Family Stories

Schuyler Pioneer Families – Part 2

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 second half will be posted today, the first half was published yesterday.  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)

Continued from yesterday:

Grandfather McKee resided upon his improvement until his death in 1851.  He gave the plot for Sugar Grove Cemetery and he and his daughter, Amanda Ritchey, (mother of William McKee Ritchey) were buried in a double grave.  He and she were the first burials in the cemetery.  His daughter had preceded him in death by some five or six weeks and Grandfather requested on his deathbed that her body be disinterred from Bethany Cemetery and buried with him in a double grave in Sugar Grove Cemetery.

Uncle William McKee resided on the homestead until his death, December 17, 1897.  It then passed to his daughter, Bertha (McKee) DeWitt, who sold it to Samuel Dean after its having been in the McKee name for more than ninety years.

Rushville was located as the seat of justice, March 6, 1826.  It was first known as Rushton in honor of Dr. Rush, an eminent physician of Philadelphia, but for some reason was changed to Rushville, April 24, 1826.  The commissioners appointed Dr. Blair to go to Springfield and obtain a patent for the S.W. ¼ of Section 30, Township 2N IW.  The sum of $150.00 was paid for the M. ½ of the ¼ by Jacob White, and Dr. Blair was allowed $2.50 for his work and time.  The ½ was that part lying about 80 feet east of the public square.  The first house built in Rushville was in the spring of 1826 by John Terry, just across the street south of the Webster school building.  The second house was built by Bart Fellows, where the northeast corner of the public square now stands.  Thomas McKee was authorized to employ a skilled surveyor to lay off the town.  It was directed that one tier of ten lots on the east side of the ¼ section should be divided into 2 – ½ acre lots.

Our pioneer parents were destitute of the many conveniences of life, and of some things that we at the present time consider necessities, but they patiently endured their lot and hopefully looked forward to better things.  They had an abundance of wholesome food and they sat down to a crude table to eat from pewter or wooden dishes.  But the meat they ate, the flesh of the deer, bear, duck, turkey, quail or squirrel was far superior to what we now eat.  The bread was made from corn, wheat or rye of their own raising and they did not move with the air of a beggar, but with the quick step of a self-respected freeman.  Sometimes they had knives and forks, but more often they had none.  Their table knife was the pack knife or butcher knife.  The above mentioned game was so plentiful in those days that the settler could stand in his cabin door with rifle in hand and bring down any one of them, whenever he wished.  The wolves were so numerous, we are told, that they would chase the dogs clear to the cabin door, and many times on rising in the morning they would be standing in great droves in the door yard, but they were cowardly and easily frightened away.  Again, whenever the prairie chickens were seen to fly in great flocks over the country or to huddle together on the trees, the settlers always predicted a storm.

Those were real hardships during the first years of the settlement of this now beautiful country.  Their mills were the rudest and most primitive in their make-up.  They were known as “Band Mills”.  Grandfather McKee had one of these mills.  After the grain was crushed in those mills, it was taken home and sifted through what they called a “sarch” woven of horsehair by our pioneer mothers.  These were with meshes, both coarse and fine, for sifting either corn or flour.

The women of these times correspond with the description of the virtuous in Solomon’s Proverbs, for they “sought wool and flax and worked willingly with their hands”.  They did not, it is true, make for themselves “coverings of tapestry” nor can we say their “clothing was silk and purple”.  But this they did, they “arose while it was yet night and gave meat to their household”.  They “girded their loins with strength and strengthened their arms”.  They “looked well to the ways of their household” and “ate not the bread of idleness” and “laid their hands to the spindle and to the distaff”.  Strength and honor were in their clothing.  They manufactured all the clothing worn by the family.  In cold weather gowns made of “linsey-woolsey” were worn by the ladies.  The fabric was usually plaid or striped and the different colors were blended according to the taste and fancy of the maker.  Colors were blue, copperas, turkey-red, light blue and so forth.  Every house contained a card-loom and spinning wheel, which were considered by the women as necessary for them as the rifle for the men.  Several kinds of cloth were made.  The men and boys wore “jeans” and “linsey-woolsey” hunting shirts.  The “jeans” were colored either light blue or butternut.

The men and boys also wore pantaloons made of the dressed skins of the deer, which then swarmed the prairies in great herds.  The young man who desired to look pleasing to the eye of the maiden he loved, had his “bucks” fringed, which made them very pretty.  Meal-sacks were also made of buckskin.  Caps were made of the skins of the fox, wolf, wild cat or muskrat tanned with the fur on.  The tail of the fox often hung from the top of the cap, lending it a jaunty air.  Both sexes wore moccasins and each family made its own shoes.

The deep snow of December 26, 1830, began falling on that date and continued to fall until it was four feet in depth in the timber.  Along the edges of the timber it was considerably deeper.  The fences were completely buried from view and were ignored by man and beast, who passed over them upon the hard crust.  The settlers were virtually imprisoned in their cabins, except within the limits made necessary by extreme need.  They obtained a supply of wood by felling the nearest trees and carrying them piecemeal to their snow-thatched cabins.  The stumps of those trees six or seven feet high might be seen years afterwards as grim monuments of that terrible visitation.  So deep an impression was made on the minds and memories of those who endured the privation that it became an epoch from which other occurrences and events of less importance were dated.

It is a source of interest to the young, whose blood is warm and whose curiosity renders active their imagination, to read what our pioneers related to that wonderful event.  Cattle, horses and hogs actually perished and the wild beasts of the forest, as if mindful of a common enemy and with an instinctive feeling of mutual protection, collected themselves in groups and flocks, only to perish together.  The owl hooted mournfully in his snowy retreat.  The hawk uttered a wild scream of hunger and the wolf’s sad howl died dolefully with the December wind that passed by the settlers’ cabins.  Many stories were told of those who were storm-caught on the highways.  The mill and store stood isolated and solitary like pyramids in the desert.

Grandfather McKee started with a load of provisions and left meal, corn and meat at many a cabin whose occupants would have starved had he not risked his life for them.  He never waited for their thanks.  The most seemly evidence of brotherhood of man is the unity and unanimity in a common peril.  And how joy must have filled the hearts of the settlers as their eyes caught the form of Grandfather with his precious load!  There is a feeling of pleasure excited by the conscious security from threatened danger that far outweighs the pains of its previous apprehension, and while we sympathize with their sufferings, we may yet find something to envy those who were exposed to the perils of the deep snow.

How little does the present busy active generation of this, the iron age, give thought to or heed the debt of gratitude it owes to our fearless pioneers of the then western frontier!

The germ of our beneficent system of free schools was of their handiwork, and nursed by their care.  They brought with them the tenets and principles of the Christian religion, so necessary to civilization.  So, too, were they imbued with the great ideas of personal freedom and justice and transmitted the same broad views to their children.  Young America, as this generation is sometimes called, in innocent thoughtlessness, perhaps with a broad grin, lightly speaks of the “fogyism” of the old settlers.  But we must remember that they lived in another age; that their vigor and aspirations have gone long ago.  They performed their part well and in the unknown beyond will receive a fitting reward.

4 replies »

  1. This was a terrific article. How do you find this stuff?
    Could you point me towards more info regarding Cassandra Frakes and her doctoring skills? I had never heard that before.
    William and Cassie McKee are my 4th great grandparents.
    Thanks for posting this article.
    Phil Jackson

    • This was an article written by Clara Ritchey Adkisson, and handed down through the family to my husband, Ritchey Brown. This is the first I have heard about Cassandra Frakes being such a good doctor. I’ll look through the rest of the family information and see if I can find anything else. Through which if William and Cassandra’s children do you descend?

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