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1932 Stories

By Catherine Spicer, Dist. 174

At the close of the Black Hawk war immigrants from the East began to settle in northern Illinois. These early settlers came by three different routes - the Great Lakes route, the Ohio river route, or overland in covered wagons. When several covered wagons traveled together they were called a "train." In 1845 a "train" of eight wagons set out from Pennsylvania for Illinois. In one of the wagons rode Mr. Harmon Nisley (the grandfather of Mr. Brown Munro), his wife and seven children. Several beautiful, well-bred horses were led behind the schooners. Bridges were not as well constructed then as they are now and many times the heavily loaded wagons would break the bridge. Mr. Nisley had the heaviest wagon, so when he came to a bridge he would have to wait and cross the bridge last. If he crossed first the heavy wagon might have broken the bridge and the others would have to wait until they repaired the bridge.

He settled at Knoxville first, and kept a grocery store. As there was no prohibition law at that time many of the grocery stores sold liquors, as well as groceries. In an old day-book, which is in possession of one of his descendants, there is a record of a sale of whisky at forty cents a gallon. Another page shows that wheat was sold at four cents a pound, and apples at twenty-five cents a bushel. A load of pumpkins were sold at four dollars.

After Harmon had explored the country from Knoxville to Peru, he decided to settle near Peru. As canal boats passed up and down daily, it was a convenient place from which to ship his grain. The family lived in Peru a year or so. Then Mr. Nisley bought a farm (now occupied by Mr. George Hahn), which is three and a half miles north of Peru, in Dimmick township, in 1848, and about the same time he bought about eighty acres of land in Putnam county where he installed a saw mill. He milled enough lumber to fence his farm and to build three houses and barns for his farms. He also cut wood for other people. The maple grove, which can be seen on that farm, was planted by Harmon.

Improved land in Dimmick could be purchased at fifteen dollars an acre, and land that was not improved for as low as a dollar and twenty-five cents an acre.

For a number of years the Nisley's kept a light burning in an upstairs window so that any emigrants traveling across the prairie might find shelter. As the roads were poor, schooners would often become stuck in the mud. The people would see the light burning in the window and would come there for help. No one was ever turned away.

One evening a wagon drawn by two beautiful gray horses was seen coming across the prairie. The driver was a negro. He asked Mr. Nisley if he could stay all night. Mr. Nisley said he could. Late that night a group of white men came to the house. They said the negro was a runaway slave and that he had stolen the wagon and horses. The white men took the negro and the wagon and drove away. The Nisleys never knew whether the negro was a runaway slave or whether the white men were rascals who wanted to sell the negro, the horses, and the wagon.

After the Nisley's had moved to their farm in Dimmick, the "plank road" was built. This road extended from Peru to Dixon and was made entirely of planks. Stage coaches drawn by one or more teams of horses passed over this road, carrying people and mail. Along the road were certain houses where the driver changed teams. One of those stopping places was about two miles north of Peru, at Peak's tavern. There the horses were changed and the travelers found food and lodging.

When the first telegraph line was strung past their house (from Arlington to Peru), there was only one wire used. At that time there were many prairie chickens here. They were not accustomed to the telegraph wire and they would fly up against it and become stunned. The family would hurry out to see how many prairie chickens they could get for supper.

In those days schools were not so close as they are now. However, there was a school just back of the Nisley grove. This school was taught by one of Harmon's sons. Oftentimes religious services were held in the school. One time it was very difficult to obtain a minister. However, there was a very well educated man in the community who would have been capable to take charge of the services, but he had fallen away from his early instructions and was a little rough, but good at heart. Since he was such a well learned man he was selected to act as minister. He knew that he was well known by all the people, so before he began his services he said, "Do not do as I do, but do as I say."

There was not so much fruit canned then as there is now. There were not many fruit trees, but when the settlers obtained some fruit, such as apples, pears and peaches; they dried them for winter use. Meats, too, were often cured by drying.

The Nisleys were expert tanners, as they tanned and made their own leather. Their wagon repair work was done by a man who kept a repair shop in La Salle, named Patrick Manning.

Mr. Nisley was known for his hospitality. Every Sunday people gathered at his home to visit and enjoy themselves after their week's labor. The younger folks and children played games, while the older folks talked about the topics of the day; told about what was written in the last letter from the East (it took about sixteen days to send a letter from the eastern states to Illinois), or planned "bees" for the coming week. Everyone enjoyed a delicious dinner before he left.

It is said that Mr. Nisley's word was above reproach. The other settlers had so much faith in his honesty and wisdom that when they got into an argument or had a dispute, they would come to him to have him settle their arguments.

Mr. Munro (Mr. Nisley's grandson) has a board that was a part of Mr. Nisley's covered wagon, and a candle mold that was used by Mrs. Nisley in making the tallow candles.

Thus the story comes to an end. As we hear about the hardships and joys of pioneers, like the Nisleys, we realize how much the early settlers have done to make our life in La Salle county more enjoyable.

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