Thomas Parr’s Narrative


I came to Illinois in 1834, arriving about the 20th day of April. Then Illinois was a wild country. I went to Chicago to the land sales in 1835, when Chicago was a very small town. Great numbers of the settlers came in every day to enter their lands. You could see them coming with their prairie schooners, drawn by about three yoke of oxen, through the high grass, from knee-high to the top of a tall man’s head, with a cloud of mosquitoes following, about the size of an ordinary swarm of bees. Chicago then resembled about as good a swamp as I ever saw. From Berry’s Point to Chicago, ten miles, we waded through water all the way about knee deep. The buildings in Chicago were a kind of cabin stuck in the mud.

We got our land and came home. Pretty wild times—chasing prairie wolves, scaring droves of deer, flocks of sand-hill cranes, geese and ducks. There were a good many Indians in the country then, and we were but little better, in appearance, ourselves. There were no proud folks in the country then, although the girls were as pretty as ever I saw. I settled on the right bank of the Fox river, eight or nine miles from Ottawa, where I have lived ever since. We had the whole country to pasture, and to cut hay in, and although we could raise good crops, we could get no money to give for building railroads, and hardly enough to pay the Methodist preacher for hearing him, although we always managed to pay him for marrying us. I had George Dunnavan and John Hoxie for neighbors; the re«t of the country north and west was an unbroken wilderness. The settlers had a good many slow notions: three or four yoke of oxen to turn the prairie; and going to mill or market we would hitch our oxen to the big wagon, and be gone two or three days, or a week, as the case required—rather a slow coach, but a never failing one, unless an ox strayed. The news was carried by ox telegraph. There was not so much style, nor so many big steals, as now. Those unfortunate individuals who worshiped fine horses, were kept in a perpetual state of excitement by a gang of bandits all over the Western country, who lived mostly by stealing horses.

We used to go to Chicago to do our marketing, and sell our wheat. With an ox team and wagon, I would put on a good load of wheat, and start for Chicago. By the time I reached Indian creek, two or three more teams would join, and as we proceeded others would fall in, till when we reached Chicago a hundred teams would be in the train.

We took along the old tin coffee pot, and some ground coffee tied up in a rag, and a few cooking utensils. We would camp, light a fire, cook our grub, collect around the fire, tell a few stories, crack a few jokes, crawl under our wagons, and, if the mosquitoes would let us, go to sleep and dream of our wives and children at home.

We would get forty to fifty cents per bushel for wheat, and three cents a dozen for eggs, and if we got sixty cents for wheat we thought we were doing a land office business. Our teams found plenty of excellent pasture on the prairie wherever we stopped. Crossing the sloughs was an item of excitement, and if one got stuck, wc joined teams and pulled him out. Crowding Frink A Walker’s stage coaches was a favorite pastime, and they soon learned to give the hubs of a six-ox wagon a wide berth.1

1. Elmer Baldwin, History of La Salle County, Illinois (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co., 1877), pp. 128-129.