David Turner, Eagle Creek Twp. pioneer of 1838, had an unusual experience during a trip to Chicago with his first harvest of wheat. He and his friends drove three wagons, each carrying 30 bushels of grain, drawn by ox teams.
The oxen were lost for a day when they stopped at Cedar Lake, a wagon tongue was broken at Dyer, and the animals also trampled a farmer's pumpkin crop there.
They were mired in a swamp near Thornton, Ill., and another tongue gave way. Again the animals helped themselves to a farmer's corn. Finally reaching Chicago, they sold their grain and on the return trip the oxen ate corn and cabbage in nearby fields.
The three young men from Eagle Creek Twp. realized when they returned home that they had less money than when they started the trip nine days earlier. This was due to the fact that they had to pay for damages done and for the corn, pumpkins and cabbage consumed by the oxen.
But the sturdy oxen were not always in trouble, for they served the early settlers well for several decades. In the early days of settlement and in the pioneer period, the oxen were quite commonly used as draft animals. Most farmers used them to draw the plows, the wagons, the harrows and the sleds, and they were on the roads hauling produce and grain to market.
The oxen were strong, patient, hardy, and could live on rough foods without much shelter, but generally they were quite slow. Only a few could walk and draw a plow along with the horses, and on the road an ox team did well to make three miles an hour.
It took just a few minutes to yoke them, The yoke was put first on the "off-ox," the one on the right, the bow put in place and keyed, then the other end of the yoke was held up and a well-trained animal would walk up and put its neck under the yoke in the proper place for the bow to come up and be fastened with a wooden or metal key.
Rev. Timothy Ball, pioneer historian, wrote in 1900: "When well treated they were gentle, patient, faithful animals, as for many generations along a line of thousands of years their predecessors had given their strength and endurance, in many lands, to the service of man."
When the railroad era arrived in the 1850's, there were changes in the modes of agriculture, transportation and everyday living, and horses began gradually replacing the oxen in farm work and the construction of new roads.
Mowers and reapers came to many of Lake County's farms, and for these "modern" machines, horses were found more serviceable. In some areas of the county the yokes were removed from the oxen as early as 1855, but in some neighborhoods, they were still used until the early 1860's, at the beginning of the Civil War, when there was a great demand for beef.
By 1870 oxen as working animals had almost disappeared north of the Kankakee River. One farmer sold his last yoke of oxen for $150. To the south, in Jasper and Newton Counties, where the influence of the railroad was not felt as soon, the use of oxen continued in later years.
Residents soon missed seeing the slow farm animals plodding the streets, and many people today have never seen a yoke of oxen. Only a few would know how to yoke them and drive them. The chains, tongue bolts, and the ox whips are strange items now. The whips were used to directing the movements of the teams, sometimes with three or four yokes in a team.
During the pioneer period in Lake County, people generally traveled on horseback, in ox wagons, or in horse wagons used for farm purposes. Not many buggies or carriages were used during that time, but when the railraods began to come through, buggies were purchased and farmers trained their horses for the harness. Most of the farmers had buggies, while some had stylish covered carriages in the last decades of the century. The more costly carriages first made their appearance in LaPorte County.
When the railroads came, it was a great struggle for farmers to secure modern machinery, for many were in debt for their land, and prices for farm products were low. Prices increased in the 1860's due to the economy during the Civil War, and great improvements were made in the life of the farmer, for the entire process of planting, sowing, cultivating and harvesting was in for a great change.
The railroads had little influence in counties to the south until the 1860's The Pan Handle line passed through Monticello and North Judson on the way to Chicago, but only a small part of Newton County felt the direct influence of the age of steam until the Chicago and Eastern Illinois road passed through Morocco in 1889.
Many changes came to the town of Lowell in 1881, when the railroad was constructed. Many new enterprises were built near the new line, including mills, hotels, stock yards, lumber and coal yards, bulk plants and many others, all enhancing the economy of the town.
Cattle and hogs could be shipped by rail from the local stockyards, instead of herding them on long trips to a rail center to the north or directily to the market. The dairy farms of the area had their milk shipped to the north by train.
Log houses began to disappear at the coming of the railroads, for building supplies could be shipped much easier. The early homes then became barns or graineries, and some were covered with siding.
In 1893 the "Columbian Exposition," or World's Fair, was held at Jackson Park in Chicago (where the Museum of Science and Industry is now) and many of the residents of Lake County enjoyed riding the train to see that great spectacle.
About two thousand school children took the trip on the Monon in September 1893 -- a very different trip than the one taken by Mr. Turner and his friends with the oxen in the 1830's!
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