Joseph Albert Dunavan
His Birth Place – A Rustic School House – Seriously Hurt – Coming West – The Route – An Early Pioneer’s Cure for Ague – Peru in 1830 – The Indian War – A Soldier – Fort Welburn
The subject of this sketch, a well known citizen of the town of Rutland in this county, more familiarly known as “Albert Dunavan,” was born about eight miles from Newark, Licking county, Ohio, March 31st, 1812. His father, Col. Samuel Dunavan, was a native of the famous Shenandoah Valley, Va., and took part and won his title in the last British war, fighting chiefly against the Indian allies of the English government. The Colonel’s farm adjoined that of Joseph Armstrong, the father of the numerous family of that surname, who have since become prominent among the pioneers of La Salle county.
Albert’s mother, Elizabeth Lair, was also from the same region as her husband. Their children were three sons; Wm. L., Joseph Albert and George, whose father died in 1816. Their mother lived a widow three years, when she married David Letts, a cousin of the Armstrong “boys,” as they all were then. The sons of these two families were raised together, attending the same exceedingly rustic educational establishment.
An Old Time School House
This edifice was not so imposing as useful and primitive in its character. This affair stood near the village of Chatham, and was of logs. The windows were simply long, narrow openings in the sides of the wall, with a flap shutter, hung at the top. When raised the windows admitted some light and all the air that was stirring; when closed in time of rain, the room was as dark as a “pocket”! Later on, a modern improvement was devised in the way of a sliding sash with a single pane of glass in the center. The seats were slabs, bass-wood logs split in two; the upper side dressed a little so as to remove the coarser and sharper of the splinters, and the under side ornamented by nature’s art, the bark! These seats were supported by three or four legs at each end and an oval one here and there along the middle. The pupils, spinal columns were the only backs to the seats! But who knows how much the physical firmness and the “stiff-backedness” of character of the pioneers was due to this early training? The same fashion of slabs, fastened slanting against the walls, constituted their writing desks, where they stood in a row, the boys on one side of the room and the girls at a safe distance on the other, the scratching of quill pens over rough surfaced paper indicated in some degree how forcibly and diligently “the young idea was taught to shoot”!
One day while a number of the boys were playing ball, in the old fashioned game of “bull pen,” he was thrown at and missed, the ball rolling out into the road. A man named Lemon, who was partly under the influence of liquor, happening along, picked up the ball and boasted that he could hit Albert and dared him for a trial. Albert trusting to his skill as an expert dodger, and considering the fellow’s condition, offered him the privilege. Lemon made a tremendous flourish as if to throw the ball, but, instead, suddenly jerked it under his arm. The ball which was a very hard one, took an upward course and struck Albert in the face, just under the left eye, breaking the bone and knocking him over. After a while he revived and the wound dressed by a doctor, healed and seemed to be all right and so remained for over thirty years, when some time ago it broke open afresh and ever since has given him great pain and anxiety and is now a constant care and trouble.
In 1830 his stepfather concluded to come west where the boys could have a chance “to grow up with the country.” They obtained two large and very strong wagons. Into these they packed their household goods, some farming tools and among other things the machinery necessary for a saw mill. One wagon was hauled by two yoke of oxen and the other by four horses driven by Albert. The “old folks,” his mother and stepfather, rode in a large comfortable covered carriage whose dimensions were such as to afford them sleeping room besides carrying a large miscellaneous assortment of useful articles. The others of the movers had a big tent to protect them from rain at night.
Starting from their old home in Licking county, they came to Columbus and thence to Springfield, Ohio; from there to Strawtown, Ind., a village on the Wabash river. Crossing this stream they struck what was then known as “the wilderness,” a large track of timber and prairie across which there was not a solitary road or trail save a dim trace, now lost and again found, only to be lost again, left by John Green’s moving party, which had proceeded them the previous fall. After many days of tedious marching through “the wilderness” they arrived at “Kirke’s prairie,” east of where Bloomington now stands. They came on, crossing the “grand prairie” over whose broad bosom waves of grass sometimes coursed like billows on the sea. Voyagers there often for days “out of sight of land” i.e. timber. They finally arrived at Crow Creek, in Marshall county, and thence crossing “Round prairie” forded Sandy creek, and arrived in Oxbow prairie, where they encountered one of the earliest of the pioneers of northern Illinois, Capt. Wm. Haws, who picked out his location on that beautiful prairie in 1826, and brought his family there in 1828, bringing his wife from Kentucdy [sic] on horseback.
A Receipt for Ague
This was in the fall of 1830. Mr. David Letts the stepfather of Albert, had been west the previous spring on a land exploring tour, on horseback, and had visited Capt. Haws. On arriving at this old pioneer’s cabin Albert was struck with the singular appearance of its proprietor, dressed in a fashion half Indian and the other half not dressed to speak of. He had a wild cadaverous and fierce look. On exchanging greetings, Letts observed, “Why, Haws what’s the matter with you!” The latter replied; “O! nothing, but you see I had a long spell of the blamed ager and I drank a pint of whisky and then jumped into the pond and swam around it a while and then went to bed and sweat like —- (well no matter) and it broke the ager but the cure like to broke me!”
The movers continued their journey to Cedar creek, where they located, buying a claim from Mr. George Holderman, who moved up northeast and made a claim and gave a permanent name to Holderman’s grove. Mr. Letts at once set to work and built a saw mill at the mouth of Cedar creek, about a mile and a half directly south of Peru.
Peru in 1830,
started out to be as it is now, “Peru on the hill and Peru under the hill.” There were then settled there two persons, and they they were: On the hill, Samuel Lapsley a peculiarly odd sort of person who seemed to have spent his whole life among the Indians as a trader and who felt so much at home with them that he refused to come in to the fort during the war. The other, was a Mr. Hayes, who had a cabin under the hill at the bottom.
The Letts farm was on the edge of the prairie at Cedar Point, where, between crops and the saw mill – the first in that region, they made a comfortable subsistence. A man named Ish, was the only white settler on that prairie, whose cabin was a short distance south of the present village of Granville. Mr. Letts remained there till after the Indian war, in 1832.
Causes of the Indian War
The Indians, jealous of the encroachment of the whites and seeing new “pale faces” constantly arriving from the east, and realizing that either the whites or they must go, as a war of races was inevitable, resolved to make a bold stand for their hunting grounds. The only feasible plan to the Indian mind was the extermination of the whites, or, to drive back the tide of immigration and discourage and even stop effectually any more settlers from coming into this region, north and west of the Illinois river, which they concluded was a proper dividing line between the two races in the west. It is a fact that the historians seemed to have ignored in treating of the Indian war against the whites, that the red men committed no outrages, made no attacks upon their foes south and east of this river! All their efforts were directed against white settlements on the opposite side of the Illinois river to the north and west of it! That the Indians did not at first include the murdering of the settlers in their scheme is apparent, for they had long practiced intimidation and threats, but did no actual violence. They would visit the lonely cabins of the pioneers, destroy their fences, upset their bee hives, demolish their clocks and grindstones, drive off their cattle and horses and commit similar deviltries. Extermination was their last resort.
Indian threats had begun to assume the character of not only possibilities but probabilities and all these were developing into certainties. Large bands of armed warriors had been congregating at various points in the northern part of the state. Settlers had been driven from remote places, and rumors of outrages were becoming daily news, many of these stories perhaps unfounded, but here and there horrid details of murders was passed back and forth among the terrified settlers. At last the uprising of Black Hawk’s band of Sacs and Foxes was an established fact, and the settlers at Hennepin, south of Peru and at Ottawa began to flock together for mutual protection and defense.
Albert as a Soldier
Mr. Geo. D. Walker had sent down to Cedar Point for men and guns. Albert and Dr. David Ritchie started in response to the call, and arrived a Mr. Hogaboom’s double log cabin, south of Ottawa, ready for duty. Here was the rendezvous for the white settlers. They remained here a while but all being quiet they returned, as the government had sent soldiers to protect the settlers. Mr. Lett’s family went to the fort at Hennepin and remained there two weeks. A company of soldiers had been sent from Hennepin to Peru, and they were piloted by Albert. Here they halted, spent three days in swimming their horses over the river, and made a fort, named in honor of their commanding officer, “Fort Welburn.”
The fort stood half a mile south of Peru, on the bottom. It was built of logs cut by the soldiers and covered with puncheons or “shakes” split out of basswood with the ground for a floor. Three or four log houses built around. There was a wall of tall pickets surrounding them and a trench outside of that. The families in the fort were those of Nathaniel Ricky, Corydon S. Dewey, Mr. Hayes from Peru and David Letts. Steamboats came up from St. Louis nearly every day supplying the people with food and ammunition, etc. There was a fort at Ottawa at the same time but it was above the head of navigation except occasionally in high water, and the people at Ottawa did not fare so well for provisions as those at Peru. On one occasion Albert was made the bearer of dispatches from his commanding office to Gen. Atkinson at Ottawa. Mounted on a good horse our youthful envoy rode through the prairies, keeping out of range of possible Indian guns, such as might be secreted in the timber, going around the heads of ravines, and keeping an eye to suspicious clumps of willows, he arrived at the Ottawa fort, making the distance in one hour! After dinner here, he returned making the same excellent time.
(To be continued).1
End of Soldier Life – Strikes Out for Himself – Building a Barn – A Thrilling Canoe Ride – A Lost Dollar – Friendly Indians – Harvesting Under Guard – Family History, etc. etc.
He remained at Fort Welburn, mounting guard in his turn and doing other duties of a soldier, and having been regularly enrolled in the volunteers militia, served until relieved by the government troops, and soon after the war came to an end.
Strikes Out for Himself
Albert had discovered by this time while knocking about with others, that he was as good a man as the average, and having passed into manhood’s lawful age, felt that it was time to “strike out for himself.” Accordingly, he left Cedar Point and went to Dayton. Here John Green, one of the earliest pioneer settlers of this county, had established himself in 1829, and built a grist mill, the first in the entire northern part of this state. It was visited by farmers for nearly a hundred miles around. He had also built a saw mill. Albert had acquired considerable skill in managing a similar mill of his stepfathers’ at Cedar Point. Mr. Green wanted a hand, and Albert wanted the situation, and got it. Here he worked about two and one-half years, and then made another move towards growing up with the country by winning the heart and hand of his employer’s second daughter, Miss Nancy Green. They were united in marriage on January 26, 1834. It is a singular fact that Mr. Green’s three older daughters each captured a Dunavan boy; Wm., the eldest of the Dunavans took the eldest Green girl; Albert, the second, the next; and George the third, the third girl. About two years after Albert’s marriage he settled permanently on his present fine farm. Dunavan’s present house is the third which he has built upon that farm and each on exactly the same spot. He used each house till his family outgrew its limits as to room, and it became the worse for wear and age; then he tore down, building larger each time. He never changed locations because of a well of remarkably pure water upon this spot.
Building His Barn
His barn, still in excellent repair, was built in 1836. It is now 40 x 60 feet, of oak timbers solidly put together, and is a good height. For many years it was the largest barn in La Salle county. He cut the logs for it himself in the timber near by, and with a good span of horses hauled them to the building place. The roof was of oak shingles, made on the Ambrose Trumbo land by Jesse Johnson. He made the shingles and built the barn for the wonderfully low price of $200! It has been reshingled once since and slightly repaired at a cost of $500. It could not be built now with all our boasted improvements in transportation, cheap price of lumber, etc., for $1,000!
Getting the Nails
In those days nails were a valuable article. Mr. Abe Trumbo, south of the Illinois river, below where Marseilles now stands, had a keg of nails brought by wagon from Ohio. Albert took a bag, got on horseback and started to get a supply of them for his new barn. Arriving at what is now “old town” in Marseilles, above the beginning of “the rapids,” he tied his horse to a tree, crossed the river in a small canoe and then scrambled through swamps, brier patches, fell over logs, got tangled in wild vines, scratched by thorns and had a tough time generally, in making his way out to Mr. Trumbo, a distance of what he thought “the longest two miles on record!” He was received with genuine old fashioned hospitality and invited at once to supper. That over, he made known his errand, and they “skinned” up a ladder where, upon the loose boards in the “loft” of the cabin, they found the nails, “guessed at about three dollars worth” which were disposed in Albert’s sack and they then descended. Mr. Trumbo would not hear of Albert going alone in the dark, as it was by this time, and as Albert would not have his “nag” tied out all night, two horses were saddled and they went to the river by a path familiar to Mr. Trumbo. Here getting Albert and the nails aboard the canoe, the former shoved it off with the bow pointing well up stream, Mr. Trumbo admonishing Albert to “keep her that way and row like old scratch, or you will be swept into the rapids!”
A Row for Life
Albert young and strong plied the oars with all the power that was in him. Now and then he fancied he was being carried into the boiling flood, whose roar as it dashed against the obtruding rocks was deafening and deadly to his ears, and he could not help planning what to do if his strength should fail, or, imagining how he could cling to a capsized boat, and now and then a stray thought would come of his wife and baby at home! But steadily and vigorously he pulled his oars, and on he sped, till, when panting for breath he gained the deeper shadows of the other side and presently with a thrill of joy and thankfulness as his boat grazed the sand and pebbles of the bank, he sprang ashore and awoke the echoes with a joyous shout of “all right,” to his friend across the river, who cheerily responded “good night” and then all was still. He soon found his now rather impatient horse and loading his nails and himself upon that faithful animal’s back, made his way home, arriving towards mid-night “safe and sound!” Mr. Trumbo, mentioned in this incident was also an early pioneer, the father of Ambrose Trumbo and Mrs. John S. Armstrong, of Mission, and a most worthy citizen. He has long since been “gathered to his fathers.”
How He Earned and Lost a Dollar
In the fall of 1831, Mr. Wm. Harris, an old neighbor in Ohio, came to Cedar Point. He wished to move to Holderman’s Grove. Albert was sent with a wagon and two yoke of oxen to help him along. After a long and slow rate of travel they arrived at their destination and Albert started on his trip home, Mr. Harris giving him a silver dollar, which for some reason was good for only 95 cents. It took Albert all day to make the distance from the Grove to Ottawa. Here George E. Walker kept a ferry scow which by tight squeezing just held the wagon and the cattle. At the other side the ferryman asked a dollar toll. Albert “forked over” all the money he had, that 95 cent piece with a rueful face, which the ferryman took with equally bad grace. Going forward he reached near the Hogaboom place, where, on account of the darkness, he was forced to camp all night. He chained each yoke of oxen to opposite sides of the wagon and crawled down into the box and was lulled to sleep by the howling of the wolves! In the morning he hitched up and started out for home, where he arrived in due time, hungry and still minus his dollar.
After the war of 1832, many friendly Indians remained scattered about the country. They often came to his farm and he always gave them food and often visited them at their wigwams and ate with them. They never molested him or any of his family and were marked for their kindness towards such of the whites as treated them well. They never stole anything from him or intruded upon him without leave, but they never learned the use of fences. While traveling about on their old trails when they came to a fence they invariably let it down and either left it so, or, made a clumsy attempt to put it up again, which was always a failure as well as an annoyance to the farmers, for it involved double work to right matters – the tearing down of the botched job left by the Indians as well as the re-building of a panel or two of the fence.
Harvesting Under Difficulties
The Indians began the murderous attack upon the whites at the beginning of harvesting time. They seemed to realize that the crops were of great importance to the settlers, and therefore to prevent them from saving their grain was a desirable scheme from the Indian point of view. The settlers on the other hand made heroic efforts to save their crops. The yield of everything, too, was excellent that season. Albert and four others craddled wheat four days on the farm of Martin Reynolds, afterwards Major D. E. Hitt’s father-in-law. All this time an armed squad of soldiers stood guard around the harvesters. W. H. L. Wallace then a lad, arrived at that time with his parents from Urbana, Ohio. At night the door of the cabin was barricaded with the boxes yet unopened of the Wallace family’s goods, which were piled up against the door. Albert remembers the future distinguished union general as a bright eyed, curly haired boy. Mr. Reynolds’ farm was west of Deer Park, near the Vermillion River.
Anecdote of Col. Hitt
He remembers our now Col. Hitt, formerly Major Hitt, then as a studious young man with a box of surveyor’s implements for platting, etc., and books of logarithms, maps, etc., which he kept with scrupulous neatness in a room at Mr. Reynolds’ cabin. When the youthful surveyor got tired of figuring out angles and triangles, and Euclid’s bothersome problems, he would take his gun and clamber out among the rocks and shoot rattlesnakes; in which sport he became greatly proficient.
Quelling the Rioters
Some years after, while work was going on in excavating the canal a fearful riot broke out between two factions of the laborers. They had procured arms of every possible description to exterminate each other. Sheriff Alson Woodruff called out the militia, and John Green organized a posse of citizens at Dayton, forty or fifty in number and they came down to Ottawa mounted on horseback. At about where the house of Henry Howland’s now stands, on the west side of Fox river, in a double log house, fifty or more of these warring factions had congregated. Mr. Green’s men surrounded the building and he, as a captain, went in alone and demanded their arms. He did it in a kindly but firm and authoritative way. No one answered his request of: “boys, I want your arms,” but he went up stairs and brought out several armsfull of guns which he delivered to his men outside. During his search two men jumped out of a window and ran. For a while no one could tell what became of them till they were presently seen wading the river, which was not very deep. Two of the horseman, Albert Dunavan and Jessie [sic] Green, dashed in pursuit, and finally came up with the fugitives near Carey’s point, Green asked them for their weapons. One of the fellows denied having any, Green replied “you lie,” and stooping down plucked a pistol out of his pocket. They were both searched but nothing else found, they were allowed to go on their way. Mr. Dunavan afterwards saw great stacks of shot guns, rifles, muskets, pitchforks, scythes fastened to poles and every manner of outlandish weapons piled up in the court house, all captured here and there from these rioters. These insurgents were not fighting the citizens nor doing any depradations upon public or private property, but simply fighting to see who should monopolize the work upon the canal! and all finally quieted down before the majesty of the law.
Albert’s elder brother, William, settled on the old Chicago road joining farms with him. He went to Texas about five years ago, where he still resides and is quite prosperous. The other brother, George, the youngest, went to Kansas two years ago and still lives in that state. Their mother died in August, 1836, aged 50 years. David Letts, their stepfather died in Iowa, in 1873.
Albert and his amiable wife, of whom more will be said in another article, became the parents of twelve children, all born on the old homestead as follows: Samuel, at Leland; Isaac, David and George, at Holderman’s Grove; Joseph, in Oregon; and Lewis, at home. A boy and a girl died when quite young, and Mrs. Anna Miller died two years ago, and Catherine and Jane, in Kansas.
The Old Farm
Mr. Dunavan has a very fine farm of prairie and woodland, the latter by thinning out and complete suppression of all shrubs and low bushes, has become excellent pasture. The latter is crossed by a fine stream of living water fed by half a dozen springs of water, and, together with its nearness to markets; Wedron, northwest; Dayton, southwest; and Ottawa, a few miles further south is a most desirable location, and here the old couple have a delightful home, but Mr. Dunavan still prompted by the desire of his youth for more room to “spread himself” and to secure a larger place for his children and grandchildren, is willing to sell this splendid old farm and “go west” again to conquer new worlds in the rich and cheap regions further towards the setting sun.2
1. Ottawa [IL] Free Trader, October 30, 1886, p. 5, cols 1-2.
2. Ottawa [IL] Free Trader, November 6, 1886, p. 5, cols 1-3.