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Betcy Cleveland
LaSalle Cemetery
Peoria County


Hannah Doty
Reed Cemetery
Ogle County


Calvin Ferguson
LaSalle Cemetery
Peoria County


Charles Frost
Lacon Cemetery
Marshall County


Dea. Hemenway
Grand Detour
Ogle County


Mary Kellogg
Reed Cemetery
Ogle County


John Kirkpatrick
LaSalle Cemetery
Peoria County


Samuel Reed
Reed Cemetery
Ogle County


Linus Scovill
LaSalle Cemetery
Peoria County


Israel Seely
LaSalle Cemetery
Peoria County


Daniel Silliman
LaSalle Cemetery
Peoria County


wood headboard, Buffalo Grove Cemetery, Ogle County


Old Chambers’ Grove Cemetery,  on a ridge overlooking Isaac Chambers’ Tavern, along the Galena Trail, Ogle County


Old Galena Cemetery, est. 1826, on a ridge overlooking Galena, Jo Daviess County


Martha Lytle, Old Galena Cemetery, Jo Daviess County


Eliza Jane Holmes, Old Galena Cemetery, Jo Daviess County. 



Mrs. Ann Russell, wife of James, Old Galena Cemetery, Jo Daviess County.  


Thonlys Dunstone, b. Cornwall, Eng., Old Galena Cemetery, Jo Daviess County.  


Henry Bailey, Old Galena Cemetery, Jo Daviess Co.  Carved by C. T. Duncomb




Meet Me in Heaven
Confronting Death along the Galena Trail Frontier
1825 – 1855 

Presented at the
2008 Illinois History Symposium
Illinois State Historical Society


Patricia L. Goitein
Editor, Galena Trail Newsletter
1625 W. Columbia Terrace

, Illinois


Mead Cemetery, Marshall County




Lured by glowing testaments of agricultural and mineral wealth in Illinois, thousands of immigrants flooded into north central and northwestern Illinois between 1825 and 1855.  A great many of them followed the Galena Trail and Coach Roads extending from Peoria to Galena, to the Lead Mines and prairie farms, where, instead of wealth and happiness, many found an early death for themselves and their children.   

The settlers generally met their death in one of three ways: accidents, disease, and in confrontations with the Indians.  Of the three, disease was by far the most common cause of death, and confrontations with the Indians or with a criminal element was their least likely fate.   All of the settlers found themselves in the midst of wet prairies and river bottoms where malaria and pneumonia were endemic. Few, if any, escaped debilitating disease, and they soon found that, newspapers and emigrant guidebooks aside, the fever and ague and malignant fevers could not be avoided by making adjustments to their style of living or by practicing Christian Temperance.  

Travel itself was dangerous because it exposed the individual to an increased incidence of accident and disease, including food poisoning.  Generally the Galena Trail was a safe road to travel, and I have yet to read of a stage coach robbery or any significant incidents of crime involving travelers along the Trail. Taverns were located at convenient intervals, which led to the road’s safety and popularity. Fatal accidents, although infrequent, did occur, as travelers became lost in winter blizzards, drowned, or were struck by lightening or tornados.   

The first indication that I had of repeated trouble along the Trail was from the incidence of marked and unmarked graves at tavern sites. Since individuals are and always have been much more likely to die at home rather than while in transit, the repeated incidence of death at taverns was disturbing. Property owners repeatedly told stories of deaths that had occurred on or near the site, and of nearby graves. There were small burying grounds at both the Meredith Tavern in Peoria County and at Isaac Chamber’s Tavern in Ogle County. Graves had been located near a historic home on LaSalle Prairie that had been used as a Tavern in Peoria County.  County records and published death notices reported the deaths of travelers, many of them strangers. Violence was not associated with any of these deaths. 

Clearly, it was time to take a closer look at life and death along the Trail and try to determine just how short and bitter the immigrant’s experience might have been.  This is what I found………. 



 Frontier literature abounds with stories told by old settlers recalling their early days in the West.  They recalled hardships and triumphs, making light of their failures, and describing themselves as “the young, the enterprising and the go-ahead poor, who found the East too strait for them, and they [had] pushed boldly to the West.”    Although few of the old settlers seemed to want to return to that “golden age” in anything other than their fond memories, the picture that they painted of the frontier was usually heart-warming and encouraging.[1]  The picture, however, became golden only with the passage of time and circumstance, allowing the fortunate survivors of Illinois’ malarial swamps to bask in their survival and in their material accomplishments.  Frontier reality was much more bleak.

 “They came here with their families
and left their tracks of civilization for you to follow.”

George D. Read, President, Old Settler’s Society of Buffalo Grove, Ogle County, 1881

 American settlement along the Trail had a dramatic beginning when a band of 126 Virginians came and died at Peoria in 1797.   The would-be settlers arrived after a “grueling journey through the woods, prairie and swamp only to be virtually annihilated by a putrid and malignant fever (probably diphtheria) that fell upon them in the overcrowded cabins that had been opened hospitably for their reception and comfort [by Peoria’s French Metis fur traders, ed].”[2]   

Twenty one years later, permanent American settlement began with the arrival of Abner Eads and others who came north to Fort Clark/Peoria in 1819.   Settlement north of Peoria was slow, and by 1830, most of the Trail between Peoria and Galena was still largely empty of Americans.[3]  Land grants in the Military Tract south of the Indian Boundary Line (that had separated Federal from Indian lands since the Treaty of St. Louis in 1816[4]) were dedicated to veterans of the War of 1812, who usually sold their grants to land speculators in the East, rather than settle out here themselves.[5][6] The land held by speculators was slow to come onto the market and sell, and remained largely empty until the late 1830’s.  Public land north of the Indian Boundary Line became available for settlement after the Black Hawk War of 1832. The first land sales for this northern region were registered at Galena and Chicago in 1835.[7]   

Early American settlement along the Trail came in two phases. The first settlers were predominately from southern Illinois, Kentucky, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia, and the Ohio River Valley.[8]  They were the border people described by David Hackett Fischer in his study, Albion’s Seed.[9]  In Illinois they were called Suckers, and they were a distinct Anglo-American cultural group that differed in language and customs from the New England and New York settlers who followed them in the second wave of immigration.  Most of the New Englanders settled  along  the Trail after the Black Hawk War, and came prepared to purchase improved claims or land patents from the speculators or Suckers, who then moved on to new and more challenging frontiers.[10]  In 1825, the Lead Mine Region of northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin was occupied primarily by seasonal miners and smelters from southern Illinois and Missouri who worked on leased Federal lands. This seasonal occupation continued until after 1835, when public lands could be purchased and agricultural settlement began. Whether they were Yankees, Suckers, or migrant miners, all American settlers experienced great pain, suffering and hardship due to endemic disease that plagued Illinois.  

The American frontier population that we are studying in this paper was highly mobile, and moved over a rapidly growing and changing frontier. The Illinois population as a whole more than doubled between 1830 and 1840, nearly doubled between 1840 and 1850, and again, more than doubled between 1850 and 1860.[11] Much of that growth took place in northern Illinois. The population development in Galena between 1822 and 1828 predicted this later tide of immigration along the Trail.   Lead Mine Region settlement began with exploratory settlement, starting with approximately 20 miners in 1822, 200 in 1825, followed by a virtual explosion of 10,000 individuals in 1828.[12]   In 1830, Peoria and Jo Daviess counties each had less than 6 residents per square mile, while the ensuing 100 miles along the Trail were virtually empty of Americans.[13] After the Black Hawk War, the Indians ceded all lands in Illinois, and American settlers flooded in, quickly developing the land between Peoria and Galena. In 1840, Marshall, Bureau, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, and Carroll counties grew from less than 2 to 6 - 18 residents per square mile.[14]  In 1850, toward the end of the frontier period, the United States Census reported 81,905 people living in the counties along the Galena Trail.[15]   

“They call our Grove a Paradise.” 
John Garner, Waddams Grove, Jo Daviess County, December 11, 1836[16]

 Americans were urged to move here by rumors of good, cheap land selling for as little as $1.25/acre, rumors that were often generated by friends and relatives who wrote home with glowing tales of prosperity in Illinois.  Often, as with Mr. Garner, the same settlers also speculated in land, paying for their immigration and improvements with the profits of a quick turnover in land claims.  Not unexpectedly, they emphasized Illinois’ promise, while ignoring or glossing over the debilitating diseases and personal desolation that they and many of the settlers around them were experiencing.  

The personal testaments of the early settlers were supported and magnified by newspaper accounts and land speculators’ advertisements for western lands.  Negative issues such as rampant disease, faulty land titles, outrageous interest rates, and tax issues associated with internal improvements programs were ignored or even further trivialized. The glowing testaments were in part counterbalanced by travelers’ accounts of the Illinois frontier.  Hearty travelers such as Charles Fenno Hoffman,[17] who traveled along the Galena Trail in 1834, wrote interesting and entertaining accounts of their western adventures. They wrote about bad food, crowded and dirty places of entertainment, bad roads, and riverboats that never seemed to run on time, bugs, snakes, and prairie fires.[18] Although their descriptions of life on the Illinois frontier were often more realistic than those of local boosters, they still were interesting and drew adventurous settlers to the West. 

 In 1837, Samuel H. Davis emigrated from Virginia to Peoria, purchased the moribund Peoria Journal and renamed the newspaper the Peoria Register and Northwestern Gazetteer. His intent was to publish a western newspaper dedicated to promoting the west.  His prospectus states that he came to Peoria “partly from the solicitations of several gentlemen of Peoria, but more from the great commercial and political attractions of the place itself. Believing that it may be made to the north-west what Cincinnati is to the west, he is desirous of connecting himself with its prosperity, sensible that his efforts to promote its welfare will also promote his own. He is aware of the great interest that prevails throughout the Atlantic states in regard to information from the west, and that immense numbers are yearly seeking homes in this el dorado of our land. His intention therefore, will be to make a newspaper which will interest them – literally a western or rather, northwestern newspaper, devoted to topographical and statistical descriptions of the country with such portraits of adaptations to the purpose of agriculture, trade, and manufactures as he may be able to obtain.”  Mr. Davis goes on to list categories of interest from soil and water quality to manners, education, and estimated expenses.[19]     The Peoria Register and Northwestern Gazetteer was published from 1837 to 1842, and in issue after issue, Davis faithfully and enthusiastically promoted northwestern Illinois. Davis was more open about his promotions than were other editors of his day, but all newspapers were expected to promote immigration, settlement, and development in their region.    

“The situation of this place is beautiful beyond description.”  Illinois in 1837[20] 

Finally, emigrant guides lured thousands of settlers to Illinois with glowing descriptions of the natural wealth of the country. Reverend John Mason Peck, a pioneer Baptist evangelist, wrote several valuable emigrant guides to Illinois and Missouri. In 1831 he wrote that “A poor man, with a ‘cabin and cornfield,’ and thousands of this class live on government land without rent or molestation, may easily support a large family in wholesome provisions.  Two or three cows, and some hogs, which cost but little, and live and grow fat on the luxuriant range are a necessary appendage.” [21]  Peck’s immigrants were healthy, well fed, and well on their way to being prosperous.

 In 1835, Charles Joseph Latrobe described the immigrant’s ideal of a prosperous and healthy first season.  Our Jonathon,  having chosen his settlement site, brings his family out, “we suppose him to bring them out in the spring, which is the best season, as far as health and comfort are concerned; and will allow him plenty of time to provide the necessary accommodations for food and shelter before the winter; and we will suppose that before the trees lose their leaves, a comfortable family house of logs or clapboard with the necessary out buildings, fencing, furniture, and a few acres of maize and potatoes…….show that the first year has not been unemployed.  The second, more land is brought into cultivation, an orchard and garden are planted, and his stock of cattle and hogs increase.”[22]

 In 1838, A.D. Jones wrote of Illinois “No richer soil, no blander climate, no greater variety of beautiful landscape, no more exhaustless mines of wealth and comfort beneath the soil, does any section of the same extent in the wide world afford.”  While admitting that the river bottoms were unhealthy, Jones boldly predicted that “In due time, the indomitable force of mind will conquer all the difficulties which now prevent the river settlements,” and the children of the prairie pioneers would lead “our great nation.”[23]  

 “I have been called to pass through many afflicting trails,
but the Lord has sustained me through all.”

Mary B. Waterbury Cushman, Ogle County, August 18, 1839[24]

 Glowing testaments and exaggerated rumors of agricultural and mineral wealth aside, the Illinois frontier was dangerous for the American settlers, and those immigrating here placed their health and safety in great peril. 

American settlers along the Galena Trail rarely faced death at the hands of the Indians, many of whom lived along the Trail until 1836. Early immigrants, particularly New Englanders, maintained a guarded, but generally peaceful, coexistence with their Indian neighbors.  North of Peoria, the Indians were very numerous, especially in what is now Bureau County. They traded furs and provisions with their early Anglo neighbors, often startling settlers with their quiet appearance seemingly out of nowhere, appearing by the fireside for meals, settling into the log cabin taverns along the Trail on cold winter nights.    

The Black Hawk War is a deviation from this general rule of guarded but peaceful coexistence.   An estimated 70 Americans died during the war, and the Trail became a corridor filled with fear and destruction. Most of the casualties were soldiers, militiamen, or couriers, but there were significant civilian casualties south of the Indian Boundary Line, in the Bureau/Putnam neighborhood. AHMS missionary, Rev. John McDonald of Putnam County described the scene as follows: “Being directly on the frontier, immediately on the first massacre, the whole county was in a state of utmost confusion.  Families were to be seen flying en every direction from the savages.  With their little moveables, women and children hastily hurdled together in whatever vehicle came to hand.  Oh, it was a mournful sight.   After the first panic, however, things became a little more settled.  The inhabitants mostly collected in groups of fifty to three times that number and erected temporary forts.  But a very great degree of uneasiness and anxiety still pervaded the public mind.  Farmers were obliged to leave their farms at the season of planting and tilling……All for awhile was distraction and confusion, so much so that every serious thought for the soul seemed to be last in fearful apprehensions of temporal danger…..there has been a visible and mournful decline in religion.”[25] Dad Jo Smith and Charles Boyd stayed on their claims throughout much of the conflict, as couriers, frightened settlers, and militiamen traveled up and down the Trail, seeking shelter and word of enemy movements, but eventually, even they had to leave.     

Most of the Pottawatomie and Winnebago Indians along the Trail did not take up arms against the settlers.  The settlers in the Bureau/Putnam area, however, were terrorized by Mike Girty’s band of renegade Pottawatomies that ranged out of Indiantown (now Tiskilwa), Illinois. The non-combatant Pottawatomies, apparently unable to control Girty, left Bureau, finding shelter at Chicago or west of the Mississippi.  Pottawatomie chief Shabbona, his son, and nephew, rode from cabin to cabin and settlement to settlement, warning settlers to evacuate immediately. In doing so, Shabonna saved countless lives.  Girty’s band probably consisted of no more than two dozen angry Pottawatomie braves, among them Shabonna’s brother in law, and a few Sac, Fox, and Kickapoos who shared their resentment of the American settlers.  After killing at least 18 people, and attempting to ambush dozens more, including Charles Boyd and his sons,[26] Girty’s band joined Black Hawk and was dispersed at the fateful battle of Bad Axe.[27]  

Settlers coming to the Illinois frontier were more apt to fall victim to accidental death than to be murdered by hostile Indians.  Death notices and news reports published in Peoria, Galena, Lacon, and Princeton, record death by a wide variety of causes including drowning, runaway teams of horses, mine cave-ins, and accidental shootings.  The prairies were an unforgiving environment in inclement weather, as travelers became lost and froze to death in snowstorms, died by lightening during thunderstorms, or occasionally were caught in the flames of the prairie wildfires set each fall by the Indians to flush out game. The prairies themselves were difficult to navigate, even along the Galena Trail.  The tall prairie grasses often reached over the heads of mounted travelers, and when a traveler lost the main trail, he could wander about, hopelessly, lost for days.[28]  Many became mired down in swamp-like prairie sloughs, were bitten by rattlesnakes, and hounded by prairie wolves. These frontier conditions along the Trail persisted well into the 1840’s.

  Malaria poisoned the air and carried sickness
and death on its wings.

H.C. Bradsby, History of Bureau County[29] 

Disease was the most important cause of death in all localities along the Trail between 1825 and 1850. In fact, the disease conditions encountered by the ill-fated Virginians in Peoria in 1797 persisted throughout the period.   Malaria was endemic throughout the region and was the single most common disease faced by settlers.  Diarrheas and dysenteries of adults and children, along with pneumonia assured that the early settlers’ high birth rate was nearly equaled by the death rate.[30]   Published death notices mark tuberculosis as a frequent cause of death, along with the periodic cholera and measles epidemics, and occasionally smallpox. Women died in and following childbirth. Newspaper ads of the day remind us that debilitating parasitic worms were part of the human condition along the Trail and would have been a contributing factor to premature death at any age. Lastly, settlers suffered from milk sickness and other forms of food poisonings after mistakenly eating spoiled food, or poisonous mushrooms and plants, and, in the case of milk sickness, after eating the meat of animals that had eaten the poisonous White Snakeroot. In 1843, William Oliver wrote that he did not think that “the average duration of life is so long in Illinois as in more temperate climates” adding that “the natives very generally appear several years older than they really are. A man of eighty is not so often to be met with.”[31]   

Special note must be taken of malaria, most commonly known at the time as the fever and ague.   The disease arrived on the frontier with early settlers from the south and border states,[32] and once established, was a menace in swampy areas on the river bottoms and the wet prairies along the Trail until after World War II. While the fevers could be deadly, more often they were debilitating, and nearly all of the old settlers referred to surviving “the shakes.” Malaria was treated (but not cured) with quinine or Peruvian barks and patent medicines that were widely available. The late summer and fall months were called the sickly season, when nearly everyone suffered from one form of disease and malarial fever or another.  These were the settlers’  “days of trial,” as John V. Farwell called them, when entire families were sick with the fever.[33]  Julia Ballance remembered that upon entering Illinois, their first stopping place was not calculated to rouse their courage.  “The ague was widespread and there was not an able bodied person in the town.  As a consequence, provisions were scarce and we went on our way with many forebodings.” [34]  In the fall of 1821, Dr. Horatio Newhall observed that that in Bond County “at least one fourth of the inhabitants require medical attendance during the sickly season.”[35]  Conditions such as these were prevalent along the Trail as well. In 1835, Latrobe noted that the Illinois prairies had been “marked by the ravages of the autumnal scourge of the rich and teeming West, the fever and ague; and every cottage was full of ghastly faces and emaciated forms.”[36]  Those who survived the malarial fevers did so in a debilitated condition that would have left them easy prey to secondary infection and disease.  In the fall of 1838, a particularly virulent fever struck, raising Peoria’s death rate for that year to approximately 5%.[37]  In 1838, a settler was twice a likely to die of disease in Peoria than he would had he remained in Boston.[38]

Charles Ballance, preferred to blame disease on the poor habits of the distressed settlers.  In a letter dated December 24, 1831, the former Kentuckian, an early Peoria settler and land speculator, tried to explain the causes of so much sickliness in this rich and beautiful region.  Ballance tells his old friend, Abram Fite, that “from what I have said with regard to the health of this place and the common report respecting this country, you may be afraid to come here.  On this subject, I would say, there is a great deal of fever and ague in this state during the months of July, August and September, but no other diseases seem to be prevalent; but I feel but little apprehension on this subject, for I do not believe that the fever and ague of this country is so much owing to the country as to the people.  They seem to do nothing with a view to preserve their health, but expose themselves to all situations and to all kinds of weather.  I never enjoyed better health in life, than since I left Kentucky. And the town of Peoria has an appearance of being a healthy place.”  It is “indisputably the handsomest place I ever saw.”[39]  

Rev. John Mason Peck in his 1834 Gazetteer of Illinois stressed prevention of disease, while endorsing the overall healthiness of the state.  Although he recognized that disease and unhealthy conditions existed in Illinois, he strongly implied that sickliness could easily be avoided by engaging in a healthy lifestyle. He told his readers that more than one half of the sickness endured by the people is caused by imprudence, bad management, and the want of proper nursing.  Emigrants from the northern states or from Europe will find it advantageous to protect themselves from the cool and humid atmosphere at night, to provide close dwellings yet, when the atmosphere is close, have their rooms, and especially their sleeping rooms, well ventilated and invariably wear thin clothing in the day, and put on thicker apparel at night or when exposed to wet.” And that “families are seldom sick who live in comfortable houses with tight floors and well-ventilated rooms, and who upon a change of weather, and especially in a time of rain, make a little fire in the chimney, though it may be in the midst of summer.” Finally, after describing patriarchal Illinois families who had prospered and multiplied in Biblical proportions, Peck tells his readers that he is “prepared to speak decidedly in favor of the general health of Illinois.”[40]   

“If we were all to be sick, I don’t know how
we could be taken care of. 
I trust some of us may be spared to minister
to the others.

Ellen Bigelow, Peoria, June 27, 1835[41]

The American settlers used a variety of supportive measures to assure their health and safety, and to minimize their losses in case of war, pestilence or similar disasters. They immigrated in groups, families and colonies, and they established community governments that saw to the needs of isolated, sick and helpless individuals and families who had nowhere else to turn for help.

The American settlers generally immigrated to Illinois and the Galena Trail in extended and intergenerational family groups, providing the individuals with a strong network of family ties that bound them together as its members protected and sustained each other in time of trouble.[42]  These families generally settled fairly close to one another, helped each other acquire land, raise crops, and nursed each other through childbirth, disease and death. 

 The Aiken family is a case in point.  The Aikens came to Peoria from New England in the early 1830’s.  The family included: Joshua Aiken (59 years of age in 1830) and wife Jane Pinkerton and their son Henry S.; Widow Betsy Pinkerton Aiken, (c 40 years of age) widow of John, Joshua’s brother, and sister of Jane and her teenage children Sarah, 16, Mary, James, 18, and Joshua, 17; brother Jonathan Aiken and his family[43], Mark Aiken, bachelor cousin of Joshua, and the Little family, Robert and Clarissa referred to as Aunt Clarissa and Uncle R. in Sarah Aiken’s letter of January 24, 1835.[44]  Joshua Aiken and Robert E. Little were business partners and land speculators, owning extensive lands, as well as a grist mill and a saw mill in Peoria.[45]  Joshua and Jane Pinkerton Aiken and Widow Betsy Pinkerton and her family lived next to each other in Clinton County, New York in 1830[46] before immigrating to Illinois, where they also initially lived near each other.  

Illinois proved to be a hard frontier for the Aikens to conquer. Betsy’s daughter, Sarah, wrote long and often painful letters home to her friend Julia in Keeseville, N.Y. Her letters chronicled her struggles to survive and adjust to the West and her new circumstances.  School, friends, society and life evaporated around her.[47]  Still more painfully, Sarah’s letters record the death of her family.

On January 24, 1835 Sarah Aiken wrote that “We are now living by our Aunts Jane and Clarissa.  They arrived here in November.  Uncle R’s brother in law and wife also came with him and are also living by us.  So we have quite a little neighborhood about us.”  Sarah goes on to say that “Ma had the bilious fever last August.  While she was convalescent, I was taken sick, lasted a fortnight.  All emigrants are subject more or less to the bilious fever and fevers and ague.  I had a few shakes of the ague, but slight however.”

Although already in poor health, Widow Betsy Pinkerton Aiken moved her family from Peoria to a new home on a farm located about 20 miles west of town. She had probably acquired the farm with the help of her brother in law, Joshua, but the move was not a happy one. 

On September 27, 1835, Sarah wrote: “Sister M. and myself, as I have before told you, take the management of the household affairs, as Ma’s health does not admit of her doing much more than sewing…..You know I always hated the idea of farming and I assure you Julia, I much more hate the reality and ever shall.”  While she tries to think positively, Sarah tell Julia that it was “me, and is still who remonstrated so much against coming to this detestable and dismal Illinois……..Brother James and Mother’s health continue in the same delicate state with but little alteration either from better or worse.”

 March 21, 1836: “You probably have not heard of the decease of dear brother James.  Yes, dear Julia, we have again been called to mourn the death of a near and dear relative.  He died on the 21st last month, the day after (the 22nd) he would have been twenty two years old. He had been gradually declining since last summer, and though not confined to the bed, till about three months before his death, yet we saw the ‘Fele Destroyer’ had marked him ‘his.’  Through all his sickness, he was all patience, with an entire resignation to the ‘will of Heaven’ and for the last three weeks of his life, longing to be released from this tenement of clay. Sister M’s health has been quite poor the last three months back.  Has had a great deal of the --- headache, with a general debility throughout her systems.  She is now in Peoria, with Aunt Jane Aiken, has been there the last five weeks, is now rather on the gain, being under the care of a skillful Physician.   Mother’s health, I think is poor as I ever knew it.  She is exceedingly feeble and weak.  She however is able to sit up, but does nothing of any importance.”

On August 26, 1836, Sarah wrote: “Mother’s health is very poor.  The Physicians say she has the asthmatic consumption.  She is very feeble.  Sister’s health is not good, although I think it has improved some.  She is under the care of a skillful physician.” [48]  

Joshua, Jonathon, and Widow Betsy Pinkerton Aiken, well established property owners in upstate New York moved their families to Illinois in 1833, hoping to improve their prospects and establish their children on profitable farms and businesses. Joshua was very successful in doing this.  The West took its toll on the family, however, and they did not prosper as expected.  Joshua died suddenly, intestate, in 1840 at the age of 69. Jonathan died in 1842. Betsy, her daughters Mary and Sarah, and son James all died of disease before 1839.  Sarah was 20 years old and unmarried at the time of her death. Mark, and Joshua’s widow, Jane, and son, Henry Aiken, lived long lives, but Mark was the only one who remained in Illinois.  


For the comfort and health of those in need


While the settlers’ extended family and circle of friends formed the settlers’ first line of help and support, county governments along the Galena Trail frontier formed the second line of support.  Illinois was a land of opportunity and bounty, and people were expected to support themselves, but when individuals and families were struck down by disease and other disasters, they were not expected to fend for themselves or beg by the roadside. Commissioners Court Records of Peoria and Jo Daviess Counties prior to 1843 record basic cradle to grave assistance for residents.  Overseers of the poor were appointed to identify families and individuals in need and to see that they were taken care of.  Payments for fuel, housing, medical care, washing, clothing and necessities, funeral and burial expenses are recorded. Entries include: “October, 1834: pay Vois $4.87 ½ for sundries furnished for use of Mason’s family.” “Pay George DePree $45 for boarding and providing for Wm Mason’s family 5 weeks and funeral expenses for child.” “Pay Michael Roberts $15 for boarding and taking care of Thomas Parry five weeks while sick.” [49] 1837:  Matthew Dean was boarded for winter.  1838: coffin and funeral for James Friend.  December 1838-January 1839: John Radley was ill and the court paid for his washing, medical care, fuel, and finally his funeral and burial expenses.  After Radley’s death, his son, John, was bound out as an apprentice.[50]  Whenever possible, the assistance was delivered to the recipients at their homes, but they were boarded, either individually or in families, with caregivers if they were unable to live independently.   

Jo Daviess County Commissioners coped with a different population and more serious public health and welfare issues than those faced by Peoria Commissioners.   Galena was the booming center of the lead mine region, and attracted all types of immigrants, including desperate and adventurous single men and women from all over the country, people looking to be millionaires in a day. Many were what Rev. Arastus Kent, the American Home Missionary Society’s Presbyterian missionary in the Lead Mine Region, would call a “promiscuous emigration,”  prone to risk-taking occupations and pastimes which, in combination with the brutal winters, frequently endangered their health and well being, as well as their lives.  Jo Daviess County’s welfare needs and costs were exorbitant. 

According to Kent, the spirit of worldliness in Galena overpowered every good influence.  In a letter dated February 26, 1831, Kent wrote that “During the winter, the snow has been unusually abundant and the winter remarkably cold. Several men have been frozen to death, though they were generally intemperate, and it is at the peril of one’s life to ride over these open prairies.”[51]  After visiting Kent in 1836, fellow AHMS missionary Rev. Albert Hale, agreed with Kent, saying that “the population of the Territory is somewhat peculiar.  A far greater portion of them are foreigners than of the people of Illinois.  They are, as a body, more intelligent.  There is more open wickedness such as intemperance and gambling and infidelity, or rather it is more bold and open, and there is more money.”[52]  The following year, Hale elaborated by calling Galena society a “crooked, perverse, skeptical and scoffing generation.”[53] 

Between 1834 and 1843, Peoria’s highest welfare costs accrued in 1840, when the County Commissioners paid $671.68 in welfare expenses.  From March 1846 to March 1847, by contrast, Jo Daviess county paid $4,932.43 in welfare expenses, and was in debt $68,526.34.[54]  In an effort to keep costs down, Jo Daviess County bid out the care of their poor to the lowest bidder.  On March 9, 1835, the Jo Daviess County Commissioners’ Court ordered that “whenever in the opinion of the overseer of the poor any pauper ought to be supported by the county, it shall be their duty to let them by public notice to the lowest bidder.”[55]   There is no record that Peoria County auctioned off its services for the poor during this period. 

In providing for the care of the sick and helpless in their communities, the county commissioners  established the first hospitals, foster care policies, and attempted to set standards of care that were humane for residents and strangers in need of assistance.  In 1838, Jo Daviess County Commissioners’ Court ordered that the “House of Ishram Harden ordered to be used as a place to send sick and helpless individuals and shall be allowed one dollar and fifty cents per week for care of each person, provisions and medicine to be paid by county, this to be further known as a hospital.”[56]  In 1848, Jo Daviess County levied a 6 mill property tax for the purchase of property and the construction of a poor house.[57]  Peoria continued to board its infirm and helpless paupers with care givers.  During the cholera epidemic of 1849, however, the County turned the three upper rooms of the Court House into a temporary hospital, and provided nursing and medical care to patients.  Although “numerous unqualified persons were practicing medicine” in Illinois at the time,[58]  such doctors were not used by the courts in Galena and Peoria. Rather, the court records record the names of well known and reputable doctors who were paid to provide standard medicine and treatment to the poor at public expense.  In Jo Daviess County, Dr. Horatio Newhall was the overseer as well as physician to the poor for many years.  


Public safety requires that all who have not had the disease
 be immediately vaccinated

Galena, May 1829


When epidemics occurred, a medical committee of respected local doctors usually organized public health measures to combat the disease, issuing public warnings, and organizing the distribution and sale of vaccines and medicines.  On May 8, 1829, passengers on the steamboat Red Rover, brought Smallpox to Galena.  Quick action on the part of the local medical committee avoided an epidemic.  A notice signed by doctors Crow, Muir, Newhall and Philleo cautioned that smallpox had been diagnosed and that “on account of the large number of our citizens who have visited the boat, public safety requires that all who have not had the disease, or the Kine Pox should be immediately vaccinated.”  Doctors Crow and Philleo advertised that they had “a supply of the genuine vaccine matter, which they warrant of the best quality.”[59] During the 1832 Cholera epidemic in Galena, anti-cholera powders were available at the Post Office.  The newspaper warned that “It is important for everyone in the country to keep on hand a supply of the compound powders, which may be justly called anti-cholera powders, which can be had at the Post Office nicely prepared and put up in doses, with directions how to take them etc., in case of attack.”[60]  In times of epidemics, the communities could quarantine the sick, quarantine the community, or block all but the most essential traffic between communities.  There is no evidence that these measures were taken in the communities along the Trail during the study period, even in the case of the Red Rover.  

Good doctors were difficult and often impossible to find, and AHMS missionary, Reverend A. L. Penneyer, pointed out that “doctors who were Quacks at the East expect to have an extensive practice” in the West.  Penneyer was particularly upset with one local doctor whose patients commonly died the day after he had seen them and had pronounced them “in a fair way to recovery.”[61]  When there were few physicians that people could trust, they turned to folk healers who acted as both physician and nurse. Mrs. Martha Warner of Eagle Point, Ogle County, was a well known home practitioner.  According to her obituary, “Mother Warner, from careful observation, and a very tenacious memory, together with a large experience, became quite successful in the treatment of diseases, especially those of children, an therefore was frequently called to attend the sick.  It is said it would be difficult to find a family in all the section of country where she lived in which she has not been in time of sickness, or an adult in middle life that she has not nursed in childhood.”[62]  

In order to prevent the spread of disease, unique pest control measures were sometimes taken. For example:  Rats were a serious problem in early Galena[63], and in 1828, we find the following curious advertisement:  “WANTED IMMEDIATELY One or two hundred BLACK CATS, to be delivered to the subscriber in Galena, for which a liberal price will be given.   They must be warranted GOOD RAT CATCHERS  Signed James Miller[64] The cats might have kept the resident rat population at bay, but in 1829 the town apparently was invaded by river rats after heavy October rains caused flooding along the Mississippi and Fever rivers. An infant was attacked by these rats and citizens were warned to feed their rats, apparently lest the rats find human victims.[65]  

The frontier presented new and unexpected health hazards for the settlers. Although a great many of the settlers came prepared with their own home health care manuals which could guide them through the perils of pregnancy and childbirth, common diseases and injuries,[66] they had to rely on earlier settlers and local newspapers for warnings about their new environment.   Early settlers   gathered wild fruits, mushrooms, and greens to supplement their diet of corn mush and wild game.   Sometimes the new plants resembled edible mushrooms and vegetables found back home, but actually were very poisonous look-alikes. The Poison Parsnip was deadly and prevalent.  On July 21, 1838, the Lacon Harold reported that “Mr. R.L. Smith’s whole family, living within a mile of Galena, were a few days since poisoned with the water parsnip, which had been boiled as greens for dinner.  Mr. Smith himself died, and the rest of the family suffered much from the active poison.  All settlers would do well to be careful of gathering wild herbs for greens; none indeed should be used but such as are perfectly well known to be wholesome.” [67]  

Although they had a somewhat vague idea of the causes and prevention of the deadly diseases that stalked them, the settlers were given plenty of advice about the do’s and don’ts of healthy living in this malarial swamp. Patent medicines advertising cures for fever and ague, worms, consumption, and other common disorders were advertised in nearly every issue of the newspapers.  Medicines were sold through the mail, in stores and by peddlers.  Perhaps more interesting, in 1851, J.B. Brooks of Dixon advertised “MUSQUITO NETTING Linen and cotton Musquito netting for sale. Dated June 18.[68] Mr. Brooks advertised and sold the netting throughout the year. There should have been a good business in netting, which would have been used to shield sleepers from all types of obnoxious, biting bugs.  In 1843, Oliver told his readers that “Among the novel discomforts of the West, that of insects is one of no trifling character.  The whole earth and air seems teeming with them, and mosquitoes, gallinippers, bugs, ticks, sand-flies, sweat-flies, house-flies, ants, cockroaches, etc. join in one continued attack upon one’s ease.”[69]     

When settlers or strangers became hopelessly ill along the Trail, they turned to their families, their Tavern hosts, or the community for assistance. I found no record or evidence of religious charities or religious material benevolence during this period. Families and neighbors provided nursing care and other assistance for each other, much as we do today. Strangers who fell ill at the taverns were cared for by their hosts, who, in turn, sometimes received reimbursement from the county.[70] The county governments supported and cared for the paupers who were alone in the world and unable to care for themselves, or for families who were stranded and in dire need of assistance. Churches and their ministers were not a part of this relief system, either to provide material aide to parishioners, or to the public at large. The churches of this period were small and struggling, and their ministers were dedicated to saving man’s souls rather than alleviating suffering here on earth.[71]    The Christian Benevolent Societies listed in the AHMS missionaries’ quarterly reports were Temperance Societies, Tract Societies, Sunday schools, and other means of moral improvement and Christian education.  Local newspapers of the day did not report charitable activity among church denominations.  The overseers of the poor recorded in Jo Daviess and Peoria counties were interested individuals or doctors.   

They encountered an emporium of malaria
and disappeared beneath the prairie


In spite of public health measures taken along the early frontier, medical practice remained primitive, disease was rampant, and visitors and settlers died at an alarming rate.  The population was sustained and increased by a very high immigration rate which counterbalanced and overrode the mortality rate, rather than by their very high birthrate.[72] Thousands of adults and children simply disappeared beneath the prairies.  

The early settlers usually buried their dead in informal family plots located near their cabins, often at the edge of the grove or woods. The dead were buried in coffins that had been made for them from local woods, usually walnut or oak, and logs were placed over the grave to protect the bodies from disturbance.  In 1843 William Oliver wrote that “when death occurs, the funeral takes place in not many hours after, a circumstance rendered necessary by the heat of the climate.  Any of the neighbors may attend the funeral if they think proper, but none are invited, though it is expected that those in the immediate vicinity will come.  Unless the death is very sudden, the news of it are speedily conveyed through the neighborhood by the women, who evince great alacrity in attending and sympathizing with the sick, it matters not whether strangers or friends.”  

 If possible, the dead were buried in a place of beauty, and nature was left to take its course. Oliver described one such family plot, “I was one day wandering through the woods in search of deer, when, in a lonely spot, overshadowed by some large oaks, I stumbled on five graves.  There was no enclosure, nor anything to indicate the presence of a burial ground, beyond the unequivocal shape of the mounds, and a few split rails arranged over each, to prevent an attack of the numerous bands of hogs, which roam at large, or other wild animals.  A feeling of awe came over me, such as I never experienced even in the solemn aisles and time-honored fanes of England.  There was a sense of complete seclusion, a silence befitting the last repose……I afterwards learned that this was the burying place of a family that lived on the borders of the prairie.”[73]  Dad Joe Smith’s wife was buried on their claim along the Trail in a location and grave answering these descriptions, but more often, burial details were not described in either the early published death notices or in the letters left by the early settlers. 

The funeral and burial records of individuals who died in the settlements are more complete than are those of the country people.  Death notices and obituaries of town folk were published more frequently than rural notices, although even the town records are inconsistent and sparse.   The published death notices often stated the date and cause of death and provided some details about the funeral. Families paid to have obituaries published, and often requested that the newspaper in their home county publish them as well. From the published notices and obituaries, we learn that, as stated above, burial was common within 24 hours of death.  Friends and relatives gathered at the home of the deceased and accompanied the body to the burying ground, where a graveside ceremony was held. Masonic burial rites were not uncommon.  The earliest Masonic burial ceremony that I found was held in Galena on November 29, 1826 for Thomas S. January, an early smelter who had died after a few days sickness.[74]     

Many, and perhaps most, of the early settlers were buried without the benefit of clergy. The earliest missionaries did not write about attending funerals, just as they did not write about distributing material aid to the sick and helpless.  For many, this was a simple matter of logistics. The missionaries and preachers were not close enough to many of the families to provide the services.  It may be that the early settlers did not want the preachers to be present. What family, for example, would want to risk having an outspoken preacher present at a funeral of their cantankerous relative who obstinately had refused to be saved by the Christian lights of the day? 

By the early 1840’s, however, a custom of religious burials had developed along the northern Illinois frontier, and ministers were regularly presiding at funerals.  Rev. Jeremiah Porter wrote that “the custom has obtained in this country of having a sermon preached at every funeral occurring, notwithstanding it exerts a great deal of labour.” [75]  The unpublished AHMS correspondence reveals that the preachers and missionaries were using funerals to exert pressure on individuals to publicly profess religion and be saved according to evangelistic rites.   In the fall of 1840, AHMS Missionary J.J. Miter, described how he had used the opportunity of the death of a good wife and mother (who had not publicly professed herself to be a Christian) to persuade her surviving family to profess their religion.[76] Through the missionaries’ and other preachers’ influence, it became important for the departed to be described publicly as a professed Christian, lest anyone think otherwise. For this and other reasons associated with greater wealth, individual prosperity and social status, funeral sermons became increasingly elaborate, and sometimes were published.  On March 31, 1838, the Lacon Herald published the following notice: “We are indebted to a friend in Canton of a sermon delivered at the funeral of Mrs. C. Moseley, in that place.  It is embraced in a pamphlet of twenty eight pages.  The deceased was a lady distinguished for her piety and intellectual attainments.  There is much in the development of her history and moral worth to interest and instruct.  The Sermon predicated in the test – ‘To die is gain’ is a production of singular beauty.  For sale at Canton.”[77]  


“It was a quaint looking grave yard, even for its day”
Peoria, 1844


Individuals who died in settled communities could, if the family chose, be buried in cemeteries. Cemeteries were among the first community projects in the early settlements. In August of 1826, a year before Jo Daviess became a county, Galena’s burying ground was being upgraded, with the addition of a fence to enclose the grounds and plans to make a carriage road to the site “from some point most accessible.”  The Galena burying ground would have been on federal land because land was not privately held in the Lead Mine Region at that time.  The road, fencing, and any other improvements were built by volunteer labor and/or paid for with community donations.  John Connolly had collected $28.40 for the purpose.[78]    After the Cholera epidemic and the Black Hawk War of 1832, the Galena burying grounds were enlarged and improved, again by subscription.[79]   

Peoria’s oldest American cemetery was located on Main Street across from the Court House Square. It was known as “an old burying ground” in 1844, and it is the only early cemetery along the Trail that has been described in detail.  In 1896, sixty two year old Johnson Cole gave the Peoria Transcript a detailed description of the burying ground that had so fascinated him as a boy.  The reporter wrote:  “Across from the present public library building, on the spot now covered with a drug store, was an old burial ground.  It was a quaint looking grave yard, even for that day.  A high fence surrounded the whole, and each burial plot was enclosed by another close high fence.  The drooping branches of the evergreen hung over the silent mounds of earth and sighed and whispered drearily in the wind as if mourning for the time so soon to come when the advance of a progressive people would demand of the old burial round a site for structures, solid and substantial, in which to house the  commercial interests of a great city……Few people who pass this…..realize that beneath the foundations of these buildings rest the bones of many a hardy pioneer who helped to lay the foundation on which has grown up a metropolitan community.” [80]  

Professional undertaking and funeral services gradually came to the Galena Trail frontier in the late 1830’s.  In 1837, cabinet and furniture maker Joseph J. Thomas advertised “Funerals attended to when called upon.” This was a discreet notice posted at the bottom of his display advertisement.[81] It was not until 1844, however, that Thomas described himself as an undertaker, when he advertised himself as an “undertaker, cabinet and chair maker,” in Drown’s 1844 Peoria City Directory.[82]   Undertaking services, however, were not being widely advertised along the Trail prior to 1850.  It is possible that the women described by Oliver in 1843 traditionally not only soothed the bereaved, but also prepared the deceased for burial, much as the burial societies did in larger urban areas. The function might also have been performed by the cabinet makers who built the coffins.  In the case of paupers, the County Commissioners Courts often paid for the coffin and burial expenses together. These public services were being provided by William E. Mason, grocer and innkeeper, Daniel Brestel, Methodist Minister, Joseph Thomas, cabinet maker and undertaker, and others who cannot be further identified beyond their names. 

Peoria’s earliest pioneer cemeteries have disappeared. The old burying ground described by Cole, apparently predated early development, since its presence is not recorded in the land records. When the property owner eventually decided to build on the site, the cemetery was dismantled. Other cemeteries, including the Old City Cemetery (developed in 1842), the Moffatt Cemetery, and the Masonic Cemetery, were closed, and the remains were reportedly moved to Springdale Cemetery, a cemetery founded in 1854.  Still, human bones and old tombstones have been uncovered in unexpected places in the city of Peoria since 1869, when the bodies of three American soldiers were uncovered in a shallow grave near Adams and Liberty Streets. Several of these isolated graves were not on the site of any known cemetery, leading observers to the conclusion that people continued to bury their loved ones on private land, sometimes marking the site with a headboard, and sometimes setting a conventional tombstone.[83] 

There are several very early cemeteries along the Trail.  All of them are public burying grounds.  They include: LaSalle Prairie and Root Cemeteries in Peoria County, Sugar Grove and Mead Cemeteries in Marshall, Oak Hill in Providence and Oakland in Princeton, Bureau County, Grand Detour, Buffalo Grove, Reed, and Old Chamber’s Grove cemeteries in Ogle County. These cemeteries originated in the 1830’s, and most are still in use. The earliest grave markers probably were wood headboards that were provided by the coffin makers and sometimes called gravedigger’s markers.[84] They were often painted white, with inscriptions written in black. One wooden headboard is still in use in the Buffalo Grove cemetery near Polo, in Ogle County.  It was installed in the late nineteenth century and has been maintained since that time.  The rectangular headboard with a simple curved top measures 54” x 14” (four and a half feet by one foot two inches). The name of the deceased, date of birth and death were carved into the board and then over painted with white paint which has faded greatly with time.  The board has been restored several times since its initial installation. Other headboards that might have been in these cemeteries have long since disappeared and the graves left unmarked.   

There are very few tombstones that predate the 1850’s.  Tombstones were not locally available until after 1850, when marble cutters arrived in Peoria, Princeton, and Galena.[85] Before 1850, if a family wanted a tombstone, they had to either bring it out west when they immigrated, or order one from St. Louis or Cincinnati. The names may have been inscribed either locally or at the place of origin. I have located 23 tombstones in cemeteries in the Galena Trail Corridor that predate 1850. They are most commonly made of limestone, but one is of fine, gray slate.  Many of the stones are simple, but very large rectangular slabs measuring approximately 5’ tall and 2’ wide, and resemble the wooden headboard at Buffalo Grove.  Five of the stones have an arched and shouldered top profile reminiscent of New England grave stones. These 23 early tombstones rarely have motifs. Two of the stones display a willow motif, and one has a simple palm leaf. There are no crosses, fingers pointing to heaven, or bereaved husbands or wives weeping over the tombs of their spouses or children.   The most common adornment is seen in the design of the lettering, with the name of the deceased carved in either in a straight line or an arc, with some geometric decoration.  There are no personal epitaphs.  When an elaborate tombstone is seen on an old grave, it usually was placed after 1850 in memory of a loved one. It is possible that the first marble cutters did a brisk business replacing wood headboards with marble tombstones. 

Population in Illinois and along the Trail doubled between 1830 and 1840, and nearly doubled once more between 1840 and 1850,[86] while the area continued to maintain a high death rate. Given these population figures, one would expect to find more very old tombstones along the Trail. Even accounting for the fact that many people continued to be buried on their farms and in their gardens, and that old tombstones break or fall and disappear beneath the grass, I must conclude that the majority of the frontier graves had either been unmarked as described by William Oliver in 1843, or were marked with wood headboards which later deteriorated and were not replaced with stone monuments.  

Our study ends with the closing of the Galena Trail Frontier in the 1850’s, following the completion of the Illinois and Michigan canal and the expansion of the railroads throughout the state. Illinois’ rich agricultural productivity supported and drove rapid improvements in transportation and industry, and the population rose by nearly a million people, from 851,470 in 1850 to 1,711,951 in 1860.  The farmlands filled up, and the towns along the Trail became manufacturing as well as distribution centers.  Coal resources in Peoria and Bureau counties were expanded to feed the railroads and industry, as well as to heat the homes of the rapidly expanding population.  There continued to be a high incidence of sickness and early death in the 1850’s,[87]  but improvements in sanitation and a better understanding of the disease process led to an improvement in the overall quality of life. As the population expanded, prosperous churches were organized and buildings constructed, ecclesiastical burying grounds were established, and the towns and rural communities developed the features of a modern society that persisted along the Trail for 100 years.  

Today, travelers see yet another era of settlement and development along the Galena Trail. After fifty years of increasing mechanization and consolidation of farming, the rural population, though still very prosperous, has declined in numbers, and schools, churches, and communities established in the 1850’s are disappearing. Population centers are anchored exactly where they were in 1838 – in Peoria, Dixon, and Galena.




American Home Missionary Society Correspondence, Quarterly Reports, original documents and microfilm copies, Amistad Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA., microfilm rolls 17 and 18.  

Andreas, A.T., Atlas Map of Peoria County, Chicago, IL. 1873. 

Bigelow, Ellen, Letters Written by a Peoria Woman in 1835, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 22, July 1929. 

Charles Ballance Collection, Ballance Scrapbook, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL. 

Drown, Simon DeWitt, a Directory of Peoria, printed by the author, Peoria, 1844. 

Bigelow, Ellen, Letters Written by a Peoria Woman in 1835, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 22, July 1929. 

Farnham, Eliza W., Life in Prairie Land, originally published in New York, 1846, republished, University of Illinois Press, 1988. 

Fischer, David Hackett, Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, 1989 

Hoffman, Charles Fenno, A Winter in the Far West, London, 1835. Fenno traveled along the Galena Trail and into the Lead Mine Region, descriptions in Letters XX-XXV. 

Horatio Newhall Papers, unpublished letters,  manuscript collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.  

Illinois in 1837, published Philadelphia, 1837 by Augustus Mitchell and Grigg and Elliot.  

Jo Daviess County Commissioners Court Records, Works Progress Administration transcriptions, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL.  

John Garner Papers, unpublished letters, manuscript collection, #SC546, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.   

Jones, A.D., Illinois and the West, Weeks, Jordan and Co., Boston, and W. Marshall and Co., Philadelphia, 1838. 

Kinzie, Juliette, Wau-Bun, the early day in the northwest, originally published in New York, 1856, republished 1989, National society of the colonial Dames of America in the State of Wisconsin, Portage, WI. 

Latrobe, Charles Joseph, The Rambler in North America, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1835. 

Matson, N., Reminiscences of Bureau County, Princeton, Illinois, 1872 

News articles from the microfilm files of the following newspapers available at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.

Peoria Register and Nor-Western Gazetteer, 1837-1842, Samuel H. Davis, editor/publisher

Peoria Transcript, 1855-1930+

Miners Journal, Galena, 1826-1832, James Jones and Thomas Ford, Editors

The Galenian, Galena, 1832-1836, Addison Philleo and George N. Palmer, Editors

The Advertiser, Galena, 1829-1830, Hooper Warren, Addison Philleo, and Horatio Newhall, Editors

Dixon Telegraph, Dixon, IL., 1851 to present.

Lacon Herald, Lacon, IL., 1837-1840.  

Oliver, William, Eight Months in Illinois with Information to Immigrants, originally published London, 1843, republished 1924 by Walter M. Hill, and in 2002 by the Southern Illinois University Press.  

Pease, Theodore Calvin, The Frontier State, 1818-1848, The Centennial History of Illinois, Vol. Two, Chicago, A.C. McClurg & Co., 1919.   

Peck, J.M., A Guide for Emigrants, containing Sketches of Illinois, Missouri and the adjacent parts, Boston, Lincoln and Edmands, 1831 

Peck, J.M., A Gazetteer of Illinois, R. Goudy, Jacksonville, IL. 1834.  

Peoria County Commissioner’s Court Records, Books B and C,  Works Progress Administration transcriptions, Peoria Public Library, Peoria, IL. 

Peoria County land records, Registrar of Deeds Office, Peoria County Court House and Marshall County land records, Marshall County Court House, Henry, Illinois. 

Peoria Public Library clipping file, Cemeteries, Main Branch Library, Peoria, IL.  

Polo Historical Society clipping file, Ogle County Old Settlers’ Association reunion articles published in the Ogle County Press, J.W. Clinton, Editor,  Polo, Illinois.  

Rawlings, Isaac D., M.S., M.D., The Rise and Fall of Disease in Illinois, Vol. I, 1927, [Illinois] State Department of Public Health, Springfield, IL.

Sarah Aiken Papers, unpublished letters,  manuscript collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.  

Trewartha, Glenn T., A Second Epoch of Destructive Occupance in the Driftless Hill Land (1760-1832: Period of British, Spanish and Early American Control), Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jun., 1940). 

United States Federal Census, 1830, 1840, 1850, Ancestry.com. database

United States Census Bureau, Table: Resident Population and Apportionment to the U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois, www.census.gov/dmd/www/reapport/states/illinois.pdf

The following nineteenth century history and biography albums of Bureau, Lee, and Jo Daviess and Peoria counties, providing the family and settlement histories of early settlers:

Bateman, Newton, and Selby, Paul, and McCullough, David, Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Peoria, Vol. 2, Chicago, 1902

History of Bureau County, Illinois, H.C. Bradsby, Editor, Chicago, 1885.

History of Lee County, together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, etc., Chicago, 1881.

Harrington, George B., A.M., Past and Present of Bureau County, Illinois, Chicago, 1906.

Portrait and Biographical Album of Jo Daviess County, Illinois, Chicago, 1889.



wooden headboard, Buffalo Grove Cemetery, Ogle County

Photographs, Patricia Goitein



[1] clipping file, Polo Historical Society, Polo, IL., address given by Mr. Edmunds of Oregon, IL. at the 2nd Annual Old Settlers Re-Union, June, 1878, published in the Ogle County Press, J. W. Clinton, Editor.

[2] Rawlings, Isaac D. M.S., M.D., The Rise and Fall of Disease in Illinois, in two volumes, Vol. II, published by the [Illinois] State Department of Public Health, 1927, Springfield, IL., pg. 247. 

[3] Pease, Theodore Calvin, The Frontier State, 1818-1848, The Centennial History of Illinois, Vol. Two, Chicago, 1919, pg. 175.

[4] Matson, N. Maps and Sketches of Bureau County, IL., Chicago, 1867, pg 65.

[5] county land records, Registrar of Deeds Office, Peoria County Court House and Marshall County land records, Marshall County Court House, Henry, Illinois,

[6] Pease, op. cit., pg. 175

[7] Pease, op. cit., pp 176-177.

[8] Rawlings, op. cit., Vol. I, pg. 28.

[9] Fischer, David Hackett, Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp 605-782.

[10] For a discussion of this process, see Farnham, Eliza W., Life in Prairie Land, originally published in 1846, and reissued 1988 by the University of Illinois, pp 215-17 and elsewhere in her book.

[11] Rawlings, Isaac D., M.S., M.D., The Rise and Fall of Disease in Illinois, Vol. I.,  Illinois State Department of Health, Springfield, 1927, pg. 100.

[12] Trewartha, Glenn T., A Second Epoch of Destructive Occupance in the Driftless Hill Land (1760-1832: Period of British, Spanish and Early American Control), Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jun., 1940), pp 125-126.

[13] Pease, op. cit., pg. 174a  Population of Illinois per Square Mile in 1830

[14]  Ibid, pg. 384a, Population of Illinois per Square Mile in 1840.

[15] United States Census, 1850, Ancestry.com.

[16] John Garner Papers , unpublished letter, John Garner to Samuel F. Dodds, Dec. 11, 1836, ALHL, manuscript collection, Springfield, IL. 

[17] Hoffman, Charles Fenno, A Winter in the Far West, London, 1835. Fenno traveled along the Galena Trail and into the Lead Mine Region, Galena Trail descriptions in Letters XX-XXV.

[18] Oliver, William, Eight Months in Illinois, 1843, also Farnham, Eliza, Life in Prairie Land. And others.

[19] Davis, Samuel H. Prospectus of the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, published Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, Peoria, Illinois, signed April 1, 1837.

[20] Illinois in 1837, pg.126.

[21] Peck, J.M., A Guide for Emigrants, containing Sketches of Illinois, Missouri and the adjacent parts, Boston, Lincoln and Edmands, 1831, pg. 151.

[22] Latrobe, Charles Joseph, The Rambler in North America, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1835, Vol. II, pg. 169. 

[23] Jones, A.D., Illinois and the West, Boston, Weeks, Jordan and Company and Philadelphia, W. Marshall and Company, 1838, pp 66-68.

[24] John Garner Papers, Cushman to Friends, Aug. 18, 1839.

[25] American Home Mission Society correspondence, quarterly reports, Rev. John McDonald to Absalom Peters, corresponding secretary of the AHMS, New York, NY, dated July 23, 1832, original and microfilm at the Amistad Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA., microfilm roll 17.

[26] Matson, N., Reminiscences of Bureau County, pp. 182-3.

[27]  Ibid,   Chapters 8-21.

[28] Kinzie, Juliette, Wau-Bun, the early day in the northwest, pp 107-129    

[29] Bradsby, H.C. History of Bureau County, 1885, pg. 70.

[30]  Rawlings, op. cit., Vol. 1,  pp. 29-30.

[31] Oliver, William, Eight Months in Illinois, with Information to Immigrants, pg. 132.   .

[32]  Rawlings, op. cit,  pg.35. 

[33] Polo Historical Society clipping file, Old Settler’s reunions, published in the Ogle County Press, 2nd Annual Old Settlers Re-Union, June, 1878.

[34] Bateman, Newton, and Selby, Paul, and McCullough, David, Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Peoria, Vol. 2, Chicago, 1902, pg. 63.

[35] Newhall, Horatio, unpublished letter dated October, 1821. Greenville, Bond County, Illinois, Horatio Newhall Papers,  manuscript collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.

[36] Latrobe, op. cit., pg. 159-60. (note; in 1835, Latrobe probably would have traveled along the Galena – Peoria road between Dixon and Peoria on his journey by coach from Chicago to St. Louis.)

[37] Calculated form statistics published in the Peoria Register & North-Western Gazetteer, March 9, 1839, pg. 1, col. 1 and 2. The mortality statistics were recorded by Samuel Davis and Rev. Asa Spaulding of the Main Street Presbyterian Church and are very reliable.  Davis had been criticized for publishing the death notices by local land owners and speculators who asserted that Davis’ course was impolitic and indiscreet, and he defended his position in this article.

[38] For a further description of this epidemic fever, see Farnham, op. cit., 165-168.

[39] Ballance, Charles, Charles Ballance Scrapbook, handwritten entry, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL. Ballance wrote several such letters to friends urging them to come to Illinois, and many followed his advice and settled in the Peoria area. Fite settled in southern Illinois.

[40] Peck, Rev. J.M., A Gazetteer of Illinois, published by R. Goudy, Jacksonville, 1834,  pp 59-60.

[41] Bigelow, Ellen, Letters Written by a Peoria Woman in 1835, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 22, July 1929, pg. 352.

[42] Nineteenth century history and biography albums of  Bureau,  Lee, and Jo Daviess counties, providing the family and settlement histories of early settlers. Matson’s Reminisces of Bureau County, documents many extended families as well, among them the Aments, and the Bryants.

[43] Andreas, A.T., Atlas Map of Peoria County, Chicago, IL. 1873, pg. 82.

[44] Aiken family ties are documented in Sarah Aiken’s unpublished letters, manuscript collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL., and by Parker, Rev. Edward L., History of Londonderry, New Hampshire, Boston, 1851, pg. 295.

[45] Andreas, ibid.

[46] 1830 U.S. Federal Census, Clinton County, New York, pg. 137, Ancestry.com database

[47] Sarah Aiken papers, op. cit., unpublished letters from Sarah to friend Julia in Keeseville, N.Y. 

[48] Ibid.

[49] Peoria County Commissioner’s Court Records, Book B, pp 70, WPA transcriptions, Peoria Public Library, Main Branch, Peoria, IL.

[50] Peoria County Commissioners’ Court Records, Book C, pages  101, 178, 184 185, 186, WPA transcript, Peoria Public Library.

[51] American Home Missionary Society  Correspondence, unpublished  quarterly reports, Arastus Kent to Abslaom Peters, dated February 26, 1831, original  documents and microfilm copies at  Amistad Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA., microfilm roll #17. 

[52] Ibid, Hale, Rev. Albert to A. Peters, Sept 27, 1836.

[53] Ibid, Hale to Peters, dated Galena, Aug. 22, 1837.

[54]  Jo Daviess County Commissioners Court Records, June 8, 1847, #pp441

[55]  Ibid, order #pp181, pg. 10 of transcription..  

[56]  Ibid, Book 1,1838-1847, pg. 11 of WPA transcription.

[57]  Ibid, pg. 14 of WPA transcription.

[58]  Rawlings, op. cit.,  Vol. 1, Diseases Prior to 1877, pg. 127

[59] Miner’s Journal, May 16, 1829, pg. 3, col. 5, signed Galena, 5th May 1829.

[60] The Galenian, Oct. 31, 1832, pg. 2, col. 4. 

[61] AHMS correspondence, unpublished letter, Rev. A.L.Penneyer to Rev. Milton Badger, May 1, 1841.

[62] Polo Historical Society clipping file, obituary for Mrs. Martha Warner, May, 1883, Ogle County Press.

[63] Galena Advertiser, October 12, 1829, pg. 2, col. 4.

[64] Miner’s Journal, Dec. 20, 1828, pg. 3, col. 2.

[65] Galena Advertiser, Oct. 12, 1829, op. cit.

[66] Carter, Dr. Richard, Medical Prescriptions for the cure of all nervous and putrid disorders, Frankfort, Kentucky, 1819, in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.

[67] Lacon Herald, Lacon, Illinois, July 21, 1838, pg. 2, col. 5.

[68] Dixon Telegraph, December 17, 1851, pg. 3, col. 2.

[69] Oliver, pg. 148.

[70] Tavern sites along the Trail often have a history of disease and death, as strangers sometimes died while on long journeys. Some of the graves, such as those by the Meredith Tavern in Peoria County, and Chamber’s Tavern in Ogle County had small burying grounds near their site where strangers had been buried.  More often, however, the burial sites were either left unmarked, or only had a wooden headboards, which have long since disappeared.

[71] AHMS quarterly reports, op. cit., rolls 17 and 18, 1831- 1841.

[72] Rawlings, op. cit., Vol. I, pg. 29

[73] Oliver, op. cit., pp 132-33.

[74] Miners Journal, December 6, 1826, pg. 2, col. 5.

[75] AHMS quarterly reports, Rev. Jeremiah Porter, Feb. 5, 1841, microfilm  roll 18.

[76] AHMS quarterly reports, Rev. J.J. Miter, Knoxville, IL., October 26, 1840, microfilm roll 18.

[77] Lacon Herald, March 31, 1838, pg. 3.

[78] Miner’s Journal, Aug. 23, 1826, pg. 4, col. 5.

[79] The Galenian, October 3, 1832, pg. 2, col. 5.

[80] Peoria Transcript, “Peoria fifty-Two Years Ago,”  January 1896

[81] Peoria Register and Northwestern Gazetteer, July 7, 1838, advertisement was dated August 19, 1837, and was frequently included in the newspaper.

[82] Drown, Simon DeWitt, op. cit.  pg. 103

[83] Peoria Public Library, Main Branch, cemetery clipping file, 1869-1991.

[84] Private communication, Jonathon Appell, gravestone conservation expert, New England Cemetery Services, West Hartford, CT. 

[85] 1850 Federal Census, Peoria, pages 133, 149,163; Bureau, pg 289 and Jo Daviess County, pg. 305 

[86] United States Census Bureau, Table: Resident Population and Apportionment to the U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois, www.census.gov/dmd/www/reapport/states/illinois.pdf.

[87] Rawlings, Vol. I, pp. 96-97; also note death rates of children in Chicago, noting that “While the death rate of children under 5 years of age down-state was not quite equal to that of Chicago, the difference was not great”. pp 88, and table 2, pg.89.   The same would be true of death rates among adults as well.



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