Monday, May 9, 2016

The Energy of Man will Subdue the Wilderness, Part III

The day the Beveridge family reached Somonauk it had rained all day and the mud was deep and black. The roof leaked and their log house was wet and damp. I don’t wonder that Mrs. Beveridge cried. Here she was on the edge of civilization with no neighbors and no church. Everything that had been familiar to her in Salem, New York, was gone. Her son would later write: “The associations of my whole life, my playmates and my schoolmates, it seemed as if I never could become reconciled to the change.”

Their house was actually two log cabins put together and connected by a breezeway and built of rough logs chinked and daubed with clay. (Not unlike the log cabin my grandparents lived in along Panther creek, east of Springfield, Missouri. I remember a large fireplace at one end and a loft where the boys slept. My grandfather was Henry Boyd Jack.) In the Beveridge cabin, the west room was the granary. “In the next room was a fireplace with a mud and stick chimney and two small windows. This was the sitting room, dining room and bedroom of my parents,” their son, John L., remembered.

One of the first things they did was to reopen their house as an inn. The stagecoach ran every day each way between Chicago and Dixon, a distance of 110 miles. In the winter two days were required for the trip. Travelers had no choice except to stop overnight in the log house. They were served good meals and had clean beds, all for seventy-five cents and this included feeding the horses.

Their oldest daughter who had married William French settled on a tract of land adjoining the Beverages on the South and built a house half a mile down the creek. These first settlers sought tracts of land on the highest points they could find. The low land was thought to be of no value because water stood in many places year-round. It was the perfect breeding place for disease.

“Mr. and Mrs. George Beveridge and their children were the first of many pioneers coming to Somonauk from Washington County. Other families, more or less related to them, joined them within a year or two. There seems to have been a certain feeling of consternation and desolation among those left in the older community as they saw house after house occupied by strange residents.”

Unlike today, the church was the most important place in the lives of these Scottish pioneers. They would not wait long for religious services to begin in the Beveridge log cabin. In August  1842, the Rev. James Templeton visited and preached one Sunday. This is the first recorded religious service of the Presbyterians in DuPage County. “The following autumn, a Rev. Mr. Smith preached one Sabbath.” And from time to time other ministers came, among them the Rev. Rensselaer W. French who also preached at the Wheatland church. When there was no minister available the families would convene at the Beveridge cabin on the Lord’s day and conduct a Sabbath school and what was termed a “cottage prayer meeting.”

“Sunday morning families had to get up with the sun to get to church on time. The yoke of oxen was hitched to a lumber wagon, family loaded in and the driver ‘gee-hawed’ them to church at the rate of two miles an hour.” On March 18, 1846, 20 men and women met to form the Somonauk United Presbyterian Church. These 20 people probably represented the entire adult population of the community. Their names are given in The Somonauk Book.

“There was some dark days. At times tears flowed freely; but some of the time the sun was shining. Clouds came and passed beyond, not forgotten, but accepted; therefore they had the true sunshine of life – resignation to the will of God. Meanwhile they continued with cheerful self-denial to build their two homes: a family home and the church home. “Courage and faith, coupled with perseverance, were the ball and hammer that pounded out success.”

Several yoke of oxen were needed to draw a 16 inch plow. Five yoke hitched to a plow was needed to turn a 22 inch furrow. One man drove the oxen and another man guided the plow. Once turned, the sod was left to decompose under the rays of the sun, so that next year it might bear a new type of growth - wheat.

Many of the early settlers soon died from privation, overwork and fever so it became necessary to select a burial place for the Somonauk community. They chose a tract of land covered with oak trees not far from the little creek and the Beveridge house. In 1847, the Cemetery was surveyed and platted and we know it today as the Oak Mound Cemetery. A few years ago we visited the church and the cemetery on one of our summer history tours.

In his will, George Beveridge left money to his grandchildren. If the grandchild was named “George” he received ten dollars. Those not named “George” were given five dollars. Henry J. Patten, born after the will was drawn and thus omitted from the list remembers that his mother gave him a pig as a consolation.

The closest town was Chicago and the trip was long and difficult given the roads (trails) and the streams that had to be crossed. A wagon pulled by two yoke of oxen might be able to haul 30 to 40 bushels of wheat. They traveled in groups so that help was always available. John L. Beveridge remembers seeing 60 teams camped at night along the creek. “They would travel 100 miles or more to market, be absent six days and the only money spent would be one nights lodging, supper and breakfast, stable and hay for teams – and all that for one dollar at the best hotel (in Chicago) the famous Tremont House. Wheat sold from thirty-five to fifty cents a bushel and dressed pork for one dollar and fifty cents to five dollars per hundred weight. After buying groceries and other necessities they had very little change left.

The railroads arrived in the 1850s and life for these Scottish pioneers on the prairie would never be the same. In 1849 the railroad was completed from Chicago to Turner Junction (West Chicago) and then to Aurora and finally in 1853 it was completed as far as Mendota. Somonauk station, located some 5 miles south of the Scottish settlement was soon designated by the railroad.

The railroads greatly stimulated the settlement of land. After 1853, the prairies was alive with people seeking land and these late arrivals secured the most valuable farms in the region. “Many of these later settlers came from Washington County, New York, and were relatives and friends of the earlier pioneers.”

“The move to the West, however, was the best business stroke these men and women could have made with their small capital. This is emphatically true of all who stuck to the land. After a decade or two of poverty and its hardships they were repaid for their trials in the near market, a growing wealth, comfortable homes, self-made independence, and ease in declining years.”

Note: The information, thoughts and quotations for the above article were all taken from The Somonauk Book which was privately printed for James A. Patten and Henry F. Patten in 1928.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St Andrew’s Society
Home office - 630-629-4516

Upcoming Events:

NOTE: The Scottish American History Club will meet on Saturday, May 14, 2016. This is the second Saturday of May. It will be our annual birthday celebration. 

We will also have on display a wedding dress. When Mary Anne McCleery married John C. Beveridge on January 10, 1865 in Somonauk, Illinois, she wore this beautiful dress. Albert H. Beveridge of Augusta, Georgia, donated her dress to the museum. He is the great grandson of Mary Anne and John C. Beveridge.

Lauren Szady, who is the Museum Assistant at the Lombard Historical Society will be our guest and give some history of wedding dresses. Reservations are helpful so please call 708.447.5092 and plan to join us. The museum is open at 9 a.m. and the meeting begins at 10. 

In addition, the museum has been given some WWI medals and these will also be on display. The medals belonged to Charles Albert McCombe who was born in Glasgow and fought with the Arygll and Sutherland Highlanders. These were donated by Betty J. McCombe Cook who lives in Texas. We are hoping that family members who live in the Chicago area will also join us on Saturday, May 14.