Family Stories

Schuyler Pioneer Families – Part 1

This newspaper article, written in 1923 by Clara Ritchey Adkisson, gives us a good picture of how our forefathers lived, worked and made this country into what it is today.  The hardships they endured speak of their hardiness and fortitude.  William McKee, Sr., is Ritchey’s 3rd great-grandfather.  He and wife Cassandra Frakes were married September 27, 1804, in Hardin County, Kentucky.  A descendant of Captain Thomas McKee, a native of Antrim, Ireland, who settled in Pennsylvania about 1700, he embodies his ancestors drive and determination to make this land ‘home’.

One family fact that is not included in this article concerns Cassandra Frakes McKee.  Evidently her prowess as a nurse/doctor were legendary.  It was said she rode many miles to help the sick and afflicted – always on the back of a little white mare.

Since this is such a long article the first half will be posted today, the second half tomorrow.  Even though this tells the story of a small group of families, it is very likely the way most pioneers lived during the first settlement of an area.

Schuyler Pioneer Families

By Clara A. Adkisson

(As published in The Schuyler Citizen, March 7, 1923)

The name Schuyler was bestowed on our county in honor of General Phillip Schuyler, a gallant soldier in the Revolutionary War.  He was born in Albany, New York, in 1733.  He died in 1804.

Schuyler County was organized in 1825, and the vicinity of Rushville was the first that echoed to the sound of the white settler.  This was in 1823, two years prior to its organization as a county.  It was at that time part of Pike County.  Rushville is nearly central in location.  The first settlements were made in the first of the year 1823 by Calvin Hobart and Orris McCartney.  In the fall of 1823 Uncle Thomas McKee, a native of Kentucky, came from Crawford County, Indiana, going first to the home of the Hobarts where he and his family spent a week before locating in what is now Bainbridge township, settling on Section 20.  Willis O’Neal and his family, who came with Uncle Thomas, settled on Section 20 of the same township.

Uncle Thomas was a natural mechanic and possessed the ability to manufacture almost any article from wood or iron.  He was a good blacksmith, and began working in it.  He was the first blacksmith in Schuyler County.  He also made the first settlement in Littleton Township.

Uncle Thomas was not dilatory in getting his relatives and friends, whom he had left in Crawford County, Indiana, to come to Illinois.  On April 16, 1826, his brother, William McKee, Sr., his son William Jr., a lad of 13 years, his daughter Cassie and her husband, Joel Tullis, their little girl, Hannah, John Thompson and his family, Isaac Linder, Charles Hammond, Vincent Westfall and James Thompson came in schooners.  Grandfather William McKee and Uncle Joel Tullis each had a two-horse wagon or schooner and the rest of the immigrants depended on these two for transportation.  They crossed the Illinois River at Beard’s Ferry and pushed on to Uncle Thomas’, where they remained a few days until Grandfather McKee selected the N.E. ¼ of Section 18.

Several log cabins were soon built.  These cabins were generally 14 X 11 feet and they were never larger than 20 feet in length.  Often they were built without nails, glass, hinges or locks, and the floors were puncheon.  The furniture suited the premises admirable; though not elegant it was in perfect harmony.  The tables had four legs made from puncheon.  The chairs were stools with either three or four legs.  The beds were often constructed to permit them to be raised and fastened to the wall to afford more living room for the family.  The cabins and furniture were simple and were framed with no other tools than an axe, perhaps an adze and an auger.  All hands worked with a will.

Soon a good crop of corn, potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables was growing on the forty acres they had fenced and put under cultivation.  In planting, they simply turned the sod and between the crevices of the broken soil dropped the corn.  This was called “sod corn”.

The season was favorable and the field bountiful; the corn is said to have run twenty-five bushels to the acre.  The potatoes, the cabbage, and the various other vegetables were exceptionally fine this season.  Their watermelon patch, it is said, was so thickly covered with the enormous fruit that a man could walk carefully across the patch without placing his feet on the ground!  This almost incredible crop was a fair sample of the fertility and productivity of the soil a hundred years ago.  That fertility was quite probably the reason for many of the settlers remaining; hardy souls who would otherwise have rambled on as soon as the crops were well advanced.  Grandfather McKee, accompanied by his son-in-law, Uncle Joel Tullis, and the Thompson brothers returned to Indiana in their wagons to remove Grandmother (Cassie Frakes McKee) and the rest of the family, their goods and stock to Illinois.

John Thompson left his family with Auntie Tullis and Uncle Billy McKee (William McKee, Jr.).  Upon their arrival in Indiana, Uncle Joel (Captain Joel Tullis, who later settled in Palo Pinto County, Texas) began the construction of a pirogue.  He first selected a large straight poplar tree.  This he felled and cut from it a log sixty feet long.  Then he removed the inside of the log, until a mere shell remained.  To the upper edge, wide boards were nailed and permitted to extend out over the water like South Sea outboards.  Oarlocks and long poles for propelling, when oars could not be used, completed the pirogue.  It was finished near the middle of September.  The craft was then loaded.  The cargo consisted of household goods, leather, groceries and a carding machine for Grandfather McKee, and two families who were migrating to Morgan County, Illinois.  The working force of this method of transportation was Joel Tullis, the Captain, and his helpers, John and James Thompson, John Combs and Daniel Matheney.

The latter’s wife, Ann McKee Matheney, and their child came in the schooners.  “All aboard” was heard and the craft was soon drifting down the Ohio River.  They traveled by day; frequently they grounded on sand-bars, as the river was very low.  Then all hands had to get out and lift over.  After several lift-overs Captain Tullis discovered that the channel of the Ohio River was staked out, so by careful observation no further delays were encountered by the travelers.  They floated by day and camped on the river bank by night, with nothing for shelter but the sky and the glare of their campfire.  The solitude of the wilderness was relieved only by the splashing oars, or occasionally the echoed songs of a woodsman as he hewed the material for his home in the depths of the forest.  This brooding forest skirted the stream everywhere and in the late fall the trees were robed in many colors.  It was so primeval that it must have been both awesome and inspiring.

They reached the mouth of the Ohio River without accident and were soon poling their craft up the Mississippi River, then the Illinois River.

On their way a large deer with antlers of many prongs sprang into the water and attempted to swim across.  The young men of the party were soon in a canoe and gave chase to the noble game, which was at once overtaken.  Its head was bent by the sturdy arm of one of the number, its throat cut and the carcass secured.  Though game was plentiful, no time was wasted in pursuit as all were anxious to reach the end of the journey.

Many Indians were encountered on the banks and in the channels of the rivers.  All were peaceable and friendly.  Just at sunset on a beautiful October day in 1826, the prow of the pirogue touched the bank of the Illinois River where Frederick now stands.  The craft was made fast and Uncle Joel, John Thompson and Daniel Matheney started for the settlement twelve miles away.  James Thompson and John Combs remained to guard the pirogue and its precious cargo.  The other three were given a hearty welcome upon their arrival at the settlement.  The next day the contents of the pirogue were transferred to the cabins.

After two days rest Daniel Matheney and Charles Hammond started to meet the rest of the company, who were making the trip overland in schooners.  In the latter days of October the party arrived.  Those who came at that time were Grandfather and Grandmother McKee, daughters Agnes,who afterward became the wife of Aaron Harding; Dorcas, who became the wife of Philip Horney; Mary, who became the wife of William Price; Elizabeth, who became the wife of Zachariah Spriggs; Amanda and Clara Ann, who became the wives of Charles and Jacob Ritchey.  The last named were twins and were one year of age when they came to Schuyler County.  Sons, James, Henry and Joel McKee; Isaac Linder, wife and child; Daniel Matheney, wife and child; Joseph Lowhall, wife and two children; and Thomas Popnam, wife and three children, made up the party who came at that time and settled around the McKee’s and Tullis’.

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