Dr. Elder was a typical southern gentleman, and a first class specimen of the pioneer country doctor. He was a product of the Kentucky bluegrass region, born in the city of Lexington, on July 6th, 1798, and grew to manhood there, employed chiefly in storing his mind with learning obtained in great measure from the common schools of that city. Ambitious to occupy a higher intellectual and social station in life than that of a hewer of wood, or a manual laborer of any other grade, and not having a profusion of wealth at his command, he had recourse to that stepping stone of genius, school teaching, to earn means for further advancing his education.
In that vocation he was so successful that in 1820, he finished a classical course in the Lexington College, an institution at that time under the presidency of Rev. Barton W. Stone, famous as a writer and scholar, and widely known by his celebrated controversy with Alexander Campbell, the founder of the church of Christ. He then began the study of medicine in the office of Dr. Charles Warfield, a noted physician of Lexington, who kindly gave him much valuable advice and instruction. In time he was enrolled as a student in the medial department of Transylvania University, in his native city, which at that time, and long afterwards, held the highest reputation for thoroughness of its instruction, and profound ability of its faculty, of any institution of learning west of the Allegheny mountains. There, for two years, he attended the lectures and clinics of the renowned surgeon Dr. Ben Dudley, and his associate professions, who, on the 9th of March, 1823,, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Medicine.
the next spring, that of 1824, his father, having perfected his arrangements, left Lexington with his family to look for a new home in Illinois, and the newly fledged Doctor went with him. The old gentleman purchased a fine farm in Morgan county ten miles northeast of Jacksonville and about two miles south of the village of Princeton. There Dr. Elder, residing with his parents, began the practice of medicine. He secured ample employment from the start, as he supplied a pressing want with but little competition, there being no physician north of him in the state nearer than Peoria; or in any other direction between his home and Springfield, Rushville and Jacksonville.
Old Princeton, in Morgan county, was then but a collection of less than half a dozen houses at a point of timber on the western edge of Jersey prairie, on the road from St. Louis, through Jacksonville, to Fort Clark on Peoria Lake. The town was not laid out until February 19, 1833, but as early as 1826, or earlier, there was a blacksmith's shop there, and a store where general merchandise was sold by Mallory & Lewis. A postoffice was established there on the 26th of July, 1826, and Mr. Eli Redding appointed postmaster. It became quite an important trading point for a large scope of magnificent country thinly settled by people principally from Kentucky, and, later, a few from New Jersey. Though the little hamlet was not exceptionally unhealthy it seems to have been visited with increasing frequency by young Doctor Elder. In the spring of 1827, Mr. Redding, the postmaster, was laid up with an attack of inflammatory rheumatism, and Dr. Elder was called to treat him. The disease must have been of a peculiarly obstinate type, as the Doctor continued his calls every few days all summer, fall and part of the next winter. It may be that his visits were not altogether professional - perhaps his correspondence was so extensive as to require his presence at the country postoffice every two or three days, and detained him there sometimes, in the evening, until all the villagers were asleep.
But, causa latet, vis notissima fuit - and time revealed that the postmaster's pretty daughter was the real attraction. The affair culminated in the marriage of the spruce young Doctor and Miss Hannah Eliza Redding on the 15th of January, 1828; and that was the first wedding - of white people - that occurred in the territory now comprised in Cass county. The young couple settled down to housekeeping in a small house on the farm belonging to the Doctor's father, where, after the usual affair, or reception, they commenced together the arduous journey of life. By 1835, Princeton had grown to be quite a smart little village, its row of houses of rather primitive style of architecture, strung along each side of the road for half a mile or more, having two stores, blacksmith and wagon shops, a shoemaker, a Baptist church built of brick, and a frame Church of Christ, a schoolhouse, and many comfortable residences. In that year Dr. Elder, concluding that the village as a more central point, offered better advantages for his business than the farm, left his father's premises and became a resident of Princeton, and there gave his entire time and attention to the practice of his profession for several years. In the meantime the passing years wrought many changes in the Doctor's surroundings. A vigorous pioneer population was gradually spreading over central Illinois, transforming its wild prairies and woodlands into abodes of civilization. With the influx of settlers came more doctors, and a corresponding contraction of the Doctor's sphere of practice. Dr. Ephraim Rew had made his way to Beardstown on the 1st of December, 1829. Dr. Charles Chandler laid a claim and built a cabin on Panther creek, in the Sangamon Bottom, in 1832. Dr. James Morrison, from Kentucky, was located in 1831, near Arcadia only five miles west of Princeton. The stumps had pretty well rotted out the public square in Jacksonville since it was laid out in 1825, and Drs. Ero Chandler and Saml. M. Prosser were there dosing out calomel and jalap, squills and Peruvian bark, to suffering humanity for miles around. In Dr. Elder's household a few young Elder's had come to bless and cheer his home, and likewise keep him humping for food and raiment. His parents had both fulfilled their mission and gone to everlasting rest - the dates of their death, not recorded, are now lost.
Having a fair start for a family of children growing up around him, and always preferring rural life to the hampered limits of a village or town residence, the Doctor bought the interests of the other heirs of his father's estate, and became sole owner of the old homestead - now known as the Crum farm, a mile or so east of Literberry. Leaving Princeton he moved to the farm, and there divided his time between the active duties of his profession and giving his boys, as they grew up, an opportunity to learn the practical beauties of agricultural science. There for several years he led the uneventful life of a country doctor, with the chief care of giving his children every educational advantage possible in such an isolated location.
When Dr. Elder came to that farm with his father in 1824, Morgan was a new county, having been organized on January 31st, 1823. It was originally a part of Greene county, and extended from Greene to the Sangamon river. As its population increased local jealousies and discontent - especially among politicians and office seekers - fomented agitation for its division. It had territory sufficient for two good sized counties; but to divide it into two equal parts would place Jacksonville - which that early exerted a controlling influence - on the border of one of the divisions where it could not longer be a county seat, and in consequence would lose its importance. As division of the county seemed inevitable, the problem presented was to effect it in such manner as would retain the county seat at Jacksonville. by connivance of a few leading men about Beardstown and Virginia with those of Jacksonville a strip of about ten miles in width was taken of the northern end of Morgan, and by legislative enactment, in force March 3, 1837, organized into a new county named Cass. then on February 16, 1839 another portion of Morgan was detached and made into Scott county. soon after that the people of Cass county began clamoring for more territory, demanding another strip three miles in width from Morgan. As that concession would place Jacksonville only eight miles from the northern border of Morgan county, thereby endangering the stability of the county seat, the tacticians of that city had a bill passed through the legislature March 4th, 1843, creating the county of Benton from the southeastern part of Morgan and a portion of Sangamon county, which, however, was defeated at the polls when submitted to the people. Then on February 26th, 1845, the legislature passed another act "extending the limits of Cass county," whereby at the election following the three mile strip was taken from Morgan and added to little Cass.
These mutations and mutilations of Morgan county exerted no particular effect upon Dr. Elder, farther perhaps than to give him a favorable opinion of Cass county. he did not follow Col. John J. Hardin into the Mexican war in 1846; but late in that year sold the old homestead, and on March 18, 1847, purchased, for the sum of $1,100, of his brother-in-law, Peter C. Redding, his farm of 270 acres in the south and southeastern part of Sec. 18, T. 17, R. 9, in Cass county, about three miles north of Princeton, since known as the Hutchings place. Moving at once into his new home he went right along with his medical practice without let or hindrance, as that region had long been in the sphere of his influence. Not only in the Princeton district, but in all the country from Jacksonville to Petersburg, and between Virginia and Springfield, he was a familiar figure for the third of a century,, personally acquainted with every settler, and a welcome visitor at every home. He was not brilliant or showy, but a man of strong individuality, very active mind, and most excellent character. His usual appearance, in his best days, was quite impressive; nearly six feet in height, straight, square shouldered, raw-bones and muscular, about 175 pounds in weight; his blue-gray eyes and regular features surmounted by broad forehead and brown hair, were rendered more attractive by a friendly, genial expression of countenance. He was in every respect a good citizen and good man, of spotless character and unsullied honor, and noted for kindness, benevolence and open-handed hospitality. Neither malice, envy, jealousy, or cupidity were in his nature; nor selfishness enough for due protection of his own interests and the welfare of his family.
As physical energy was not one of conspicuous traits he was not a fast man in any sense; but deliberate and slow-motioned, averse to unnecessary exertion and fond of ease and comfort. Gauged by the standards of this era of active hustling for business, he would have been considered somewhat dilatory; and some of his friends diagnosed him as being infested with the bacillus of laziness; at any rate,, he seemed to be so constituted as to be able to bear a good deal of rest. Mindful of the maxim, "Time comes as fast as it goes," and knowing he had all the Time there was as it passed, he thought it unnecessary to hurry through life - and didn't. But for all that Dr. Elder was a busy man, and for years did a great deal of slavish labor in a circuit of practice extending far into four counties. Always on the best terms with other "regular" physicians with whom he chanced to come in contact, he retained their confidence by invariably treating them with the utmost courtesy and fairness. His estimate of the dignity and nobleness of his profession, however, was so exalted that he would never debase it by consulting with a Homeopath or Thomsonian, regarding both as on a par with other charlatans and humbugs. When Dr. Charles Chandler had established himself in the practice of medicine in the Panther Creek settlement, in order to curtail the immense territory he had to travel over, he proposed to Dr. Elder a division of that territory by agreeing upon a line of demarcation bounding the space in which each should practice exclusively, and not trespass upon that of the other. But Dr. Elder declined the proposition, for he could not refuse his services to friends in all parts of the county who might send for him; and besides he did not wish to enter into any entangling compact with a slick Yankee like Chandler. their relations, however, were, all the years of their frequent intercourse, pleasant and friendly. They were both of the Allopathic school of medicine, and as neither were active politicians there were no serious disagreements to disrupt their professional harmony.
Naturally inclined to piety and veneration for all that to him seemed holy or sacred; and earnest in maintenance of every principle he deemed to be right, Dr. Elder was all his life a religious man. Instinctively he was moral, just and charitable, with never an evil thought or inclination. His early conversion to Christianity, then, was a matter of course - a mere form - for he was always a Christian. When quite a young man he joined the new sect - then so popular in Kentucky - known as the Church of Christ, derisively styled by the jealous and envious of other denominations, "Campbellites" and continued to his last hour one of its most steadfast members. Conscientious in all his convictions he was zealous in upholding his creed, and in the discharge of every duty and obligation it imposed. For the latter half of his life he served as an elder of his church, and often addressed the congregations in exhortation, and sometimes supplied the place of an absent minister, in the pulpit. Regarding his moral obligations as paramount, at one time in his professional career his conscience sorely prodded him for pursuing his bread-earning vocation on the Sabbath, thereby desecrating the Lord's holy day. Seeing no way to avoid it - for Nature has no Sabbath, none of its operations are suspended on Sunday, sickness occurs, humanity suffers, and children are born, and also have the colic, on that blessed day as on others, causing the doctor's services to be indispensable - he concluded, ad so informed the public, that henceforth he would attend sick calls as usual at all times, but would charge nothing for professional services he rendered on Sundays. The result amazed him. His business on week days fell off 50 per cent, and a startling increase of bodily ailments on the Sabbath taxed all his time, to the exclusion of home enjoyments and rest, and - worse than all - debarred him from the highly prized privilege of church attendance.
That new departure in his business methods to some extent quieted his scruples, but seriously decreased his revenues without in the least mitigating his infractions of the third and fourth commandments. Compelled to discontinue that course he adopted another equally philanthropic, and not so laborious. He notified his patrons that he would no longer attend professional calls on Sunday; but would prescribe for the sick at his home on that day free of charge. Still, the Lord's day continued to be exceedingly unhealthy. To his dismay he saw his house each Sunday converted into a free dispensary crowded with the halt, the sick and the maimed with their attendant parents, brothers, sisters and aunts, demanding all his time and mental energy from early dawn until late bed time. That plan was no improvement upon the first. It converted his house every Sunday not only into a free hospital but a free tavern also, enslaving his wife and family, consuming his medicines, and exhausting his larder. Forced to abandon his well meant reforms, he quieted his compunctions of conscience the best he could, and relapsed into the old daily routine in humble compliance with the ways of nature's God who makes no discrimination in days of the week. The conventional institution of the Sabbath, in its setting apart one day in every seven for rest and recreation, was a priceless boon to humanity, commanding the gratitude of all mankind - excepting physicians, whose toil is continuous as the earth's rotation on its axis.
The constant mental and physical stress of country practice, with its irregular hours and exposures at all times of day and night, its dismal associations with disease and suffering, and its numerous disappointments, perplexities and vexations, began rather early to tell upon Dr. Elder. when but little past the noontide of life he felt premonitory symptoms of the inevitable breakdown of professional enthusiasm and vigor. He tried to think of some change of business or location that might palliate the severity of his never-ending task. After earnest consideration of the problem for some time, he concluded to move to Oregon where he would have the advantages of a milder climate and cheap land for the settlement of his children who were rapidly growing up. One of them, Rev. Charles W. Elder, for the last half century a minister of the Church of Christ, was married to Miss Mary G. Hopkins on the 7th of November 1850. Another son was destined for the church, and one a student of medicine, would in a few years be looking for a location, and it probably would not be far in the future when some of the other children might be scattering out to hunt for homes for themselves. Having resolved upon migrating to the far west the Doctor sold his farm, on the 13th of March, 1851, to Joseph Hutchings, for $3000, and began immediate preparations for his long journey. But as he came to face the difficulties in the way his resolution wavered. the magnitude of the undertaking staggered him. then the reports of the outbreak of Asiatic cholera on the plains, and its appalling havoc among the throng of emigrants going to California that season deterred him from going, and he abandoned it.
Instead of leaving Illinois he bought of James Hill, two small adjoining farms - formerly occupied by "Uncle" Jack, and Jim Conover, in the timber a mile and half southeast of Princeton, and moved there, his son Charles on one of them and he and family on the other. There, in November of the next year, 1852, his first-born child, Samuel McPherson Elder, then a young man twenty-six years of age and a medical student about to enter the profession, was stricken down with fever and died.
There are several contemporaries of Dr. Elder still living in Cass and Morgan counties who knew him well, and speak of him in the highest terms, as a thorough, well-bred gentleman of more than ordinary intelligence, clear head and sound judgment; that as a physician he ranked in popular estimation with the best in the country, and as a citizen was not surpassed by any for sterling integrity of character. But he was a negative man, quiet, unobtrusive, not aggressive in anything but defense and propagation of his religious views. His failings were all negative. Deficient in industry and tact, destitute of cunning, scheming and avarice, he was of course, not a money-maker. Full of kindness and sympathy, he was ever ready to do all in his power to relieve suffering and distress - too often without thought of the pecuniary value of his services. He left payment for his labor and skill almost optional with his patrons; and all the Lord's poor, the poor devils, the dead beats, improvident and dishonest loafers, were on his free list. His total want of business sense, and his generous charity and free hospitality were necessarily fatal to financial success.
Notwithstanding Dr. Elder's absorbing interest in his church, and his rectitude of conduct, he was free from the repulsive asceticism and whining cant of the generality of religious zealots. he was of sunny, jovial temperament, fond of merriment and lively company, and relished jokes, even though at his expense. His mind was a storehouse of varied information, as all his life he was a voracious and omnivorous reader, familiar with the best literature of the times from the classics, poets, scientists, down to the latest and best novels. By his studious habits he kept well posted in the progress and advancements of his profession, in which his attainments were very respectable.
He was very sociable, of plain and domestic tastes, and a fluent and entertaining talker. Seen at his best was when seated in a comfortable chair in the shade, if in summer, or by the fire in winter, with a circle of appreciative listeners around him, who were always entertained and profited by his conversation. he told anecdotes well in faultless language, never descending to slang, profanity or vulgarity. His personal habits were most exemplary, with the one exception of being an inveterate tobacco chewer. Dr. Sam Christy often said he knew of but one man who habitually took a larger "chaw" of tobacco than himself, and that person was Dr. Elder. Nor was he ever entirely weaned from the natural beverage of Kentuckians, Bourbon whiskey. He relished an occasional swig of it, which he took for the stomach's sake, of course, finding scriptural authority for the indulgence in the advice of Saint Paul to Timothy, by interpreting the Apostle's term "wine" so liberally as to include the essence of sod corn.
In politics, Dr. Elder was all his life a steadfast, radical democrat, though in no sense a politician, and with never the slightest ambition for public office of any kind. the first vote he cast for a presidential candidate was for Genl. Jackson, in 1828; the last was for Horatio Seymour, in 1868. In 1836, he took an active interest in the movement for organizing Cass county, and in 1837, voted to ratify the act of the legislature creating it. In 1845 he exerted all his influence to carry the election for adding the "three mile strip," including Princeton, to Cass county, becoming by the result of that election a citizen of Cass. he was in Morgan county three years before the first steamboat ascended the Illinois river, in 1827. He heard John Reynolds and Wm. Kinney address the people, while standing on stumps in the public square in Jacksonville, in their famous campaign for governor in 1829-30. He visited his scattered patients through "the winter of the deep snow," 1830-‘31, when in several instances the snow had drifted to the roof of their cabins. He went over to Beardstown in April, 1832, to see his friends among the volunteers gathered there in response to the call of Gov. Reynolds to repel the invasion of Black Hawk. He did not himself volunteer for military service because his medical services were more imperatively needed by the people here. Returning home from a sick call across the prairie about two o'clock on the morning of November 13th, 1833, he saw the beginning of that marvelous phenomenon known as the "falling stars," and watched the falling meteors with awe and wonder until their strange, brilliant illumination of the night was superceded by that of the rising sun. he happened to be at home on the 20th of December, 1836, the "memorable cold day," when the temperature fell in one hour from 68 degrees above zero to 15 below, freezing the mud so quickly - it has been said - as to catch, and hold fast in it, the feet of many pigs, chickens, etc. He gave graphic accounts of the Internal Improvement craze of 1836-38, and in 1839 saw the first locomotive put in motion on the first railroad with a strap iron track in Illinois. He was personally well acquainted with John J. Hardin, Gov. Duncan, Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln, and other noted public men of Central Illinois. Peter Cartwright and himself were for years intimate friends, and though they differed broadly on some points of gospel exegesis, they were in perfect harmony on the efficacy of prayer and Jacksonian democracy.
At his little farm in the timber Dr. Elder continued his practice of medicine; but the years of hard riding and exposure were telling on his impaired constitution, and limiting his powers of endurance. His once wide circuit of practice had contracted to a narrow circle. As the country filled up with people more doctors came - like cormorants - to prey upon them. Dr. John Walker had located at the head of Indian Creek, seven miles east: Dr. Sam Christy was on a farm five miles northeast and a mile east of Lancaster post office. In Virginia, Doctors Schooley, Tate, Lord and Stockton were supplying the needs of the sick for miles around. Dr. Hathwell had located half a mile east of Princeton on the Clendennin farm, and others were scattered around wherever they saw a chance to make a living. In the spring of 1859 he sold his Morgan county land and once more became a resident of Princeton. There he son again found village life unsatisfactory, and longed for the freedom and independence of the open county. He never revisited his native state after leaving it in 1824; but his father returned to Lexington a few years later, called there by the serious sickness of his daughter, Mrs. Judge Venable. Early in 1860 Dr. Elder left Princeton and the scenes of his former struggles, triumphs and failures, and moved to a farm he purchased near the village of Elkhart in Logan county. The motive inducing him to make that change was perhaps not a particular desire to become a neighbor to "Roaring Dick" Oglesby, who then resided in or near that place; but was more probably the advantage of cheaper land and greater elbow room to be had there at the time.
Dr. Elder's health, that for some time had been declining, in 1860 reached the stage of almost total physical collapse. Distressing enervation compelled him to retire from all active business and lead a sedentary life, however, beyond impairment of his intellectual vigor, the integrity of his mental faculties remaining as clear as in his youthful days. he was never an advocate, or apologist, for the institution of slavery, but having had the doctrine of state's rights inculcated in his early training he believed it wrong for the general government, or people of the northern states, to interfere in the domestic regulations of the of the south, of those of any new state applying for admission into the Union. In the turbulent agitation preceding the civil war he was out spoken in defense of the position assumed by the south; and during the terrible conflict that followed, his sympathies were earnestly enlisted for the confederate cause. Without hesitation or reserve he expressed himself favorable to the south on all occasions - not in a spirit of bravado or defiance, but as his candid opinion of the right and justice in the question of the issue. In those lurid days of furious excitement and intense sectional enmities a numerous class in Illinois - in fact everywhere both in the north and south - were very intolerant of the liberty of speech when the sentiments spoken were contrary to their views. individuals of that class in his vicinity intimated to Dr. Elder that if he did not stop talking so boldly for the rebels they would forcibly suppress him. That threat had the opposite effect from the anticipated by the loyal stay-at-homes. He was not in the least intimidated by it; but carefully cleaned his old rifle, replenished his powder horn and bullet pouch, and sent them word to come on and suppress him, he was ready to receive them. They neither silenced nor molested him.To Dr. Elder and wife were born eight children, four sons and four daughters, named Samuel McPherson, Charles Warfield, M. Ripley, and Andrew W. - Catherine, Elizabeth, Martha Helen and Maria Jane. The two first named sons were born on the old homestead in Morgan county. Charles W. and M. Ripley chose the ministry in the Church of Christ for their life calling, and are still doing the Master's work, the first a resident of Denver, Colorado, for several years past, the other in charge of the Christian church at Ashland, Illinois. Andrew W. is a citizen of Peoria, Ill. The last named daughter Maria Jane, resides in Salem, Oregon, the other three in Los Gatos, California.
Dr. Elder occupied his Logan county farm until about the close of the civil war, when too feeble to further superintend its management, he sold it and then purchased a modest little dwelling in Williamsville, in the northern edge of Sangamon county, a few miles southwest of Elkhart, and there established his last home on earth. there himself and wife, surrounded by their children, quietly passed their remaining days, watching the lengthening shadows as the evening of life came on apace while awaiting realization of their faith in the final summons to "come up higher." The call came first to Mrs. Elder, who breathed her last in April, 1867. The Doctor remained five years longer, a mere wreck of his former self, lonely indeed, but sustained by his unfaltering faith in the promise of Him who said, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Dr. Elder was "heavy laden" with grief for loss of his life companion, and with premature senile debility from years of slavish labor. He had fought the good fight and felt that he was entitled to the promised reward, "well done thou good and faithful servant," and was prepared to enter into the kingdom. As though passing into the repose of a quiet, peaceful sleep, he departed this life, in answer to the summons, on the 6th day of March, 1872, having attained the age of 73 years and eight months.