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Frontier Life 

Rev. John Crawford

Reprinted from The Saga of Southern Illinois

Mr. Editor:

If it will not be an intrusion on the columns of your interesting paper, I will present some items of frontier life in Southern Illinois.

Allow me to state, as a starting point, that I was born in South Carolina on the 31st day of January 1804. My father, with his family, left that state in the fall of the same year and struck tent on the bank of the Ohio River on the Kentucky shore some two miles below the present site of Carrsville in fall 1805.

The first recollection I have of my personal existence I was standing at the margin of that beautiful stream (Ohio River) looking over the unbroken forest of Illinois, then occupied by large bands of Indian hunters. The northeastern border of Kentucky was at that time almost an entire wilderness.

A tremendous tornado had passed from Curnberland River to Hurricane Island on the Ohio, prostrating the forest one mile in width, tearing all the timber from the Island, mostly by the roots, and obstructing navigation which gave name and notoriety to that island.

Two remarkable events occurred in connection with my father’s family while we lingered on the Kentucky shore which will be the subject of the next paragraph.

My father had erected a small log cabin with puncheon floor about two feet above the ground. A remarkable rise in the Ohio occurred in mid-winter; when the water had surrounded the cabin for a considerable distance a Northeaster suddenly blew up, turning very cold and spreading a sheet of ice on the water. At this critical time night drew on and the family council decided to remain until morning, hoping the water would recede. But at midnight there was a cry made. "Behold, the floor is all afloat."

My two eldest brothers, James and Francis, were dispatched to build a fire on the nearest high land they could find, which they accomplished wading knee-deep through the water and breaking the ice with their feet. On their return the process of emigration to higher land by a numerous family commenced, Mother and all, wading and bearing such burdens as they could. Repeated return trips were made until all effects were secured. Being the youngest of the family I was, as the other effects, transported on my brother’s shoulders. We suffered much from the intense cold and the annoyance of the wild beasts trying at night to rob us of our scant supply of provisions. The flood at last receded and the family returned to the cabin all alive.

But, while they had grateful thoughts of a kind Providence, they all had lasting recollections of the scenes of Camp Misery. From that time on a household reference among the pioneers was the ice freshet and the cold Friday. These were truly remarkable events in the early history as there has been no ice freshet of such magnitude in the Ohio nor a Friday so intensely cold up to the present time.

I will state here that my father was an emigrant from Ireland when, full grown, his habits and views being matured. Of course he had but little practical knowledge of woodland or frontier life or the trials with which he would have to contend. At the advice of more experienced friends he had procured a gun and three vigilant dogs; but his courage and ability were soon put to the test.

One Sabbath morning James and Frank had gone out in the cane-brake, which was as dense as the most luxuriant corn fields of the present time, to drive up the cows. They discovered a large panther making a cruel attack on their little bunch of hogs. The dogs interfered at this critical time when to the utter surprise of both boys and the dogs, the great beast ran up a large tree and stood erect on one of the large limbs.

James ran home for Father and the gun while Frank kept watch by the tree. Father objected to shooting it because it was the Sabbath Day. Being a Presbyterian by education and sentiment, he was very scrupulous about the Sabbath. James urged him to shoot the beast, stating that it was a bad thing and that it had desecrated the Sabbath by its attack on the hogs and that it ought not to live. In view of these thoughts he took his gun and returned with James to the seat of action. All were totally ignorant of the kind of beast they were going to attack.

It so happened that he only had a single load of ammunition. This he discharged at the beast but it only took effect in the toes of one foot. This enraged his majesty and he came down to respond to the attack. The dogs received the charge with great courage and being cheered on by the boys, pressed him so hard that he retreated a quarter of a mile to the foot of a rocky mound where he made a determined stand. The dogs attacked him ferociously and though much wounded kept him at bay. The fight became desperate. The poor dogs bleeding and their ears torn to shreds when Father cried out to the boys, "It is a cruel beast! Bring rocks in abundance and I will beat it to death." To this order the boys responded promptly. This rock battery was plied with great skill and force, Father being very strong. The second rock discharged broke the under jaw of the enemy. The battery was kept up for some hours when the panther fastened his claws in one of the dogs, threw himself on the ground and drew the dog to his breast. Father ordered James to fly in and loose the dog, which he did with great dexterity. The panther roared and renewed the fight but soon yielded to the pressure of stones. He was dead! But as yet the victorious party knew not what they had slain.

All returned from the battlefield much exhausted and dripping with sweat. When Father came in he exclaimed, "Nancy, I have killed the devil." "What is it like?" asked Mother. His response was in his Irish style. "Augh, I don’t know what in the plague it’s like. It’s a red culler and big as our two year-ould heifer and has claws as long as a man’s finger." "Mercy, John!’ exclaimed Mother, who was an American, "It’s a panther!" At the announcement of the same he was frightened at the danger we had just passed through yet not understood. It was a male panther measuring nine feet from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.

In the spring of 1808 we left the Kentucky shore and landed on the Illinois side at the mouth of Grand Pier (sic) Creek some five miles above the present site of Golconda. This had evidently been Indian town where a battle of some magnatude had been fought. The valley is about one-half mile wide with mountains arising abruptly on either side and extending to the river. When this valley was brought into cultivation its soil was found to be literally filled with musket balls and Indian darts. I have in my possession a five-pound cannon ball which Father found in the center of a large oak tree. This is preserved as a relic of early times, having a priority over all others. It must have been deposited there during the battle between the French and Indians before any American had seen the Ohio at that point.

On the tops of surrounding hills was evidence that there had been a great slaughter in that valley-each bill presented a large burial ground marked by large flag-stones in long rows, set up in their crude state and over-shadowed by large oak trees.

The Indian towns at that time were said to be principally on the Oca, Illinois and Tippicanoe Rivers, but we were surrounded by large hunting parties during every fall season up to the War of 1812. These parties appeared to be friendly, often taking possession of our fireside of chilly and rainy days which was surrendered to them through fear, together with whatever provisions that we had on hand which they might require. I often trembled with cold and fear, and felt the oppression of hunger because of these intrusions to which we were circumstantially compelled to submit.

On one occasion when Father had gone to Kentucky to the mill leaving Mother and the children alone, a very large Indian came in, with a silver ring in his nose as large as the bottom of a tin cup, demanded his dinner. Of course, Mother spread before him all the provisions on hand, of which he partook freely. He then approached the fire-side and taking a large scalping knife from his belt and looking intently at us children, drew it three times across his throat, then stretching himself full length before the fire for a sleep with his knife in his bosom. We understood this as a warning not to disturb him. We all took position in the rear of the cabin and endured the cold till he concluded his sleep. And at his departure there was great joy in that house.

Another scene of horror to us was at the occurrence of high winds. Some Pennsylvania flat boats were driven into the harbor at Father’s landing. Knowing the Indians great love for whiskey and our defenseless situation, Father presented the same to the boat’s officers and obtained a promise not to furnish whiskey to the Indians. But these boat officers proved faithless and when the Indians brought their furs and dried hams to exchange for whiskey, they were furnished (whiskey) in abundance. The encampment numbered over twenty and were in full view of our cabin from about four hundred yards off.

A sense of drunkeness and a great War Dance ensued. Two of their number kept sober who hid all their weapons in a thick woods. They fought profusely among

themselves and made frequent dashes toward the cabin to attack us, but at every onset they were repulsed by the sober ones who pushed them back, often at full length, and knocked them down with whatever came to hand. Father and the boys prepared to make the best defense possible. Fortunately for both parties they were repulsed before they reached the cabin.

At the declaration of the War of 1812 these hunting parties were called in by runners before the whites knew of the declaration of war-there were no mail facilities in those days. On leaving they painted themselves, assumed a hostile attitude and walked with a great air of dignity past the cabin direct to our small boats at the shore, our only means of communication with our very few neighbors in Kentucky. With our boats and their supply of game, they descended the Ohio and ascended the Mississippi. The supposed reason we were not massacred was that a family in plain view on the Kentucky shore would have beheld the deed and would have given notice to the settlement of whites at the mouth of the Cumberland River, who would have intercepted them. This was the only settlement of much strength between Shawneetown and Kaskaskia at that time. Since that time there have been no Indians in Southern Illinois except those passing through under government arrangement.

One great disadvantage to the early settlers was the absence of salt. About this time some parties commenced making salt on a small scale on the Saline River near the present site of Equality. This was a point of great interest to the frontiersmen and, although there were no roads in the land, they would wend their way through the hills on pack-horses to purchase salt dripping wet at three dollars per bushel. The Kentuckians and Tennesseans, even so far as Fort Donnelson, purchased their salt in the same manner, swimming their horses beside a canoe across the Ohio River. The river settlers kindly aided them without charge, the state of social feeling and fellow sympathy being much stronger in those days than now. But we in turn had to cross to Kentucky in like manner as we depended on a horse-mill in that state some twenty miles from the river for bread.

About this time the mortar was introduced in which meal was beaten by hand power. This invention soon gave place to the hand-mills which were operated by the same kind of power. My experience is that they were both very hard mills. These were superceded by the band-mill which consisted of a small wheel turned by one horse and connected by a band to a shaft that turned a small stone. But the two-horse-power cog-wheel obscured all the former, and I may add that the advance of the age has numbered dll these with the things that were.

Two ferries were soon started on the Ohio River. One by Mr. Lusk at the mouth of Lusk’s Creek at the present site of Golconda. The other by James Ford, below Cave-in-Rock. These became, in a few years, main passports to Illinois and Missouri from the southern states. After a few years, such was the tide of emigration, two boats were used at each ferry. Often twenty to fifty families were encamped awaiting their turn to cross.

The navigation past Hurricane Island was very dangerous. Many flat-boats were wrecked and the unfortunate boatmen were taken advantage of by a clan of men not famous for honesty who infested this place. Barge pilots often presented themselves along the island and, for a small sum, would run the boats on a sand-bar. Ford’s ferry boats were then recommended as lighter to carry the cargo, or a part of it, to some wild point below. While this was being done others of the clan would convey the goods to parts unknown. This outrage was extensively practiced on the boating class. While some of the clan grew very rich, very fast, others were but floating stock. Cave-in-Rock was said to be a hiding place or deposit for embezzled goods. This system of fraud grew into an extensive organization of counterfeiters. The smallest department was a hard- money operation.

One morning a Mr. T.W. appeared at our house and requested to be ferried to the Kentucky shore. I was sent to perform the service. But what a describless speciman of humanity! He was a little old man clad in leather clothes, moccasins and a patched hunter’s hat; he had a shabby horse, a wooden bridle-bit with a headstall and reins of undressed deer skin strips. His saddle was in fagots and his saddle bags looked as if they might be the very same that Gen. Boone brought from the Alleghanies. In this plight he was on his way to visit friends in South Carolina. But T.W. was no fool. In this disguise he went to Charleston and back without suspicion of molestation, bringing money-molds and other fixtures for coining.

Some two winters later a Mr. Glass, on an extended deer-hunt, made his way far out of the settled part of Pope County, among the craggy hills that lie east of Lusk’s Creek. To his surprise he discovered a chance coal pit, then another and still another. Following a little ways from there he found an obscure cave containing unfinished money, with molds and all the requisites for operation and molding. It being Christmas the operators had gone home to share in the festivities of the occasion. He reported back to Golconda, raised a posse and returned. They confiscated the unfinished money and all the fixtures, taking them to Golconda. This terminated the hard-money department of the clan; but the operators were not apprehended. Three citizens were maltreated by Judge Lynch and his adherents. This was much regretted by many as two of the citizens were much respected. Others regarded it as being a sort of necessary evil.

The paper-money operation was a large concern, resulting in the location of a strong fort on a high hill on the Illinois shore, which was closely guarded by armed men. Money was made in abundance in defiance of the law. Strangers passed to and from this point as bees to a hive. Various efforts had been made to bring the counterfeiters to justice, without success. Finally, John Cleghorn turned states evidence against the firm, stating that they sold their bogus money to those who dealt it out at the rate of $100 for $20 in lawful money. Their watch-word and the name of their money was the same word: "Coniack".

A writ was obtained and an officer with a posse assaulted the fort but they were repulsed after killing one man in an effort to retain him after they had arrested him. He was taken into the fort and the guard retreated to Golconda. In a few days the officer recruited his guards and made a second attack. It was an ugly affair, some 75 guns and pistols were discovered, two leading men, one on each side, being dangerously wounded. They surrendered and were committed to jail on evidence of Cleghorn but were released on bond. Cleghorn fell into their hands and was afterwards found in the river with his throat cut. The parties, of course, did not appear at court but departed for parts unknown and thus was Fort Studevant abandoned, but the ring was not entirely broken as a strong element remained near the ferry of Ford. But soon some descendants (sic) among themselves arose, resulting in the killing of two of their leaders and the hanging of another. Thus the bachlions of the concern was broken and the entire concern vanished. 

It is proper to state here that since this dark cloud passed away the good citizens became much encouraged and have had great additions to their number and now contains a population on both sides of the river, that for honesty, industry, morality and intelligence will compare favorably with other parts of our country.

"Nancy, who was the mother of the author of this paper and the wife of the Irish born John Crawford, was a sister to my father’s grandfather John Ramsey Glass. Nancy was actually named Agnes but Nancy is a nickname for Agnes; also her mother was Agnes and it was probably simpler that way. My father’s grandfather John Ramsey Glass and Agnes Glass Crawford were brother and sister; their parents were Francis and Agnes Ramsey Glass."—Floy Glass Neeseman. 

John Crawford, 1761-1833

Mildred B. McCormick

On the October-December 1975 issue of Saga of Southern Illinois, a paper written by Mrs. C. P. Bosman, Allen Springs, Pope County, IL was published (no date given for the original MS.)

This paper was a biography of John Crawford and was a part of the history of First Presbyterian Church, Golconda. Mrs. Bosman gives Crawford’s birthdate as "about 1761," in County Antrium, in the north of Ireland. His parents were from Scotland.

John Crawford came to America in 1782, aged 21, and settled in the Waxhaw settlement in South Carolina, the same place from which Maj. James and Sarah Lusk came in 1798 to establish a ferry at Golconda.

In 1785, he was married to Agnes Glass who was his wife for more than 50 years. He left South Carolina for the West in 1801. He stayed one year in Tennessee, arriving in 1803 on the east bank of the Ohio River (below Carrsville, Kentucky). In 1808, he crossed the river and settled at the mouth of Grandpier Creek, five miles above Golconda, which was his home for 26 years.

Mrs. Bosman described his residence as "truly pioneer." He had wild beasts to contend with (she gives a dramatic account of his struggle in subduing and killing a panther).

Another account tells of his danger from counterfeiters and river pirates from Cave-in-Rock. These outlaws sought to provoke Mr. Crawford to the point that he would attack them and give them a pretext for killing him. He was subjected to their raids until 1823 when the band was dispersed by armed citizens under the leadership of William Rondeau, James Alcorn, and Hugh McNulty. (See "The Regulators and Flatheads in Southern Illinois," by James A. Rose, in the Oct. 1989 Springhouse.)

After the death of his wife in 1824, Mr. Crawford sold his property and went to live with his son, the Rev. John Crawford, Gallatin County, where he died in 1833. Late in life, he joined First Presbyterian Church, Golconda. He was the father of twelve children who were "scattered through the western country." Mrs. George (Agnes) Hanna, the eldest of his surviving children, was living in Pope County at the time Mrs. Bosman wrote her sketch.

Pope County History and Families, Volume I, 1986, contains much of the same data, with some differences. This source says his wife died in 1832 (the biography is unsigned). Crawford’s farm was purchased from the federal government (234 acres) 20 August 1816. This source also says Mrs. Crawford was buried in Pope County on the land of Francis Glass, her father. Both Crawford and Glass fought in the American Revolution. Crawford’s occupation in South Carolina was given as "weaver."

John Crawford’s son, the Reverend John Crawford mentioned above, left an account of pioneer days that we believe merits reprinting. An excerpt from Crawford’s brief memoir was included in John Allen’s Pope County Notes (SIU—Carbondale, Illinois, 1949), while a longer version appeared in the October-December 1985 issue of Saga of Southern Illinois, the quarterly journal of the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois.

Apparently, Crawford’s words were published first in a newspaper, the name of which is not known to Springhouse now. Nevertheless, such a small matter is over-shadowed by the ring of authenticity found in this remarkable narrative.

The careful reader will note that the dates given by Mrs. C. P. Bosman do not always agree with every date handed down to us by Reverend John Crawford. 

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