The name—Persifer—was given to a post
office which was located at the home of Charles Bradford, who owned the
northwest quarter of Section 27 in this township and whose home was located
at the southwest corner of his farm. We do not know who chose the name, but
it was named in honor of General Persifer Frazier Smith who served in the
Mexican War. Morgan Reece told me that people wrote the name they wanted and
sent it to Knoxville.
The township was set off as a separate town sometime in the fall of 1849, and
on January 14, 1850, the voters at an election chose the name Persifer for
the township. At that time Haw Creek and Persifer were in one precinct and I
have heard my father say that the polling place was at the residence of
Booker Pickrel which located at the northwest corner of Section 3 of Haw
Creek Township. It is now the home of John Spear.
The township is located near the top of the east slope of the ridge which
lies between the Illinois and the Mississippi River. As a consequence the
general slope is east and south. A bend in Spoon River cuts off about 300
acres on the east side of the township, and this with Court Creek and its
other tributaries (Middle Creek, North Creek and Sugar Creek) and other small
streams, furnish excellent drainage for the township. These streams render
the greater part of the land very rough there being only about 3,000 acres of
prairie land in the township, making it more of a grazing than a farming
Originally at least three-fourths of the township was covered with timber or
scatter trees. The land where the scattered trees grew was called barrens,
but he word was a misnomer for the barrens is now the home of some of our
most progressive and well to do citizens. When the early settlers cut the
trees, new trees came up from the see and now what timber we have is nearly
all what is called second growth. Nearly all of this second growth has been
cut and killed until we have very little timber left at the present time. The
principal timber is the oak of which the white oak is probably the most
useful variety. Burr oak comes next in usefulness. Black oak is most
plentiful. There is also read oak, pin oak and jack oak. There are also a few
cottonwood, a few elms, a few lynn, a few box alder, a few ash, hickory,
black walnut and hard maple. When the early settlers first came to the county
there was a white pine grove on section 25. Some of the trees were more than
two feet through at the stump. This grove was soon all cut and used up. Most
of it was sawed at the Whitton sawmill which was situated at the Sumner
bridge on Spoon River in the northeast corner of Haw Creek Township. One
house was built from this white pine lumber—that of Captain Taylor of
Trenton. This house was the first) or second) frame house built in the
township. Excepting this small grove, none of the native timber is of much
use as building material except as frame material. Very little wood is now
used for fuel; nearly everyone uses coal for heating and cooking purposes at
the present time. The greatest use of native timber is posts, coal props—of
which a great many are shipped from the township—and bridge plank.
There are plentiful deposits of shale in the township that would make
excellent brick but as yet there is no factory for making brick and as
concrete is beginning to be so extensively used and is such an excellent
building material, there probably never will be any brick made from it.
Coal is also found in all parts of the township, but it is not mined to any
extent. Three separate veins of coal crop out in the township. The highest
vein is in the north part of the town of the town and is 4 feet thick and is
of excellent quality. The other veins are but two feet thick and are very
hard and make a great many cinders.
The only stone in the township is sandstone, of which there is a small
supply. It is soft and does not withstand the climate very well. As there is
practically no gravel to use in making concrete, and other building materials
are so scarce, it is readily seen that materials for building is one of our
Persifer is well supplied with fertile soil. About one-fourth of the land is
what is known as “Marshall Silt Loam” and is what was originally prairie and
barrens. All the remainder of the land—except the bottom land—is called
“Miami Silt Loam.”
In the early days the settlers used springs or shallow wells for water, but
year by year the wells had to be made deeper and deeper until at the present
time drilled wells from 50 to 300 feet deep furnish the purest and the most
abundant supply of water. In the early days people secured soft water by
setting buckets, washtubs, or barrels under the eaves of their houses to
catch the rain water as it ran from the eaves. Now nearly house has its
cistern for rain water. Cisterns usually hold from 60 to 80 barrels of water
and people are seldom out of it.
The prairies not only furnish a fertile soil for farming but in the early
days furnished spontaneously an abundant supply of roughage for stock. The
timber also furnished acorns in sufficient quantities to fatten not only deer
but all the hogs of the early settlers raised. Honey was also plentiful. Mr.
R.C. Benson told of one bee tree that he cut from which he filled all the
tubs and buckets he had and stood in honey several inches deep.
Several kinds of fruit and nuts are native to the township. Wild grapes,
plums blackberries, strawberries, elderberries and wild crabs were found, and
black walnuts, butternuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts were also plentiful. A
party of young people once went into Court Creek bottoms near where Appleton
now stands and gathered a washtub full of wild strawberries.
Game was plentiful until about 1850. Parts of the elephant and the mastodon
have been found in Persifer. A mastodon’s tooth was found on North Creek by
Albert Wyman and I think it is now in the possession of Fred R. Jelliff,
editor of the Republican-Register. The write also fund a part f a mastodon
tooth on Section 35. What appears to be an entire tooth of an elephant was
found by Luther Webb in Court Creed on Section 22 in 1917. I have often heard
my father, R.W. Miles; say that the bones and horns of the bison were
plentiful upon the prairies when he came here in 1836. Although these larger
animals had disappeared from the country before the settlers came, there
remained plenty of deer, a few elk, and numbers of wild turkeys. Prairie
chicken, quail, squirrels, the raccoon and rabbits were abundant in those
days but most of them have now disappeared. Prairie chickens were so numerous
in the early days that Charles Bradford and his son William killed 24 by
firing one shot each at a flock sitting on the grain stacks ever stacked in
Persifer. R.W. Miles on several occasions killed as many as 7 prairie
chickens at one shot and the writer has seen as many as a thousand in one
flock, but they have now almost disappeared from this part of the country.
Fur bearing animals are still to be found in small numbers Probably $500
worth of furs are procured each year.
Indians were doubtless quite numerous at one time but a very few were ever
seen after the white settlers came and they were doubtless wandering bands.
Many of their flint arrow heads and stone axes have been found. The poles of
their wigwams which were standing when the settlers came would indicate that
there was an Indian village where the town of Dahinda now stands. There are a
few mounds in the township, but they may have belonged to a former race. The
Indians had no burial place in the township so far as I have ever heard,
unless the mounds be such place. What is known as the Galena Trail—one branch
of it—passed through the township. It ran almost straight north from the
south side of the township to Court Creek, crossing that stream where the
present Appleton Bridge stands. From there it followed a northwesterly
direction. A branch trail from the mouth of Court Creek joined it near the
northwest corner of the township. The trails were much used by the early
settlers as they were very good roads, the Indians not having to follow the
section lines in the selection of their highways. Mr. W.G. Sargeant says that
there were a number of poles of wigwams on the hills on the east side of
Sugar Creek and south of what is known as Round Bottom.
One of the Indians who sometimes visited this section during the days of the
early settlement was the chief, Shabona. He once offered to show William
Morris a silver mine in the northeast part of the township, but Mr. Morris,
fearing treachery, would not go with him. Afterwards when returning from a
journey of some sort he came across a spot that corresponded with that
described to him by Sabona. But when he went to look for it again he could
never find the same place. It may seem strange that Mr. Morris could not find
the place again, but I have heard my father say that once when returning from
a hunting trip crossing Court Creek bottoms which had been freshly burned
over he found quite a large piece of land strewn thickly with human bones,
which were so badly burned that they fell in pieces when he tried to pick
them up and although he tried to find the place afterwards he could not do
William Morris, mentioned above, was probably the first white settler. He
bought the N.W. 1/4 Section of 26 on March 10, 1832. During the winter of
1832-33 he lodged in a hollow sycamore tree which stood near the south bank
of Spoon River just below the mouth of Court Creek. Mr. Morris came from
Wilksville, Gallia County, Ohio. He married Miss Ruth Vaughn, who came from
Kentucky. Mr. Morris probably built his cabin in 1833, but it is said to have
burned down soon after it was built.
Beverly Young and Jesse and Willis Reynolds came to the township in 1833.
They came from Munfordsville, Kentucky. Beverly Young settled on the east 1/2
of the northeast of Section 26.
Jessie Reynolds settled on the west 1/2 of the same quarter. Willis Reynolds
settled on the west 1/2 of the southwest 1/4 of Section 25. Some time in the
fall of 1834 Charles Bradford came from Licking County, Ohio, and bought the
Beverly Young place and moved into the house which Mr... Young had built
there. The next year, 1835, Mr. Bradford bought the North West 1/4 of Section
27 and moved into a house that stood just across the road west on Section 28.
In 1836, Rev. S.S. Miles came to the township from Ohio and bough a part of
the north West 1/4 of Section 34, but did not move onto the place until the
spring of 1839, although he lived nearby while he was building his house
which, as he was in poor health and his oldest son was but 14 years old, it
took him some time to do so.
In 1837 many families came to the township, among them being those of Edmond
Russell, Isaac Sherman, G.W. Manley, T.D. Butt, Caleb Reece, John Caldwell
and James Maxey. After this new arrivals became quite frequent and neighbors
were not so far apart.
The first marriage, in which the contracting parties were residents of the
township, was that of Charles Bradford and Parmelia Ann Richardson. Mr.
Bradford was a native of New Hampshire but after his first marriage lived in
the state of Maine for a short time. He then moved to Licking County, Ohio,
and later, in 1834, came to Illinois. Miss Richardson came from Kentucky.
They were married in Peoria some time in the spring of 1836.
The first wedding which occurred in the township was that of Harvey Stetson
Bradford, son of Charles Bradford and Hester Whitton. They were married
October 24, 1836, at the home of the groom’s father who lived on the
northwest 1/4 Section 27. The Rev. Bartlett, a Baptist minister from
Knoxville performed the ceremony.
It has often been stated that R. C. Benson and Sarah Bradford were the first
couple married in the township, but they were not married until January 5,
1837. They were married at the home of the bride’s father, Charles Bradford.
The ceremony was performed by the Rev. S.S. Miles.
The first death was that of Mrs. Charles Bradford, which occurred on January
5, 1835. Mrs. Bradford was in poor health when she came to the township, in
1834, and lived only a few months. She was buried on their own farm almost at
the center of the N.E. 1/4 of Section 26.
The first public cemetery was in Section 9 on what is now known as the
Charles Myers farm. The first burial therein was a son of John Henderson, who
then owned the farm.
Mr. David Russell, who came to the township with his father in 1837, says
that there was a cemetery at Trenton at that time. This cemetery is located
just east of where the town of Trenton stood and is known as the Trenton
Modes of Travel
Traveling in those days was not very rapid. In the winter of 1835-36 Rev.
S.S. Miles, who lived in Newark, Ohio, was in very poor health. The doctors
told him that he would live only until spring came, but as soon as he was
able to get onto a horse he began riding out every day and as soon as he
could ride 10 miles a day he started for Illinois. He came to the township in
June of that year and b ought his farm and rode back to Ohio on horseback.
When there he loaded his family into a wagon and brought them to Illinois the
They traveled quite slowly, leading a cow behind the wagon and camping out
nights. The milk from the cow was hung up in the wagon in a tin bucket every
morning and at night fresh butter was taken from the bucket. Many of the
roads were corduroy, especially in Indiana, and most of the streams had to be
forded or ferried. Mr. Miles lived 40 years after coming to Illinois. His
death was October 6, 1876.
Charles Bradford brought his family to Illinois in the same way. He brought
one two-horse wagon and one six-horse wagon. His daughter, Mrs. P.C. Benson,
told me that the only incident that she could think of in the journey from
Ohio was that one of the wagons upset after they passed all the hills and
streams and were only about a mile from the place where they located. Nearly
all the settlers came in wagons, but it is quite likely that a few of them
came on foot.
The first mail was carried on horseback, the carrier crossing Spoon River at
a place called Jack’s ford. This ford was located about 80 rods below the
mouth of Court Creek and about the same distance above the township line.
The first public conveyance and one which also carried the mail was the
stagecoach. Just when the stage began running through Persifer we do not
know, but it seems to have been running in 1837, according to Mr. David
Russell, who came to the township that year and was 15 years of age. The
first route of the stage was from Trenton west nearly to the R.C. Benson
farm, then in a southwesterly direction to the Miles farm, thence nearly on a
straight line to Knoxville, passing the G.W. Manly farm, (now owned by George
W. Haner), where a fine spring where people stopped to water. This route
missed all the hills between Spoon River and Knoxville. The state road
through Trenton and Knoxville was laid out in 1838. T.D. Butt, Caleb Reece
and John Coleman were the commissioner
In the early 40’s the people desired a post office closer than Knoxville and
one was established at the home of Charles Bradford, Mr.. Bradford being
appointed postmaster We do not know the date when the office started but some
place the date as early as 1842. Several years afterwards the office was
moved to Trenton and the name was changed to Trenton.
The first school of which we know was taught by Mary Ann Long in 1839. The
school was held in a cabin which stood in the hollow just north of the
present Maple Grove School house, District No. 91. This school was not a
public school, but was supported by subscription. Mr. C. N. Butt, now living
in Knoxville, was a pupil of that school.
The first school house was built in 1841 on the line between the Francis
Wilson and the John Caldwell farms. It stood on the north side of the road
1/4 mile west of the center of Section 30. It was a log structure with the
door in the south and one row of panes where a log had been sawed out in the
east and west of the house for windows. We believe that John McIntosh was the
first teacher and that Curtis Edgerton was the second, but some have said
that Mr. Edgerton was the first. So far as we know the pupils who attended
the first public school were James and George McPherrin, Neptin, Lucina and
Mary Russell, Charles N. Butt, Jacob Brunk, and John C. Hearn.
The first school trustees of Persifer were T.D. Butt and Samuel McCormack.
The first meeting was on January10, 1846, and the first official act was the
appointment of Francis Wilson to the office of Secretary and Treasurer.
Another log school house was built in an early day near the town of Trenton,
but it was probably not built until after the one on the Wilson farm. This
building stood between 80 and 90 rods almost due east of the present Trenton
There are now nine frame school buildings in the township and the schools are
all graded. According to the census of June 1st, 1918, there are 207 pupils
of school age in the township. The value of the school property in the
township is $9,830 and the amount of tax levy for the last year was $6,325.
Persifer boasts the first mill in Knox County. It was built in 1834, by
Robert Hendrix. It stood on the south bank of Court Creek at the mouth of
Middle Creek—just above where the Knoxville and Victoria road crosses Court
Creek on section 19. At first only corn was ground at this mill, but later
wheat was also ground by Samuel MCormack. This mill was afterwards converted
into a sawmill and was owned and operated by Andrew Fletcher, Hubbard
Huggins, Daniel Anderson and David Russell. Mr. Russell was operating the
mill when the dam was washed away in 1853.
The next place of importance in the township was the town of Trenton. It was
the first town and was laid out in 1839 by Hyram Bowman on Section 25. It
contained a tavern and hostelry, a post office, 2 stores, a blacksmith shop,
a pottery and a brick yard. Charles Bradford kept the post office, which was
moved from his farm to Trenton. A man by the name of Goodman kept the first
store. It was a regular stopping place for the stage as long as that mode of
conveyance was in use, which was up to 1853. The name of one of the stage
drivers was Dave Brownlee and the name of another was Oliver Pike. These men
were of the rough and ready sort or they would not have been in such a
business at that time. At one time one of these men brought a young lady to
Galesburg who was to teach in Knox College. It was a very icy time and when
the driver opened the stage door and reached up to help the young lady out,
his feet went from under him and he went flat on the ground. The young lady,
I (forget her name), was so far out of the coach that she could not keep her
balance, so she very neatly jumped over the fallen driver and alighted on the
curb without any assistance. But the driver was not daunted by the mishap to
himself. He turned to a half dozen young men who were standing by and
beginning to laugh at him and said: “Boys, there’s terrible times over in
Knoxville. The niggers are dying off at the rate of six a minute.” (There was
but one Negro in Knox County at the time). Both these men went to California
in the gold digging days.
An Early Mill
Elliott’s Mill, so-called in honor of Captain Hiram Elliott, who was captain
of Company H, 102 Illinois Infantry, and who owned and operated the mill for
several years, was built in 1840 at the mouth of Court Creek on Spoon River.
It stood on the south bank of the river at the mouth of the creek and has
quite a history. Some time prior to 1840, probably in 1839, Thomas Gilbert
who lived south of Knoxville and who was one of the men who sought out the
location for Knox College and a man named Captain Jack made a tour of
inspection along Spoon River and decided that the spot we have described was
the best place for a mill site. As these men did not wish to go partners in
the mill and neither wanted to pay the other for what the law gave free to
the man who first began to build, both men went home and watched for an
opportunity to get the first start. Finally Captain Jack started for Oquawka
for two loads of casting for a mill. After his departure Mr. Gilbert heard of
it in some way and not to be out-done he engaged all the men he could get to
go with him from Knoxville and they went out to the river and began cutting
walnut logs in the creek bottoms just west of the mill site. They worked all
night, cutting, hewing and dragging out the logs and when Captain Jack got
back with his castings he found that he was beaten. It is said that he hauled
the castings down the river a short distance, threw them out of his wagons
and never picked them up. Although Mr. Gilbert secured the site for the mill,
for some reason he did not build the mill. He may have sold the site to a man
named McKee, for a man named McKee built the mill. Mr. McKee doubtless began
building the mill in 1839 for the frame was up early in the spring of 1840,
and it was finished that year. It was a large substantial structure and
remained standing 41 years. In the beginning it was a sawmill but it was
later converted into a flour mill and was for many years one of the most
important milling centers in the county. As the mill grew in importance
Trenton declined and one of the stores was moved from Trenton to the mill.
For several years there were two stores and a blacksmith shop and at one time
there were two saloons in operation. One of them was even named the Blue
Goose. The mill was owned first by McKee then by the Lewis boys, )Laderic,
Loid, Loren and Luther Lewis), then by a Mr. Sinocker, then by Captain
Elliott, then by Proctor Myers, then by Henry Corbin and last by John
Degrummond. After about 1870 the water began to fail so badly in the streams
that the mill finally had to quit business about 1875. The building finally
became unsafe and was torn down by Mr. Degrummond in the spring of 1881.
The Golden Circle
During the Civil War the Knights of the Golden Circle were quite numerous in
the vicinity of the mill and for a long time they met every Saturday night in
an old log house that stood on the west side of the road just on the high
bank of the creek. The house was one story with a loft and a stone chimney on
the outside. Mr. Henry Butt, who told me of the circumstances, was a good
sized boy at the time and was staying with the miller. He says that on
Saturday evenings when it was getting dark men would begin to ride in on
horseback from all directions and tie their horses in the low ground back of
the house where they would be entirely out of sight from the road. There were
usually about 25 of them and they would gather in the loft of the old house
and stay there for quite a long time before they dispersed. Mr. Butt was very
anxious to know what they were meeting for and so one night he climbed up the
chimney until his head was above the floor of the loft and listened, but
although he could hear them talking he could not distinguish anything that
they said. The Knights kept up their meetings until the draft was called when
some of them in order to escape the draft left the country and the circle was
broken up. The Knights of the Golden Circle was a secret organization in the
south for the extension and defense of slavery. It contained many men in all
the southern states and a great many northern men. In Persifer they went so
far as to plot the murder of some of the prominent citizens. The writer’s
father was the first one whom they planned to execute, but a friend of our
family who was a member of the Circle, came to our people and told them what
was planned. As I think of it now I do not know the man’s name, I only know
that he was an Irishman.
The third and last mill to be built in the township was built by Charles
Haptonstall about 1848. It was built on Court Creek, about 80 rods west of
the road leading south from the town of Appleton. In it corn and buckwheat
were ground at first, but it was later converted into a sawmill and not being
very substantial was never a place of much business.
All the mills and the town of Trenton have long since disappeared as places
of public business and there were no other places of that character except a
few blacksmith shops until the A.T. & S.F. Railroad was built in 1888. There
have been several blacksmith shops in the south half f the township aside
from the ones already mentioned. The following are all that the writer
remembers: Francis Wilson on his farm on Section 30, Thomas Gordon on the
William Morris farm on Section 26, and, a later date, Jas. Kelso, on the hill
south of Appleton.
Dahinda was laid out in the summer of 1888 by the Santa Fe Town and Land Co.
It stands on the west bank of the Spoon River on the N.W. of Section 24 and
is a station on the Santa Fe Railroad. There is a Methodist Episcopal church
and a Latter Day Saints church, generally known as an offspring of the Mormon
Church. Guy H. Peters has a store and is postmaster. Charles Woolsey and A.E.
Sargeant each have stores and James Kelso has a blacksmith shop. A.E.
Sargeant also runs the elevator and E.W. Fraquer has a barber shop. The A.T.
& S.F. Railroad which traverses the township from west to east with a fine
double track has a fine bridge across Spoon River at this place.
Appleton was laid out by the Hon. J.H. Lewis in the spring of 1888, on the
S.E. 1/4 of Section 16. It is situated on the north side of the Santa Fe
Railroad and is a station on that road. Mr. William A. Iles has a store and
is postmaster. Alfred E. Saline has a store and a Church of the United
Brethren in Christ. Quite a large amount of grain and stock is shipped from
Appleton each year.
The Prairie State Oil Co. has pipe lines and a pumping station in the
township. The pipe lines follow the Santa Fe tracks and the pumping station
is by the side of that road on Section 23. They also have a switch from the
Santa Fe tracks.
Another pipe line runs through the south part of the township but has no
pumping station here.
The first sermon preached in the township so far as we have any record, was
at the home of Charles Bradford in June 1836. The preacher was the Rev. S. S.
Miles. He also organized the first Sunday school at the same place in 1838.
The first lesson was from the book of Daniel. The first church was built in
1863 on the Robert Young farm at the center of Section 30. It cost $1,800.
There are now seven church buildings in the township but two of them are not
used. The church on the Young farm is called Bethel and is a Methodist. Maxey
Chapel stands at the center of Section 5 and is a Methodist. One of the
churches at Dahinda is a Methodist and the other is an offshoot of the Mormon
Church, called the Latter Day Saints. The church at Appleton is the old
United Brethren denomination. The church which stands at the center of
Section 8 and the one standing at the southwest corner of Section 27 belong
to the revised division of the United Brethren church. The two latter are not
in use at the present time. The U.B. Church at Appleton built a parsonage in
1917. It is the first parsonage in the township.
A great deal might be said about the religion of Persifer people. In the
first days of the settlement there were no churches nor school houses and the
meetings had to be held for the most part in the homes of the settlers and
later when a large barn was built it would sometimes be used for holding
meetings. The barn on the Robert Young farm was once used for holding a
revival meeting, Mr. Young being himself a great church man. A goodly number
were converted at this meeting and some of them became very enthusiastic. One
man coming out of the barn after he had joined the church saw his son talking
with some other young men out in the yard and coming up to him said: “Son,
you D----d fool you, why don’t you go in and join the meeting: Mother’s
joined and I’ve joined and the girls have joined and we’ve all joined.”
Possibly the enthusiasm would to a certain extent excuse the profanity.
After the school houses were built they were used almost exclusively for
holding religious services until the churches were built. They were the only
places of public worship for years. Any people like the school house the best
for church services as it was not the property of any denomination and people
felt more at home there.
At one time in the early days a Spiritualist came into the Young neighborhood
and gave a few talks and the older people began to be worried on account of
the young people, and tried to get the man to leave the community. Instead of
leaving, however, he proposed that they get some one to debate the subject
with him and leave the question to be settled in that way and Mr. Robert
Young took him at his word and tried to find some preacher who would debate
with him. But Mr. Young could not find a preacher who would undertake the
task and finally a man named Ruff Branscom told him to get R. W. Miles. Mr.
Miles said he would debate with him and Mr. Branscom to pretend that he
wanted to join the spiritualists and get some books for Mr. Miles to study.
The debate was finally called and lasted only and hour and a half when the
spiritualist was ready to quit. Mr. Young now said that as Mr. Miles had
spent some time in studying up for the debate and had given them such good
service it was no more than right that they should take up a collection for
him. He then proceeded to take up the collection wearing a very broad smile
at the same time. One of the neighbors seeing this smile spoke up and said
that if it was a victory, it was not a Methodist victory, at which remark Mr.
Young’s smile only grew this broader.
Many meeting of great interest have been held in the township and many people
have been converted in them and although there have been many backsliders
there have also been those who were faithful.
The first land broken was six acres on what is known as the Stevens farm in
the S.E. of the N.E. of Section 28. Six acres were also broken on the S.E. if
Section 34 at about the same time.
The first crop was oats and wheat and the farmer was William Morris.
The prairie sod was very tough and hard to plow. The plows were made almost
wholly of wood, there being an iron shire and I suppose an iron clevis.
Usually the plows were attached to wagon wheels as a man could not manage one
of them and they were drawn by oxen, generally two or three yoke to a plow.
The sod was often left to rot over winter. One man planted corn on freshly
broken sod by using an ax to make the holes and cover the corn.
The first crop did not need tending but after that the weeds were too bad to
let go. One man in speaking of this fact said that he trusted to providence
to raise a crop one year and got a good crop, so he tried it again and got
nothing and he was not going to trust to providence again.
After the sod was rotted the soil could be furrowed out with a shovel plow,
and then a man by walking across the furrows could drop the corn so that it
would be in rows both ways. Sometimes they would cover it with a hoe,
sometimes with a plow and sometimes with a harrow.
The first corn planter was made about 1851, but they were not in general use
until in the sixties. The first check-rower was a rope but it was soon
replaced by the wire as the rope would shrink and stretch too much. The
check-row planter came into use about 1875.
The sowing, harvesting and threshing of the small grains has improved as much
as the planting of corn. In the early days small grain was all sown by hand.
A man would take 1/2 to l-1/2 bushels of grain in a sack and carry it across
the field, reaching his hand into the sack every second step, taking thence a
certain amount of seed and scattering it in front and to one side of him.
Finally the hoe drill was invented, which was used mostly for seeding fall
grains. Later the broadcast seeder came into use, being used mostly for
seeing spring grains. Finally in the end of the nineteenth century the
endgate seeder and disk drill came into use.
The cradle was used for cutting the grain for many years after this country
was settled. A man could cut and bind and shock about an acres a day in those
days. After the cradle came the dropper, the hand rake reaper, the self rake
reaper, the Marsh Harvester, the wire binder and finally the twine binder,
which has been without a competitor for almost forty years.
For threshing their grain the earliest settlers were obliged to use the
flail. Then they began using horses. A small piece of ground would be
smoothed off nicely and some grain would be unbound and scattered on this
smooth spot. Then a man, or sometimes two men, would mount a horse and
leading 2 or 3 other horses he would go around and around on the grain until
the grain was all trampled out of the heads, when they would dismount and
cleaning away the straw with forks would gather up the grain and put it in
sacks ready for cleaning.
The first threshing machine was called a ground-beater. It was only a
cylinder. The grain and straw and chaff all came through onto the ground
together and had to be separated by pitchfork and fanning mill. It was run by
horse power, the power being made for six horses. Tumbling rods were used.
The first threshing was done on what was then the Parkins place, on the hill
near the center of the place. The place is the south 1/2 of the S.E. of
Section 32. The man who owned and ran the machine was named Pittner and he
lived near Canton, Fulton County. Milton Lotts helped thresh.
Great improvements have been made in the kind of power used and in the
handling of the straw so that the thresher is now almost as well perfected as
At the present time the gas tractor is very much talked of and is used in
limited extent, but its place as a mode of power is not yet established.
Plows have been greatly improved upon from the wooden plow of the pioneers to
the two-bottom gang drawn by four horses.
The manure spreader is another very practical farm machine.
The tiling of land has been a great improvement to much of the land here. It
is quite generally conceded that 4-inch tile is as small as should be used.
Fertilizing the soil is coming more and more into vogue and we believe that
the practice will increase very rapidly in the next few years.
The use of concrete on farms is increasing very fast also.
Corn is considered the banner crop in this township but wheat has been doing
very well for several years, at least it has averaged better than it used to
do. A great many fields has averaged better than it used to do. A great many
fields of wheat made 30 bushes to the acre in 1918. Some fields made better
than 40 bushels to the acre. The price of wheat was fixed by the government
$2.26 per bushel for the 1918 crop at Chicago. The farmer got $2.08 at his
The country is subject to sudden changes of temperature. The most notable was
perhaps in the winter of 1837-37. It was a warm, misty day, with the wind in
the south until about 2 o’clock P.M., when the wind suddenly changed to the
northwest and the two inches of slush which was on the ground was turned to
ice in fifteen minutes. In some instances hogs and cattle were frozen to
death standing up. Some people took their horses into their houses to keep
them from freezing.
In the winter of 1874-75, one morning in January, the weather was very nice
until about 10 o’clock A.M., when it began snowing. Immediately afterward the
wind began blowing from the northwest and in one hour the mercury fell 24
degrees. On June 5, 1844 occurred one of the most destructive storms of wind,
rain and hail. The crops were almost totally destroyed. There was no wheat
left to cut and my grandfather told me that his corn crop that year was only
a ten bushel box of nubbins in which was only five bushels of corn. The hail
stones were as large as goose eggs.
What has been known as a hurricane occurred in 1857. It was a straight wind
with rain. The storm was 40 miles wide and was severe enough to blow the
roofs off of many buildings and blow some of them down. I do not know what
time of the year this storm was but it must have been in the spring as I have
never heard that it destroyed any crops.
About the first of August, 1875, a tornado passed through the township from
west to east. A two-story house which stood a short distance west of the
Flynn school house in Court Creek bottom was picked up and carried two or
three rods and dashed into kindling wood. A good deal of other damage was
done but fortunately no one was injured, although this was not the case in
On the 21st of May, 1918, another tornado started apparently on Section 28
and proceeded in a direction a little north of east, wrecking buildings and
uprooting even the largest trees and passing about 1/2 mile north of Dahinda.
One man, a Mr. Walker, pump man at the oil pumping station, was killed and
the pump house, a concrete building, was completely wrecked. Another man, the
name unknown, was blown a distance of ten or fifteen rods and was found after
the storm pretty badly bruised but not seriously hurt. Very little damage was
done to the crops by this storm as it was so early in the season. The farm
buildings of Henry Anderson and the dwelling house of Harry Little were very
badly wrecked and Mr. Little was himself unconscious during the storm. He
showed no marks where any object had struck him and he does not know what
rendered him unconscious.
Some winters we have lots of snow and many of the roads are drifted so as to
make them impassible. In the spring of 1881 the snow lay on in sheltered
places until the first of May.
Dwellings and Furnishings
The first houses in the township were of logs. The first one is supposed to
have been that of William Morris on Section 26.
About 8 years afterwards there seem to have been three frame houses built at
about the same time. Edmond Russell built a frame house on his farm on
Section 31, in 1841. It was burned down in 1886. Captain Taylor, who
emigrated here from Nova Scotia, built the first frame house in Trenton in
1841. The frame of this house was sawed from native white pine which grew on
what was called Pine Bluff about 1/2 mile north and east of Trenton. (The
logs were said to have been sawed at the Whitton mill at what is now known as
the Sumner Bridge in the northeast corner of Haw Creek Township.) The third
frame house and the first house to be painted white was built on the Bethel
corner at the center of Section 30. It was built by a Mr. Davenport for his
daughter, whose name was Easley.
James M. Maxey built the first brick house in 1851, making his own brick. The
first brick building was a smoke house built by T.D. Butt. The Stevens house
has stood the longest of any brick house in the township. It has stood about
60 years. The brick for it were burned on the Biggerstaff place just across
the road from where Henry Wesner lives. Sam Conaway burned the brick for this
The frame house seems to be the most healthful and comfortable dwelling made
although it is not so substantial as some other materials.
Some great improvements have been made in the furnishings of the dwellings.
The fireplace has given place to the range and the furnace. The washboard to
the power washer, tallow candle to the incandescent electric light in a great
many cases, the needle to the sewing machine, the melodeon to the piano and
the talking machine, the straw bed on the floor to the spring bed and
mattress, the husk rug to the Brussels, the Axminster or the Wilton rug, the
homemade lounge to the hammock and the costly couch and davenport, the old
fashioned chair to expensive elegance but not to comfort.
The writer is not posted on early amusements, but he has heard his people
tell of some of the things they did in the early days. There were the
quilting bees, the shooting matches, the debating societies, the singing
schools, the Fourth of Julys, the corn huskings and the wool washings. As I
have never see the wool washing described I will try to do so. The young
people would be invited to a home to spend the evening. Several tubs would be
secured and in these would be placed wool and water. Then the young people
(young men and women) would gather around a tub, as many as could
conveniently do so, remove their shoes and stockings, put them into the tub
and work them up and down until the wool was thoroughly scoured. The washed
wool would then be removed and fresh wool put in its place and the
performance would go on until the wool was all washed or until it was time to
Horse racing on the road was also one of the incidentals of the day. In the
early days the wagon boxes were put together with pins and could be easily
taken apart and sometimes when the wagon was being driven very rapidly the
pins would bounce out and let the box come to pieces of its own accord. One
man who had been to Peoria and was coming home with his groceries in the
wagon box got into a race with some other people who were coming in the same
direction. The race began somewhere east of the Spoon River and lasted until
Trenton was reached. When this man stopped he had neither groceries nor wagon
box, both having been lost on the way and he was sitting on the coupling pole
of his wagon. He might not have stopped there if his horses had not run into
a tree and stopped themselves.
Politics in Persifer has sometimes been very interesting although mostly in a
Before the township was organized, G.W. Manley was Justice of the Peace. The
first election was held April 6, 1853, at the White School house, now known
as the Union or District No. 90. The following officers were elected: G.W.
Manley, Supervisor; Richard Daniel, Clerk; James McCord, Assessor; Williams
T. Butt, Collector; Wilson Fearce, Overseer of the Poor; Francis Wilison,
Caleb Reece and David Cobb, Commissioners of Highways; Thomas Patton and R.W.
Miles, Justices; L.A. Parkins and David Russell, Constables, G.W. Manley was
moderator and Richard Daniel, clerk of the meeting.
The writer does not know when the custom began but when he was a boy the
elections were held at the Union school house one year and the next at the
Wyman school house.
About 1892 or 1893, Mr. E.J. Steffen offered his carpenter shop in the town
of Appleton for election purposes and it was used until the Town Hall was
built in 1895. Mr. E.J. Steffen built the hall for the township at a cost of
$540. The elections have always been held at the hall ever since that time.
At the time of Lincoln’s second election feeling ran very high in this part
of the country, and it was not considered safe to count the ballots at the
school house so they were brought to my father’s home for counting. Abram
Rambo, James Dossett, William Patton and my father, R.W. Miles, sat around
the dining table with big navy revolvers lying handy and counted the ballots.
Mr. Patton, being a long ways from home, did not go home that night, but Mr.
Rambo went home on horseback and said he was going to carry his revolver
cocked all the way. Mr. Dossett went home on foot across the fields. He also
carried a revolver and he was one of the kind that would have shot first and
made inquiries afterwards if any one had tried to molest him on that trip. We
can hardly imagine that such times have ever existed in this peaceful
The following men have been supervisor of the township: G.W. Manley, R.W.
Miles, James M. Maxey, John Biggerstaff, James Dossett, R.C. Benson, E.J.
Wyman, J.R. Young, W.H. Montgomery, J.J. Patton and George A. Gibson. R.W.
Miles and J.R. Young each held the office for about 20 years, Mr. Young
holding it for 20 years continuously without opposition. Mr. Miles was for
many years chairman of the board.
Mr. Gibson, our present supervisor, has been quite severely tested in caring
for the Liberty loans and the Red Cross and other war work organizations, but
he has responded loyally and royally to the calls.
The present township officers are: George a. Gibson, Supervisor; Leonard
Harmison, Town Clerk; E.W. Farquer, Assessor; Roy Stevens, Commissioner of
Highways; E.J. Steffen and W.H. Mongomery, Justices; Roy W. Manley,
Constable, Arthur Berry having recently resigned from the office of
Constable; Arthur Berry, Bert Wagher and C.W Harmison, Trustees of Schools
and J. W. Miles, Township Treasurer.
This is the first year that we have had but one commissioner of highways.
So far as we have been able to learn there is no one living in the township
now who has lived here continuously since 1850. Mr. G.W. Sargeant came to the
township with his parents in 1845 and settled on the north 1/2 of the
northeast 1/4 of Section 14. The Sargeants have always owned this farm since
then but have not always lived there, although they have never lived very
farm away. Henry Butt, W.H. Montgomery and Jacob Lorance each came to the
township in the early fifties.
So far as we know Mr. W.G. Sargeant and Dr. J.R. Bedford are the only old
soldiers of the Civil War who are living in the township at this time.
The people of Persifer are mostly prosperous and happy. They are situated on
the main line of the A.T. & S.F. Railroad, having a direct route to the
Chicago market for their produce. They have good homes and are pretty well
fixed as to this world’s goods. Nearly all have some kind of motor vehicle
and some of them have two or three of them. They always went over the top
when it came to Liberty loans and Red Cross and all other forms of war work
and they also furnished their full quota of men to face the German bullets.
One of Persifer’s boys, a son of N. I. Cherrington, was on of the first Knox
County boys to give his life for his country in France.
Not in the roar of the cannon,
Not in the roll of the drum,
But with love and honor in our hearts,
Let their requiem be sung.
J. W. Miles