Part 2 - Ancestors Arrive



Part Two: Our Ancestors Arrive


     The area that would officially become Richland County in 1841 was first inhabited by Native American Indians.  They hunted the land and fished the rivers, and built large mound settlements near present-day Evansville to the southeast and Cahokia to the west.

     The later clashes between the Indians and the influx of Europeans occurring during the country’s westward expansion had been taking place for years, but essentially came to an end in Illinois with the Black Hawk War of 1832, a brief conflict between the United States and Native Americans led by Chief Blackhawk.  Their defeat provided impetus to the U.S. policy of Indian removal, in which Native American tribes were pressured to sell their lands and move west of the Mississippi River and stay there.


Black Hawk, chieftain of the Sac nation, was born in 1767 near the junction of the Mississippi River and the Rock River, in northern Illinois. He early distinguished himself as a warrior, and at the age of 15 was permitted to paint and was ranked among the braves.  He led numerous expeditions against the enemy tribes of his nation, all of whom he conquered.  As the namesake of the Black Hawk War of 1832, he is honored with a large statue of him overlooking the Rock River at Oregon, Illinois. 

     In reporting on this removal, the 1884 history book, Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland, Illinois, offered an uncomplimentary description of the natives, saying “The immigration of southeastern Illinois pressed close upon the retreating savages.

     “Under the treaty by which this region was ceded to the whites, the Indians held it as their hunting grounds until it was opened for settlement by the general government.  Before this could be done the land must be surveyed, and although this was begun as early as 1814, it was four years later before the territory of Richland County was staked out.  The natives had no villages within the territory under consideration, but the game that found food and shelter here for years, attracted the native hunters.



     “The country within the present boundaries of Richland County was well calculated to attract a people accustomed to frontier life, and no sooner was it open for pre-emption, than considerable numbers gathered here from the surrounding country.”

     According to the early history book on the three counties of the area, it is difficult to know with certainty who was the first permanent settler in Richland County.  Some believe that Thaddeus Morehouse came in 1815, and William Dummet arrived about 1816.  However it is likely that if the date of each family’s arrival was accurately known, they came so closely that several could be considered among the first here.

     Lloyd Rawlings, for example, came to Lawrence County in 1815 when he was a boy of 13, but his residence in what is now Richland County does not date earlier than 1828.  According to the 1884 history book, “he was longer in this region than any man now living in the county, but at this writing, he has just passed away.”

     Born in 1802 in the state of Ohio, in Geauga County, Mr. Rawlings subsequently came to Lawrence County, which at that time was in what would later become the eastern half of Richland County.  He married Matilda Ruark in 1828, and apparently became somewhat of a legend, according to the description of him in the 1884 history book from which we glean the county’s early history.

     “In April 1849, he, with 11 others from Richland County, went the overland route to California, and there, whilst with one O. Hayes, deer hunting, was attacked by a grizzly bear.  He and Hayes had separated at the head of a small chaparral (thicket of tangled shrubs), to meet at the other extremity.  The bear retreating from Hayes encountered Mr. Rawlings.  So close were they that before Mr. Rawlings could bring his gun to his shoulder to fire, the bear, rearing on his hind feet, struck Mr. Rawlings’ gun from his shoulder with a blow of his paw, at the same time prostrating Mr. Rawlings, who only had time to say, ‘Oh! Hayes!’ when the bear, placing one foot on his breast, took his whole face within his extended jaw, the upper teeth closing on the top of the skull, and the lower teeth beneath the lower jaw, but being old and the teeth blunt, whilst Mr. Rawlings’ lower jaw and cheek bone were broken, the blunt upper tusks slipped over the skull down his forehead and face, scraping the bone.

     “Hayes had heard the cry, and rushing up, the noise of his approach caused the bear to raise his head and turn towards Hayes, who fired on the bear, shooting him through the neck.  The bear fell, as Hayes supposed, dead.  Mr. Rawlings raised his gory face, with one protruding eyeball, and remarked to Hayes, ‘You have killed the bear, but the bear has killed me.’

    “Hayes placed his friend on one of their mules, and escorted him to camp, where, after careful treatment, he recovered, to outlive by twenty years, his rescuer.  The bear was an enormous brute, weighing upwards of 1,000 pounds.  He (Mr. Rawlings) bore the marks of this accident to the day of his death.” 

     While a few may have come to our area in 1816 or 1817, the greater number of the early families arrived in 1818, the year Illinois achieved statehood.  It also appears that the Indian right to this territory expired at this time, although there is no reason to believe that this was a consideration in restraining the pioneers from settling here. 

     At this time, the Evans family, consisting of several boys and a widowed mother, settled on the east side of Fox Prairie.  Originally from Kentucky, the family had first located on Allison Prairie, opposite from Vincennes, some years before.  Here, the father had died, and his family consisting of several boys began to feel they needed more room, where each could make a farm for himself.  The land had not then been surveyed, but they chose a site on the old trace near Sugar Creek, a branch of the Fox River, and began their improvements.

     “A striking incident illustrative of the close succession of the whites to the rights of the savage, was the first home of the Evans family.  They followed the old trail from Vincennes to Saint Louis, till it merged in the old trace from Louisville, with no clear idea of where they would permanently locate, but at this point they found an Indian wigwam so recently abandoned that the fire had not yet died out, and, rekindling the expiring blaze, they took possession of the camp and prepared to fix a permanent home.”

     In the following winter, the surveyors reached this point and established survey lines right in the midst of the (Evans) improvements.  The lines as established did not suit the Evans’ plans, so the boys separated in the following year, taking other lands within the limits of Noble Township.




     The “trigger” that seemed to set off the increased immigration of the unsettled portions of surrounding communities was the completion of the general survey of the county.  Up until this time, there was a natural hesitation to begin improvements that cost a good amount of labor, when there was a risk that the survey would show that the results of their labor could be otherwise affected.  When this doubt was removed by fixed lines, there was a general movement by those who had been waiting for the survey to be completed.

     The old “Trace Road,” which roughly paralleled the present U.S. 50, was instrumental in determining the location of many of the early settlements in Richland County.  Cash money was difficult to get, and the pioneers had to take advantage of every circumstance that brought it within their reach. 

     “To the earliest settlers, the entertainment of travelers was the surest resource and, at the same time, the most profitable method.  Coon hunting and trapping brought reasonably sure returns, but involved an expenditure of time that was needed upon the farm.  The tavern made demands only upon such supplies as the frontier farm abundantly furnished, and was conducted at an early day largely by the women.  It was such considerations that brought the early settlements along the Trace Road.  Others were drawn here from the fact that land thus placed was more valuable from its nearness to an outlet to market.

     “Among the earliest to settle on the line of the Trace Road was Thaddeus Morehouse.  He was born in Connecticut in 1783, but a native of Vermont, from hence he emigrated to Ohio, and thence to Indiana, finally reaching this section about 1818, and settling on Section 36 in Olney Township, where he kept a tavern for a number of years. 

     “His first house was a log cabin, which combined home and tavern, a combination hotel and drinking place.  The Morehouse Tavern prided itself on its delicious venison steak and good whiskey.  Twenty-five cents was the usual price for a meal of venison steak or turkey.” 

     Thaddeus Morehouse is buried in the Morehouse Cemetery in Richland County.

     {Note: It gets a bit confusing to the reader while discussing the next early settler, Benjamin Bogart, whose name was later changed to Bogard.  Both spellings are used in early reference materials.)

     “Between 1815 and 1818 Benjamin Bogart, born in 1780 in Virginia, came from Tennessee.  He built west of the Morehouse Tavern, the first home built in what is today the east part of Olney.  This cabin was the meeting place of the first court of Richland County in 1841. 



Benjamin Bogart came to the area from Tennessee as one of the earliest settlers of what would become Richland County.  He was a war veteran, respected leader, and father of 17 children.


        “He was a veteran of the War of 1812, being a member of the Tennessee Militia, which served under Andrew Jackson in the Creek Indian War campaign of 1814.  He was the father of 17 children by two marriages and stepfather of four children.  His last child was born when he was a little over 70 years old.

     “The Bogarts were one of the earliest and most prominent families in the early history of the county.  (Sons) Levi and Dan Bogard (Bogart) were both soldiers in the Civil War and lived in Olney for many years.  Grant Bogard lived to the age of 80 and resided about two miles southeast of Calhoun.

     “Nancy T. (Gooch) Clark Bogard was born in 1810 in Granville County, North Carolina, and came with husband Keelin Clark to Lawrence County (now part of Richland County) in 1835 from Orange County, North Carolina, with their three small children.  She married Benjamin Bogard in 1839, the second marriage for both.  She died in Richland County in 1896 at the age of 85 years.  She and Ben are buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  (They) are the great-great-grandparents of John Young, the NASA astronaut.”


Nancy Bogart, with her husband Ben Bogart, made up one of the most prominent families in our early history. The Bogards are buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, in Richland County.


     Another early family, “The original Bullards – who came to Richland County about 1818, were John William, Bryant, Amos, Peter, Allen, Ann and Nancy – settled in various parts of the county.  Bryant Bullard, a native of North Carolina, settled on Section 6, in Claremont, on the Trace Road, with John and Amos.  The latter was the second blacksmith in the county, purchasing the tools of Thomas Gardner, who opened the first shop in the county.  This was located on the west bank of Fox, just south of the old Fox Bridge south of Rt. 250.  He later acquired a farm near Higgins Switch.  Amos Bullard was one of the three original commissioners of Richland County.   John Bullard, son of Bryant, was the first postmaster of Claremont. 

     “James Elliot, a native of the same state, settled east of Claremont village, but subsequently came to the site of Olney, and entered land, where he lived and died.

     “Elijah Nelson was born in 1803 in South Carolina and came to Indiana with his father, and then to Illinois in 1819.  They had planned to go farther west but were held up by spring floods and settled about two miles west of Olney on the Trace Road.  Nelson built the first house, other than a log cabin, in the county.  Three sides were covered with split clapboards and the front with weather boarding.  Here he started a tavern in competition with Thaddeus Morehouse, four miles further east.  Nelson’s tavern became the stage stop, gathering place and was the end of the stage line division from Vincennes.  He also ran the first stage line from Vincennes to St. Louis, via Vandalia, and while engaged in this business formed the acquaintance of many famous people including Gen. William Henry Harrison, Gen. Zachary Taylor, Gov. Coles, Gov. Bond and Rev. Lorenzo Dow.”

     Lot Basden was a pioneer from North Carolina who settled in Claremont Township, along the old Trace Road, about 1825, and was prominent in the early political organization of the county.  He was one of the three original county commissioners when the county was organized in 1841 and is credited with laying out the plot of the original village of Olney.

     “The first families were marked by an unusual amount of enterprise and culture.  There were two good frame houses (the taverns owned by Morehouse and Nelson) in the county as early as 1821, and brick houses followed with scarcely an interval.  Lot Basden and James Laws (who also came from North Carolina and settled near Basden) united and put up a brick kiln, and each built a one-story brick house from it.  Laws erected his soonest, but Basden’s still (in 1884) remains a specimen of pioneer luxury.” 

     The great mass of the houses, however, were the usual round-log cabins, many of them giving up the whole side to the fireplace.  They were typically located in the woods or on the borders of the prairie groves.  Most had no windows, with the only source of light being down the wide chimney or through the door, which was generally open during the day in winter or summer.  A big fire of logs kept the family from freezing in the winter.

     For those fortunate to have neighbors, the raising of a cabin was a great event, according to the 1884 history book.  “There was always a jug of whiskey on hand to cheer the laborers.”

     “In 1820, there were some 30 families in the territory now known as Richland County, all of whom, with few exceptions had come in from 1818 to 1820.  But with all these accessions, the country was by no means densely settled.  From the Sugar Creek Prairie settlement to Albion, the present county-seat of Edwards County, there was in 1820 no house to be seen, and northward to the house of Willis Blanchard, there were only the cabins of the two Calhouns and Johnson.

     “With so vigorous a beginning, however, accessions were certain and rapid for a new country.  Lewis and William Laws lived in the same neighborhood (as James Laws) and John, near Bugaboo Creek.  The Stewarts, of South Carolina, and Cheeks, of Georgia, were early families in this vicinity.  The Snyders, of Kentucky, settled at Hickory Point, in Claremont Township, about 1825, and the Lowrys, from the same place, settled here about the same time.  On Grand Prairie, were the families of John Bush, the Glenns and Harrises, and in 1829, Elijah Utterback and Joshua Cotterel, both natives of Kentucky. 




     The earliest stores were at Vincennes, though the settlers of Richland County found trading places at Lawrenceville and Evansville.  The latter point was the great trading point for the early merchant, from whence the goods were brought over tedious roads by wagon.  The earliest store in this county was one opened by Jacob May at Stringtown about 1825.  Somewhat later, Alfred Gross and Willis Snyder had a small store on the trace road, about a mile west of the village of Claremont.



The Stringtown community of predominantly German immigrants, had the first store in Richland County, which opened around 1825.  The community also had one of the first churches in the area, (pictured) a log church completed on Feb. 15, 1842.  Stringtown got its name from the way in which the first buildings were built along a “string-like” pattern.

     “Some goods were kept also at Prairieton, just over the line in (what was then) Lawrence County.  These stores were simply log cabins, where the owner, with a view to making an odd shilling, bought a few pieces of dry goods, a small stock of groceries and whiskey, and offered them for sale.  Their customer was chiefly derived from the community in which they were situated.  Most of the settlers had no money to buy with, and these storekeepers could profitably handle nothing but coon skins in exchange for their wares.  Saint Louis was the great market for the surplus product of this region, and hundreds of teams were to be seen on the Trace Road, bound for the western terminus of the road.”

     “The women led hard lives.  Their clothing was made of the cotton raised on their little clearing.  At night, after gathering, it was spread before the fire, heated, and the seed picked out by hand, then carded in a pair of cards, spun on a big wheel, colored with copperas, or indigo, or walnut bark, and woven on a homemade loom, and cut and made up by her into clothing for herself and children.

     “She did all the cooking and washing, and for weeks, and often months, would see the face of no living soul except the members of her own family.  A log-rolling or quilting brought the boys and girls together, where, after the logs were all piled up and the quilt finished, supper over and the floor cleared, the young folk would dance or play at different games. 

     “Fifty years ago (in the 1800s) common calico, coarse prints, sold for 30 and 40 cents a yard;  six yards of three-fourths wide made a dress, and the owner was as proud of it as a fashionable lady now is of her silks and satins.  The everyday garb of females was striped cotton; feet shod in buckskin moccasins.

     “And yet it was a joyous life; no jealousies, no striving for wealth, generous and liberal.  The traveler was always welcome, and no one thought of charging for food or lodging.  Ignorant and coarse as many were, there was less licentiousness than now. 

     “Preaching was rare; now and then, about once in two months, an itinerant would preach, when all the settlement would assemble.  A baptizing was a great event; for 20 miles the people assembled, when the old preacher, clad in homespun and leather, with pantaloons rolled above his knees and a long stick in hand, waded and felt about in the pond or creek until he found sufficient depth of water to immerse the neophyte, or generally two or three of them. 

     “The old preachers of the Baptist persuasion were generally farmers and received no pay or compensation for their services.  Frequently illiterate, they were earnest and sincere.”



     Shadrack Ruark, a Methodist minister in Ohio, was one of the advanced of the second immigration.  About 1836 or 1837, he made a visit to his brother, settled in Bonpas, and became enamored with the country here. 

     “On his return to Ohio, he spread the fame of this fair territory far and near as he traveled his circuit, and many were induced to come here about 1840.  About this time also came a large number of German families, who settled principally in the northern range of townships.  Among them were the Ginders, the Schneiders, the Cleffers, the Kusters, the Spitts, the Weilers, the Eyers, the Scherers ,the Sterchis, the Swallens and the Balmers, most of whom were from Stark County, Ohio.

     “Up to this second immigration, the larger proportion of the county was open to pre-emption, and even in 1850 there was a considerable area of public land.  From this date to 1853, there was a keen demand for government lands, and the last acre was taken in this latter year.  The final location of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad made the location an especially desirable one, and a large number of actual settlers and speculators took advantage of the opportunity offered.

     “(In 1884) there has been little change in the character of the population since.  It has grown denser, and since 1860 a large portion of the lands held by speculators has passed into the hands of actual residents, but the main increase is made up of the descendants of the early settlement and few family names familiar to the early record, are lost entirely now.”

     We have only touched on a few of the early settlers, and we regret we could not include more photographs from the period, however the first practical photographic method was not unveiled until 1839.  In our next article, we will examine the official formation of Richland County and its county seat town of Olney.  And we will identify many of the early leaders who were responsible for the political, social and cultural development of a new area.