Annuals of Knox County, Illinois

typed by Ann Maxwell the whole book for publishing here at American History & Genealogy Project


History of Rio Township
By Heber Gillis

Joseph Rowe is acknowledged as the first man to settle in Rio Township. He built some sort of a house, the first one a white man put up in the township, but his future is lost to the history of Rio. Foxie's Note: he later moved his family to Floyd Twp. Warren Co., IL, where he is buried in the Silent Home Cemetery.

Some squatters made temporary light camp stops in the early 1820’s at Rio, and a family that had built a cabin on the slope of Pope Creek near where the state Aid Road now crosses had their house burn in the late thirties while they were at the fort at the Snodgrass house near Henderson on the McMurtry farm.

John McMurtry, whose daughter was the first white woman to be buried in Rio, came from Kentucky by the way of Indiana to Section 33 in 1829. He served as a soldier in the Black Hawk War. His descendants occupy a large space of farming land near North Henderson; the Piatts of Galesburg, together with the Heflins of Rio, are among those now living.

In 1833 Reece, Sam and James Jones likewise came from Kentucky. Both Kentucky families brought good oxen and horse teams with them and also drove in good loose animals of all kinds. Reece Jones permanently settled in a home, defended it from the Indians, and when they burned one cabin he built another better than before. He educated his family in the best schools of that day within his reach, and they moved socially in the best circles in the state. The Jones family built the first school house in Rio Township, aided by the subscriptions of other settlers in labor and money. A Miss Jones was the first teacher.

In the early thirties Erasmus Hall settled on Pope Creek where he operated a sawmill. Noted Indians called at his home and the trader LeClaire was and acquaintance of his. Hall’s Ford was on the trail from Peoria to Rock Island as was also Bruner’s cabin near the southeast part of the township.

Bennet Fleharty came to Section 6 just west of the Jones family in 1834. He afterwards kept a store on his farm where Fred Anderson now lives.

George Simms settled about the same time as Fleharty on Section 6 in Rio, and Section 1 in North Henderson Township, Mercer County, building his house, which consisted of one large room, with one end of it in Rio, Knox County, and the other in Mercer County. At dances held here it was not uncommon to have the music in one county and the dancing in the other. When marriages were solemnized in this house, care was taken to have the bride and groom stand well over the county that issued the license. Mr. Simms gave public addresses to the older people on the subject of slavery, outlining the history of the Rebellion, in advance, and made quite good guesses concerning the result.

Joseph Hahn came from Pennsylvania in 1835 and settled in Section 33 on a farm extending from the south line of the township to the center, much of the way one mile wide. It sloped gently to the south and was a most excellent farm with good drainage, fine soil, good timber and was close to the store of Goff, the Baptist church, and the second school house built in the township. All of these public buildings Hahn assisted in building and maintaining. He had served in the War of 1812 and was well fitted to engage in pioneer enterprises.

About this same time Mr. Westfall came to Section 6. The year 1835 also marks the advent of several other Rio pioneers. Pedro Epperson and his brother, Edly, settled on the section south of Westfall, Their brother-in-law, the father of Dr. John N. Cox, came in the fall of that year, but soon moved to some very good farm land near Old Oxford, where he spent the greater portion of his life. During the Civil War he was given a commission by Governor Yates. Pedro Epperson, a man of great energy, soon had good buildings and fences. Immediately after locating he made a large rail crib like a house and was able to entertain his sister and her family royally. While the Jones and McMurtry families were forward in school building, the Simms and Epperson and his descendants are reputed to have owned at times a strip of six sections a mile wide across the township.
George W. Weir built a flat-boat and floated down the Mississippi River to New Boston in 1835, where he chopped wood for the original Drury of that place. In the winter of that year being in need of bacon he walked to the home of the original Jones family in Rio Township. On his return trip with the bacon on his back, the wolves bothered him considerably. As a result of this trip to Rio he hired to Sam Jones for $3 a month and stayed two or three years. As part of his pay he took a pair of steers and some wheat, putting the latter in a rail pen chinked with straw. Two or three years later he drove the steers to Milan and traded the wheat for log chains. He also acquired another breaking team of oxen. Mr. Weir lived to be over ninety years of age.
In 1835, Isaac M. Wetmore came to Rio with John Wycoff on horseback by way of Chicago where he partly bargained for 160 acres of land. Later he relinquished it for more tillable land on the Rio and Ontario line. Dearborn Street is on the Chicago land which he contemplated buying or is a boundary of it. Mr. Wetmore ran a store in Rio on the slope south of the Washington schoolhouse and afterward established a very fine farm on both sides of the township line with extra fine buildings on the Ontario side of the line.

In 1835, Michael Bruner drove a pair of oxen from Breckenridge County, Kentucky, to Rio, bringing his wife and a young family. Later Mrs. Bruner died. In 1839 he drove a pair of oxen to the same place in Kentucky and brought a second wife, his father, Adam Bruner, and his uncle, Peter Bruner, with him to Rio. Both the elder Bruners had spent long years preaching the gospel. They with their two brothers had served in the Revolutionary War and all four were later buried in a cemetery on the Bruner farm. Knox County now owns this site and has erected a monument to their memory. The Bruner farm in 1850 had a licensed tavern upon it and possessed unusual buildings for that day. It was on the trail from Peoria to Rock Island and during the Civil War fruit from its fine orchard sold for $50 per tree on the stem.

About this time Michael Loveridge, and English educated veterinary, settle about one mile west of Joseph Hahn. He was a useful and highly respected man in this community, preaching the plain truth of the gospel in a fearless manner during the forties and up to 1862, when he moved to Oregon. Hahn, Loveridge, and the Deatherages and Lewis Goff built the second schoolhouse in the township, also a Baptist church which, with the store of Goff’s made the south central part of the township quite a public settlement.

Samuel Brown came about this time to the west of these and is the only one of this group now living, being more than ninety years of age.

Soon the Woodman’s, the Larkin Robertson family, the two Coe’s Lewis and Nelson, with Benjamin Harvey and Luther Fitch, settled more centrally in Rio Township.

John D. Bartlett and family came in 1842. William Dailey, James Hinchliff, Philip Prior and David Woodman built near the center, with William Barnard a little farther north.

The first period when the very early settlers came was a ranch life. Cattle and hogs ran loose on the open prairie. The small grain fields were fenced. A law of “common field” prevailed; everybody gathered his corn and the cattle were turned on the fenced section to feed at will. Later, as the farms were cultivated, the law caused the stock to be taken from the highways and no open prairie grass was left. The cows the early settlers brought were good stock. The Kentucky settlers later brought fine beef sires.

The pioneer traveled in wagons, on horseback, and on foot. He was wont to stop at the nearest house for dinner lodging and was welcome. He brought the news of his locality and they told him of their affairs so that he was medium of intelligence at his next stopping place. The amusements were dances, foot races, ball games, horse races, military training, etc. There were no more capable men at caring for their affairs than the first settlers. They met every emergency. They fed, clothed, nursed and buried their neighbors with their own hands. A common bond bound the various settlements together. The pioneers in the forties lived in substantial log houses. About all the money they could spare was for door latches and “trimming salt,” which was scarce. Health failed without it, and expeditions were planned to get it.

Many interesting things could be related concerning the early pioneers. A. J. Streeter herded some cattle in the central part of Rio Township and watered them at the Collins spring. Later he was nominated for President of the United States on the National ticket. Quite a number of his planks came to be beams and stringers in suggesting improvements of the present national policy.
Frank Hickley and Peter McCartner, Jr., also herded cattle and drove them to the same spring. The former one day walked into a railroad auction sale, bid off an entire railroad, and paid cash for it. The latter after quitting the cattle industry engraved some fine greenbacks which the United States treasury afterward unwittingly accepted as genuine.
In the early fifties Robson Bros. Established a cash corn market of large proportions. It gave an outlet for more corn and made it easier for the settlers to pay for land. During the years when Rio had no railroad facilities this cash market contributed greatly to the community’s prosperity.

Before the Township Organization Act, citizens of Rio and Ontario voted in Ontario. Later Rio Settlement was a part of the political unit of Ontario. Squire Mosher of Ontario was territorial judge while the two were one unit. Reuben Heflin, Samuel Brown, John Robson, Samuel May, John Wycoff, Robert Deatherage and James Deatherage have all voted in the territory of Ontario.
The first Civil War Veteran was Abner Titus.
In 1870 the Rockford, Rock Island & St. Louis Railroad came to the east township of Mercer County on the way to Rock Island with no charter to enter Knox County. Pope Creek is a deep stream and tributaries run northwest in east Mercer County. Rio Township had a better crossing. In Knox County, it was then lawful to vote aids to railroads. The convention to frame a new state constitution was in session. The railroad wanted aid to build a right-of-way without condemnation. It was expected the new constitution would forbid voting aid to railroads. The town was nearly evenly divided before voting aid but the affirmative gained during the canvassing and Rio bought its share of the improvements. This resulted in locating the road from Monmouth to Rio and on to Rock Island, and later the connecting line from Galesburg to Rio was built, giving the right-of-way near Pope Creek the full value of the land for the entire farm was paid to the owner and only one hundred feet wide was taken.
Some of the more or less prominent men about this time about this time include the following: S.W. May, who invented and defended his invention in court of the May windmill, now owned and manufactured by his niece, Miss Duwaine Phymister, of Chicago, at her factory in Galesburg; Robson Bros., William, John and Robert, who handled most of the fat cattle raised just before and during the Civil War from Rio and New Boston; Charles Bryant, kinsman of the noted poet by that name and himself a writer of poetry; F.A. Landon, Sr., adept in verbal squibs; David B. Woodman, the largest man in Knox County, who ran fifty yards in record time, beating a sprinting stranger who bantered him.
No less interested in the progress of the community and active in all forward-looking enterprises was Heber Gillis, who with his brother, Theodore, came to Rio Township on Christmas, 1856. Their father, Dr. George Gillis, followed them in the fall of 1859.
Hall, Heflin, and Edward Crain, together with the elder Deatherage, sawed the lumber for the first frame house.
Benjamin Harvey was a pioneer thresher, going as far as Rock Island in a fall and winter run. The grain was torn from the straw. Men pitched it away and later separated the grain from the chaff and cockle burrs with fanning mills. Some boys left home for California after turning the mill one season.
Samuel Brown, Harrison Shannon, Reuben Heflin and Thomas Jones were among the early officers of the township, both as supervisors and as justices of the peace. Robert Deatherage, Gilbert Wetmore, Benjamin Harvey, James Mansfield and F.M. Epperson have been justices of the peace for long terms. B.E. Frankenberger now occupies that position also.
The Black Hawk War, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish War, and now the most uncalled for slaughter of men ever known—all have called for many of our best men and women, in some cases whole families responding.
The original prairie was called wet. The subsoil held water often too long during wet seasons. The ground often baked before it could be cultivated. Tile drains are now used freely and little trouble is experienced from the extremes of wet and dry. Large sums of money are buried out of sight in tile, but they are permanent improvements, being just as good as when laid forty years ago. Progressive farmers still think that a larger outlet would prevent a cold, slow growth of corn as in 1917. Hog disease has been conquered largely. Tuberculosis cattle are being weeded out. Horses are larger and better for farming. Roads are better. The manpower is much greater than fifty years ago. Many plows have passed the experimental state. One man handles twice as many horses as then. Planters approach perfection; binders work like clocks. Grain separators are wonders as compared with those of years ago. Much money has been spent in improving stock and grain, and the results are plain to be seen.
Rio Township is the home of some fine thoroughbred stock, especially cattle. That one herd of Shorthorns was selected with intelligent care is revealed by the fact that they are descendants of tribes originated and bred by such famed Aberdeenshire breeders as Cuickshank, Duthie, Campbell and Lord Lovat and the present generations is the product of sires and dams of America’s best. Four are daughters of the great sire Lord Avondale, a bull which sold for five thousand dollars at auction in 1916 and is now conceded to be one of the most successful of the breed. Others are by Sultan Goods of the “Sultan” tribe, Challenge Victor, the Dutchman, a grandson of the St. Louis World’s Fair champion, Choice Goods, White Gloster by Fair Acres Sultan, Baron Kerr II, Lucky Pride II, a grandson of The Lad for Me, Glen View, Dale III, by the famous sire, Avondale. Revealing as this does unusual strength of blood through the sires, many of the dams too are equally attractive and have a record as producers that stands high; for instance, the cow Lucky Clari produced a bull that was purchased by Francisco Maissa for shipment to the Argentine and a calf from Verbena Lass has found a home in the herd owned by Dr. Rabey, Gatesville, Texas. Two well bred bulls, Bud Avondale, by Lord Avondale; and Challenge Victor, by Challenge Mysie, are samples of the high-bred stock to be found in Rio Township. Illinois is richer because of this select collection of the breed for the reason that permanent agriculture and soil improvement go hand in hand with livestock production.
The schools of Rio Township are of the district grade. There are two churches in the community, the Methodist and Congregational, Rev. Glen A. Rowles being the resident pastor of the latter.
Rio has a railroad junction with unusually good train service, a fine bank building, and other improvements. In 1917 the road tax amounted to $19,000. Three hundred and eight-two autos assist transportation. The township as a whole is prosperous and progressive in every way.


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