Family Stories

William McKee, Biography

from Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and Brown Counties

Schuyler County, Illinois

William McKee, one of the oldest and most prominent citizens of Schuyler County, was born in Crawford County, Indiana, January 22, 1813, a son of William McKee, who was a native of Kentucky.  The paternal grandfather, James McKee, emigrated to Kentucky during the war of the Revolution, and thence removed to Indiana, where he passed the remainder of his days.  William McKee, Sr., was reared in the Blue-grass State, and there was married; he removed to Indiana when it was yet a territory, and was a pioneer of Crawford County.  He purchased land and made it his home until 1826, when, accompanied by his wife and ten children, he removed to Illinois.  The journey was made by teams, which was not devoid of interest.  Mr McKee had visited this section the year previous, making the trip on horseback; he purchased a land warrant which called for 160 acres; paying therefore $100; on his return to Indiana he stopped at Springfield and cleared his title at the Government office.  It was, indeed, a courageous heart that looked at such a future calmly; the country was thinly settled, the poles of the Indian wigwams still stood in the ground, market towns were far distant and provisions were high.  Mr. McKee erected a double log cabin, using wooden pegs instead of nails; the door was constructed of puncheons, and was furnished with the historic latch-string.

James Vance built the fist horse-mill operated with a rawhide band.  This was built when the subject of this sketch came to the county.  Calvin Hobart built one in the fall of 1836, then William McKee, father of our subject, built a horse-mill in 1838, it being the third in that section of the country.  People came to the mill from as far north as Rock Island.

Mrs. McKee manufactured cloth from the flax and cotton that her husband raised, with which to clothe the family.  Mrs. McKee’s maiden name was Cassie Frakes; she was a native of Pennslyvania, and a daughter of Henry and Hannah Frakes; her death occurred at the house of her daughter, which is situated close to the old family farm.

The subject of this sketch was thirteen years and four months old when he came to Illinois; on the journey he drove a four-horse team with a jerk line.  He has a vivid recollection of many of the experiences which fall only to the lot of the pioneer.  He remained in this State until 1839, and then started on a missionary tour among the Indians in the far West; he crossed the plains to Oregon, and spent one year among the savages; at the end of twelve months he returned to Illinois and resumed farming, continuing this occupation until 1847; then he again crossed the plains to Oregon, and during that year the Indians attacked the mission twenty-five miles from Walla Walla and murdered Dr. Whitman and others; he volunteered to assist in subduing the redskins, and was six months in the service.  He was in Oregon until 1849, and then went to California; he was suffering from ill-health, and his funds were limited compared with the extremely high price of provisions, flour selling as high as $2.50 a pound.  In 1852 he returned to his home and located on the old homestead which he now occupies.

Mr. McKee was married in 1853, to Sarah C. Wilmot, a native of Steuben County, New York.  Mrs. McKee was educated in the pioneer schools and at the age of twenty began to teach.  Only one of the directors who examined her could read and write; she received for her services the magnificent sum of $2.50 a week.  Mr. and Mrs. McKee are the parents of five daughters:  Amanda, wife of Henry Hite, died in February, 1882, leaving an infant son Archie M., who is being reared by his grandparents; Mary C., died in infancy; Ida S., wife of Samuel D. Wheelhouse, died in April, 1880; Bertha, wife of Cyrus L. DeWitt; and Meta, who died in October, 1889, aged fourteen years.

Politically Mr. McKee affiliates with the Democratic party, although in former times he was a Whig.  He is a man of wide experience, having passed through all the phases of life on the frontier.  He has always been loyal to the interest of Schuyler County, and has the entire confidence and respect of his fellow men.

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