Gatton, Sarah C. MAGA © 2000-2007
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Virginia, Ill.

By: J. N. Gridley

Printed by the Enquirer



I was born in Clarke County, Ky., May 8th, 1822. My grandparents on my father's side came from Switzerland and on my mother's side were Scotch Irish. My father was a farmer and a very quiet, industrious man and I being the eldest son and well grown for my age soon found myself between the plow handles and did all the work usually done on a farm. Have lived on a farm all of my life.

My education was very limited never having attended school over three months in one year. There were no free schools in those days. School houses were very different than what they are at the present day. They were usually of logs and one log left out on one side to give light. The writing desk was arranged under this long window and consisted of a slab the length of the window, a bench made out of a split log with holes bored and legs driven in from the under side for a seat. This composed the writing desk for the entire school.

In those days out mothers made almost all the wearing apparel for the family besides the table linen, bed clothes, etc. every farmer kept his flock of sheep and also raised a good sized flax patch which furnished with the spun cotton added all the material to make the necessary wear for the family.

The spun cotton was bought at the stores, the wool and flax part of the material was all prepared at home.

When I was seventeen years old my father engaged in a speculation which was very disastrous to him, in fact broke him up. I remained with him until I was twenty-one. I then engaged with a wealthy farmer at ten dollars per month and worked the first year without losing a day. Wages increased the next year to twelve dollars per month. The third year began to trade some and do business for other men, worked for Col. Tom Johnson, of Mt. Sterling, Ky., who had a large trade of mules, horses and hogs in Georgia and South Carolina. I kept that up for several years, but all the time had the Horace Greeley idea in my head: "Young man go West and grow up with the country."

I visited Illinois in 1849, again in 1850 and 1851 when I married Miss Kate A. Simpson, of Menard Co., daughter of Dr. James W. Simpson. I have lived in this country ever since. The change in the country from fifty-six years ago is wonderful. There were no railroads, no telegraph or telephones. Fat cattle were driven from Illinois on foot to Philadelphia and New York. Hogs were slaughtered at Beardstown and other points on the river and the product shipped by boat to southern markets. No market for fat hogs only in December, January and February.

All dry goods and groceries were shipped by steamboat and hauled by teams to the different towns. The best farm lands in Menard Co., could be bought when for sale in 1849 from $10.00 to $15.00 per acre and there was much condemned swamp land that sold for twenty-five cents per acre. The above lands could be sold today from $75.00 to $150.00 per acre.

When I came to Illinois in 1849, I left Mr. Sterling, Ky., in stage for Maysville, then a boat for Cincinnati, took a larger boat for St. Louis, then an Illinois river packet for Beardstown, then the stage for the old Dutch stand near Ashland and there was not a fence from there to the head of Clary's Grove which was eight miles away.

While I have always lived on the farm I have done some other business. I have probably sold more thoroughbred registered cattle at public auction than any man in the world and traveled farther to do it. Have sold from Canada to California and from Minneapolis to San Antonio, Texas, and all of the intermediate states where such cattle are raised. Commenced as auctioneer in 1856.

In 1860 and 61 our political troubles began and South Carolina seceded and other southern states followed. Hence our civil war and the battle was on. In August, 1862, raised a company of 100 men at Tallula, Illinois, and was elected captain of the same and was ordered to Camp Butler near Springfield. There was organized with 9 other companies as a regiment and numbered the 114 Regt. Ill. Vol. Infantry and I was unanimously elected its Colonel and soon the regiment was ordered to the front where it did good service until the close of the war.

When I was quite a young man I often heard my father and others speak of the great West. Indiana, Illinois and Iowa in those days constituted the great West as the people understood it. I will give you a few lines written by a gentleman traveling from the East to his western country with the view of selecting a home which portrays very vividly the conditions that existed not a great while before my first visit to Illinois.

Suppose in riding through the West,
A stranger found a Hoosiers's nest;
In other Words, a Buckeye cabin,
Just big enough to hold Queen Mabin.

Its situation low, but airy,
Was on the borders of a prairie,
And fearing he might be benighted
He hailed the house and then alighted.

The Hoosier met him at the door,
Their salutations soon were o'er;
He took the stranger's horse aside,
And to a sturdy sapling tied.

Then having stripped the saddle off,
He fed him in a sugar trough;
The stranger stooped to enter in,
The entrance closed with a pin.

Where half a dozen Hoosierroons
With mush and milk, tin cups and spoons,
White heads, bare feet, and dirty faces.
Seemed much inclined to keep their places.

But Madam, anxious to display,
Her rough and undisputed sway,
Her offspring to the ladder led,
And cuffed the youngsters up to bed.

Invited shortly to partake
Of venison, milk and johnny cake,
The stranger made a hearty meal,
And around the room a glance would steal.

One side was lined with divers garments,
The other strung with skins of varmints;
Dried pumpkins over head were strung,
Where venison hams in plenty hung.

Two rifles placed above the door,
Three dogs lay stretched upon the floor,
In short the domicile was rife
In specimens of a Hoosier's life.

Dictated by Col. J. W. Judy.