Dr. E. Duis, The Good Old Times in McLean County, Illinois
(The Leader Publishing and Printing House - 1874)

The greatest legal light of Bloomington is Judge David Davis. He was born in Cecil County, Maryland on the ninth of March, 1815. He graduated at Kenyon College, Ohio, on the fourth of September 1832, and commenced the study of law at Lenox, Massachusetts, in October following, in the office of Judge Henry W. Bishop. After studying there for two years he went to the New Haven Law School where he remained until the fall of 1835, when he removed to Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois. After practicing law for one year in Pekin he removed to Bloomington, which has ever since been his home. Here he succeeded to the law business of Mr. Jesse W. Fell, who became much interested in operations in real estate. He took possession of Mr. Fell's old office which was one door east of what is now Larison & Espey's drug store. Mr. Davis succeeded in the law at the very outset. He was not a great orator nor even a very fluent talker, but he was a clear-minded man and soon took a front rank in his chosen profession.

On the thirtieth of October, 1838, Judge Davis married Miss Sarah Walker at Lenox, Massachusetts. She is a daughter of Judge Walker of that State. Judge Davis has two children living, a son and a daughter; the former is living with his family near Bloomington.

In the year 1840, Mr. Davis was the candidate of the Whigs for the office of State Senator against Governor Moore, but the latter was successful. The senatorial district then embraced the counties of Moultrie, Macon, Piatt, De Witt, McLean and Livingston. In 1844 Mr. Davis was elected to the lower house of the Assembly, but declined to be a candidate for re-election.

In 1847, he was elected a member of the Constitutional Convention and in 1848 was chosen by the people, without opposition, to be Judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, embracing fourteen counties. This was a position for which Judge Davis was eminently fitted. It has been said of him that his leading characteristic is love of equity, and this, combined with a strong will, quick perceptions and the very clearest judgment, made his decisions universally respected. His decisions were seldom appealed from and more seldom reversed. An old settler, while speaking of the time when Judge Davis was on the bench, remarked rather sarcastically: "Everybody seemed to think in those early times that the administration of justice was the object of going into our courts." The love of justice and the penetration which characterized Judge Davis are well illustrated by the following incident which was told of him by Mr. Lincoln, when the latter appointed Judge Davis to a seat on the Supreme Bench of the United States. On one occasion a guardian, for mercenary purposes, proposed to sell the estate of his ward and thereby have some money to handle. The guardian by his counsel had made out a prima facie case and his witness was about through a severe examination, which showed up the guardian's bad faith; he then turned to the latter and said in his sharp shrill voice: "Now ain't you ashamed of yourself to be trying to cheat your ward in this way! Clerk, dismiss this application at plaintiff's cost."

Judge Davis did not enforce the most rigid rules of order in his court, though he was careful that everything should be done with propriety. He was fond of humor and did not wish to spoil a joke for the sake of any false or extreme ideas of dignity. On one occasion, when a case of assault and battery was being tried, a witness who was a participant in the affair was telling of he movements and remarked that while the fight was hottest he providentially knocked his antagonist down. The Judge said he could not allow such testimony, as Providence had very little to do with such a fight, and the witness corrected his testimony by saying that as good luck would have it he knocked his antagonist down. At one time a witness while describing a horse was very profane in his language and continued so while speaking of the reputation of the brute, without any interruption from the Judge; but when the witness stepped from the stand the court remarked: "Mr. Sheriff, you will take charge of this man until he pays a fine of twenty five dollars; the court will give the witness until he is called again to testify, to determine what portions of his evidence are objectionable in style." Judge Davis was always impatient when he discovered any symptoms on the part of a witness to evade or conceal the truth. In a warmly contested lawsuit one of the witnesses swore strongly against the defendant and did so in a fierce, revengeful manner. The attorney for the defendant the asked the witness if he did not have some ill feeling, some old grudge against the defendant, but the witness evaded the question and the lawyer pressed the matter strongly until the witness was obliged to admit having had a slight misunderstanding. The case was growing exciting when the lawyer enquired; "Don't you hate the defendant?" The witness began his usual prevarications when the Judge exclaimed with his shrill voice: "Man, why don't you say you hate the defendant! Say so, of course you hate him, of course you hate him, say so, say so, say so and stop your lying!" Judge Davis was not a severe man in the administration of criminal law, but he was always anxious to have the community as well as the law breakers impressed with its efficiency. While sentencing criminals his manner was most impressive, and when any particularly evil trait of character was apparent, his appearance was really terrible. At one time a young man, who had been found guilty of robbing a very old and almost helpless gentleman on the highway, was brought up to be sentenced. The case was one which showed the lowest state of depravity in a young man in the vigor of life. The Judge called the attention of the accused to the enormity of highway robbery and spoke particularly of the fact that the young criminal in committing the offence had thrown aside all respect for age. The manner and appearance of the Judge were really terrible as he closed his remarks by sentencing the prisoner to serve seven years in the Illinois Legislature! "Penitentiary, you Honor," suggested the prosecuting attorney. The Judge directed the clerk to let the record show "penitentiary" instead of "legislature."

The Eighth Judicial Circuit which embraced at first fourteen counties contained an array of talent rarely equalled among the same number of lawyers. Judge Logan was the leader of the bar, but following him closely were Lincoln, Stuart, Baker, Linder, Gridley, Judge O. L. Davis, Judge Thornton, Hon. O. B. Ficklin, Judge Emerson, C. H. Moore, Judge Benedict, Judge Parks, Judge Edwards, and others, some of whom have since become immortal in history. Lincoln was the constant companion of Judge Davis in their travels around the extensive circuit, and at the close of their journey each day Lincoln related those humorous stories which have made him so famous. Mr. Davis traveled in a two horse buggy and Mr. Lincoln rode in his own conveyance drawn by his celebrated horse "Buck," the one which followed the great martyr in the funeral procession to his final resting place.

The year 1860 was one memorable in Illinois. Some years before this many prominent citizens of the State resolved to press Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for President of the United States, and during this year the excitement was so intense that nearly all law business was at a stand still, because the lawyers and judges devoted all of their time to the campaign. Judge Davis was by far the most active and influential of Mr. Lincoln's supporters and his labors were almost herculean. Perhaps some idea may be given of the labors of Judge Davis by giving an extract from a letter, written by Mr. Jesse W. Fell to a late distinguished senator of the United States, in reply to a question by the latter as to the part taken by Mr. Fell in the campaign of 1860. The question was suggested by an autobiography of Abraham Lincoln, of which Mr. Fell was the proprietor, recently published by Osgood & Co. of Boston. The following is the extract:

"Before responding to your inquiries, allow me to say, you give me much more credit than I am entitled to for the part I took in bringing before the American people the name of Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for the Presidency, Your original impressions were entirely correct. To Judge Davis more than any man, living or dead, is the American people indebted for that extraordinary piece of good fortune, the nomination and consequent election of that man who combined in his person in so high a degree the elements necessary to a successful administration of the government through the late most critical period in our national history.

"It is quite possible Mr. Lincoln's fitness, or rather availability, as a candidate for that position may have occurred to me before it did to the Judge, but at an early day - as early, I think, as 1858 - it had his earnest approval, and I need not say his vastly superior influence gave to his opinion on this subject a weight and character which my private and humble opinion could not command.

"It is well known that Judge Davis, though not a delegate, was one of the leading men at the Decatur State Convention in May, 1860, that elected delegates to the Chicago National Convention; that he was there selected as one of the senatorial delegates to the latter body; that for more than a week prior to the nomination he had in connection with other friends of Mr. Lincoln, opened the `Lincoln Headquarters' at the Tremont House, Chicago, where, and throughout the city, wherever delegates were to be found, he labored day and night, almost sleeplessly throughout that long and dramatically interesting contest, working with a zeal, assiduity and skill never surpassed, if ever equalled; and that when those herculean labors culminated in the choice of his trusted and most confidential friend, his feelings so overpowered him that not only then but for hours after, in grasping the hands of congratulating friends, he wept like a child.

"While it is undoubtedly true that, without the hearty and vigorous co-operation of quite a number of equally eminent men, the prestige attached to the names of Seward and others could not have been broken, and this nomination secured, no one, as familiar as I was with what was then and there enacted, can doubt for a moment the pre-eminent part there played by the Judge. Among Lincoln hosts he was emphatically the great central figure; the motor of the hour. `Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.'"

In 1861 Judge Davis, Judge Holt and Mr. Campbell were chosen by President Lincoln to investigate the management of the Quartermaster's Department at St. Louis, which was under the management of Quartermaster McKinstry who held his office under General Fremont. The investigation was thorough and laid bare the corruption and mismanagement of affairs a St. Louis.

In 1862 Judge Davis was appointed by Abraham Lincoln one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. This appointment was not made by any personal solicitation of Judge Davis, but simply on account of Mr. Lincoln's knowledge of the man, and by the effort of friends. At the time of his appointment he was well known in Illinois as a man of great judicial learning and the best of judgment, but his reputation had not gone beyond his State, as he had never filled a position where his decisions would be published. But when he came to the Supreme Bench of the Untied States his reputation as a jurist went beyond the most sanguine expectations of his friends. A writer in the American Law Times, in discussing the character of Judge Davis, says:/"Judge Davis is a natural lawyer, a character so truly great that to doubt him would be impossible. His mind is all equity, and as vigorous as it is kind. He is progressive, and yet cautious; a people's judge, and yet a lawyer's." His opinion in the Milligan case has attracted more attention from the people at large than any decision since that of Judge Taney in the Dred Scott case. Judge Davis lays down some fundamental principles of constitutional law which will stand as land marks for ages after he shall have been gathered to his fathers.

That which people are most anxious to learn about Judge Davis is his connection with the Cincinnati Convention. The active principles of the movement which resulted in the Cincinnati Convention were:

First.- The administration of public affairs in the interest not of a party but of the whole people.

"Second.- Official responsibility and a war of extermination against that system of jobbery and corruption which disfigures both of the great political parties, and which is sapping the very foundation of civilized society.

Third.- `An absolute destruction of the old doctrine: "To the victors belong the spoils," and a restoration of the Jeffersonian maxim: "is he honest? Is he capable?"

Fourth.- Reconciliation. Freedom and local self-government for the South, and an end of bayonet rule.

Judge Davis was well fitted by nature and education to be at the head of such a movement. He had been elected several times to the position of Circuit Judge by the voice of the people irrespective of party, and his every feeling was in sympathy with its active principles. His quick perception and his hatred of all forms of peculation and jobbery would make him an effective executive officer and a terror to evil-doers. Judge Davis was nominated for President by the Labor Reformers at the Columbus Convention, and this made him an object of jealousy by many of the friends of the candidates who were to come before him. So effective was their combination that he was beaten and Mr. Greeley nominated in his stead. It is now generally acknowledged that this was a great mistake. The following "Scrap of Political History," which was published in the Bloomington Pantagraph, sheds some light upon the condition of affairs at Cincinnati:


"Editor Pantagraph: Overhauling old papers my attention has just been called to the following, written by one of the distinguished men of our country-the late Senator from Wisconsin-who, by the way, has wisely quit politics and taken to a profession he is so eminently fitted to adorn. He may not thank me for thus resurrecting old matters with which his name is associated, but at the risk of incurring not only his displeasure, but that of one still more distinguished, I feel constrained to ask its publication. Had the Senator written in the light of subsequent history, it could not have been more truthfully and strongly done.

"Just as the Cincinnati Convention was going into that memorable session that terminated in the nomination of that great and good man that now rests from hi labors, this correspondence was thrown before that body, and to that fact may be ascribed that other fact that this masterly expose of the duty of the hour never afterwards appeared.

"As politics are now dead, and these names forever removed from the political arena, I trust and believe this publication will excite no unfriendly criticisms.

"(The letter of Senator Doolittle was in reply to one from the Wisconsin delegates at Cincinnati asking his `opinion on the candidates prominently named, in the order of their supposed strength, in securing the votes of both Republicans and Democrats to secure success.')

Mr. Doolittle's Response.
"CINCINNATI, May 1st, 1872.

"Hon. H. A. Tenney, Chairman, etc.:

"You ask me my opinion as the candidates prominently named. They are Judge Davis, Governor Brown, Mr. Adams, Senator Trumbull and Mr. Greeley; and you ask me to speak frankly my opinion as to which would carry the greatest number of Republican and Democratic votes.

"Of all these men, I can speak in high terms as to capacity, integrity, and as to their being in full sympathy with the present Liberal Republican movement.

"Personally, as against the probable nominee of the Philadelphia Convention, I could support either of them. But what you ask is my opinion as to their strength. I state their names in order just as I believe they really stand in their popular strength as nominees against General Grant: First, David Davis; second, B. Gratz Brown; third, Lyman Trumbull; fourth, Charles Francis Adams; fifth, Horace Greeley. Without giving reasons why others should not be nominated, I give some reasons why I think Judge Davis should be, in order to insure union and success.

"First.- He is and always has been a Liberal Republican. In himself he is a true representative of the principles upon which the Liberal movement is based.

"Second.- He will take as large a Republican vote as any man in the East, and more than any other in the West. As a test of his popularity a gentleman from Illinois informs me he has been five times elected to important offices by the votes of the people; three times as Circuit Judge in a large district, receiving each time every vote in the district, once as a member of the Legislature without serious opposition, and once as a member of the Constitutional Convention, receiving every vote in his county. Where can you find a better record than that? He lives in a Republican county, where there is a Republican majority of two thousand. If nominated, he will receive more than one thousand majority, as we are assured by more than five hundred Republicans from his own county, now here, who have come two hundred and fifty miles to attend this convention to show how he stands as a Republican and as a man at the home where he has lived for thirty five years. In the history of the United States no record of any man can be found to show greater popularity than the almost unanimous election of Judge Davis five times in succession to public office. He will carry a large Republican vote, also, because he was the bosom friend of Mr. Lincoln. He was the man, who, more than any other, brought him out for President. He was the administrator of his estate, and the guardian of his children. He is in every sense a great man--great headed, great hearted, and full of vigor, and of as much executive will and force as any other man that lives.

"Third.- He would be, in my opinion, unanimously indorsed by the Democratic Convention, and would carry the solid vote of the Democracy of the United States, North and South, against Grant.

"Fourth.- His nomination here, followed by his indorsement at the Democratic Convention to be held hereafter, insures an election.

"Fifth.- His nomination will carry the Legislature of Illinois, and will re-elect Mr. Trumbull to the Senate, where, instead of being under the ban of a tyrannical majority, as he is, he would be the leader of the Senate. This is Mr. Trumbull's great role. It is where duty and interest and public good should lead him; it is the place to which he is best fitted. There is too much at stake upon the success of this movement to allow personalities to control the action of the convention.

"Respectfully yours,

"J. R. Doolittle."

Judge Davis has been remarkably successful as a dealer in real estate, and in all of his purchases and sales has shown the very best of judgment. His first purchase of real estate was made in Chicago, but as he was associated with others, and the disposition of the property was in a great measure beyond his control, the speculation was not fortunate. Nevertheless he had great faith in the future of Chicago, although it then numbered only a few hundred inhabitants, and he purchased an eighty acre tract of land lying about three miles from the harbor. It now sells by the foot, so far as it is offered for sale. It is to this fortunate investment that he is indebted in part for the ample fortune he possesses. His policy in dealing in real estate has been to purchase property in the suburbs of a growing town, in order that it might become valuable with the increase of the place in size and prosperity. He was always careful to buy land intrinsically valuable, considering what it would produce, so that in any event his speculation would be a safe one.

As is well known, Judge Davis is a man of great public spirit, but thinks public matters should be managed as other business matters are, on a good financial basis. He has been charged with being indifferent in the matter of subscribing to building railroads. His theory with regard to railroads is that they should be built where it will pay to build them as an investment, and that the idea of voting aid from towns, counties and states, or donating lands along the line of the proposed road is wrong in principle. He believes that capitalists are always sharp enough to see where it will pay to invest their money and are ready to build railroads which will return a fair profit to the investors. He thinks that the voting of aid by towns and counties and making land grants results in many cases in building roads which will not pay running expenses, and in others of putting roads in the hands of unprincipled managers who care nothing whatever for the people who have helped them and the towns that have voted them aid. Under these circumstances he has always been very conservative and cool about assisting railroads and some fault has been found with him for so doing; but many of those who have blamed him in times past are now very much of his way of thinking.

Bloomington and Normal have been much benefited by their State institutions, the Normal School and the Soldiers' Orphans' Home. The location of these institutions here was due in a great measure to Judge Davis, who donated forty acres of land to the Normal School and sixty acres to the Orphans' Home. The former donation was worth at the time when given, four thousand dollars and the latter twelve thousand. It will be remembered that great exertions were made to have these institutions taken elsewhere and Judge Davis' example and influence did very much to prevent their transfer.

So far as matters of charity are concerned it is not usually safe to speak definitely of any one. People who have the greatest reputations for charity usually deserve only a part of the credit they receive, as a suspicion is sometimes aroused that their charities are performed to be seen of men. Judge Davis does not indulge in ostentatious charity, but his friends assert that very few can be found anywhere so liberal even when judged by the proper standard-ability to give.

Judge Davis was at one time enabled to do some service to the city of Bloomington by saving to it the machine shops of the Chicago & Alton Railroad. These shops secure a monthly disbursement of fifty thousand dollars and the matter is of the greatest importance to Bloomington. When they were burned down, Judge Davis was holding court in Chicago. He there learned that it was the intention of various parties to make an effort to transfer the machine shops to another point. He immediately gave notcie to the citizens of Bloomington who took active measures to save them.

The character of Judge Davis is pretty well shown by the incidents related in the foregoing sketch. It is also indicated by his appearance and manner. He is about five feet and eleven inches in height, has a large, commanding form, a broad, expansive forehead, blue, penetrating eyes and a rather prominent nose. He has a very pleasant address and superior conversational powers; in his manner he is disposed to be familiar, particularly to those who are modest in their demeanor and who seem to need encouragement. He is a very companionable man and much devoted to his friends. He is a straightforward business man and has the best judgment in all financial matters. An old pioneer while writing of Judge Davis says: "If I were called upon to state the leading characteristics of the man I would say they are Honesty, Will and Concentration." Judge Davis' power of will was once very conspicuous when he and seven others started from Bloomington to attend a mass meeting at Peoria during the political campaign of 1844, when Henry Clay was a candidate for the presidency. When they came to the Mackinaw Creek they found it swollen by recent rains, for the season was the wettest ever known in the United States. The west end of the bridge where they were to cross had been washed away, and workmen were trying to repair it. The current was strong and threatened to carry them away if they attempted to ford the stream, and their horses would be liable to be swallowed up by the mud where would be obliged to land, for after breaking through a thin crust the mud seemed bottomless. The party gave up all hopes of attending the mass meeting; but for Judge Davis insisted on going ahead. After agreeing to indemnify the owner of the team, if his horses were lost, Judge Davis took charge of matters, and, unhitching the team, managed to carry the party across on horseback, near enough to the opposite bank to land; the by attaching a long rope to the wagon they pulled it triumphantly through and went their way rejoicing. At one time Judge Davis and Abraham Lincoln were traveling on horseback to attend court at Decatur. When they reached the Sangamon River it was late at night, and it was necessary for them to be in Decatur on the following morning. But as they could see nothing ahead of them, Lincoln gave up the idea of proceeding further. When they came to the river's bank Judge Davis, without saying a word, plunged into the stream with his horse and swam across; but being unable in the darkness to find a landing, returned to the point from which he started. After going some distance down stream Judge Davis again swam across and this time was fortunate enough to find a landing. Then with the assistance of some farmers he built a fire on the bank of the river to show Mr. Lincoln where to land if he chose to swim over. The latter swam toward the light and was safely landed, and on the following morning both parties were enabled to be in attendance at court. This incident shows the resolution which has always been so marked in Judge Davis' character and which has so largely contributed to his success.


Dr. E. Duis, The Good Old Times in McLean County, Illinois
(The Leader Publishing and Printing House - 1874)

Among the earliest and best, known settlers in McLean County was John Dawson. John Dawson was born August 14, 1819, on Buck Creek Farm, Clark County, Ohio. His ancestors were from old English and Welch stock, his grandfather, Henry Dawson, having emigrated from the old country at a very early day. Both his grandfather and his father, John Wells Dawson were farmers, and from their out-of-door life acquired healthy, rugged constitutions. There were ten children in the Dawson family, six girls and four boys. One of the boys, the eldest son, now resides at Indianola, Iowa. He, too, is a pioneer. John Wells Dawson came with his family to Sangamon County, Illinois, in the year 1821, about Christmas time, young John Dawson being then only three years old. In April, 1822, John W. Dawson and John Hendrix and family came to Blooming Grove about four miles from the present city of Bloomington and built three shanties. The present farm of David Cox and that of the widow of John Cox were Mr. Dawson's property. Hendrix settled one mile west of this, at a place now known as Orendorff farm. It was here that they had a lively experience with " Lo," the poor Indian. The Kickapoo Indians were jealous of the incoming white men and their chief, Machina, ordered Mr. Dawson's family to quit the country before the leaves fell. This he did by throwing leaves in the air. By this and other signs he gave them to understand that if they were not gone when the leaves in the forest should fall, he would kill all the bootanas (white men). Mrs. Dawson replied to him that the time he had given would be sufficient to call together enough bootanas to exterminate all the Indians. The old chief was very "wrathy" at this and made some terrible threats which he had the good sense never to carry out. At the close of the summer of l822 some Indians, about fifteen hundred in number, encamped in front of Mr. Dawson's farm-gate and remained during the following winter. Contrary to expectation they were the beat of neighbors and were on terms of perfect friendship with the Dawson family. The youthful John was highly delighted with his copper-colored friends and was a great favorite with them, especially with the squaws. Two of the old squaws, called aunt Peggy and aunt Nancy, dressed him up in a heavy suit of buckskin and made a fine looking papoose out of him. But the Indians could never stand before civilization, and in the winter of 1833 and '34 they were paid at Chicago the money due them from the government and removed to the far West.

When the Dawson family settled at Blooming Grove in 1822 there was not a single house between their place and Chicago; the whole country was wild prairie. Springfield, Danville and Peoria were their nearest neighbors. Mr. Dawson lived on the Blooming Grove farm until the spring of 1826, when he moved to Old Town timber or Dawson's Grove about fifteen miles east of the present city of Bloomington. Two miles southeast of his farm was the Indian village of the Kickapoo nation. The old Indian fort is still to be seen, and curiosities of all kinds, such as brass kettles, Indian brooches, etc., are still found there. The early settlers were anxious for the education of their children, and indeed a plentiful crop of school children is better for the material interest of the country than a crop of wheat or corn. There were many difficulties to be overcome, but the pioneer had learned never, to hesitate at trifles. The school-houses were not the little palaces of learning in which the children now study their lessons; they were not so comfortably heated in winter but on the other hand there was no lack of ventilation, for the fresh prairie breezes could come through the chinks between the logs without any patent appliances. There were no pale students driven into the early stages of consumption for want pure air.

In 1828 Mr. Dawson (senior) built the first school-house in McLean County. It was made of logs and lighted with windows of white paper instead of glass. The first school-teacher was Delilah Mullen, who taught her young pupils at Mr. Dawson's house before the school-house was finished. The first house where the city of Bloomington now stands, was built by William Evans in 1827. But this house was not in the original town. The south part of the city was then scattering timber, commencing from near Gridley's residence and running up to the Court House.

In the winter, of 1830 and '31 Bloomington was chosen County seat of McLean County. Judge Lockwood held the first session of court in 1832; but as far as Mr. Dawson can remember there were no cases on the docket. The first Court House was a frame building twenty by thirty feet and stood on the site of the present Court House, but was afterwards moved away to make room for a finer building. The first sale of town lots in Bloomington took place on the Fourth of July, 1831. It was then that John Dawson bought a lot which was sixty feet by one hundred and fifteen for four dollars and thirty cents. In 1848 he built a house on it and sold it to a Rev. Mr. Perry for $800. It now belongs to Dr. H. Schroeder who purchased it of Perry for $5,500. The lot and house are east of Schroeder's Opera House and belong to the Postoffice Block. Of the original town of Bloomington only forty acres were laid out; all of the other parts are additions. The streets of the original town running east and west are Washington, Jefferson and North streets; those running north and south are East, Main, Center and West streets.

In early days the modes of travel were more picturesque than convenient. On land were ox-teams and on water were flatboats. The railroad was a "down east" institution. Pullman had not then invented palace cars, and if he had done so, the early settlers could not have enjoyed their magnificence. The forest and the prairie were occasionally marked by solitary Indians trails, and these were all the guides from point to point. Old Town timber and Peoria, which was then called Fort Clark, were connected by an Indian trail.

The first train of the Illinois Central railroad ran into Bloomington from La Salle in the spring of 1853 and the Chicago and Alton road was finished in June of the same year. Bloomington had at that time fifteen hundred inhabitants and its progress has been rapid ever since.

The weather was a matter of greater moment to the pioneers than to us, as they were always exposed to its changes, and all of them have sharp recollections of the frosts of winter. The year 1830 was perhaps the most remarkable for the severity of weather. During that year the snow commenced falling on the last day of December, until in the timber it laid three feet in depth while on the prairie the drifts rose to great heights. The wild animals became ferocious and the wolves killed nearly all the deer; the few deer that remained could scarcely find anything to eat. They were so poor and hungry that they could be caught by hand. They could be attracted by felling a tree and when the poor creatures came to pick the leaves they could be easily caught. Since that time deer have been comparatively scarce. But the year 1836 was perhaps the most remarkable for its sudden changes. Mr. Dawson relates that during that year he had a very severe experience. During the winter he went to William's mill which is located on Salt Creek, six miles south of LeRoy. He had two yoke of oxen drawing a load of wheat and corn to be ground. The snow was two feet deep; in the afternoon it commenced raining and continued until noon the next day. On that day Mr. Dawson started for home and at bout three o'clock in the afternoon he was one mile from Henry Crumbaugh's place. Suddenly he heard a noise like the roaring of distant thunder and on looking around could see the approach of a storm. An intensely cold wind then came, freezing everything almost immediately. He had scarcely gone one hundred yards with his ox-team before the frozen slush would bear his weight, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he succeeded in getting back to Crumbaugh's and in preventing his team from slipping. Of course Mr. Dawson has been married. This interesting event took place in the year 1842 at Albana, Champaign County, Ohio. The name of the happy bride was Caroline Wiley. Perhaps the reader who has taken some interest in the experience of this pioneer may wish to know something of his personal appearance. John Dawson is well formed and is a little above the medium size. He has a very honest and intellectual countenance and his nose is sometimes ornamented with spectacles. He is not a man of much book learning, as the pioneers did not have the best facilities for education; but he has, as much as possible, educated himself. He possesses a jewel which we are sorry to say is somewhat rare, and that is good common sense. He is a man who commands respect among his fellows and is able to clear the way and contend with difficulties.


Dr. E. Duis, The Good Old Times in McLean County, Illinois
(The Leader Publishing and Printing House - 1874)

John W. Dawson was born March 9, 1792, on a farm near Maysville, Kentucky. His father was of English descent and his mother was of Welch. He belonged to a family of eight children. His parents died when he was quite young. He served in the war of 1812 as a wagon-master. A few months after peace was declared he married Ann Cheney, who was born September 17, 1794, in Kentucky. John W. Dawson lived for some time in Alabama and afterwards in Clark County, Ohio. From the latter place he came with John Hendrix to Sangamon County, Illinois, in the fall of 1821, arriving about Christmas time. Their journey lasted six weeks. It was at times unpleasant because of the swamps, the wolves often came howling around them, particularly while cooking, but they came through safely at last. On the road they killed turkeys, prairie chickens and deer. In April, 1822, John W. Dawson came with John Hendrix and his family to Blooming Grove. The family of Mr. Dawson remained in Sangamon County at the house of Evans Britton, an uncle of Mrs. Hendrix. This was on account of the sickness of Mrs. Dawson. Sometime in June the family came on to Blooming Grove and made a permanent settlement on a farm now owned by David Cox about one mile from Hendrix's place. Here he remained four years, and the settlers came in rapidly. In March, 1826, he sold out for four hundred dollars and moved to Old Town timber. The land was not then in market, and when he sold his farm it was simply the claim and improvement to which he gave title. He made a settlement at Old Town timber on one hundred and sixty acres; but when the land came in market he entered nine hundred. It is now all cut up into farms.

Mrs. John W. Dawson was a jovial and witty woman. At one time while Harrison and Van Buren were candidates for president, an opponent of General Harrison declared that the latter had mismanaged his men at the battle of Tippecanoe, and that they were nearly all killed. "Oh no," said Mrs. Dawson, "enough are left to elect him." The stranger gazed at her for some time and then concluded to drop the discussion of political questions. Mrs. Dawson thought a great deal of her neighbors and liked to visit them. People, who lived a long distance away, were neighbors. On a very cold day Mrs. Dawson mounted a horse and started with her babe in her arms to visit a friend ten miles distant. On her way she met a stranger, who came to look over the country. "Arn't you afraid of freezing ?" said the stranger. "No," said Mrs. Dawson, "I am only going over to the neighbors."

During the winter of the deep snow the Dawson family lived happily, pounded their corn, of course, but had flour which lasted until March. Mr. Dawson amused himself during that long winter by teasing an elderly maiden lady and a bachelor by making propositions to unite them in the holy bonds of matrimony. His efforts were unsuccessful.

Mr. John Hendrix sometimes hauled goods for James Allin from Pekin. At one time, when he arrived at Bloomington, Mr. Allin examined the bill of lading and asked "Where is the box of fish ?" "The fish were spoiled," said Mr. Hendrix, "and smelt fearfully, and I threw off the box at Mackinaw timber." "Why, Mr. Hendrix, they were codfish. Don't you know that codfish always smell." Hendrix returned for the box.

In about the year 1853 Mr. Dawson moved to Iowa about four miles from Fort Dodge. Only his wife and his youngest daughter went with him. He died there on the 7th of October, 1865, and his wife died during the fall of 1871.

John W. Dawson had ten children, of whom nine lived to be grown. They are:

Henry Dawson, who lives in Indianola, Iowa;
Maria, who married Owen Cheney, who died some years ago. She is now the wife of Mr. William Paist of Bloomington.
John Dawson, whose sketch appears in this volume.
Isaac Dawson, who was born in Sangamon County, when the family first came to Illinois. He is now dead.
Nancy Jane wife of William Harrison of Old Town, died some years since.
Lucinda, wife of Dr. A. H. Luce, lives in Bloomington.
Mary, wife of Daniel Stine, lives in Olathe, Johnson County, Kansas.
Clarinda, wife of Alexander Miller, lives in De Sota, Johnson County, Kansas.
Lewis Dawson died six or seven years ago.
Martha Ann, wife of Sillman Sherman, lives at Fort Dodge, Iowa.

John W. Dawson was of medium size, was heavy set, had black hair and black eyes and weighed one hundred and sixty or seventy pounds. He was very hospitable, and strangers always found a home there.


Dr. E. Duis, The Good Old Times in McLean County, Illinois
(The Leader Publishing and Printing House - 1874)

Adolphus Dimmick was born in Tolland County, Connecticut, January 13, 1791. In the year 1816, he came to Ripley County, Indiana. There he set out a nursery, the first in that part of the country, and raised a great many apple and peach trees. On the 9th of October, 1832, he married Esther Livingston. On the first of November following, he started for Illinois, traveling in a wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen and a horse. On the 25th of that month he arrived at Old Town timber, made a claim and commenced farming. He bought a cow and calf, and from this beginning raised a herd of forty or more cattle, besides selling a great many. The cabin was one of the little log huts of the early days, with a pounded clay fireplace, a stick chimney and a floor of linn puncheons. These puncheons were made of rails split thin and shaved with a drawing knife. The windows were of greased paper, and the table was made of a large puncheon. The land, where they lived, did not come into market until 1836. They had very little company. The wild animals came around them and kept them company. The raccoons came up under the window at night; the wolves ate the bones thrown from the house, and the wild turkeys picked up the crumbs near the door. The deer often came around them, and their society was principally that of the wild animals.

Mr. Dimmick died on Christmas day, 1845. He had three children, all of whom are now dead. His stature was somewhat less than medium. He was stoutly built, had a light complexion, was careful and attentive to business and succeeded well. He had a common school education, and taught school in Ohio and Illinois. He was always hospitable to strangers and willing and ready to entertain them. He had always good fortune in life and prospered well. His lady afterwards married Mr. Stephen Ireland, but has been a widow for the last sixteen years. She is a pleasant old lady, and her house is a stopping place for a number of elderly people and seems almost an old folks asylum.


Dr. E. Duis, The Good Old Times in McLean County, Illinois
(The Leader Publishing and Printing House - 1874)

Lawson Downs was born about the year 1809, near Nashville, Tennessee, where he lived until he was nine years of age. Then his parents moved to White County, Illinois, and there Lawson Downs remained until he was grown. In the year 1829 he came to McLean County, Illinois, and entered his land in the present township of Downs. He was accustomed to raise pigs in the timber which were so wild, that when he fattened them, he threw down corn and went away, or they would never eat it. When they were fat he hunted them with his rifle and shot them in the timber.

During the winter of the deep snow Lawson Downs had his sheep covered by the snow, but he found them by looking for the holes which their breath melted up through the crust. In order to get wood during that memorable winter, he was obliged to shovel his way to a tree, cut it down and haul it in with oxen.

Lawson Downs served in the Black Hawk war, having been out thirty days under Covel. For this service he afterwards obtained a warrant for a quarter section of land. He sold the warrant cheap and never located the land.

Lawson Downs and Henry Jacoby hauled goods to Bloomington, for James Allin, at an early day. It was great work and small pay. It was very hard, in early days, to earn a little money, but it would buy a great deal. One dollar and a quarter would buy an acre of land.

The prairie grass in the early days was as high as a man's bead while riding on horseback. While hunting for game, the dogs, being down on the ground, could not see far. Mr. Downs hunted with a greyhound belonging to Henry Jacoby. Downs would look ahead and see the wolf or deer running through the grass, and would tell the hound to jump on the horse. It would do so, and Downs would point out the game. The dog would immediately take after it, and was sure to bring it down.

Mr. Downs was something of a hunter. He hunted bees in the fall, and he trapped otter on the Kickapoo. He often trapped wolves. At one time he found in his trap not one of the large wolves, but one of his neighbors' black hogs. This was, indeed, "catching the wrong pig by the ear."

During the sudden change in December, 1836, many of Mr. Downs' sheep and hogs froze fast in the slush, and many chickens had their feet frozen in it.

Lawson Downs was married in 1836 to Sarah Welch. He had nine children, all boys, six of whom grew up to manhood. They are:

William G. Downs, who lives near Paoli in Miami County, Kansas. He is rather a large, fine-looking man. During the war he was a captain in the Thirty-ninth Illinois Infantry.
George W. Downs now lives at Diamond Grove. He is a man of medium stature, has black hair and dark, expressive eyes. He served three years during the war as a private in the Ninety-fourth Illinois.
John D. Downs is a man of medium size and light complexion. He was not old enough to get into the army. He lives about three miles south of Gillem Station in Downs township.
Solomon F. Downs lives near Cheney's Grove.
Albert P. and Alfred E. Downs live with their brother George at Diamond Grove.

Lawson Downs was slenderly built, and had a dark though rather sanguine complexion. He was rather slow to make up his mind, but when he had it once made up it was not easily changed. He was universally respected as an honest, upright citizen, and the township of Downs was named after him. He was no respecter of persons, except as they deserved respect by their ability or goodness of heart. He died September 7,1860.

This page last updated - February 11, 2004