In the 1930's George Cole (1852-1943) of Shelby wrote an interesting story about his life in West Creek Twp. and the Kankakee Valley area. His story continues this month, quoted as written, with remarks and information added by the Old Timer. Since last month's column, several residents of the river area have told the Old Timer they recall times they were glad to listen to Mr. Cole tell his stories about earlier days in the Kankakee marsh. His story, written in 1935, continues:
"The first Assessor we had was Ozias Clark. [Could have been Ozias W. Clark (1831-1908)] He lived at Pleasant Grove, near the Jones School House [corner of 161st Ave. and Hendricks]. He came with a horse and buggy to School Grove and Oak Grove, north of Schneider. Then he got L.W. Sanders, brother of Tent Sanders, to run a boat and come around to where Schneider is now, and Mill Ridge. [There was a saw mill there.] He came around to Peter Thullen in a boat in West Creek township, then to Flannigan in Cedar Creek Twp. From Flannigan's in a boat to our house and had dinner." [River Ridge, east of Schneider]
[He told how the assessor traveled on the Heicks, Bob Hunter, and Phil Reed. -- According to cemetery records Robert Hunter died in 1888 at age 43; Phillip Reed died 1885 at age 35.]
"Henry Clement lived where Mrs. Charles Brown does now, here in Shelby. Rant Kile [Ransom?] lived on what is known as the 'LaMore place,' in a log house. He [the assessor] turned north towards the Phil Reed place, known as the 'Caster Farm,' and then north on to Purdy and Martin on South Island [east of Oak Grove], around the island and then over to Worley Point [half mile south of 205th Ave., near Joe Martin Road]. He made the trip over the three townships in one day, as so few people lived around here then.
"Louis Stowell lived east of Schneider in a shanty, and one of his family died in the spring of the year, when the water was real high. I had a good galvanized boat, and I took the coffin in the boat to the Pine Grove graveyard [Sanders Cemetery on 205th Avenue]. In January, forty-nine years ago, I took George Stowell's first wife, who had died, over the ice in a mule team, to Pine Grove Cemetery. [Sanders Cemetery records show Mary E. Stowell, wife of George Stowell, died in 1886, at age 30.] We often had to take the coffins by boat in those days, when the water was high.
"A lady teacher by the name of Middleton came down and taught school near our place. Her home was at Hebron. When she had to go to institute at Crown Point, she made arrangements with my stepmother. She would come to my place where Cora Latta's place is now  and woke me up at two or three in the morning, and I took her by boat to the train and she went to Hammond and then over to Crown Point, and that way got to the Institute in plenty of time the next day.
"One day Phil Reed came over to my place on the ice, and said he could not get across the marsh with team or boat, and wanted me to take a load of ducks to Momence. The second day I got up there and got the wild ducks, driving one team, and had the other team harnessed ready to go to Momence. They had so many ducks they could not get them all in a wagon box. We hitched another team to the wagon, and fixed it up so it would hold more ducks, and had four big white swan to top off the load. We made the trip to Momence all right. The express man wouldn't take them on the platform so we backed the wagon up to the train. We had 1,700 pounds of wild ducks. We shipped them to Chicago and sent a telegram to Heath and Milligan that they were coming. [Heath and Milligan bought land north of Schneider in 1869 and built a sportsmen's lodge called Camp Milligan, later the site of the Cumberland Lodge.]
[Cole soon received a telegram asking him to stay at Momence to meet the train from Chicago at 2:30, as a group of hunters were coming to hunt ducks, upon hearing about the load coming into Chicago. He fixed the wagon for his guests with horse blankets and one new spring seat, and off they went for Shelby, arriving about four o'clock. Cole received ten dollars and the new spring seat for the trip.]
"In November 1874 I was hunting near Cumberland Lodge and had shot two or three ducks, and was cleaning my gun, and was trying to jar the shot loose, but the hammer caught in some bull grass and the gun went off and blowed off my finger. Mrs. Dave Fuller's mother was working at the lodge and she wrapped it up for me.
"In 1875 and 1876 I was working for Joe Williams and William Singleton. They hired us to hunt cattle and herd them. They had 7,774 head of cattle at that time, and we herded them all over this end of the county, most of which was under water, but the knolls and high places were grassy. One day a gang had stolen 36 nice steers, and we took our horses and forded the river, and followed the cattle half way to Rensselaer. We located the cattle and brought them back.
"There were no houses at all northeast of here then, and no roads. Wileys had a dugout and log house at the east end of Fuller Island, then called Moon Island, and there was another cabin where Joe Sanger is now. There was a great many horses stolen in this part of the country then, and Pete Burhams was the leader of the gang that trailed the horse thieves. He shot one horse thief at a cabin near the river, and buried him there. Bogus Island [about six miles south of River Ridge in Newton County] was their general headquarters.
"It is over fifty years since the first houses were built here in Shelby. Henry Clement had a house where Mrs. Charlie Brown now lives. Reed built where the Latta house is now. Mart [Martin] Driscoll and Nate Sanders built [near] where John Strickhorn lives now. They put up hay in summer. They were building the railroad here then .
"Many times hunters would stop in and eat with us. My mother would bake biscuits for supper and had two big griddles which she baked buckwheat pancakes in for breakfast, and how they could eat. I always chopped down trees with honey, and strained it, and we used it for pancakes and biscuits, and they sure liked it.
"One year, a man who worked for me went out on a stormy day and speared 107 muskrats. He got seven cents each for the skins.
"Flannigan and I dug out 28 skunks one day, on a knoll. They would drown out in the marsh, and would come up to the knolls. We got $42 for the hides, and $4 a gallon for the skunk oil." [The Old Timer figures they had few 'close' friends during that time.]
[Although Mr. Cole lived around the marsh all his life, he could not swim. He was following a herd of steers across the river once, and was forced to hang on to a steer's tail to get to the other shore. Other times he used two logs and paddled his way on the river.]
"The Gale children had to come to school in boats, and would have to crawl over the railroad, and then go in the boat. [The Gale family lived near Gale Station, east of Schneider on Wheeler Island.] A good many of the teachers boarded with my father. They received about 15 dollars a month then. Some of the first teachers in this locality were Allie Driscoll, Allie Dumond, Jennie Slayton, Trula Fuller, Mary Feeley, Anna Feeley, Grace Gordon, Lizzie Grant, Mattie Dickinson, Cora Surprise Latta, Edith Middleton, Zada Ackerman, Carrie Caster, Douglas Lawrence, Schuyler Sigler and Will Collins.
"We used up two hundred tons of hay each year, as we had sixty to two hundred head of cattle on hand all the time. We did not have any corn in those days, as this land was all under water then, and we had no rough feed either, so it took more hay.
"Just to show prices and labor are about balanced as in years ago -- in 1858 my father bought a cow from Mr. Michael, in West Creek, and paid $8 for it, and worked 16 days to earn the $8. Then in 1865, war time [Civil War], he sold the cow for $40 and it took 16 days, at $2.50 a day, to pay for it. It would take about that many days now to pay for a cow, at the rate wages are now ."
So ends the story of George H. Cole, drayman, herdsman, farmer and hunter -- an exciting saga of life in the Kankakee Valley. Cole passed away Jan. 14, 1943, just a few years after writing this account. His wife, Elizabeth M. Cole, died in 1947. They are buried in Orchard Grove Cemetery.
Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page