Peter Hill wrote account of early settlers

With the celebration of the 40th Grande Leve over the weekend, it seems that this is the proper place and time for Peter B. Hill to tell his story.

His first-person account of the hardships in the early days of white habitation of the Illinois Territory was written in 1873, and gives us a first-person look at those days and times.

Peter Bruns Hill was born April 14, 1808, in Kentucky, the youngest son of Henry and Elizabeth Bruns Hill. He was eight years old when his parents came to the territory.

He married Penny Scribner in 1829, and his thoughts of entering into this contract are humorously given in this story. Penny was the daughter of another old settler, William Scribner.

Their children numbered 10, with nine reaching adulthood. They were: John Thomas, Elizabeth, Lewis, Henry, Mary, Chloe, Faitha, Nancy Jane, Dorcus (died at age 9) and Dorothea.

His story begins, My father, Henry Hill, emigrated to Illinois territory with his family in the year 1816. Stopped in Bond County near the crossroads, at what is now called Zion campgrounds. My father, with Levi Casey and John Lee, went with all their force to what is called the Hurricane near VanBurensburg.

The men first raised, covered and floored a house for Henry Hill, and after it was daubed and the stick chimney built, proceeded to build one for John Leethen Levi Casey.

‘The cabin was built of round logs 16 inches by 18 feet, and was the first cabin built on the Hurricane. When the land was surveyed and the counties laid off, my father and John Lee were in Montgomery County and Levi Casey was in Bond County.

Our neighbors were the Indians. The Kickapoo tribe lived all through this part of the country. Some Pottawatomies, some Osage. They came to see us every day. Deer and turkey were plentiful; bears, panthers, wild cats and wolves were very numerous.

My father was a miller. He furnished the meal. He had to go to the American bottom, seven miles from St. Louis, and pay one dollar per bushel for corn and travel during the night in warm weather on account of the horseflies. We were all poor people.

We wore leather deerskin on our feet and on our person. Moccasins, pants and hunt shirts comprised the common dress. Men wore them to meeting, not for fashion, but because they had nothing else to wear. They would carry their guns to meeting with them and set them in the back of the cabin or against a tree.

It was a very common thing when newcomers came into the county, they would be forced to cut their wagon covers and bedspreads to make shirts to work in before they could raise flax and cotton. They could make out after that on leather.

Our tables were puncheon, and bedsteads were made of poles placed in holes in the wall and one leg at the other end to prop up.

Our log cabins were so low that the first rib was often the door head. Clapboard shutters, wooden hinges and in every case a hole sawed out of one corner for the cats to pass. There was a story of a man by the name of Fields Garvis, who went to one of these low cabins, he had to stoop to go in, and when he raised up he was in the loft. I am not responsible for this story, I did not see it, but I dont doubt it. He was the tallest man I ever saw.

After a while, I got up to be of right smart size, weighed 130 pounds. Had what was mine, two ponies, two dogs and one rifle gun. I thought I was pretty well off. I thought if I had a wife I would be independent, so I got married. Then I could see that I needed everything but a wife.

I owned nothing but what I have mentioned, and not one dime to buy with, so I had to sell my gun that was like pulling teeth, but I got $14 for it.

I took the money, went to Greenville to a store kept by William Durley in a very small log cabin the same cabin that the three Blanchards (Samuel, Seth and Elisha) kept the first store in Greenville. I bought one large wash pot, one dinner pot, one skillet, knives, forks and spoons, a pair of cotton cards and my money was gone.

I came home, and so my father gave me $3. I got on my pony and rode four miles south of southwest Greenville to a cotton gin, where I bought 40 pounds of picked cotton. Then we were fixed for living.

When I first heard of cutting wheat with a cradle, I didnt know, nor could I think what it was. I had never heard anything called a cradle only something to rock babies in.

I saw in an advertisement of a furniture store, ‘cribs for sale,’ and wondered what they could be. Never heard of anything called ‘crib’ only corncribs. I never knew it was to crib babies in. I will tell you what we cribbed our first two or three in half of a bee gum.

Peter B. Hills reminiscences take us back to an earlier day when bread was baked in the coals, coffee was made from parched wheat and church was held in the homes the family, a loom, spinning wheel, winding blades, congregation all in one cabin.

Peter B. Hill died on April 25, 1875, two years after recording his early memories on paper.

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