Hardin County

William L. Davis

A man who was born in Hardin County only 17 years after it became a county, who has lived his entire life in Cave-in-Rock or its vicinity, is William Lenticum Davis, born on 1 Aug. 1855. "Uncle Bill" is nearly the age of 84 years, but is more active in body and mind than many a younger person. From his own recollections, he can give much information concerning the customs and activities of those who contributed to the making of Hardin County history during the latter half of the 19th century.
Some of those residing in Hardin County think that the County was named here in Illinois for Hardin County, KY. from where many residents came, as Elizabethtown, Illinois was named after Elizabethtown, KY.
But Uncle Bill Davis claims that there was a Henry Hardin who helped electioneer for Dr. Dunn, and when he was elected to the State Legislature from Equality, Dr. Dunn had the state legislaturers name new county Hardin County for his campaigner.
Mr. Davis said he didn't know Henry Hardin, but he did know his grand son, Frank Hardin, who lived where Lewis Davis lives now.
Mr. Davis was born on the farm known as the Harry Frayser Place, one half mile north east of Cave-in-Rock. When questioned as to the origin of his unusual middle name, he said that "Lenticum" was the surname of a physician who practiced medicine in this vicinity at the time of his birth. He was their family doctor and he requested the mother to name her baby, her first born child, after him, which she did.
Uncle Bill's father was George F. Davis, born in Alexander County, North Carolina. His mother before her marriage, was Mary Jane Frailey and was born on the John Tyre Place, being the daughter of the late Daniel Frailey. His grandfather Davis came to Hardin County early in the century. Two of his friends, Johnnie Simmons and Arch Lackey came here first. They wrote back to him and told him how much better the land was here than in North Carolina. So he came bringing his wife and four sons, Jeremiah, Peter, Bob and George with him. He left another son, the uncle for whom the subject of the sketch was named, in North Carolina. He also left three daughters there.
When he arrived in Hardin County he located on the top of Smyrna Hill and farmed there until the age of 84. He then lived with his oldest daughter Mrs. Betty Simmons until the time of his death four years later. His son George married Mary Jane Frailey and located on the farm where William Lenticum was born. At that time it belonged to her father, Daniel Frailey. Daniel Frailey met a tragic death June 17, 1865, 6 weeks before the birth of his grandson William Lenticum Davis. While he and his son, Philip, were cutting wheat, a storm came up. They ran to the barn for shelter and were both struck by lightning. It is said that they were buried on the farm where the family of Adiel Douglas lives. From the above, we note that some wheat was raised in this county at that time, though not in great quantities. Uncle Bill says that it was beaten out of the husks with poles and separated from the chaff by the wind. Mr. Davis had three sisters and two brothers, but of these only one brother, Dan Davis, survive. He also lives near Cave-in-Rock. The parents of these two men are buried in the old Cave-in-Rock Cemetery.
William L. Davis was married to Miss Martha Elizabeth Smock, 11 September 1879 at the Rittenhouse farm by John Jack a justice of the peace. Two daughters and two sons were born to them. Only two sons survive, Tot Davis of Chicago and Edgar Davis near Cave-in-Rock. There are only five grand children. C.D. Adams of Chicago, and Wayne, Pauline, Wanda and Shirley Davis, children of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Davis, with whom he now makes his home.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis began their married life on the Jim Ledbetter farm. Fifteen dollars was the sum which he had to furnish his home. He bought a stove for $10.00 and 2 bed steads at $2.50 a piece. He made a table and put a dry goods box in the corner of the kitchen for a cupboard. His mother gave him 12 lbs of feathers and he bought a tick. He also filled some beds with dry grass.
Later they moved to a box house built by Marion Devers near Oak Grove school. They lived there three years, then moved to the Dr. Dunn Place. From there they went to the Eb Dossett Place and then to the Bee Edmondson Place near the Bend of the River. After a year at Little Saline they moved to the farm recently purchased by the Mahoney Mining Co. There Mr. Davis lived for more than 36 years, until the house burned Dec. 23, 1938, while he was away from home. During all of these years he was a farmer. He especially enjoyed handling and trading in stock, having shipped many car loads of animals to Cincinnati and St. Louis. Mrs. Davis died 3 March 1926; but Mr. Davis continued to live on his farm until the burning of his house when he moved to the home of his son. He has been affiliated with the IOOF Lodge of Cave in Rock for many years, though he is not at present an active member. He has spent his time farming has never filled a public office but once. He served as a County Commissioner one 3 year term beginning in 1934. John Joiner and Vol Ferrell were the other Commissioners at that time. His health is good and he can read his newspaper without the aid of glasses.
He says he "was never arrested and never paid a nickel fine". He says he thinks this is due to the fact that once when he was just a small lad his father took him for a visit to the old log jail house in Elizabethtown. There he saw a man lying on an old straw bed. The unpleasant surroundings filled him with disgust and fear. His father said to him then "If you will be a good and law abiding citizen you will never have to go there." This made such an impression on him that he determined never to spend any time in jail.
Among other memories of his childhood, Mr. Davis recalls his school days when he was 7 or 8 years old. He attended school on the 2nd floor of the Hill property now occupied by Everett McConnell, one of the two oldest buildings in Cave-in-Rock. This was only a temporary arrangement while work was being done on the old log school house on the hill, the building now occupied by Bertis Douglas and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Frailey.
The first teacher he remembers was a man named Threlkheld. The benches were split logs. There was no desks, slates or blackboards. Shelves were place along the wall. The pupils stood up to write with their goose quill pens dipped in pokeberry ink. The text books were few, chief among them being the old Websters blue backed spelling book.
In 1867 his father moved across the river to Kentucky, but as the school over there was hard to reach, Mr. Davis stayed over here with his grand father and attended the old Tyre School which stood in the woods almost directly where the road now runs in front of the home of Dewey Green. His teacher there was named Casad. Other pupils he recalls were Katherine Boyd, Hiram Belt, Mary Wingate, Em Wingate, Bud Cullison and John and Will Jenkins, none of whom are now living.
Mr. Davis said when he was six or seven years old there was a large pond at the north end of Cave-in-Rock, about where the homes of Charles Cage and Carl Frayser now stand. A man named Wolray had a flour milll there and he recalls how he used to go there and help turn the bolting machine. There was also a saw mill and a tram road which ran from it to the river.
While he was too young to enlist at the time of the Civil War, he remembers hearing the cannon from distant battle fields. no battles were fought near here, but he recalls seeing the soldiers when they came home on their furloughs. There was a big barbecue given for these soldiers at the Dunn Place west of the Dunn Springs near where he lives now.
Once while he and his sisters were searching for ginseng near their home in Kentucky they found a great pile of muskets carbides and shot guns. Evidently was left there by soldiers. He says that ginseng was plentiful in Hardin County then. It was found near paw paw growth. Searching for it was a common occupation in those days. It could be taken to Shawneetown and sold for 75 cents or a dollar a pound. He says a man named Hobbs made his living selling ginseng, pinkroot, and yellow puccoon.
Mr. Davis was not a hunter but he remembers seeing trees loaded with pigeons feeding upon chinkapins. These pigeons were probably those known as passenger pigeons, a kind entirely extent now. He said that red or fox squirrels which are seldom if ever seen, in the woods now, were numerous in the 60's and 70's.
While the early pioneers had to wrest their living from the soil, they enjoyed some forms of recreation. Their social gatherings consisted largely of "wood choppings" "clearing" and "rail maulings" accompanied by dances at night. The music was furnished by old-time fiddlers. Mr. Davis says that he thinks half of the county, which was then thickly wooded was cleared by this means. A farmer in need of such work would invite in all the men and boys in the surrounding country. They cut the timber, maul the rails, and made ties. Sometimes three or four thousand ties would be split in one day. The men of that generation in this county as well as others, did not realize the value of the timber and were wasteful of it to a degree which would be condemned by those of later generation. Great quantities of fine logs were burned just to get them out of the way. The gatherings just described were also attended by the women, who came to do the cooking and remained for the dancing. Sometimes these affairs would last for several days.
Another sport which furnished amusement then as now, was horse racing. A half mile track lay along the river bank between the two sloughs at Cave-in-Rock. The river bank was then almost straight up and down and ten or 12 feet high. Among those who raced on the rack was Riley Barker, an uncle of George Perry, and Mrs. Ella Moore of Cave-in-Rock.
When the farmers had their land cleared they began to raise Irish Potatoes. Enormous quantities of potatoes were raised and shipped on flat boats to New Orleans and other cities in Louisiana. At one time in the early 80's Judge Tyre's place raised 300 bushes to the acre on 10 acres. They sold for from 20 to 25 cents per bushel or sometimes as high as 60 cents. Seven flat boats lay at the landing at one time. They were owned by the late Joe Mason, Judge Tyre, Capt. John Gregory, Johnnie Goodwin a man named Boswell and one named Hardwick. A stranger whose name Mr. Davis could not recall owned the other boat. Ox teams brought the potatoes to town. Those not shipped were stored in large cellars in town. At the time when these seven boats were loaded, four cellars were also filled. Sometimes the line of wagons reached from the corner where the Methodist Church now stands out on the street north past the Mrs. Betty Mahan Property. Apples and corn were shipped on steamboats. The great production of potatoes later made the land less fertile. Then the farmers began to turn their attention to the raising of stock. The cattle and hogs were shipped on the steam boats which made regular trips up and down the river.
Among the most interesting recollections of Mr. Davis are those concerning the development of the business life at Cave-in-Rock. The first stores which he remembers were those in operation during the war. Sam Barley and Ross Lattimore had a store near where Joe Beavers now lives, but as there was a street then on the river bank it faced towards the river. Barley at first had a store on a boat. Later he sold it and moved to the John Ledbetter farm near Cave-in-Rock, a farm which was settled in 1818, the year Illinois became a state. At about the same time Peter Meyers operated a trading boat near where the ferry landing now is. An old Englishman, whom he recalls "Uncle Dickie Thomas" sold whisky during the war in the building now occupied by Rigsby Cafe and the family of Ray Lambert. He had a large cellar. George Perry recalls how he and Charlie Frayser carried potatoes to that cellar while the owner, Charles's father. lay dying.
John Goodwin built a large storeroom where the Methodist Church now stands. It was the building which was torn down when the new church was built. The building where the Post Office now is was built by the late Capt. John Gregory. Mr. Davis remembers seeing the material collected there for it. W.H. Hill, James Ledbetter, Bill Smith, and John R. Oxford were among those who operated stores in the building. Joe Thornton and Jim Simpson owned a store where the Reed grocery now is. The saloon above mentioned owned by Dickie Thomas was later torn down and replaced with a large store building built by John Lowry. The corner adjoining Ab's cafe was occupied by a store and Post Office building owned by the late Webb Pell. The late Dr. Hill bought property owned by a Dr. Mozee, moved in from Mt. Zion and built a store on the lot between the home of C.C. Kerr and the Hill property, occupied by Everett McConnell. A store operated by John Thornton burned down and was replaced with the Masonic building.
The Hardin County State bank building was built by John Lowry in 1904. Other names mentioned among former prominent business men were George Shearer, Dr. Green, Armstrong, Riley and Holderman.
Among the first physicians who ever practiced in Cave-in-Rock was a Dr. Binkley, who bought 80 acres out at the sinks and deadened the timber, but never cultivated the land. He later went to Shawneetown and then to Chicago where he died.
Dr. Dunn, father of Mrs. Willie Dutton and the late Tot Dunn, moved from Equality to Hardin County and bought the place wheich is still called the Dunn farm at the head of the Big Sinks. Squire Henry Hardin also moved from Gallatin County and bought what is now the Dan Davis Place. They are the ones who were instrumental in the naming of the county. ["Uncle Bill Davis Knew Hardin." (Elizabethtown, Ill.) Hardin County Independent. Feb. 23, 1939. 68:9.]

Submitted by Wanda (Patton) Reed

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