Page images
PDF
EPUB

*

Around it are usually put up a meat or smoke-house, a kitchen or cook-house, a stable and corn-crib, and perhaps a spring-house to keep milk cool in summer-all built in the same manner as the dwelling. Floors are usually made of timber split into slabs, called "puncheons," with the upper surface hewn level.

The next step in advance for a dwelling is a log house. This is made of logs hewn on two sides to an equal thickness, the ends notched together, apertures cut through for doors and windows, a framed and shingled roof, and a brick or stone chimney. The chimney of the cabin is invariably built of sticks of wood—the largest at the bottom, and the smallest at the top, and laid up with a supply of mud or clay mortar. The interstices between the logs of both the cabin and log house are chinked with strips of wood, and daubed with the same species of mortar, both outside and in, unless the convenience of lime is added.

Sink-holes are circular depressions in the surface, resembling a basin or a bowl. I have seen them of various sizes, from ten to fifty feet deep, with steep acclivities, and from ten to fifty yards in diameter at the surface of the ground. They usually are found near the bluffs, and in most cases contain an outlet at the bottom for the water received by the rains to descend into the earth, and find a subterraneous passage among the rocks below. Trees and grasses are found growing within these cavities.

In all countries where the sub-stratum is of secondary limestone, caverns and subterranean passages exist. By the action of the water, the soil £bove these passages becomes loosened, and is gradually undermined till a sinking of the surface takes place. I have seen these sink-holes in all stages of existence, from that where the earth had just fallen in, to those which were partially filled up by the annual deposits, and sustaining large trees on the bottom and sides.

I have already mentioned that stone coal abounds in Illinois. It may be seen frequently in the ravines and gulleys, and in the points of bluffs. Exhaustless beds of this article exist in the bluffs of St. Clair county, bordering on the American bottom, of which large quantities are transported to St. Louis for fuel. It sells in St. Louis from ten to twelve and a half cents per busbel. From twelve to fifteen large ox-wagons are employed most of the year in hauling it to market, the distance of seven miles across the American bottom.

There is scarcely a county in the State but what can furnish coal in reasonable quantities. Large beds are said to exist near the junction of Fox River with the Illinois, and in the vicinity of the rapids of the latter.

In most parts of the State, grape-vines indigenous to the country are abundant, which yield grapes which might advantageously be made into excellent wine. Foreign vines are susceptible of easy cultivation. These are cultivated to a considerable extent at Vevay, Switzerland county, Indiana, and at New Harmony, on the Wabash.

The indigenous vines are prolific, and produce excellent fruit. They are found in every variety of soil: interwoven in every thicket in the prairies and barrens, and climbing to the tops of the very highest trees on the bottoms.

The French in early times made so much wine as to export some to France; upon which, the proper authorities prohibited the introduction of wine from Illinois, lest it might injure the sale of that staple article of the kingdom, I have not the documents at hand that will attest this fact, but of its truth there is no doubt; and I think the act was passed by the board of trade in 1774.

*

*

The editor of the Illinois Magazine remarks: “We know one gentleman who made twenty-seven barrels of wine in a single season, from the grapes gathered with but little labor in his immediate neighborhood.”

I have frequently drank of this domestic beverage. Almost any family, if they choose, can pake a barrel or two for their use.

The wild plum is found in every part of the State ; but in most instances the fruit is too sour for use, unless for preserves.

Crab apples are equally prolific, and make fine preserves, with about double their bulk of sugar. Wild cherries are equally productive. The persimmon is a delicious fruit, after the frost has destroyed its astringent properties. The black mulberry grows in most parts, and is used for the feeding of silk-worms with success. They appear to thrive and spin as well as on the Italian mulberry. The gooseberry, strawberry and blackberry grow wild, and in great profusion. Of our nuts, the hickory, black walnut and pecan deserve notice. The last is an oblong, thin-shelled, delicious nut, that grows on a large tree, a species of hickory. (The Carya olivceformis of Nuttall.)

The papaw grows in the bottoms, and rich, timbered uplands, and produces a large, pulpy and delicious fruit.

Of domestic fruits, the apple and peach are chiefly cultivated. Pears are tolerably plenty in the French settlements, and quinces are cultivated with success by some Americans. Apples are easily cultivated, and are very productive. I have seen a tree in Missouri, which bore apples the third year from the seed. Many varieties of fine flavor, and grow to a large size. I have measured apples, the growth of St. Clair county, that exceeded thirteen inches in circumference.

Some of the early American settlers provided orchards. They now reap the advantages. But a large proportion of the population of the frontiers are content without this indispensable article in the comforts of a Yankee farmer.

Cider is made in small quantities in the old settlements. In a few years, a supply of this beverage can be obtained in most parts of Illinois. Peach trees grow with great rapidity, and decay proportionably soon. From ten to fifteen years may be considered the life of this tree. Our peaches are delicious, but they sometimes fail, by being destroyed in the germ by winter frosts. The bud swells prematurely. In the severity of the past winter, most of the young buds, and in some instances the limbs of the tree, have been destroyed.

The following is a memorandum made in the spring of 1830, which will give some idea of the forwardness of our seasons: April 1. Peach trees in bloom.

2. Asparagus fit for the table.
3. Peas, beans and onions planted.
6. Heart's-ease and violets in bloom.
7. Beets, carrots, parsnips and other roots planted.
10. Spring had completely opened, and the prairies were green. Goose-

berry and currant bushes in bloom.
15. Cabbage plants transplanted.
18. Lilac and strawberries in bloom.
19. A great variety of wild flowers in full bloom.
20. Nearly all our garden seeds had been planted.
28. Raspberries in bloom.
27. Lettuce, radishes and pepper-grass fit for use.
30. Roses and honey-suckles in full bloom.

He gave a

A gentleman of Jacksonville, whose veracity may be depended upon, informed us that he saw a cabbage, which was raised on the farm of Major Simms, Diamond Grove, that measured thirteen feet and three inches in circumference. A cabbage head three feet in diameter, or nine feet in circumference, is no novelty in this soil. Beets often grow to the size of sixteen or eighteen inches in circumference.

The cultivated vegetable productions in the field are maize or Indian corn, wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, rye for horse feed and distilleries, tobacco, cotton, hemp, flax, and every other production common to the middle States.

Maize is the staple production. No farmer can live without it, and thousands raise little else. This is chiefly owing to the ease with which it is cultivated. Its average yield is fifty bushels to the acre. We have oftentimes seen it produce seventy-five bushels to the acre, and in a few instances exceed one hundred.

Wheat produces a good and sure crop, especially in Morgan, Sangamon and other counties north. I have weighed the growth of St. Clair county repeatedly, and its average weight per bushel exceeded sixty pounds.

A gentleman of this county harvested a field of thirty acres in 1820. friend one measured acre, which he reaped, threshed it out on the ground (a usaal mode), and cleaned up thirty-five bushels and eight quarts. Some, of course, was wasted. I purchased my wheat, in 1821, of this farmer, from the same field, and weighed several bushels, which averaged sixty-six pounds to the bushel.

A gentleman, and a large wheat grower, emigrated from the interior of New York the same season, with whom I had several disputes about the quality of Illinois wheat; he constantly affirming it could never equal the wheat of the lake country of New York. I took him to a yard in the vicinity, where were twelve or fifteen large stacks of wheat. He pulled out a number of handfuls from different stacks, examined them carefully, and his opinion yielded in a moment. Flour from the Illinois river and from the Boon's lick country, in Missouri, now has preference in the New Orleans market, before Ohio and Kentucky flour. A commission house in St. Louis showed me letters from New Orleans substantiating that fact.

A very common, but bad practice among our farmers, is to sow wheat in the cornfields, amongst the standing corn, in September, and plow it in by running a few furrows between the roots. The dry stalks are cut down in the spring and left on the ground. Even by this imperfect and slovenly mode, fifteen or twenty bushels of wheat to the acre are produced. But where the ground is duly prepared by fallowing, and the seed put in at the proper time, a good wheat crop, averaging from thirty to thirty-five bushels to the acre, rarely fails. The ordinary price of wheat is fifty cents per bushel, and is rather on the rise. Flouring mills begin to be erected, which will create a demand for this article, and if the price of flour abroad should advance, wheat in Illinois will rise in proportion. Considering the cheap. ness of the land, the productiveness of the soil, and the ease with which a crop of wheat is cultivated, compared with the grain-growing States of the north, wheat is a profitable article for the Illinois farmer at fifty cents per bushel. Harvest ordi narily commences the last week in June, and is finished about the fourth of July. The richness of the soil brings the grain to its greatest perfection, while the dryness of the atmosphere protects it from those injuries which are produced by moisture.

Few of our farmers have barns or threshing floors; the grain is put up in stacks, exposed to the weather, and trod out with horses on the ground, with considerable loss and injury; and yet, with all these disadvantages—which time and industry

season.

will overcome the flour of Illinois and Missouri is superior to that of other western States, when properly maufactured.

Maize or Corn. I have already hinted that this species of grain is the staple of the country. An industrious man and one horse will cultivate twenty acres in a

The product may be estimated, on an average, at one thousand bushels. The cultivation and harvesting of this crop, after deducting bad wenther, and other hindrances, will occupy about four months. Corn often sells in the field, after gathering, in the fall at twelve and a half cents per bushel, in the ears-three half bushels of ears heaped, equals one bushel of shelled corn. The value of the crop, then, before it is eribbed, is $125.

One shilling per bushel, New England currency, is a common price after being stored in the crib. In St. Louis, it rarely sells for less than twenty-five cents.

The method of raising a crop of corn, after the prairie sward is broken up, and cultivated a season or two, is extremely simple and cheap. It is a bad practice but & common one, to grow corn on the same ground for years in succession.

In producing a crop of corn, the dry stalks are chopped down in the spring with a hoe, collected in heaps with a horse rake, and burned. A much better practice is to let them rot in the soil, and unless very large, they do not impede the plough. The ground is then plowed up smooth usually with two horses; but if light, one horse will often do this plowing. Good managers then harrow the ground, but thousands do not. The next process is to “list” it; that is, to strike straight furrows through the field, in the proportion of four to a rod, and cross these at right angles. This is usually done with a single horse and a light plow. The corn is then dropped with the hand in the intersection of the furrows, five or six grains in each hill, and covered with the hoe--sometimes with the plaw, by passing a light furrow over it. Soon as the corn is of a suitable hight, the horse and plow must be in the field at an early hour in the morning. An industrious farmer sees the sun rise in his cornfield.

This is now the most busy season of the whole year for the farmer. Then comes the “tug of war” between industry and the weeds. The astonishing rapidity with which every species of vegetation puts forward at this season and in this climate, makes it indispensable for the farmer to be active. Even the class of frontier men who spend one-half of the year in indolence or in hunting excursions, will not neg. lect the corn-field. I have repeatedly observed that the corn-fields of our plodding Yankees, before they become sufficiently acquainted with the country and its habits, look worse for weeds than those of the otherwise careless backwoodsman. After the corn is planted, the hoe is thrown aside, unless casually used to chop down a few large weeds in the hills, and the whole process of cultivation is conducted by the plow. The unphilosophical notion of a New England farmer in hilling corn, is unknown here; and it is a very useless expedient anywhere. Nature has so organized the corn stalk that it will grow out a set of roots, two or three inches above the ground, which strike the earth at a proper distance from the stalk, and serve as supporters. Raising a hill round the plant does a positive injury by preventing these shoots, Corn ordinarily requires three plowings, the last of which is usually performed after wheat harvest, from the 4th to the 12th of July. In luxurious fields it is necessary for the process of suckering to be performed. The sprouts that start out near the roots of the plant are pulled off, and the smaller stalks from the hill thinned out, so as to leave only four healthy stalks. To use the phrase of the country, the corn is then “laid by," and the leisure and lazy season of the farmer commences.

About the middle of September, the corn-fields are again entered to gather the “ blades"—the leaves—wbich are stripped from the stalks below the ears, properly dried, bound in bundles, and saved for fodder. This is the common, rough food, in addition to corn, given to horses, calves, etc. The stalks are sometimes topped and saved.

Corn is frequently planted late in June, and even the first week in July, and cut up before frost for winter food for cattle; and it furnishes a cheap and nutritious diet for stock. The husks are appropriated to a similar purpose.

In breaking up prairie after the grass starts in the spring, which is the best time to subdue the tough sward, corn is sometimes dropped in every fourth furrow, or planted in the newly turned up soil, by striking an axe into the sod and dropping the grain, where it is left to grow spontaneously. Sometimes large quantities of fodder are thus obtained.

Hemp is an indigenous plant in the southern part of this State, as it is in Missouri, It has not been extensively cultivated, but whenever tried is found very productive, and of an excellent quality. It might be made a staple of the country.

Tobacco, though a filthy and noxious weed which no human being ought ever to use, can be produced in any quantity, and of the first quality, in Illinois.

From the county Wayne a good many hogsheads have been annually exported, for some years past, and the result of the experiment has been altogether satisfactory. It has been raised to some extent throughout the southern counties. A few hogsheads, which were sent from Randolph county to New Orleans, some years since, was pronounced by the inspector to be the best ever brought to that market. We could not adduce a stronger proof than this in favor of our soil and climate. The tobacco plant, although coarse in its appearance, is one of the most delicate in the vegetable kingdom. It thrives only in a rich, light and warm soil. It requires to be planted early in the spring, and gathered late in autumn.

Cotton, for many years, has been successfully cultivated in this State for domestic use, and some for exportation. Two or three spinning factories are in operation, and produce cotton yarn from the growth of the country with promising success.

Flax is produced, and of a tolerable quality, but not equal to that of the northern States. It is said to be productive and good in the northern counties.

Barley is raised in St. Clair county for the St. Louis breweries. It yields well, is a sure crop, and sells in St. Louis from thirty-seven and a half to fifty cents per bushel.

The Palma Christi, or castor oil bean, is produced in considerable quantities in Madison, Randolph and other counties, and large quantities of oil are expressed and sent abroad. About twelve thousand gallons will be made in Edwardsville the present season. The bean is a more profitable crop to the farmer than corn, finds a ready market, and sells from seventy-five cents to one dollar per bushel,

Sweet potatoes are a delicious root and yield abundantly, especially on the American bottom, and rich, sandy prairies.

But little has been done to introduce cultivated grasses. The prairie grass looks coarse and unsavory, and yet our horses and cattle will leave the best timothy for it. It is already known to the reader that this grass disappears when the settlements extend round a prairie, and the cattle eat off the young growth in the spring. Con. sequently, in a few years the natural grass no longer exists. This, however, can be preserved by fencing in a tract of fresh prairie and mowing it regularly every season, or burning it over in the fall. In this way excellent meadows can be kept forever.

« PreviousContinue »