slow marches we succeeded in reaching camp about midnight. At a later date it was learned that the rebs had a fresh division from Petersburg but a short distance from our line of march.
From all accounts it was learned that the rebs were as much bewildered as ourselves, for they failed to secure the full glory of their victory. As it was, Butler’s loss was reported to be 3000.
Since then I have learned that Hacker’s brigade on the right of the line was asleep; and on his right was a low swampy ground connecting the river which was unprotected. Butler said that he ordered this ground to be staked with wire, which was not done as it proved, and the Johnnies got in on our flank and rear before anyone knew of it. The regiment received honors through General Orders for its gallantry on that occasion. It brought us into favorable notice which we retained throughout the war.
Our works at Bermuda Hundreds was a formidable intrenchment that the enemy could not take, although often attempted. From this time on we were continually under fire, both day and night – eight charging the enemy or being charged. June 10th, a spirited fight – June 17th and 18th desperate fighting. These battles were fought at or near Wier Bottom church. Others at Deep Bottom on the James River. Aug. 14, 15 and 16th, a succession of charges and counter charges. On the 16th, the brigade was ordered to charge the enemy. On the morning of that day I counted up the Morning Reports (by Co’s.) and the total was 260 men for duty. It was a bayonet charge made in the formation of close column by division, an echelon movement by the brigade with the 39th. on the left and in front.
Previous to this formation we had been supporting a battery and lay on the ground in the hot sun where several men had fallen out of ranks by the excessive heat. We knew nothing of the nature of the ground in front nor the position of the enemy, only as we could judge by the short explosion of the shells. It was a very trying experience, waiting for orders to move, for it was so long before receiving them.
At last we hear the welcome (?) words – Column Forward ! Double Quick ! March !! We soon met with a tangled field of fallen timer lying in all directions to climb over and break our formation. We had passed over perhaps one half or more of the distance between the lines, when the rebels opened a fire on us. More than one half of that sturdy command went down and lay so thick that the survivors could not pass without treading on their comrades. We caught an appealing eye, an attitude of agony, but not a groan, as we rushed past with an energy unaccountable at the time. It was not time for sympathy even if we thought of it, but a determined rush for the rebel works.
Mounting the rebel works I hear the cry “We surrender,” when to my astonishment I saw the ditch full of Johnnies. At this moment the boys were prodding the rebs with their bayonets. Some were clubbing and others throwing chunks of clay when they had fouled their muskets. Upon hearing their cry of surrender – and it was an alarming cry – I yelled the command to “Cease firing!” and was obliged to take some of the men by the shoulders to get their attention, so dazed or frenzied did they seem. There proved to be 150 rebels captured and 1 stand of colors. Seeing no commissioned officer about, and knowing that if the rebels saw how small was our force we might have trouble, I called to a Sergeant to take them to the rear at once. This effort was quickly accomplished, and in the meantime the boys were running pell-mell after the retreating enemy. Knowing full well that they were in no condition to do effective work in their disorganized state, and happening upon a flowing brook I succeeded in halting them by ordering them to stop and cool their heated bodies, as well as to form some sort of an alignment. We were too few in numbers to do any effective offensive work. I concluded to march back to the rebel works for reinforcements or for better protection, if we were attacked. These works were good and strong. The rebs had dug pockets or holes in the face of the breastworks the better to load quickly and the cartridges were already “bitten” to load.
We looked anxiously over that little command as well as for the hoped-for reinforcements, debating what to do in case of an emergency, thinking that if we were attacked it would be in force if at all. I tell you it was an anxious time. None wanted to go to Libby prison, or Andersonville; it was a terror to all. Finally, 6 stand of colors was rapidly approaching. Tough as it was, we concluded to order a retreat. While it was not strictly an orderly or military retreat, I believe, under the circumstances, it was the best thing we could do. As it was some were killed on the retreat.
When the regiment was paraded at night we could only count 95 men in line ! but 15 came up the next day. Out of 11 officers for duty, 7 were killed or wounded. I have always felt that my regimental officers did not deal fairly by me on that occasion. It is true I was only a first Lieutenant, but some recognition ought to have been made of such service. I was taken seriously ill with the typhoid fever soon after and could not attend to my own interests, and the officers commanding the regiment were only Captains, is perhaps one excuse, but none the less the regiment received great praise through the press of the day.
The movement resulted in drawing off some of the enemy’s right, enabling Grant to get a better grip of the enemy on his left. In October we fought two severe battles on the 13th and 27th. Hostilities then ceased, excepting a sortie now and then, until spring.
Our fighting had been around Richmond, except on one occasion, when we filled the 9th. Corps’ place before Petersburg in September. March 27th, 1865, we were ordered to extreme left of Grant’s line, taking the 5th. Corps’ place. We attacked and took Fort Gregg behind Petersburg, said to be the key to Richmond. This was on the 2nd day of April. Co. F. lost five veterans killed, and one recruit killed out of sixteen men for duty on that occasion. For this gallant action the regiment again received full honors. A bronzed eagle was presented to us and placed on our color staff by the commander of the corps, Gen. John Gibbon. We were about the last troops to pursue the retreating rebel army, but the first to witness the surrender, for we were the first troops to attack on the morning of the 9th of April at 9 o’clock. We were retained at Appomattox for the complete disbandment of the rebel army and shared our rations with them at our later discomfort – being obliged to live in spring poor beef driven out with the army.
I was detailed to take charge of all the equipment of the army of Northern Virginia on the night of the surrender. There was no particular demonstration of joy on their part, except a general feeling of relief that such good terms were given them.
We finally marched to Richmond where we did provost duty, and in July were moved to Norfolk where the regiment took charge of the City until turned over to the civil authorities.
December 1865 we mustered out and were sent to Springfield, Ill., to be paid off and turn over our equipment. About the 17th, the 39th. Ill. ceased to be an organization.