Pulaski County, as all of the other counties in the State, has an
historical background which goes back to the first exploration of the
continent of North America. Prior to the coming of the French explorers,
Joliet and Marquette, in the year 1673 A. D., little, if anything, was known
by Europeans about the central portion of the Continent of North America.
They knew vaguely that there was a vast hinterland west of the Allegheny
Mountains. How far westward the land extended, no one knew and few dreamed
of the vastness of the New World which was then in process of exploration.
Joliet and Marquette, pursuing their explorations on foot and by canoe, penetrated the wilderness of the continent to the Great Lakes region. The country had been fairly well explored that far.
After spending some time at Mackinac, they with five other Frenchmen and two Indian guides left May 13, 1673, in two bark canoes laden with provisions. They traversed Lake Michigan and came to the Fox River on the banks of which stood an Indian village occupied by the Kickapoos, Mascoutins and Miamis. A missionary priest, Father Allouez, had a mission at this place. Here the explorers announced to the Indians their intention of seeking the great river of which they had heard rumors and of which their auditors had very vague conceptions.
The Indian guides led them up the Fox and helped them portage to the Wisconsin River but would go no farther on such a mad expedition. Down the Wisconsin the daring Frenchmen drifted, their eyes gladdened by the beauties of the land on every hand, until on June 17, 1673, they floated onto the broad bosom of the mighty Mississippi.
Some 180 miles down steam they landed at an Indian village. They were very graciously received by the inhabitants who said, "We are Illinois," we are men, "the whole village awaits you. Enter our cabins in peace."
After six days of rest, the explorers, conducted by the Indians who bestowed upon Marquette the calumet of peace, reembarked in their canoes and continued down the stream until they came to the Arkansas River. Here they turned back and returned to Green Bay, Wis., where they arrived in September, 1673. The vast new region which these intrepid Frenchmen had traversed was given the name of Illinois Country from the name which the Indians used in their greeting.
From time to time other Frenchmen came and settlements were established in the new country. The first permanent settlement was at Kaskaskia, though the date of its establishment is unknown. Soon thereafter Cahokia was founded and others followed.
In the late years of the 1920's the U. S. Government built Dam 53 in the
Ohio River for the purpose of controlling the depth of the water in that
stream for purposes of navigation. This dam is situated some 15 miles
upstream from the mouth of the Ohio in the northeastern part of Pulaski
County. Built at the downstream end of the large outcrop of limestone in the
Ohio known as "The Grand Chain of Rocks," the dam has raised the level of
water in the river so that the "chain" is ever hidden from view.
Looking upstream from the dam site on a clear day one can see the sites where formerly stood "Cantonment Wilkinsonville" and "VaBache." The former was a military outpost of the United States in the early part of the 19th century and the latter was a tanyard established and operated by a Frenchman, Sieur Charles Juchereau, in the early years of the 18th century.
Louis XIV of France, an enthusiastic patron of Canada, had many troubles in
Europe. Sier Charles Juchereau de St. Denis was one of his staunch
supporters in these troubles. As a reward, Louis gave him a royal patent to
establish a tannery on the Ohio River (then called by the French "Ouabache")
in the Illinois Country (then a French possession attached to Canada), and
to kill and skin all the buffaloes he could and tan their hides. Juchereau
organized a company for this purpose. In it were some thirty men of his own
class as shareholders. These with their servants, the tanners and their
helpers, the carpenters, sailors, cooks, doctors, and perhaps other workmen
made up a large company for that day and place. In addition to the workmen,
etc., there were a number of soldiers (fifty or more) who had seen service,
but were not at that time in the King's army. The whole company included 150
men or more.
No one knows how they arrived at Kaskaskia but in November 1702 they left there to go down the Mississippi and up the Ohio to the destined tanyard, at the head of the "Grand Chain of Rocks." When they had established the tannery they called it "VaBache."
Near the head of the "Grand Chain" on the Illinois side was a low gap in the watershed. In recent years this gap has become known as Post Creek Gap. There the tanyard was established. The summit of the gap was about 2,400 feet north of the low water line of the river and about 80 feet higher. This made an easy grade down to the river and a bayou which was then there made a good foot way down to the water.
The site chosen for this venture was a mound-like hill, about four miles up stream from where U. S. Dam 53 now is, at the head of the Grand Chain of Rocks which extend across the Ohio at this point. Here an extensive wilderness establishment was set up and the skins of thousands of buffalo, in which the region abounded, were tanned during the few months following.
Juchereau was faced with many difficulties. An incredible amount of labor must be done to build the tan vats, to erect shelters and to provide for the protection and safety of the company.
Ten or twelve hunting lodges were built and a large cistern was dug. In time the cistern caved around the edges and filled from the bottom and became the "Round Pond." This pond was drained by the digging of the "Post Creek Cutoff."
On a hill to the east of the gap, which resembles a large potato mound, the soldiers of the party entrenched. The hill was about 100 feet higher than the gap. Barracks on the north side of the hill and rifle pits were dug on the east and west faces of the summit with connecting trenches on the south side of the hill. Apparently they expected trouble, if any, would come from the direction of the river. Having arrived late in November the party spent the rest of the year 1702 in providing their quarters, etc.
Early in 1703 the hunt began. Outposts were established on various streams and the hunt extended up the Wabash, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, Big Muddy, Apple Creek, and Castor River. Parts of three present States were covered. The skins were brought to "VaBache" from these outposts by boat. By April, 1704, 13,000 buffaloes had been killed, skinned, and the skins transported to the tannery.
Covertly the Indians watched the slaughter. Seeing thousands of the carcasses left as food for scavengers, they became highly incensed. Soon they were planning to exterminate the spoilers. Dreading the rifles of the French they planned a concerted surprise of "VaBache" and all of its outposts, devising a massacre of the hunters.
The buffalo hunters had established outposts over a wide territory in which the skins of the buffalo were collected and boated to the tannery. The Indians from the Southeast, the North, and the West planned together to exterminate these disturbers of their domain who were so greedy for skins that stood for gold.
In June, 1704, the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and others including the Chickasaws gathered along the Tennessee River with their canoes. Some Spaniards came to lead them and furnished a few of them with muskets of Spanish make. The Miamis, Shawnee, Kickapoo, and other Illinois tribes rendezvoused along the Wabash with their weapons including such firearms as they owned. The Missouri tribes assembled on Clear Creek. The French traders of the woods, whose business had been ruined, kept the Indian leaders informed as to the movements of the hunters, that most of them were at the tannery and that they were short of ammunition. They also knew that there were no skins to be guarded in the outposts and that there would be little watchfulness on the part of the ones stationed in them.
A simultaneous ambush and massacre was planned. On the same night the tannery and all of its outposts were assaulted. Places of vantage were chosen and at dawn a volley was fired in "Va Bache" announcing that the fight was on. Of the Frenchmen, Juchereau alone, escaped though the exact manner in which he did is not known.
Over a hundred years later the bones of the massacred were found. Later a sawmill located near the site of "VaBache" and in sawing up the timber, it was discovered that the logs were full of musket balls. After the land was in cultivation it was necessary to plow around the rifle pits. Arrow heads, musket balls, and other evidences of the desperate fight were found. The rifle pits may still be located by slight depressions and one is intact. The site is covered with small trees and underbrush. If one would visit it, it is necessary to follow the old Grand Chain-Metropolis road to Post Creek Cutoff and then walk one-fourth mile to the hill on which the battle raged.
When Washington became President, the Indian troubles in the Northwest
Territory were serious. General Wayne was sent to the Wabash where he won
some battles and built many forts. After the death of General Wayne, General
James Wilkinson became the commander of the American Armies. He was
thoroughly familiar with the Spanish claim to everything west of the
Tennessee up to the Ohio River. He also knew that Spain had once sent an
expedition up the Mississippi to attack some forts, among which was Massac.
These two things (the Spanish menace and the Indian troubles) decided Gen.
Wilkinson to establish a military outpost at Massac and at "Grand Chain of
Rocks." This was the southwest extremity of the Northwest Territory. Massac
was garrisoned by a battalion of regular artillery, and the camp at the
"Grand Chain" (called Cantonment Wilkinsonville by him) was for the training
The Cantonment, Fort Wilkinson, stood on a beautiful site, 60 to 70 feet above low water mark, with a gentle slope to the river. Surrounded by the low hills in the shape of half an ellipse, it contains 100 acres, nearly four times as long as wide. It is 2,000 feet from the river bank to the top of the low hills which divide the waters of the Cache basin from those of the Ohio and the gravel road which was the old trail used by Juchereau in reaching his tanyard just half a mile east of the site of the Cantonment.
Established in 1797 the Cantonment was composed of a number of log barracks, each of which held a mess sergeant and his 20 men. A large magazine was built, about 400 acres of land was cleared, a mound was built for a look out, and a road was built to the low water line of the river. The road is still in use.
Lt. Col. David Strong, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was the commander and it was under his directions that all of the preparations were made. Col. Strong remained as Commandant until his death on August 19, 1801. He had been in failing health for several years. On his death his wife and the men of the command buried him in the grounds just outside the fort.
After the death of Col. Strong the Cantonment had various commandants. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 the frontiers of American territory were moved far westward and the soldiers stationed at Wilkinsonville had little employment and the Cantonment finally fell into disuse.
By 1807 the buildings were gone and the cleared lands were grown over with brush and briers. Tradition says that some Indians came from Kentucky and demanded liquor of the inhabitants. Upon being refused they burned the buildings of the place.
Several soldiers were buried near the fort in the grounds of the Cantonment. The graves have been plowed over and are now difficult to find. Besides Lt. Col. Strong and his son, Joseph, about 70 other soldiers lie at Wilkinsonville. The graves were never marked and this spot where so many soldiers lie has been practically forgotten. On May 30, 1936, the D. A. R. and the American Legion united in the ceremony of placing and unveiling a marker in honor of Lt. Col. Strong within the bounds of the old Cantonment.
Pulaski County, along with the rest of the Illinois Country, continued a
French possession until the close of the French and Indian War which began
in 1756. The Treaty of Paris, which marked the close of this War,
transferred all of the possessions of the French east of the Mississippi
River to the English. Thereupon England promptly took possession of the
Illinois Country. They continued to so designate it.
English possession of this fertile and beautiful country, however, was destined to be short lived. In 1776 the War for American Independence was begun and Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, ordered Gen. George Rogers Clark to take the Illinois Country from the British. This he proceeded to do with a small, poorly equipped army of heroes. Thus in the space of some 15 years the English lost possession of our State.
The first civil government set up by the new possessors of the country was the organization of a new COUNTY of Virginia by Act of the Legislature in December, 1778. It was given the name "Illinois County" and Gov. Henry appointed John Todd as Lieut.-Commander of the new county. This organization continued until 1784 when Virginia ceded her conquests to the U. S. Government and they became known as the Northwest Territory.
By 1787 the population of the North-West Territory had increased until it was thought advisable to divide it and Illinois became a part of the new Indiana Territory. All of that part of Indiana Territory which later became Illinois was placed in one county in the new territory and called St. Clair County. In 1809 Illinois was separated from Indiana Territory and became Illinois Territory, divided into two counties, viz. St. Clair and Randolph. Pulaski County was included in Randolph County.
In 1812 another division of counties took place and Johnson County was organized out of a part of Randolph. Johnson County at that time comprised all or part of what are now Johnson, Union, Alexander, Pulaski, Massac, Williamson, Pope, and Jackson counties.
In 1818 Johnson was divided and Union County was organized and included all of the present Union County, all of what is now Alexander County and that part of Pulaski County which lies south of the present Union County. The remainder of our county was still attached to Johnson County.
In 1819, Alexander County was organized out of Union County and included that part of the present Pulaski County which lies west of the line dividing Townships 1 and 2 East of the Third Principal Meridian.
Pulaski County was organized in 1843 from Alexander and Johnson Counties and included all of that part of Alexander County east of Cache River and Mill Creek and that part of Johnson County extending south of Cache River to the Ohio River and lying west of the line dividing Townships Range 2 and 3 East of the Third Principal Meridian. Thus our county came into existence as a distinct political unit. It is bounded on the south and west by Alexander County, on the North by Union and Johnson Counties and on the east by Massac County and the Ohio River. The area of the county is approximately 190 square miles.
The county was named in honor of Count Pulaski, a Polish nobleman who was born in 1747 A. D. This gentleman, after the dismemberment of his native country, Poland, by the European nations, came to America and served with distinction as an officer in the Army of Gen. Washington in our own Revolutionary War.
In the act of the Legislature authorizing the setting up of Pulaski County, Henry Sowers, Thomas Lackey, Jr., and Thomas Howard were named as Commissioners to select the seat of justice of said county in the event the citizens of the affected territory decided to form the new county. Accordingly after the election the Commissioners met and after "mature deliberation" decided upon the town of North Caledonia as the seat of justice. This town had been platted some time before 1843 by Justus Post but the plat had never been recorded. He and his wife Eliza G. made the first deed ever recorded in Pulaski County in conveying their donation for a seat of justice to the county. This consisted of Blocks No. 2, 3, 25, 26, 35, 36, and Water Blocks F and G in the town of Caledonia totaling some 1.79 acres, in lieu of the 10 acres originally required in the act of the Legislature authorizing the constituting of the new county. Only that part of the plat of Caledonia which was donated to the county for a seat of justice has ever been made a matter of public record and as a result there has always been some difficulty in regard to the location and title to the properties of this old town.
Caledonia continued as County Seat until it was robbed of this coveted honor by the new City of Mound City in the 1860's. The story of this change will be told in connection with the history of Mound City which will be found in another section.
The first white family to settle in what is now Pulaski County was that of
James Conyers who came with his family from Kentucky in 1805 and located 12
miles upstream from the mouth of the Ohio where the Town of America later
stood. The Indians of the vicinity were friendly at that time and often
visited this lonely settler's house.
The next family to come into the county was that of Jesse Perry. He settled two miles above the Conyers family. In 1897 Thomas Clark settled where Mound City now stands and a short time later a man named Humphrey settled where Olmsted now stands. Next came Solomon Hess and settled on what is now known as Hess's Bayou.
George Hacker settled on Cache River in 1806 and John Shaver soon settled near him. About 1810 Rice and William Sams also settled on Cache. They are all the people who lived in this region before the War of 1812, save a family named Phillips living not far from the Clark place in Mound City in 1812. Since the land had never been opened for entry or sale it is obvious that none of them owned any real estate and it is certain that they had very little in the way of personal property.
The War of 1812 stopped for the time all immigration into the country and the Indians, stirred up by British agents and hopes of glory, became very troublesome to the settlers. Consequently the "citizens" gathered together in one place for self protection. They chose the house of James Conyers and forted there having converted it into a block house. It seems, however, that this was not done until after the settlers at Mound City had been massacred by a band of roving Indian outlaws.
The Indians had a crossing of the Ohio about a mile above the Conyers' place. Tradition has it that Tecumseh crossed the river here when he went south to induce the Creeks and other Indians to join his great Confederacy. The crossing was located at the mouth of a little creek about one mile north of the site of the old Town of America.
After the War of 1812 was over, settlers gradually came in and a kind of rude civilization sprang up. With the coming of permanent settlers, men began envisaging a great city on the lower Ohio and soon attempts were made to build one. In 1816 four men namely: James Riddle, Elias Rector, Nicholas Berthend, and Henry Bechtle entered lands extending from below the mouth of Cache River to the Third Principal Meridian and by a general subdivision established Trinity. No lots were sold but James Berry and Col. H. L. Webb in 1817 erected a hotel and began a trading and supply business. A town was laid out on an extensive scale and two agents, William M. Alexander and John Dougherty, represented the proprietors.
In 1818 another town was laid out with much pomp and ceremony as the future metropolis of the west about 12 miles above the mouth of the Ohio on the high banks of the Ohio and given the name of America. The proprietors of this new adventure in city building were James Riddle, Henry Bechtle, and Thomas Sloo of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Stephen and Henry Rector of St. Louis. Their agents were Wm. M. Alexander and John Dougherty. It seems that even then Trinity was fading away as a possible location for a prosperous and great city. Alexander was a physician of great eminence in those days and had been a representative in the State Legislature from Pope County in 1820. Lots were sold, businesses started, and the flamboyant processes of inducing people to invest and settle in the new town began. In 1819 when Alexander County was formed, Dr. Alexander had enough prestige to get the town selected as the "permanent seat of justice" for the new county which was, incidentally, named for him. However, in selecting the site of the new town, not enough care had been taken to assure a river port. The town depended on the river bourne traffic and after it was well started some one discovered that the river front was blocked to boats by a long sand bar which effectually prevented any but very small and shallow draft boats from landing. This spelled the doom of the new metropolis as a commercial city. It continued to exist as the county seat of Alexander County until 1833 when the county seat was removed to a more central location and a new town named Unity was platted. However, it was not until 1837 that the new courthouse was finished and the actual transfer accomplished.
An interesting item in connection with this removal of the county seat of Alexander County is that just a few years before the Commissioners of the County had bargained with the Trustees of the Town of America, for the town had been duly incorporated by Act of the Illinois Legislature, to keep America as the permanent seat of justice of the county in exchange for $1150 orders on the Treasury of Alexander County which the Town had accepted in payment of municipal taxes. It had been agreed that if the county seat should ever be removed, the debt should be reinstated and the county become liable for the full amount with interest at seven percentum compounded annually from the date of such removal until the debt should be paid. The debt was never paid or at least there is no record of it. However, there is the record of the beginning of a suit in the circuit court of Alexander County by the Town of America for the recovery of the debt but there is no record of any disposition of the case. If this debt were collectible today it would make the present public debt of that county pale into insignificance for some $1150 compounded annually at seven per centum over a period of more than one hundred years mounts to dizzy heights.
The earliest settlers of the county found a country covered with a dense
forest abounding in game and a soil of unsurpassed fertility. To provide
grain and "sass" for their tables, it was necessary to clear the land on
which it should grow. However, there was no market for anything which the
soil produced since all the large settlements were far off so a small corn
and vegetable patch sufficed. A small patch of cotton provided the means of
making clothing. The women and girls usually tended to the truck and cotton
and the men and boys hunted, cut cordwood for the steamers when they came,
or disported themselves generally after the corn crop was "laid by."
The social life was necessarily simple for they had no such complex social organizations as we of today. Marriage usually took place very early in life. The bride and groom, with a few pewter dishes and table furnishings, a skillet, a pot, a knife, and a gun, were well off or at least as well off as their contemporary acquaintances. Their clothing was all home made in the purest sense, for they had to begin with the raw materials which they of necessity must wrest by their own labor from nature. For cloth, they raised cotton, ginned it by hand, spun it on a wheel and then wove the cloth. Then such a time as the women and girls had in dyeing, cutting, and sewing. The swains could plainly see hanging from the walls of the cabins the handiwork of the damsels on whom they called and doubtless the evidences of industry on the part of the beloved had its effect in arousing the matrimonial instincts of the prospective suitor.
The houses of those who settled in this wilderness country were built of logs and were usually one or two rooms with a loft reached by a ladder fastened perpendicularly to the wall. The furniture was home made and of the rudest sort. Heat was furnished by fire places made of sticks and clay or of fiat stones gathered with much labor from the hill sides and branches.
The principal foods were fish and game with corn bread, hominy, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squash, and perhaps a few other vegetables from the truck patch. Then there were wild berries, nuts, greens, and various wild fruits which these early settlers utilized for a much needed change of diet and to give them some variety in their food. None need starve even then or go undernourished but there was no complaints about a surplus of food such as some of us in this generation have heard. There were no corner grocery stores to tempt the appetite and not enough delicacies available to pall the appetites of the people.
Though the people knew little of luxury and much of privation and hardship, they were hospitable to both acquaintances and strangers and pay offered for such hospitality as their poor cabins afforded was accounted an insult. They were only too glad to have company and accounted it a privilege to afford hospitality to the wayfarer.
As the population increased in numbers and the social and economic life of the people became more and more complex. Men of education came with their families. Men seeking wealth came and ere many years passed there came into being a spirit of class distinction and men came to have much regard to possessions. So passed the simplicity of frontier life to be replaced by the complex social and economic system of today. The pioneer life of our ancestors taught them to depend upon themselves and out of this grew that spirit of "rugged individualism" which has characterized the "American way of life" for some generations. However, our ancestors knew not only self reliance they knew of dependence on others in times of danger or need and they knew how to share what they had with those who were less fortunate than they. They recognized interdependence as well as their individual independence.
Prior to 1811, no steamboat had ever sailed the waters of the Ohio or
Mississippi Rivers. It was in December of that year that the first steamboat
ever to ply the waters of these streams was launched at Pittsburgh, Ohio.
The commander, Capt. Roosevelt, of New York, had gone over these rivers from
Pittsburgh to New Orleans before the building of this steamer which was
called the New Orleans and belonged to Robert Fulton and Chancellor
The New Orleans came down the Ohio and arrived at its mouth December 18, 1811, on the day that the heaviest shocks of the New Madrid earthquake occurred. A brilliant comet was visible. The voyagers had previously been conscious of some great agitation of nature for they had noted the trees swaying and waving on the banks of the stream. But on this and the two succeeding days they saw the banks sliding into the river, islands disappearing, the trees jerking and the waters of the rivers rushing rapidly upstream. While these phenomena were occurring, the comet disappeared. Truly it must have been a terrifyingly exciting experience. It was during the time of this earthquake which lasted for many days that the Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee was formed. Other evidences of the violence of its shocks are to be found in a large area embracing parts of several states.
The superstitious, illiterate inhabitants along the rivers, seeing that the steamboat and the earthquake came together, thought that making a boat run with '"bilin’ water" had called down the wrath of God. Man in his presumption had boiled when if God had wanted it to boil He would have so made it.
As soon as the New Orleans had completed its trip to New Orleans and returned to Pittsburgh the commerce on the rivers began to grow. This first western steamboat had a speed of about three miles per hour and in addition to its stern wheel, it carried two masts, for even Fulton believed that the occasional use of sails would be indispensable.
Before the ability of this steamer to move through the water without the use of sails or oars had been thoroughly demonstrated, very few people believed that it would be of any real use. In fact, several voyages were made before many of the merchants along the rivers were convinced of the real utility of such a contrivance. To common observers, it was a great wonder and in some places spectators thronged the banks of the rivers to gaze in awed wonder at the puffing, smoking colossus of man's wizardry. The New Orleans was rated at 100 tons.
The second steamboat called the Comet, 25 tons, was placed in service in 1813. The third boat, appropriately called the Vesuvius, was put into the river traffic in 1814. The fourth steamer, the Enterprise, went into service the same year. She was pressed into the service of the army by General Jackson at New Orleans in December, 1814, and rendered a speedy service for that time in conveying the necessary troops and supplies to the seat of war, thus making a substantial contribution to the victory which Jackson won over Pakeham in are "Battle of New Orleans" in the War of 1812.
As soon as it was established that steamboats were practical, improvements began to be made in their design and construction. Outstanding in the improvement of the steamboat was Capt. Henry M. Shreve. On September 24, 1816, Capt. Shreve began his first voyage down the Ohio River in the steamer Washington which had been built from his own design.
The Washington was a "two decker", the first on midwestern waters. The cabin was between decks. Another innovation was the placing of the boilers on the deck instead of in the hold. Fulton had designed his engines with upright and stationary cylinders and had powered his boats with them. D. French, another early builder of steamboats, had used vibrating cylinders also upright. Capt. Shreve placed the cylinders of his engine in a horizontal position and imparted the vibrations to the piston. Fulton and French used single low pressure engines. Capt. Shreve used a double high pressure engine with cranks at right angles. Capt. Shreve also invented the cam cutoff for working the valves of the cylinder and installed flues in the boilers. These innovations in powering the boat saved more than half the fuel required to propel the boat. The performance of steamers was so improved that their success was assured. Soon shipyards were being established in convenient localities and steamboat building became a leading and vigorous business. The great natural highways of inland travel, the rivers, soon became the scenes of bustling activity as the great fleet of packet steamers bore on their bosoms the vast commerce of the rapidly growing nation.
Soon after the success of the steamboat, men in England and in the eastern
United States began experimenting with the idea of a steam carriage for land
travel. Despite the ridicule heaped upon them as it had been on the pioneers
of the steamboat these experiments were carried on until there evolved the
steam railroads. At first the engines were crude adaptations of the carriage
of that day and incapable of moving any considerable load but improvements
in design and construction soon convinced the public that here was a new and
successful method of transportation. As early as 1837 the Illinois
Legislature launched an elaborate scheme of Internal Improvements which
included the building of a railroad through the State to be known as the
Illinois Central Railroad. However the expense involved in the "Infernal
Improvement Scheme," as some of the taxpayers of that day called it, soon
jeopardized the solvency of the young state and by 1840 the Internal
Improvement Scheme was in ruins. The state faced bankruptcy and was actually
unable to meet its financial commitments. On February 1, 1840, the
Legislature repealed the Internal Improvement Act of 1837. Work which had
actually begun on the Illinois Central and on which the State had expended
more than $1,000,000 ceased.
On March 6, 1843, the State Legislature passed an Act to incorporate the Great Western Railway Company which was a charter authorizing the construction of a railroad on the line of the original Illinois Central from Galena to Cairo. Two years later, March 3, 1845, the Legislature repealed the Act but the Legislature of 1849 on February 10 passed another law repealing the repealing Act. Men with axes to grind were at work.
Finally the National Congress in September, 1850, passed an Act granting to the State of Illinois some 3,000,000 acres of public land to aid in the construction of the Illinois Central. Again men besieged the Legislature with propositions for the building of the road and finally the Legislature, February 10, 1851, chartered a new Illinois Central Railroad Company to which it gave the magnificent donation of land for the construction of the railroad. The Railroad Company was exempted from general property taxes on this line but was to pay into the treasury of the State seven per cent of the gross earnings without any deductions thereof.
There was some delay in starting work on the construction of the railroad due to difficulties in getting title to the lands transferred to the Illinois Central Railroad Company. Finally this was accomplished and in March, 1852, the contracts for its construction were let and the road was rapidly built. On January 1, 1856, the first passenger train, on schedule time, ran from Chicago to Cairo. There had been trains over the road before but this was the first time a train ran on a schedule. Before that they had had no schedule. The Illinois Central was at last a reality and Pulaski County had its first railroad connection with the outside world.
Not until after the Civil War did Pulaski County have another railroad. When that great conflict was over the attention of men turned again to the development of the country. On March 6, 1867, the Cairo and Vincennes Railroad was chartered. This new company was authorized to build a railroad from the City of Cairo, by way of Mound City, to some point on or near the line separating Illinois and Indiana at or near Vincennes. On December 16, 1872, the first passenger train passed over it from Vincennes to Cairo bearing a delegation of the leading citizens of the former city, among whom was Gen. Burnside, of Civil War fame, who was the chief officer and builder of the road. This railroad has since changed hands several time through sales and mergers. In 1881 it became part of the Wabash system of railroads. Later ownership was transferred to the C. C. C. and St. L., commonly known as the Big Four, which has since become a part of the New York Central System.
The development of the railroads continued and in the very first years of the Twentieth Century, another railroad entered Pulaski County. The Chicago and Eastern Illinois built a branch line from Villa Grove to Thebes on the Mississippi River. The line crosses the northwest corner of the county passing through the villages of Perks and Ullin. This Company also built a branch line from Cypress to Joppa on the Ohio River. This crosses the northeast corner of the County passing through the village of Karnak where it intersects the "Big Four."
As the railroads were built, they entered into competition with the other great common carriers, the Steamboats. Due to their convenience, speed and other economic factors the railroads gradually put the elegant and luxurious passenger and freight carrying packet boats out of business. The huge masses of ice which swept down the rivers following the record breaking freeze of the winter of 1917-18 destroyed practically all of the river steamers. Only a few were left and the railroads had their business. Steamboating languished for some years until the U. S. Government, realizing the need for river transportation for National defense purposes and for domestic economy, fostered the re-establishment of river bourne transportation through the building of dams, dredging operations to maintain suitable channels and encouraging the building up of barge lines. These things have led to a resurgence on the part of steamboating which now carries vast quantities of freight on barges over our great river systems.
The development of the Automobile Industry during the present century has led to a metamorphosis of our transportation facilities. A vast network of highways, paved with concrete, asphalt, brick and gravel, traverse our country. Pulaski County, small though it is in territory, has two concrete highways traversing its full length. U. S. 51, which enters the county a short distance north of Wetaug in the northwest corner and leaves it about a mile south of the U. S. National Cemetery, was built in 1922 by the State as a part of the $60,000,000 Bond Issue network and known then as Ill. Route 2 traversing our State from the Wisconsin line near Rockford to Cairo. Illinois Route 37 was built by the State from Marion south to the Mound City National Cemetery in the years 1928 to 1934. The county has a network of gravel roads which make it possible for almost every citizen to travel by car in any kind of weather.
The Ordinance of 1787 which was passed by the National Congress for the
government of the Northwest Territory set apart for school purposes Section
16 in each congressional township in all that vast territory. When the State
of Illinois was admitted to the Union it accepted the provisions of this
Ordinance or law. Consequently, there has been from the very first provision
made, at least in theory, for the education of the youth of the State at
public expense. However, it was in theory only, that this provision existed
until 1825. The legislature of that year enacted a law allowing 15 or more
families to levy a tax for running a school. The funds from the school
sections all were paid into the State Treasury and used for the ordinary
expenses of the government.
It was not until 1845 that a school law was passed setting up school districts and permitting the voters to levy a special tax for school purposes. There had been no Superintendent of Public Schools until this time. This law added to the Secretary of State the duties of that office also. It also provided that the funds which came from the school lands should be used for school purposes and the State began paying interest on these funds to the schools.
The children of Pulaski County either attended private schools or did not go to school at all, prior to 1845. It is probable that most of them received no schooling. The first public schools were sorry affairs indeed. The buildings were constructed of logs with fireplaces for heating. There were one or two makeshift windows and a door for light and ventilation. Rough benches and a desk, all home made, were the only furnishings. The text books were crude and apparently selected haphazardly and at random. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were about the only subjects taught by the teachers who themselves possessed only the rudimentary elements of an education. These schools were open only a few weeks in the year. Attendance was purely voluntary and it is to be feared that most of the boys and girls attended very little even during those short terms.
The first compulsory school attendance law was passed in Illinois in 1883. This was a step in the right direction, though enforcement was lax due to the unpopularity of the law. However, it has remained the law and as amended and revised through the years, it today requires all under the age of 16 to attend school until they have graduated from high school.
In 1843 there were no public schools in Pulaski County. Today, 1943, after 100 years there are 47 grade schools with an enrollment of 2,874 pupils and seven high schools with an enrollment of 736, a total of 54 public schools with 3,590 pupils where a century ago there were none.
The first school ever built in the territory of what is now Pulaski County was erected by the citizens of the Town of America, county seat of Alexander County, in 1831. The building was erected on public property by consent of the Trustees of the Town but was supported by subscription. Such schools served admirably in the education and training of the youth of our county until they were, as was inevitable, superceded by the development of the system of public schools supported by public funds.
The Atherton settlement, west of Villa Ridge, was one of the first in the
limits of Pulaski County. Aaron Atherton came from Kentucky and settled here
in 1816. Altogether there were nine families of Athertons and their
relatives who settled there at about the same time if not together. The
first church in the county was organized in this settlement and the first
burying ground in the county was laid out in this settlement. It was in 1817
that this church, known as "Shiloh Baptist Church," was organized. It is
said to be the second Church established within the State of Illinois. James
Edwards and Thomas Howard were the leaders in the formation of this church
and it still stands as a memento of their Christian character. The first
building was of hewn logs. This was later replaced by a large frame house
which burned. The present building which replaced the burned one is a frame
building. The present pastor is Rev. H. E. Lockard of Mound City. It was
here that the people of the old Town of America went to chunch when that
town was the flourishing metropolis of Alexander County.
Every precinct in the county has within its bounds one or several churches of various denominations. Generally the people have no lack of church privileges but many of the people do not avail themselves of the opportunities of instruction and worship afforded by the churches. Many of the faithful bewail this fact pointing to the "great falling away" spoken of by Paul. However, it would seem that the truth of the matter is that so many of the "churches" have paid so much attention to the "revenues" and so little attention to the sublime truths contained in the "good news" committed imto them that they fail to attract men as they should. Our religion has grown to be too much of an organized formality with not enough of the power of which Our Lord spake when he said "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you." We sorely need the power of the Spirit of the Living God if we would do His work as we ought in this present world.
In November 1879, a fire occurred in Mound City, the present county seat of the county, in which nearly all of the records of the county up to 1860 were destroyed. Due to this regrettable event, it is difficult if not impossible to learn just who were the first officers of the county. However, from the records that remain it is possible to learn who some of them were. It appears from the records of the first term of the Circuit Court held in Caledonia, May 1844, that J. M. Davidge was the first County Clerk. Algernon Sidney Grant, who figured largely in the affairs of the town of America was the first Circuit Clerk. From the same source we learn that B. B. Kennedy was the first Sheriff. Willis Allen was the first Prosecuting (State's) Attorney. The first County Judge was Richard C. Hall who served until 1847.
When the county was organized in 1843, it had a population of probably about
1,500. In 1850, the first census after the county's organization the
population was 2,264. In 1860 it was 3,943; in 1870 it had increased to
8,752, and by 1880 to 9,507.
In 1930, the population of the county was 14,834 divided among the following races: native born whites, 60 per cent; foreign born whites .6 of 1 per cent, and Negroes, 33.3 per cent. In 1850 the population was about 98 per cent white with about 2 per cent colored. Following the Civil War the freed Negroes of the South began to come into Southern Illinois in large numbers and many of them stopped in Pulaski County. Some of the men had served in the Union Army and came to the North for safety sake. Others heard of opportunities which they had been denied and came. Still others came for no particular reason save that they wanted to move. Through the years they have come until we have the third of our population composed of this race.
It speaks volumes of the amicable aptitude of both races that through these years they have dwelt here with very few serious difficulties considering the numbers of both races and the density of the population, about 80 per square mile. In the county there are only two villages which have no Negro residents, Karnak and Wetaug.
R. L. BRITTON
Sheriff and Collector
Member of a prominent Pulaski county family, Britton is serving his first term as Sheriff. He has been assessor and treasurer two terms and was at one time a game warden for the state. He is a Republican and resides in Mound City.
L. H. NEEDHAM
A successful box company owner for many years, L. H. Needham of Ullin is completing his second term as one of the commissioners of Pulaski county. A Republican, he has been township treasurer for a number of years. He has been prominent in business affairs of the county for many years.
E. C. HOGENDOBLER
An Olmsted merchant and businessman, Commissioner Hogendobler has been active in Republican political circles for 25 years. He is serving his fourth term in the office which supervises the financial affairs of Pulaski county. Mr. Hogendobler was born and reared in Pulaski county in the Olmsted vicinity and always made his home there.
R. W. ENGLAND
Judge Rome England of Mounds has been a commissioner in Pulaski county for over 30 years and is the only Negro to have been chairman of a county board in the State of Illinois. A Republican, he is a merchant at Mounds. He is the oldest office holder in the county and has often been unopposed.
W. W. WAITE
One of the best known members of the courthouse personnel is W. W. Waite, who since leaving the teaching profession in 1918, has been county clerk. A Republican, residing in Mound City, he has two sons in service. He taught school at Olmsted and in rural schools in the county before entering politics.
Serving his second term as county judge is Joe Crain of Mound City. Judge Crain takes an active part in Republican politics and in 1940 was a delegate to the National Republican Convention and was the Illinois member of the Rules committee. He has practiced law in the county since 1925.
M. C. HUNT
An experienced school administrator, Republican M. C. Hunt of Mound City is serving his second term as superintendent of Pulaski county schools. He was a teacher, principal and superintendent in the Mound City system for 19 years. He supervises education in 7 high schools and 46 elementary schools.
CHARLES E. ADAMS
Completing his first term as Circuit Clerk is Republican Charles E. Adams of Olmsted, who has been highly commended by patrons of the office for efficiency and arrangement. Before entering politics, Adams was a carpenter by trade. Assisting in his office is his wife, Mrs. Charles E. Adams.
MAJ. BYRON L. CONNELL
Major Connell of Mound City was in his second term of office as Pulaski county state's attorney when called to active duty in the army in February, 1942. He has been trained for special occupied service. A Republican, his term expires, December, 1944. In his absence Donald A. Miller is acting state's attorney.
I. J. HUDSON, SR.
Assessor and Treasurer
Since 1918, "Sheriff" Hudson of Mound City has held an elective office in Pulaski county. Familiarly known as "I. J.", he was elected assessor and treasurer in 1918, 1926, 1934, and 1942, and sheriff in 1922, 1930, and 1938. His brother, Dr. O. T. Hudson of Mounds, is coroner. Both are Republicans.