For the material used in the preparation of this sketch the writer is indebted to Miss Minerva Collins, of Petersburg, Illinois, a niece of the subject of the sketch, and to Mrs. Annie Beard Blood, of Chicago, Illinois, a granddaughter of Thomas Beard.
The grandfather of Thomas Beard was Amos Beard, of Massachusetts, who served as a soldier for seven years in the Revolutionary war. The oldest son of Amos Beard and Hannah (Needham) Beard, named Jedediah, was born in Berkshire county, Massachusetts, on September 24, 1764. this boy was the main dependence of his mother and his six brothers and sisters while the husband and father was fighting to free the American colonies from the oppression of Great Britain. Near the close of the war the anxious and careworn mother died, and the patriot husband and father returned to his desolate home and to his motherless children. To better his condition he removed his family to Granville, Washington county, New York, where certain of his relatives were then living.
On December 1, 1793, at Granville, Jedediah Beard married Charlotte, a daughter of John Nichols, who was born in Vermont. Of this marriage, on December 4, 1794, Thomas Beard, the subject of this sketch, was born in Granville.
In 1798, Amaziah Beard, a brother of Jedediah, removed with his family from Granville, Washington county, New York, to the "Western Reserve" in Ohio, and sent back so glowing an account of the advantages in that country that Jedediah wished to follow him but his wife, Charlotte, was so reluctant to leave New York that he deferred the time of his migration until the following year, 1800, when (several other families agreeing to accompany them) they set out for the new home near the southern shore of Lake Erie.
They began the journey on the first day of the year and the season being so severe and the fatigue of the journey so great, most of the party halted at Northeast Pennsylvania, and refusing to proceed further settled at that place. Jedediah Beard, with his wife and their three children, the youngest a babe in arms, pressed onward on horseback. Mrs. Beard became ill on the way and a halt was made for a time, until she so far recovered her strength as to enable her to proceed. For a portion of the way there was only a bridle path for a road. The father led one horse, with Thomas and his little sister clinging to the animal, while the mother with the babe in her arms brought up the rear upon another horse. The brother came out to meet them with an ox team and the party finally arrived at their destination at Barton, on the west bank of the Cuyahoga river, on May 4, 1800. Here, on October 17, 1800, Jedediah Beard purchased Lot 27, in the town of Barton, having previously bought a mill property on the west bank of the river. On this lot, in a double log cabin, the Beard family began their home life in the Western Reserve, among forests, wild animals and wild Indians. Thomas Beard's father became a very busy man, being the owner of the only saw and grist mill in the neighborhood, and prospered after a pioneer fashion. He was desirous that his children should not grow up in ignorance and as there was so school in his wild home he required them to study at home, giving them such assistance as he could, the mill-hands joining in the effort to increase their knowledge. A few years later, Thomas and his eldest sister were went to Conneaut, Ohio, to attend a private school kept by a teacher named Robinson, who prepared young people to enter an academy, and under this instructor Thomas Beard made rapid progress in his studies. Later, he attended an academy where he studied history, mathematics, surveying and other branches of learning
Upon the breaking out of the war of 1812, Jedediah Beard became a soldier, following the footsteps of his father before him; was chosen Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Regiment of the 4th Brigade and 4th Division of the Ohio State militia, and in March, 1813, took the command of the regiment, and reported at Cleveland, Ohio. Col. Beard left behind him his wife and their nine children, the youngest a babe. Thomas, the eldest child, then a sturdy lad of 19 years took the place of his father, and with the aid of the mother cared well for the family until the return of the father immediately after Perry's victory in September, 1813.
Upon his reaching his majority, Thomas Beard decided to move farther on toward the setting sun and acquire a home of his own. His mother was loth to part with him, but the boy was so full of ambition that he could not be restrained but broke away from his family and friends and set out to seek his fortune. His first letter to his parents was written from Wooster, Ohio, on December 13, 1817. In which he wrote: "I intend to start for the South Monday. I intend to make a tour to the South and return this way and from here go up into the new purchase." The next letter was sent from St. Louis, from which city he proceeded to Edwardsville, Illinois. Here, while boarding with a family named Dunsmore he became dangerously ill but was so skillfully and faithfully cared for, that he was soon restored to his usual healthy and strong condition.
In the year 1819, in the town of Edwardsville, he became acquainted with General Murray McConnel, who lived for many of the later years of his life in Jacksonville, Illinois. General McConnel was attracted to this young man of twenty-five years of age by his intelligence and ambition. Young Beard had heard much of the Illinois river, and of the fertile lands that bounded the stream. he believed that along this water course future towns and cities would be located and that its valley would be filled with a rich and populous people. the possibilities of railroads were not then calculated upon. Finding that General McConnel had explored the valley of the Illinois to some extent, Mr. Beard anxiously inquired of him for the information he wished. General McConnel told him of the Kickapoo Mounds upon the Illinois just below the mouth of the Sangamon, and finally proposed to go with young Beard to visit the country.
They set out on horseback; the distance as the crow flew was almost one hundred miles, but as there were but few roads in that early day the travelers struck out, across the broad prairies, following streams and stretches of woodland bordering them, until they reached the Illinois river. Here they penetrated numerous lagoons and swamps and at the end of a week found the famous mounds, where the Indian village was located upon the present site of the city of Beardstown. Thomas Beard was delighted with what he saw, and believing that village would one day be transformed into a busy city, he resolved to remain. He was the first while settler; and soon became a friend and a favorite of the red men, and began the life of an Indian trader, which he continued for a number of years. During these years he had some unusual experiences. On one occasion, when Mr. Beard had but three white companions, the actions of the Indians aroused their suspicions that something was seriously wrong. The other whites became greatly alarmed; Mr. Beard remained cool and endeavored to allay their fears, but kept close watch of the red men by day and by night. At length the cause of the trouble became known to them. It seems that one of the Indians had been missing for several days, and the others suspected that one or more of the whites had made way with him. they informed Mr. Beard of their belief and said they would give the whites just three days to produce their comrade. Mr. Beard quietly remarked to them that they should have given him this information earlier, but that he thought he could learn the fate of the missing man. He warned his companions not to move in any direction unless accompanied by an Indian, and at once began their search. In the evening of the third day, they came upon the dead body of the missing red-skin. From appearances he had attempted to climb into a leaning tree for his game, had fallen and broken his neck. An empty bottle explained the cause of the accident, and the Indians who had come upon the scene, gave expression to their contempt and anger leaving Mr. Beard and his relieved companions to bury the unfortunate victim of the effects of the white man's "Fire water."
In a letter to his father he writes:
"Sangamon Bay, March 20th 1826. I have settled on the east bank of the Illinois river, on public land, 120 miles above St. Louis. My reason for choosing this location is on account of its being a valuable site for a town and a ferry. The county is settling fast."
On September 26, 1826, Thomas Beard and Enoch C. March entered the fractional northeast quarter of Section 15, in T. 18, R. 12, containing 144.45 acres, and on October 8th of the following year they entered the fractional northwest quarter of same section, containing 50.54 acres.
On October 10, 1827, Thomas Beard entered the west half of the southwest quarter of same section, containing 80 acres.
On September 9, 1829, Thomas Beard and Enoch C. March laid out the original town of Beardstown, consisting of twenty-one blocks, which they called March and Beard's addition to the Town of Beardstown.
March soon sold and conveyed his interest in the town to Nathaniel A. Ware, who appointed Francis A. Arenz his attorney, in fact, authorizing him to sell and convey real estate, lay off additions, etc.
On May 10, 1836, Thomas Beard and Francis Arenz, acting for Ware, laid off an addition of thirty-six blocks, which they called Beard and Ware's addition to Beardstown.
Nathaniel A. Ware sold and conveyed all his interest in the town to Francis Arenz, and on July 1, 1837, Thomas Beard and Francis Arenz laid off an addition of twenty-one blocks, which they called Beard and Arenz' addition to the Town of Beardstown.
In a letter to his father beginning: "Beardstown, Morgan county, Illinois, Feb. 23, 1830, Mr. Beard wrote:
"I am still keeping ferry and public house. A part of my land I laid out in town lots, which the people have given me the honor of calling by my name. the place is improving. There are now three stores, and a very extensive steam-mill, capable of manufacturing from 50 to 75 barrels per day. Also a saw mill and a distillery attached. I am now engaged in building a two story and a half brock house, 33 by 43. This building prevented my coming home last fall, as I intended. My iron constitution still holds good, though exposed to every hardship."
The hotel building mentioned in the above letter was erected at the northeast corner of Main and State streets; on the State street side there was a two story porch. For many years this public house was known as the City Hotel. In later years, Henry T. Foster removed the porches and carried out the walls to the State street line. The building is still one of the substantial structures in Beardstown, although more than seventy-seven years old.
The ferry across the Illinois river at Beardstown was established by Thomas Beard on June 5, 1826. He obtained a license to run it, from the county commissioners of Schuyler county paying the sum of six dollars per year into the county treasury of that county for the permit. The ferry was managed by Mr. Beard himself for a time, the propelling power being a pole, by means of which the boat was pushed across the river. The boat was barely sufficient to allow of the transit of one wagon and two horses, with but few passengers standing upon the edges of the craft. On May 5th, 1836, he began the use of a boat moved by horse power manufactured at Pittsburg.
Mr. Henry Hull of this city, of whom a sketch may be found elsewhere in this volume, was for several years an assistant of Thomas Beard in the conduct of the business of this ferry. It was a profitable one during the years when the rush of settlers into Iowa occurred. Beardstown was on the line of the thoroughfare followed by these emigrants crossing Illinois through Springfield. Oft times there was a procession of emigrant wagons reaching from the east bank of the river back several blocks waiting for the transportation by Mr. Beard's ferry. Mr. Hull says that in those busy days the receipts from the ferry business would amount to one hundred dollars per day. In the meantime his hotel was liberally patronized, and his income from these properties together with the proceeds of the sales of his town lots made him a well-to-do man in those days.
On September 3rd, 1836, Thomas Beard purchased of the Trustees of Township Eighteen Range Eleven 560 acres of Section 16, being all of the Section except 80 acres in the northeast corner. On this fine body of land he built a farm house, and spent so much of his time as he could spare from his business in Beardstown in planting orchards, building fences, and otherwise improving the property. Here he made his summer home, driving to and from the town a distance of about five miles. The farm, later became known as the John W. Seaman farm; it lies north of Bluff Springs about two miles distant. The homestead of Thomas Beard, since somewhat improved is now the home of the widow of Mr. Seaman. On this farm Mr. Beard selected his last resting place a beautiful burial spot where his remains and those of his relatives, friends and neighbors now lie; to this farm home he gladly welcomed a host of visiting friends, who thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality and companionship of this good man.
Thomas Beard was a public-spirited man; he and his very intimate friend Francis Arenz, built the first schoolhouse - also used for religious services - and donated it. It was a commodious building of brick, erected in the fall of 1832, 24 by 32 in size. If it be said that these gentlemen, so largely interested in the welfare of the town could well afford to make this donation, it may be suggested that precious few town proprietors in these later days make any donations. After the cession of the three mile strip to Cass county and the location of the county seat of the county at Beardstown by the vote of the people Thomas Beard built the court house in the year 1844 - the memorable year of high water; this building is now the city hall of Beardstown.
Mr. Thomas E. Collins, who was a resident of Virginia for several years, living in the southwest part of the city, was a nephew of Thomas Beard. He was born in Barton, Ohio, on the 13th day of October, 1818. He has a very distinct recollection of the remarkable change of temperature that occurred on December 20, 1836, at which time he was a youth of 18 years, living with his mother in a house at the ferry landing opposite Beardstown. The day was mild; Thomas had been sent across the river by his mother into Beardstown, upon an errand; when he returned to the landing and stood there awaiting the return of the ferry boat, he noticed little streams of water trickling down from the melting snow on the river bank into the river. There was a light mist and on the way across he noticed the atmosphere had suddenly become chilly, and as soon as the boat landed on the Schuyler side he hastened homeward. the boat immediately re-crossed the river as passengers were seen waiting to cross to the Schuyler shore. Upon the return of the boat, when about midway in the stream, in an instant of time, an intensely cold blast seemed to descend upon them. It was not accompanied by a storm, but was a sudden drop in the temperature. Mush ice immediately formed upon the river; the long poles and oars used in the propelling of the boat were at once encased with ice, making the management of the boat a matter of great difficulty. The boatmen became so chilled as to be almost entirely helpless; they struggled to reach the shore, and the landing was finally made, some distance below its usual destination. Thomas Collins and his mother, observing the chilled condition of the boatmen, liberally replenished the fire in the fire-place of their house at the landing. Soon the door was thrown open. Thomas Beard rushed in exclaiming excitedly, "What have you got a fire for; put it out." The fire brands were hurled down the river bank, the boatmen were brought in, stiffened with cold; snow was gathered from the shaded places near the house and applied to the chill and stupefied men; this remedy, supplemented with liquor, administered to them soon put the sufferers out of danger, after which Mr. Beard used the same remedies in his own case which was a serious one. The river closed up, and the next morning old Major Butler, a local celebrity declared he could cross the river upon the ice. He made the attempt but being a very heavy man soon went down into the water. The amused bystanders allowed him to flounder toward the shore, until he became so chilled that he was dragged out, and a liberal dose of old Kentucky beverage handed him, which soon restored him to his normal condition. There was not a thermometer in the town at the time but it is said that Mr. Jacob Ward was the owner of one and that it registered a fall of 40 degrees in 10 minutes. It might be a difficult matter at this late day to sufficiently prove this, but the change was certainly a most remarkable one.
In a very early day, Galena, in the northwestern corner of the State was an important commercial town and Thomas Beard left his home at Beardstown, afoot and alone, in the early part of a very cold winter, to mark out a road to that point. Some of his descendants say that he chose that season of the year for the reason that he could cross the streams upon the ice and the trees being bare and vegetation upon the prairies burned off he could more easily carry out his undertaking. He carried his food in a knapsack; his knowledge of the location and course of the streams enabled him to keep upon a direct course. At night, he built a camp fire and slept in the smoke to protect himself from the frost. With patience and perseverance, he persisted in his undertaking, marking trees through the timber and making a record of land marks. It is said that a considerable portion of this train, was adopted as a permanent road and is so used to this day.
The writer of this sketch made diligent inquiry hoping to obtain some portrait of Mr. beard, but none could be found; it is believed that none is in existence. He was a man six feet in height, straight, muscular and active, of a nervous sanguine temperament, with blue eyes, light hair, with clean shaven face except short side whiskers of a reddish cast. He was a man possessed of great will power, he had a very strong constitution, and was not sufficiently prudent in the matter of husbanding his strength. In the fall of 1849 he was busily engaged in the building of a new ferry boat, was attacked with typhoid fever, and in a very short time breathed his last. the notice of his death published in the Beardstown Gazette was written by his old friend, Francis Arenz, as follows: "Died on Wednesday evening of the typhoid fever. Thomas Beard, aged 55. It is seldom we perform the task of recording the death of a person so well known and so universally respected as Mr. Beard. He was one of the first settlers of the county, and substantially the founder of the town that bears his name. He emigrated to the town in early life and here he aided with his industry and sound practical sense the building up of the town and the improvement of the country. The new settler never appealed to him for advice or aid in vain. the former he was competent to give, and the latter was given freely if in his power. His character through an eventful life never suffered blemish. Though sustaining a position in which he could have gratified a worldly ambition, he never courted the applause of men. His was the natural ability, the world could not corrupt, nor the fashions of an artificial life, take away. He has gone to that Court to which we shall be summoned. May we at that bar find as few accusers as our departed friend.
John Loomis was born in Westfield, New York, on July 20, 1815; his father was Joel Loomis; his mother was Susan Beard, a sister of Jedediah Beard, who was the father of Thomas Beard. The parents of John Loomis resolved to educate him for the ministry, but his ill-health, in hi youth prevented it. When twenty years of age John Loomis was admitted as a student at Williams college; he earned his way by teaching. When twenty-four years of age he was married to Elizabeth Gleason and moved to Conneaut, Ohio, where he took charge of an academy. He soon decided to emigrate to Illinois, and the successful career of his cousin, Thomas Beard, attracted him to Cass county, and in 1844-5, he began teaching in Virginia, that county. Here he remained as a most successful teacher for abut seven years during which time his wife died leaving three children; she was buried in the family burial ground on the Thomas Beard farm in Sec. 16, T. 18, R. 11. professor Loomis next taught in Winchester, and afterwards in Jacksonville, Illinois, in which last named city he was one of the Faculty of the Institution for the Blind for over twenty years. In 1883 and 1884 he was the superintendent of schools of the city of Virginia; he was the father of seven sons and one daughter. He died at his home in Jacksonville, Illinois, in February 1893 at the age of seventy-eight years, and lies buried in Diamond Grove cemetery in the city of Jacksonville.
Professor Loomis was intimately acquainted with his cousin Thomas Beard and wrote some sketches of his home, his character, etc., which were published and copyrighted by his son, who has permitted their use in this sketch, as the little that is known of Mr. Beard should be preserved. The sketches of Prof. Loomis here follow:
It was while a guest at his house that I first became acquainted with the Pioneer. I thus had an opportunity to study his characteristics. Integrity, industry and an indomitable perseverance were his leading traits. It could be as truly said of him as Pyrrhus said of the Roman general; "Ille est yabicius, qui difficilius ab honestate, quam sol a cursu sao aveiti potest." He was never idle. When the business of the day was over he sought relaxation and refreshment in books, travels, explorations, histories and sciences. For next to his duties and business these subjects or the society of the good and intelligent formed his greatest enjoyment.
His early education had been good, particularly in History and Mathematics. These studies were calculated to develop the business man, rather than form a literary character. But a taste for novels and adventure in his early reading developed itself in his seeking the N. W. Territory than that far west, the Land of the Dahcota and fierce Potawotamies. He came more from a love of adventure than any admiration of frontier or savage life. And though he found new inhabitants, he discovered a region of unsurpassed beauty. he was delighted with these broad plains, clothed with flowers, which bloomed from earliest spring till the cold, bleak winds of Autumn shut up their tender cups and destroyed their fragrance. But, he was pleased not only with the surface. He saw that the wild man had only to follow the wild herds to the west, and then civilization would transform these primitive meadows into fruitful fields of grain, and the homes of industry. He found the ravine and bluff abounding in ores of iron or lead, in quarries of rock, or in beds of coal. These he perceived, only needed the hand of industry to render subservient to the wants and happiness of man, or to develop them into resources of wealth. Nor in respect to gain alone did he view these undeveloped resources. With the inquiry of the philosopher, he examines the fossils embedded in the rock and reads the history of primeval ages, thus recorded, while drift or other convulsions of nature are indicated by the huge boulder, a solitary monument of the past, dropped here and there upon the broad prairie. He was acquainted with the "Father of Waters" with its numerous tributaries, all waiting for the boat to carry off the various commodities of the country to the distant market. Here he determined to make his home, and with an ax, a dog and gun he began a settlement in hope, when others looked with doubt, upon the experiment. He traded with the Indians, supplying them with articles in return for peltries. To this stock he added wild honey and venison, and thus began that commerce in embryo to the low countries, upon those western waters which has since developed into the most wonderful inland navigation in the world, as respectable then as now, if courage, skill and perseverance are deserving of commendation. Before the present spurn these enterprises, and laugh at the trade in wild honey and peltries in comparison to present commodities let them, at least, learn what labor and sacrifices this commerce at first cost. The power of navigation has rendered navigation safe and easy. But then the whirlpool and rapid had to be encountered and overcome by human muscle and energy. It took men to carry on successfully this commerce. Gentlemen now pride themselves in hunting woodcock and grouse, but it took a fearless man to lie down to sleep in the wilderness while the howl of the black wolf could be heard in the distance, or when his stealthy approach was disclosed by gnawing the bones of the last repast which had been tossed aside. It took a brave man to encounter the dangers of the Panther which were then lurking in ambush in every grove or thicket, (for the deer that bounded over these prairies, or hung upon the body of some broad spreading oak, cautiously peering from the fork, upon the passing hunter.) A little incident occurred in this very landscape, before alluded to, which illustrates the dangers of Pioneer life. there is a small lake adjacent to the Illinois river and connected with it. The Pioneer had taken his skiff one afternoon, and gun (for this was his companion) and had entered this lake to fish for pickerel with which it abounds. No human dwelling was near. He was alone in the wilderness. Night had settled around him. The Pioneer had lashed his boat to the roots of a cottonwood which stood on the banks of the lake, after casting out his lines, and had laid himself down in his canoe for his night's repose. He was musing, as those only muse who are half asleep and half awake.
All things were tinged by his half-unconscious sensibilities. (The solitary notes of the night-bird and the glancing water were soothing his mind into that state of repose that precedes entire unconsciousness.) The fireflies seemed to rival in splendor and brilliancy, the bright stars in the firmament which was not settling down upon the tree tops, when a shrill and piercing cry bursts upon his ear, and is echoed through the solitudes as such a shriek could only echo. Another scream, accompanied by the sound of short, quick hops, announce the near approach of an enemy. The next moment a huge panther with flaming eyes, seeks his moorings. The next, and a fierce animal stands at the very foot of the tree to which his boat is tied, and in distance of a leap the Pioneer could almost feel the hot breath of the monster, as he stood with half distended jaws and unsheathed claws, occasionally lashing his sides with his tail, he peers fearfully at him. The Pioneer knew his foe, and springing up he faces the monster, with the gun raised to his shoulder and ready to do the work of death. The Pioneer flinches not. He levels his gun steady upon the space between the eyes, but he holds his fire. His knowledge of this foe has taught him to prefer prudent caution to a hazardous encounter. the panther can not endure the steady gaze of man. He retreats a few paces, renews his terrific cries, and the next moment he is lost in the surrounding darkness, while the Pioneer unlashes his boat and shoves it to deeper water at a distance from shore, thrusts down a settling pole to the bottom of the lake and moors his boat in safety till morning.
The Pioneer's love for natural history was remarkable. He studied the habits of beast and birds with care and intense pleasure. It is only by close observation that even the reason of man can triumph over the instinct of animals and subdue them. A stupid man could never succeed in the wilderness. To triumph over so many, requires a quick perception and understanding, and prompt action. In the wilderness, beast, bird and savage nature all are foes. These must be overcome by reason and courage. In these respects the Pioneer is seldom appreciated. It is a heroic character. Such an one would be prominent in any circumstances or society.
It was from this pioneer that I first learned the semi-domestic habits of the robin. This favorite of our orchards and door yards builds its nest near the dwellings of man. It is never found in the solitudes. Like the honey bee it advances with civilization. The Pioneer was here before the robin. Its first carol was the announcement of the coming multitude. Its notes, too, were grateful as the memory of home, of parents, brother and sisters, for he had heard that carol last when he bade them adieu.
He was compensated somewhat for the absence of the robin by the song of the mocking bird (Lurdus Polyglottos) which then frequented this region for a few months a year. Now that inimitable songster is seldom or never seen here, owing, probably, to the indiscriminate slaughter of prey and birds of song. The man who is so barbarous that he cannot be delighted by the ever varied notes of the mocking bird, or with the thrush as she pours forth her song upon the highest twig, or with the more plaintive song of the bobolink, as she rises upwards from her nest in the meadow, but who can enjoy with extreme gusto their savory flesh, has gained a villainous notoriety and vandal fame. The Pioneer was never so much an epicure, nor so much a barbarian.
It might be supposed that one who had passed so much time on the frontier would have preserved some of the border habits, but it was not so. His gun was laid aside when civilization came. he was first in every improvement. He favored education, giving to his children the advantages of the best seminaries.
Had he lived today he would have been a decided Republican, as he was a stanch Whig. Niles Register, for many years his text book, indicates the calm, but decided tenor of his politics. When the struggle in this state first came for free, against slaver labor, his voice and influence were for freedom and humanity.
His personal demeanor and bearing were manly, blended with an unaffected simplicity. His countenance was full of sternness in repose, but in conversation, it was full of benignity, a pleasant smile welcoming those who approached for favors.
The present was to him the period for improvement and enjoyment. He did not carry with him the aggregate burdens of life, adding to them his daily cares, thus rendering their load intolerable. Like a true philosopher, he left these behind. But the blessings of life he augmented by dwelling upon them, and although he had experienced misfortune, yet so serene and joyful did he appear, that he inspired all with happiness and pleasure.
The Pioneer was not a member of any church, yet he had a profound respect for the truths of religion. He recognized an overruling Providence in all things. to him nothing came by Chance. "All partial evil was universal good." He honored the unostentatious Christian, but the cant of hypocrisy of Pretenders he had no respect for. He acknowledged that sound could throw down the walls of Jericho, or that Physical strength could carry off the gates of Gaza and overthrow the house of the Philistines. There were means ordained to accomplish those ends. But he believed that sound reason and argument, not physical strength were now the means to convert men. he had a very low opinion of an uneducated and undevout ministry.
A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF THE PIONEER, THOMAS BEARD,
Of Beardstown, Cass County, Illinois.
By Prof. John Loomis, M.A.
In Cass county, Illinois, there lived a few years ago, one of the Pioneers of the west. He had purchased a farm for a homestead just where the bluffs that skirt the valleys of the Sangamon river and Illinois unite. The greater portion of his farm was the rich alluvion of the bottoms, a small part only extending up into the bluffs. Long before this land had come into market this particular spot had been chosen for a homestead. Immediately at the base of the bluff, gently inclining toward the west, was planted an orchard of the choicest kinds of fruits - apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries. A grapery, also, of many varieties was planted on either side of a broad avenue leading to his house, and supported by trellised work. Many exotics, also trees, plants and shrubs were cultivated. To the north of the orchard and at the base of the bluffs extending east, was a grove of young forest trees, which follows up a ravine into the higher lands. through this ravine there came murmuring down a silver stream, sometimes swollen and turbulent, but usually creeping and winding away through the tall grass and flowers of the prairie, silently forming with other similar streams, numerous lakelets, here and there, all over the beautiful champaign, between the bluffs and distant rivers. Between the orchard and a road running north and south was the family mansion of the Pioneer, a structure far more imposing for its size than the elegance of its architecture. Such was the view as you sit under the old oak tree which stands near the residence. Here I spent the first few weeks of my sojourn in the west, enjoying the genuine hospitality of a true nobleman, as the proprietor was.
But, that we may fully appreciate the beauty of the landscape, let us climb to the summit of that bald knob which raises several hundred feet above the general level just east of the orchard. to this eminence the Pioneer was wont to lead his guests. From this place we have an unobstructed view from a line due east clear round to a line south, embracing twenty-four points of a great circle. The arc of the quadrant between North and West is bounded by the Illinois river, which sweeps round in a circle with a radius six or eight miles. This is the uniting wedge of the Illinois and Sangamon Valleys. On the opposite side of the river, the Bluffs following its course, bend away to the south crowned with a crest of tall trees.
On this side, along the margin, the Pecan, Hickory and other forest trees abounding in foliage fringe the banks. The remaining area near the base of bluff where we stand is an open prairie. Stretching away to the east, the broad bottom lands of the Sangamon, covered with corn fields, can be plainly seen. While beyond and above the lofty tree tops that skirt the river, you look down upon the farmhouses of Mason County. To the south, the rich lands of the Illinois, covered with similar corn fields, varied by the sand ridge with its dwarf growth of oaks and scanty foliage, stretch away southward. But leaving these remote views, we here look down upon the little prairie upon the broad champaign, adorned by the little grove and stream and lakelet. Often do they echo with hoarse notes of the wild fowl, the white swan, the wild goose, the duck, the grouse and crow which frequent them for food. At all seasons these fowls may be seen circling round in mid air, about to alight, starting up with splash and cry and scream at the report of the gun or some fancied danger.
One grove of persimmon trees is remarkable. It stands alone, two miles or more, distant from any other timber. This grove stands in a circle, covering an area of a half acre, the trees in the center shooting up highest, while those near the circumference with long pendant branches give the grove the appearance of a green hillock dropped down upon the bosom of the prairie. Long after the county began to be settled, was this thicket a resort and covert for the deer, from whose excesses they looked out upon the prairie for hound or sportsman, or hid themselves till darkness made it safer to go forth for food.
One other peculiar feature of the landscape is the sand ridges. These are now all covered with timber, a low scrub oak called black jack. The soil is too poor to support the cereal grains, but a kind of coarse grass, the cactus and like plants are found. As might be expected, the foliage of the trees is scanty. These ridges indicate the action of water of great volume and velocity. They are filled in parallel ridges following the course of waters southward, showing where the current had passed, or winding here and there in narrow channels, or spreading out into a broad area. The prairie which was covered with water last is now the rich bottom land and which prevails near the bluffs south. While the sand ridges are near the river, varied by low prairies, often but little else than the lagoon or bayou in high water. Sometimes a circular basin may be found, showing the action of the whirlpool which continuing till the water subsided, then were left on the general level of the bottom land and of similar soil. They are of various extent, from one acre to several.
About three miles from the bluffs, near the Sangamon river, are a great number of Zumuli in the small area of an acre. Some of these are among the largest and highest to be found. A few rods from them is a small lake shoe bed was made, no doubt, by excavations to form these Zumuli. The idea is suggested that here, in this very spot, one of the bloody battles, many centuries, perhaps subsequent to the subsidence of these waters, was fought, in which many braves fell, while to commemorate their exploits, these mounds were raised on the field of glory. And if we may judge of their honor or the glory of their exploits by the size of their monuments, they are worthy of highest admiration. But no record lives to unfold the secret of these primitive races save those rude memorials. These are expressive tributes to departed great ones, whose fame is even more perishable than their monumental earth. These Zumuli are seen just at the edge of the timber that fringes the Sangamon river before it enters the Illinois. In general, these mounds are not found in the open prairie, but on many ridges along the Bluffs such places may be seen. Just where I stand, on the very summit of the knob, is one, sixteen or eighteen feet in diameter by eight or nine in height. (Others may be seen in similar situation.) Many of them have been opened, disclosing the bones of the dead as well as the arms of the warrior, which he fancied in his simplicity, the Indian would need in the Land of the Great Spirit wither he was gone.
That vast changes have taken place in this valley can be easily proved. A great lake or a vast river once poured its waters through this channel. Tradition even reaches not back to that period. This history is written on the sand banks and bluffs and rocks of this valley. The Illinois river, the representative of that once mighty stream, discharges comparatively only a small volume of water. It is, nevertheless, a very respectable river. Its bed lies very deep in the earth, many feet lower than the Mississippi above the rapids That it was once connected with the great lakes, there can be no doubt. The Pioneer was wont to pass through grass lake, by canoe into Lake Michigan. While other rivers in this same latitude are frozen, the Illinois owing to its deep bed, is free from ice and navigable. Thus it furnishes a great thoroughfare to bear off the produce of the fertile region through which it flows. Its banks may be less romantic than the Hudson, but its deep channel, its gentle current, renders it unsurpassed for purposes of commerce. The first steamboat ascended the river in 1827. It is a most beautiful sight to sit on this knob and watch the progress of these steamers as they sweep round this semi-circumference, occasional glimpses of which may be seen among the opening trees. They may be plainly traced by the steam, curling round the tree tops along the river, the echoings of which, borne on the soft winds may be distinguished, as well as that of the shrill whistle, which announces the approaches to the landing. Among other objects of charming beauty, are the flocks and herds scattered over this plain, feeding. When the hot sun has driven them to the grove, they may be seen standing in the soggy pool, or recumbent upon the grassy lawn. Or, again, when the long shadows begin to fall, you can see them forming into long lines, and winding their way to this point or that, plainly pointing out the new home of the settler, and yielding to his children abundance of milk, as the trees have already done, wild fruit and wild honey. For the wild grape and plum and various other fruits abound in profusion, and the honey bee was found in every flower upon the prairie. Such was the appearance of this beautiful spot as I saw it in June, 1845. It was more attractive for its primitive beauty than its improvements. Beardstown was the only town in the whole landscape, celebrated only as the County seat for its commercial importance. Here and there the farmhouse was reared and the orchard planted, giving promise of a luxurious future but only at wide intervals. Conspicuous among them was the farm and homestead of the Pioneer, from which I have presented the surrounding landscape. Here we will leave him, having laid aside the habits of border life and developing the resources of his farm, enjoying the respect of those most who knew him best.
In November, 1845, by the recommendation of the Executive of this State, the first day of Public Thanksgiving was observed - a venerable custom in New England, but of recent observance in the West and South. On this occasion, invitations were sent by the Pioneer to his friends and kindred to come and enjoy his hospitality. He had been wont to celebrate New Year's day with similar festivities. But, partly out of respect to Executive authority, and partly to kindred who had recently immigrated, he had chosen this day to honor the former and to welcome the latter. Accordingly, when the sun had passed the meridian, many wagons were seen converging to the farmhouse as a center, and not long after the whole scene was active with the arrival of guests and the greeting of friends. Religious exercises, unlike the old fashioned Puritan Thanksgiving, were wanting to the day. Probably not a minister in the County had ever conducted exercises on such an occasion, for the few, then, were from the South or the spontaneous growth of the West, more conspicuous for their zeal than for their learning.
In other respects it would compare favorably with the most approved style of this festival. The barnyard had been trenched upon for fatlings of various kinds, quadruped and biped, beast and bird. These filled the table with substantial fare, while pastry from the pantry and fruits from the cellar spread a feast satisfactory, even to an epicure, and embracing variety enough to tempt the appetite of the most dainty. But all these are common to such an occasion. It was not, in this respect, remarkable. In numbers, too, it was respectable. About eighty persons, one half children and youth, sat down to the feast. The Pioneer at the head of the table had thanks offered and then bid his friends welcome to his bounties. He moved among his guests delighting them by his cordiality, while he was delighted at the joy that everywhere prevailed. The children were buoyant with glee and the house rang with hilarity on this new holiday. The elder members were looking on with interested delight, or were recounting past events that stood out as waymarks in life's journey, thus far completed. Joy and rejoicing gave wings to the moments. New friendships were formed and old ones were renewed. New hopes were awakened, for festive glances tell the heart's secrets, as well as words of love. "All went merry as a marriage bell."
The guests lingered till the waning day admonished them to depart, a few from a distance remaining. The voice of the young grew fainter and fainter. The house was silent. I sat alone with the Pioneer. Sleep fled from him as he recounted the early annals of settlement, the bright prospects and hopes, often obscured, but now happily beyond doubt. Hostile tribes of Indians had been subdued and security to family and property was now guaranteed to the settler. The climate was proved to be salubrious, and pestilential diseases, once dreaded, were no longer feared. The border-man was selling out his claims and plunging deeper into the wilderness, whither the deer and buffalo had gone. A more intelligent and a more thrifty class of citizens were pouring into the state. A constitution, notwithstanding the cupidity of bad men and the efforts of demagogues to engraft slavery into it, had secured freedom, and good laws foreshadowed the enterprise and improvement which we are now witnessing. These reflections and many others crowded into the mind of the Pioneer, and their successful issue were objects of profound thanksgiving. He had felt the weight of these evils and struggled against them. Now a clear sky promised a glorious future.
I have attended similar feasts in other lands. I have witnessed family meetings more affecting, but I have never witnessed a Thanksgiving occasion comprehending subjects of wider range, nor have I ever witnessed hospitality more cordially extended or more truly appreciated than at this first appointed Thanksgiving festival, at the home of the Pioneer.
The scene is changed. Many a festival has come and gone since this Thanksgiving occasion. The accustomed duties of life have filled the interval. The sun, in his annual cycles, has brought the changing seasons their various joys and sorrows.
The news spreads abroad that the Pioneer is ill. The disease approaches and progresses flatteringly, at first slightly indisposing, but slowly developing into a malignant form of action, baffling alike medical skill and human sympathy. the strong arm of the victim and stronger will is prostrated. he who has braved the elements alone, the savage beast and still more savage man, is stretched upon the couch of suffering and asks help in faint whispers. Then follow the kind assiduities of friends, the efforts of the long tried physician, the consultation, the will, and, last and greatest, when all earthly means and resources fail, the looking up to Heaven for the interposition of that Power which alone can save. But the struggle is over. Nature yields that Power which alone can save. But the struggle is over. Nature yields to an invisible power. Death claims his own. The spirit of the sufferer is borne to the unseen world, leaving but the cold clay to be wept over. The spirit of the Pioneer enters upon an exploration far more interesting and sublime than any hitherto witnessed. He goes to the spirit land, the land of shadows, of many hopes and many fears. Aye, tell me the mystery of that far-off land! Are those - the good and great - are they there? Shall we know them? Will they tower among the inhabitants of that distant land, as they were prominent here? Does mind grow more vigorous and alike more brilliant when separated from its clayey tenement? Shall we find companionship and affinity with every spirit alike when we shall have passed the Straits that intervene? Do intellectual and moral enjoyment alone delight? Or does the physical universe add to our joys? Are they interested in our welfare? Do they love us yet, those who have gone before us? the reflection is intensely thrilling - the reality must be more so.
The news of the death of the Pioneer spread. The hour was appointed for the last offices of respect. I hastened from a distant town to mingle in the company of mourners. the very aspect of nature was such as to give intensity to my feelings. It was Autumn. The early frosts had touched the foliage and tinged the leaves with those varied hues that at once sadden the mind by approaching decay and yet clothe the forest with the gorgeous robes of russet, brown and purple. I turned into a bridle path which the Pioneer pointed out in my first rambles over the country. It was an unfrequented path which wound along the margin of ravines and the tall trees of the barrens. The wide-spreading branches of the oak interlocked above my head. Upon these the squirrel sported, now sitting erect, with acorn in his forepaws, enjoying his repast, or now laying up a store for winter. Again, my path passed through a thicket of young trees, which formed an arch of wicker work overhead, and from which path there bounded the rabbit, after a few moments of mute astonishment at my approach, but to which these timid creatures as quickly returned in their gambols when the sound of footsteps no longer were heard.
The atmosphere gave a shadowy and hazy appearance to the landscape for it was just at that season when the frost and north winds were disporting with the soft breezes from the south, which this day were stealing back, like memories of other days of joy, when the realities of life had not chilled the buoyancy of our spirits. Sometimes through the opening of the trees the "Sand Hill" crane might be circling round in beautiful gyrations a speck just beneath the blue concave, keeping time, in harsh, shrill notes to be appreciated only by those who have heard and seen them in their aerial sports. Or again, a flock of wild fowl from the northern lakes, with the triangle pointing southward, whose hoarse "honk" and flight, like other objects of nature gave indications of the transition season..
As I approached the homestead of the Pioneer I halted to view the scene. I had emerged from the barrens near the point of the bluff from which I have already given description. There was the landscape of unsurpassing beauty. There were the various objects the Pioneer had given his fostering care - the farm, the orchard, the schoolhouse, all that improved home and neighborhood. There stood solitary, the homestead, over the desolation of which there wept the friends of the deceased, with a bitterness that could not be comforted. While standing here, giving way to feelings inspired by the scene, beautiful and sad to me, a long line of vehicles were seen, preceded by the hearse slowly coming from the distant town, for there the Pioneer had died. He was wont to spend the winters in beardstown but when Spring returned he sought the country to adorn and beautify and to enjoy rural life to which he was ardently attached.
I descended from my eminence and joined the cavalcade of mourners. The burial spot was a retired and beautiful spot. It was a tongue of land, rising several feet above the surrounding level, nearly circular and joined by a narrow neck to the Sand-ridges. There, nearly surrounded by a grove of young trees, the Pioneer in health had chosen this as a resting place for himself and kindred. His parents were already buried there. His father, a patriarch of 80 years, had come hither, leaning upon his staff, to be buried by his beloved son in these broad savannahs. And other friends were here, as many a mute monument recorded. When we arrived at the grave a circle was formed, and with uncovered brow the Hon. Francis Arenz stepped forward, himself an exile and a Pioneer from another land, to do the last act of respect to bury the dead, and in his behalf to thank the living for their courtesy. but the duty was on onerous one. After getting the spectators' attention he referred to the character of the deceased. "He had known him long. Many years ago he had come, a stranger and an exile, and found in the deceased a brother and friend. Many years of intimacy had bound them by strongest ties. The unfortunate said he never went away unrelieved by him if in his power to do so. No enterprise worthy the philanthropist was unimportant to him when living. He was one of Nature's noblemen." Saying which the speaker burst into a paroxysm of grief and tears. the relatives of the deceased gave vent to their grief in audible sobs. Even the idle lookers-on were moved to tears. The body was consigned to its last resting place. The grave was filled, the sod wad laid upon it, the crowd dispersed - the kindred to a desolate fireside, the multitude to mourn for a good man.
Thomas Beard was married to Sarah Bell in 1826. the children of this marriage were:
Caroline E. Beard, born July 1, 1827.
Edward Thomas Beard, born October 19, 1829.
Stella beard, born February 25, 1832.
About the year 1834 a decree of divorce separated Thomas Beard from his wife and on July 27, 1837, he was married to Mrs. Nancy C. Dickerman, at Rushville, Illinois, by Rev. William Window. Mrs. Dickerman was the widow of Willard A. Dickerman who was born in 1793 and was married in New York City. Business reverses caused his removal to Beardstown. There were three children born to Willard A. and Nancy C. Dickerman, two sons and a daughter. the latter, named Mary, died in New York City, one of the sons died early in life of consumption, the remaining son, Willard A., (named for his father) was educated by his step-father, Thomas Beard. this step-son, who was born in New York in 1823, became a widower in April 1854; later enlisted in the army, became the Colonel of his regiment and was killed at Resaca, Georgia, on May 24, 1864. Mr. beard was a warm friend of Mr. Dickerman, the father, watched over him in sickness, and at his death at Beardstown, on April 19, 1836, took charge of his property and looked after the interests of the widow until he married her. Their married life was a very happy one; of that marriage were born the following children:
Francis Arenz Beard, born January 7, 1840; died June 23, 1841, aged 1 year and 5 months.
Agnes Casneau Beard, born June 23, 1842, married Augustus Sidney Doane of New York City at which place she now resides.
James McClure Beard, born June 25, 1844; who married Miss Augusta Dodge and now resides at Rantoul, Illinois.
Eugene Crombie Beard, born December 3, 1846, died at sea on April 11, 1868, while on a voyage to Peru, South America, in search of health.
Upon the death of her husband, his widow went to New York City, her old home, where she resided to the end of her life. She died November 13th, 1899, at the advanced age of 95 years at the home of her daughter Mrs. Doane; her remains lie in beautiful Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Thomas Beard was no ordinary man; he left his father's house when but a mere boy, coming to a wild country, to live among the Indians; with wise foresight he chose the location for a prosperous city, with great courage and remarkable industry he fought his way, making a home, to which came his parents and nearly all the members of their family; he was large hearted and public spirited; he gave his name to a city now rapidly growing, which, in the future will become much larger and of greater importance. We are sorry not to be able to say more of this early settler, but glad to here record what has been gathered and to place it where it will be preserved, in the Library of the State Historical Society of Illinois.