In the year 1799, in Wythe county, Virginia, was born Hezekiah Bridgman, who became the husband of Sarah Jane Brown, a native of the same county, and to them, their first child,,, Frank, the subject of this sketch, was born on the 23d day of March A.D. 1820.
Ten years later, in 1830, Hezekiah Bridgman purchased a wagon for $50 into which he loaded his few articles of property, and his wife and four younger children, and started for the wilds of Illinois, the boy Frank, bareheaded, and barefooted, following in the rear, and in this forlorn condition, plodded his weary way the entire distance, with a favorite dog for his companion. On numerous occasions, the ground being too wet to camp upon, the horses spent the night upon their feet attached to the wagon, while the family waited for the coming day.
They arrived at a place some three miles northeast of Jacksonville, Morgan county, where they rented an empty cabin twelve by fourteen feet in size, of a man named Ausmus, and here they remained for some three years. In the spring 20 acres of sod was broken with a plow of wood and corn planted for the coming fall and winter, the family, in the meantime, living as best they could on game and parched corn, furnished by the neighboring settlers. They then removed a few miles farther on, in Morgan county, a short distance from where Arenzville is now situated.
Mr. Bridgman was anxious that his children should acquire some education, and there being no school in his neighborhood, he induced his neighbors to assist in building a log hut for a school room, and he then succeeded in finding a man named Williamson, a widower with four young children to come into the neighborhood, where he remained four or five years, teaching a subscription school in the winter, and working about as best he could between terms.
Modern people, who often feel inclined to complain of hard times, certainly know but little of the conditions surrounding the early settlers of Illinois, otherwise, they would keep their troubles to themselves. The wheat and corn used for seed by those pioneers must first be "acclimated" as Mr. Bridgman expressed it; he says that the first wheat was shriveled and very small in quality and quantity, and the same was true in relation to the corn. Hezekiah Bridgman raised wheat which he threshed by driving oxen over it, cleaned it up and hauled it to St. Louis and sold it for forty cents per bushel. He beat the corn off the cobs with sticks, and took it to Meredosia, where he obtained the price of ten cents per bushel for it. Deer were shot, and the hams smoked in pits dug in the ground, covered with poles and grass, and sold at Jacksonville for 50 cents each. Frank had not shoes for four or five winters after reaching this country; his mother gave him rags, which he tied about his feet to keep them from freezing. At tone time his father had a horse hide, which an itinerant shoemaker converted into shoes for the family for 25 cents per pair; it took all the money Bridgman had to pay for the making of these shoes.
When troops were called for to go north to fight Black Hawk, and his band, a very large number of the able-bodied of the Morgan county settlers marched away. The wives left at home were called the "Black Hawk war widows." Young Frank was sent away with corn to grind into meal, for the "widows" in his neighborhood; he drove to a little water mill on the creek about a quarter of a mile from the location of the "Q" depot in Arenzville. The miller lived in a small cabin without a floor near his mill covered with grass. The boy was compelled to stay for two or three days awaiting his turn; he camped out in the open air, with nothing to eat but parched corn. The miller's wife, one morning, gave him a cup of hot "coffee" made of corn meal, and Frank says it was the best drink he had ever tasted. No other building on the present site of Arenzville then existed; the timber was all confined to the valleys along the streams; the annual prairie fires kept all the up-lands free from trees or bushes.
The settlers were much harassed from the inroads made by wolves and other "varmints" upon their pigs and poultry; and when it was learned that an uncle of a settler was coming from Tennessee, an urgent letter was sent him requesting that he bring dogs with him. The emigrant started with a slut, which upon her arrival in Morgan county, was the proud mother of nine puppies; these animals were cared for with great attention and affection, and when they were old enough to be hunters, the boys of the neighborhood set out upon a grand hunting expedition; they started from the neighborhood where Bluff Springs now stands, and traveled on to Meredosia and Valley City, securing a choice lot of pelts which were converted into money at Jacksonville.
Governor Ford, in his History of Illinois, states that in 1816 and 1817 this country was overrun with counterfeiters and horse thieves; among them being sheriffs, justices of the peace, constables, with now and then a county judge. the people organized against these criminals, by forming bands of "Regulators" which administered summary justice, without the assistance of the "Justices, and County Judges." They broke up many of the worst gangs, but these criminals were troublesome down to a time within the recollection of Mr. Frank Bridgman. While on the hunt above alluded to the party came upon an underground stable, covered with poles and brush, which contained nine horses; the hunters went off to give the alarm, but before their return the thieves had removed their plunder. A few days later, the young hunters found seven other horses concealed in an underground pen; this time Frank Bridgman remained on guard, until help could be obtained, and the animals were taken to Jacksonville, and appraised and advertised for sale. Before the sale day arrived a doctor from Springfield, having heard of the matter, came in and proved himself the owner of a very fine mare among the lot; he was so much pleased to recover his property, that he gave Frank $100; the others were sold at an average of $50 each, no owner appearing to claim them. At least one hundred horses were stolen from that part of the country, Nicholas Houston, being the loser of twenty-five. Bridgman, happening to be in Monmouth, soon after identified three of Houston's animals, which he subsequently recovered; the possessor of them proved that he had purchased them from strangers.
Jeremiah Caywood, the father of John and Charles Caywood, residents of this county, built the first house within the present limits of the town of Arenzville. He was a teamster, hauling goods from Beardstown to Waverly. A man named Comstock was taken seriously ill, at the home of Caywood, and soon after one Preer, was attacked with a deadly disease at a place near by. The latter sent for Bridgman and confessed that he and Comstock were counterfeiters, and told Bridgman where their dies and other appliances were hidden, and believing he would die, asked Bridgman to make way with them. Both men died within one week, and were buried in what was called the Newman graveyard west of Arenzville. After these burials, Mr. Bridgman, found these dies in the locality described hidden in the earth, and they were destroyed by a committee of settlers, who were in charge of hunting out criminals.
In 1833 there was a large temporary encampment of Indians on the Cemetery hill east of Arenzville. The chief, was a tall man, over 6 feet in height, dressed in fine style. Mr. Bridgman tells of a visit he made to this camp, taking along as presents, some whiskey and tobacco, which he delivered to the chief, who shared them, with a select few of the braves; in honor of the visitor, who had brought the most acceptable presents, they formed a circle about him and danced, and went through with other ceremonial motions, much to his amusement and delight. These red men were gathering to go to some point across the Mississippi river.
Mr. Bridgman was married in 1847, and that season he bought two young cows with their calves for sixteen dollars. He began his married life as a tenant farmer, but soon entered land in Morgan county, where he resided until about 1898 when he became a resident of the town of Arenzville, where he now lives with one of his children.
The wagon, brought from old Virginia, was the only wagon in the Bridgman neighborhood in Illinois for a number of years, after which it was sold for $150 to a man named Spearman who was leaving for Iowa; about fifty years ago, Frank Bridgman while visiting in Iowa came across the same wagon, then valued as a relic of early times.
Mr. Bridgman knew John Musch, now an honored citizen of Virginia, soon after his coming here from Germany, when he could not speak the English language. He is an uncle of County Commissioner Henry A. Bridgman; there is bur one man left, of those he knew when he came to this part of the country, and he is Shelton J. Mattingly, more than ninety years of age, residing near Arcadia in Morgan county.