Joseph Dyer was born in a log house about one and one-half miles northwest of the Morgan county courthouse, on the 23d day of April, 1840. His father, William Anderson Dyer, was a native of East Tennessee, where he was born in 1799. His mother, Margaret Bridgman, was a native of the state of Virginia, in which state the parents were married.
This couple saw hard times in those days: Mr. Dyer, Sr., walked five miles to chop dry elm wood for 25 cents a day in order to buy a cow for five dollars. He was a blacksmith and carpenter. In 1837, this couple with their four children started for Illinois, a brother of Mrs. Dyer having preceded them. The head of this family had 75 cents in money and a blind mare which he hooked to a one-horse wagon and started out. He came through Southern Illinois, passing near Centralia. He was often compelled to keep watch by night to keep wolves away, which he accomplished by throwing fire brands among them.
Jacksonville was then a town not half so large as Virginia now is. The railroad ran directly through the public square from Springfield to the Illinois river. The cars were open boxes pulled by mules or horses; often four or five pairs attached to a load of freight, which was covered by sheets for protection.
The family first settled just outside of the present city limits upon land of Joseph Deacon, a farmer and blacksmith, for whom William Dyer worked. Here they remained for several years. The family raised cotton a number of years as well as flax and with these materials the mother made the cloth of which the family clothing was made. The operators of the railroad often stopped their trains opposite the Dyer cabin to get buttermilk to drink; a proceeding that would hardly be permitted these days.
The only store in Jacksonville Mr. Dyer remembers was kept by three merchants named Robb, Hook and Steel, whose names were not at all indicative of their character.
After a few years the family removed to a place about three miles southeast of Arenzville, south of the county line. William Dyer entered 40 acres of barren land, riding a horse to Springfield to make the entry. There was plenty of good prairie to be had on the same terms, but settlers in those days clung to the timber and brush patches. Here was built a house of logs 16 feet square with loft over head. The floors and roof were hewed out of logs, the clap boards held in place by logs piled on the roof. Mr. Dyer never saw a stove until he was 12 years old, when his father brought home a small heater purchased of Nolte & McClure, at Beardstown. The usual bill of fare was corn cake, fat meat and onions, with biscuits for Sunday dinners. The mill was near Arcadia, run by Muck Ogle; it was a water mill, and both wheat and corn were ground there, the flour taken home and the bran removed by running the ground product through sieves. The bread was not so white as modern bread, but it had more nutriment in it. The plows were of wood with points of iron and did not scour worth a cent. The harness used was primitive; the traces of chains, the collars of corn husks, the hames hewed out of saplings, the lines were ropes. Corn sold from 10 to 12½ cents per bushel, delivered at Beardstown or Meredosia. Hogs were driven to the former place and sold from 2 to 2½ cents per pound dressed, often the owners waited with their droves two or three days for their turn to have the animals slaughtered and weighed. Sugar sold for 3½ cents per pound, wet and black in quality. Whiskey was plentiful, cheap and generally used. In 1864 or ‘65 Joseph Dyer hauled a load of corn to a distillery at Meredosia, which he exchanged for a barrel of whiskey at the rate of a bushel for a gallon; this he used as a harvest drink in his neighborhood. At the distillery was a tin cup tied with a string, out of which the comers and goers drank as much whiskey as they cared to swallow, free of charge, "without money and without price." What a popular resort such a place would be in Virginia today! Although the drink habit was very common it was considered a disgrace to be drunk, and drunken men seldom were seen.
Mr. Dyer corroborates the often repeated statement that people were much more friendly and sociable in the early days in this country then now. If a man had to move his neighbors came with their teams to help, and would have been insulted had pay been offered. In the late winter and early spring the old settlers would go from one farm to another clearing land - working together for sociability's sake and for the reason they could turn off more work by combination.
Wild game was very plentiful; Mr. D. has seen as many as 28 deer together; sometimes these innocent looking creatures would make havoc of the crops. Wild turkey and prairie chickens were abundant. There was a famous pigeon roost near Arenzville about 1858 or 59. The birds would break down trees a foot in diameter by alighting upon them in such great numbers. People come from far and near and killed these birds by the hundreds. A cousin of Mr. Dyer then living in Indiana constructed a system of nets, by which he caught wild pigeons in great quantities and shipped them to eastern markets in car load lots.
Wages were much lower in the pioneer days than now; as late as 1862 Joseph Dyer worked with a threshing machine from 4 a.m. till 9 p.m. for 50 cents per day; he would work all day with his team for one dollar. One harvest he cradled wheat 18½ days for $1.50 per day and thought he was getting rich fast.
When Mr. Dyer first knew Arenzville it was a hamlet of five or six houses. There was one store there owned by a man named Spears who kept a general stock of goods with plenty of whiskey which he sold for 15 cents per gallon; this store room was about 16 by 20 feet in size.
The first school Mr. Dyer attended was taught by a man named Elias Hammer. About 1852 this school was taught by Felix G. Farrell, who afterward became a wealthy banker in Jacksonville.
The first preacher he remembers was William crow, an old-fashioned Baptist preacher, who lived near Ashland. Meetings were held at the house of William Dyer, who was a faithful member of the church. Preachers of that denomination were not paid salaries in those days, but labored in the vineyard without hope or expectation of pecuniary reward.
[Note - - William Crow was born in Kentucky, and came to Illinois in an early day and settled on the farm near Ashland long owned by Travis Elmore and now by V. C. Elmore. There was a neck of timber on the land known as "Crow's Point". He was a farmer and a preacher of the denomination known as "iron-sides." When the civil war broke out he took a strong and decided stand in favor of prosecuting the war. He was a fearless, out-spoken man. A very large number of this denomination of Christians were bitterly opposed to the war and were called "copperheads". Their treatment of Mr. Crow was not only unchristian, but shameful. This persecution combined with ill health caused him to desist from preaching. He died at Brownsville, Nebraska in 1865 while on a visit with his son, J. E. Crow, and was buried there.
This statement concerning William Crow was furnished me by his grandson, Mr. Edwin Beggs, of Ashland, Illinois. J.N.G.]