EARLY SETTLERS OF SANGAMON COUNTY - 1876
By John Carroll Power
These biographies were submitted by a researcher and evidently abstracted from the 1876 History of Sangamon County, IL. Errors could occur, so one should always verify the correctness by obtaining copies of vitals and performing all necessary research to document what is contained herein.
ILES , ELIJAH, Was born Mar. 7 1796, in what was then Fayette county, KY., about sixty miles east of Lexington. his grandfather was an Englishman, and his grandmother Welch. Thomas Iles, the father of Elijah Iles, was born in Chester county, Pa., in 1765, emigrated to Kentucky about the year 1790, married Elizabeth Crockett, a relative of David Crockett. Their five children were Mary, Elijah, William, Washington and Elizabeth. The latter was eight days old when the mother died. Elijah, the subject of this sketch, attended school for two winters, where reading, writing and arithmetic were the highest branches taught. He became proficient in these studies, and taught school himself two winters. His father then gave him $300 with which he bought one hundred head of yearling cattle. These he herded among the mountains in the eastern part of Kentucky, about twenty miles outside of civilization, on the Little Sandy river. Here he camped, his only companions being his horse, clog, gun, mills cow and the cattle. These list he shifted from one valley to another, wintering the cattle without grain, and they would be in tolerable condition in the spring. His meals generally consisted of a stew made of bear meat, venison, turkey, and a piece of fit bacon. He baked his corn bread on a johnny-cake board or in the ashes. This, together with sweet milk (not skimmed) and honey, he thought good living, and although alone, enjoyed life. Sometimes the young men from Lexington and Paris would join him for a hunt, always bringing good whisky and other refreshments. He sold his cattle, in three years, for about ten dollars a head, realizing a large sum of money for that time, and with this left for Missouri, on horseback, arriving at St. Louis in 1818 which was only a French village of 2,500 inhabitants. From there he went to Old Franklin, Mo., opposite where Brownsville now stands. Here he engaged as clerk in a store, and acted as land agent for eastern capitalists. He retrained there three years, investing his money in lands. In 1821 he visited Kentucky; returning, he passed through central Illinois. There were no roads then, and his only guide from Vincennes to Vandalia, and from the latter place to the Sangamon valley, was the surveyors stakes. He was so much pleased with what is now Sangamon county that he determined to locate here, and returned to Missouri to sell some of his land and collect some money. Proceeding to Illinois, on horseback, he crossed the Mississippi river at the present town of Louisiana, swan his horse across the mouth of the Illinois river, rode from there to Carrolton, thence to Diamond Grove, near where Jacksonville now stands. There he found a settlement. From there he proceeded by way of Island Grove to the head of Spring creek, and thence to Springfield, arriving in June, 1821, just after it had been made the temporary county seat of Sangamon county, which embraced all of Illinois north of Greene and Madison counties. The inhabitants of Springfield consisted of the families of Charles R. Matheny, John and William Kelly, Andrew Elliott, Levi D. and Jacob Ellis, Lanterman Little and Lindsay. Mr. Iles boarded with John Kelly about a year. He describes it as being the best boarding house he ever had, before or since. Two of Mr. Kelley's brothers were hunters, and the table was well supplied with venison, wild turkey, prairie chickens, squirrels and fresh fish. The bread was the old fashioned hoe cake, with plenty of milk and honey. Soon after domiciling himself at Mr. Kelly's, Mr. Iles concluded to visit some friends north of the Sangamon river. Arriving at the stream he found the banks full, and a horn left on the south side, opposite the ferry, to be blown by persons desiring to cross. Mr. Iles blew this horn, at intervals, for several hours, but failed to attract the attention of the ferryman. Despairing of crossing for that day, he returned to Springfield that night, and the next day started again, with the same result. He returned the second night to Springfield, and the third day, by loud and continuous blowing, he succeeded in crossing and visiting his friends. On returning, Mr. Iles contracted for the building of a log store, sixteen feet square, with a shed attached, and set out on horseback for St. Louis, to buy goods. He remained four weeks, and bought fifteen hundred dollars worth of merchandise, consisting of wrought iron, pot metal, dry goods and groceries. Mr. Iles loaded these on a keel boat, which was towed up the Mississippi by six men having a rope, which they pulled from the shore. He found but one house at Alton, one at the mouth of the Illinois river, and an empty cabin, built by Mr. Beard, where Beardstown now stands. Here he was landed with his goods, and the men returned with their boat, leaving Mr. Iles alone on the bank in a wilderness. He paid seventy-five dollars freight to Beardstown. After a month's delay, he succeeded in bringing all his goods to Springfield, and opened the first store in town, July, 1821 The Indians were about as numerous as the whites, and his sales were about equal. Everyone seemed honest, and he often left his store open. The Indians paid him in furs and undressed deerskins. The whites in silver coin, homemade jeans, and cotton and linen cloth, beeswax, honey, butter, etc. His trips to St. Louis were made an horseback. Silver was the only currency. This he carried in saddlebags, thrown over the saddle, and when he stopped at a house on the way, took them in, dropping them behind the door of the room he entered, without fear of their being molested. Indeed, any one traveling with money in those days rather made a show of it, to impress the early settlers with their importance. When Mr. Iles' first stock was reduced, he locked the store, leaving the key with Mr. Matheny, and left for St. Louis, in perfect confidence that all would be safe; but on his return found the store had been robbed of nearly everything. About a month afterwards he heard of a man by the name of Cotteral, who had been living with two families by the name of Percifield, on the bluffs, not far from where Naples now stands, traveling with a two-horse wagon, and peddling such goods as were stolen from him. Mr. Iles took an officer and searched the Percifields, finding goods like his, but could not identify them, as the marks were removed, so he abandoned the search. Several persons were robbed about this time, and his searching the Percifields led to the belief that they were the thieves, and a regulating company, headed by Murray McConnell, drove them from the country. Mr. Iles heard afterwards that one was hung and the other sent to the penitentiary. Aside from this, Mr. Iles believes no country was ever settled by a more honest and industrious people. He invested in land as soon as it came into market, and among his entries was the southwest quarter of section twenty-seven, town sixteen north, range five west, being the northeast part of the present city of Springfield. This entry was made in 1823, at one dollar and a quarter per acre. P. P. Enos, D. P. Cook and Thomas Cox entered the other three-quarters of the section joining his on the southwest corner. This is near the intersection of Washington and Second streets. These four laid off the original town plat, the title being, by agreement, in the names of P. P. Enos and Elijah Iles. The legislature of 1825, then meeting in Vandalia, appointed three Commissioners to locate the county seat of Sangamon. The competing points were Springfield, Sangamo, about seven miles northwest, on the Sangamon river; a point near the mouth of Spring creek, and one on Prairie creek, near Salisbury. The Commissioners had visited, on horseback, all the competing points except Springfield and the one near the mouth of Spring creek. A strong opposition had sprung up between the two latter points, owing to the efforts of a land company, which had bought up the Spring creek site for a speculation. But Messrs. Enos and Iles were too shrewd for them, and they employed Andrew Elliott to pilot the Commissioners to the Spring creek site. He was, of course, a Springfield man, so he concluded to take them the longest and roughest route he knew of. There were neither bridges or roads, so he had it all his own way, and they swam several creeks, waded through marshes and almost impenetrable thicket, but finally arrived at the place, and pronounced it a fine site for a city, but suggested that the people who were to fill it might never find it. And they directed Mr. Elliott to take them by a more direct route, but the return route was even more perilous than the other. By this time the Commissioners were convinced that the Spring creek site was inaccessable, and, on a promise from Messrs. Enos and Iles that they would give the county forty-five acres of land, and what was of more consequence to the Commissioners, namely, cashing their warrants issued at a dollar a day for their services, they decided to locate the county seat permanently at Springfield. This forty-five acres include the old State house square. A court house was built on Jefferson street, between First and Second, of rough logs, and the space between them filled with black mud. It consisted of one room, thirty feet square, without a floor, a small platform was erected for the judge, and the jury on retiring had all outdoors for their deliberations. When court was not in session, which was the greater part of the time, the room was used as a refuge for emigrants until more permanent quarters could be provided. In 1826, Elijah Iles was elected a State Senator, and again in 1830.
In 1827, the Winnebago Indians became troublesome. Troops were called for, and Mr. Iles was elected Major of the regiment commanded by Col. Tom M. Neal. On arriving at Galena, they found the Indians suing for peace; a treaty was made, and the troops disbanded. This was the Winnebago war. The Black Hawk war occurred in 1831 and a regiment was raised in this part of the State. Major Iles was a private in one of the companies from Springfield. See sketch of the Black Hawk war, page 54. In this expedition were Gen. Stillman, commanding; Zachary Taylor, afterwards President; Lieut. Jeff. Davis, afterwards President of the Confederacy; Abraham Lincoln, Hon. John T. Stuart, Gen. Harney, William S. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton; Lieut. Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame; Major Fry, and many others, who afterwards became distinguished. They had some skirmishes with the Indians, and were discharged. Volunteers were called for to protect the frontier, until new recruits could be brought forward. A battallion was formed, and Mr. Iles was elected Captain of a company. He insists that he was the least qualified of any of them for the office, and he was chosen because the aspiring members were envious of each other. But it is more than probable that his qualifications were as good as any of them. The title of Major still clings to Mr. Iles, and has become almost part of his name. In 1838 and '9, he built the American House (now the Central Hotel), located on the southeast corner of Sixth and Adams streets. This was the largest hotel at the time in Illinois, and created a greater sensation while building than the Leland, which was built in 1866, at a cost of $350,000.
In the early settlement of Illinois, Major Iles invested largely in land, that became valuable in after years, placing him in independent circumstances. He has reached a ripe old age, and enjoys the respect and confidence of ALL WHO KNOW HIM. He was a member of the committee to secure the removal of the State capital from Vandalia to Springfield.
In I824 Elijah Iles was married, in Springfield, to Melinda Benjamin, a native of Lima, Livingston county, N. Y. They had two children, namely: