Monthly Archives: May 2016

Lewis, Clark, Boone, Earp, Wayne: Illinois’ entertaining historical coincidences…

Random coincidences are some of the things that make the study of history so interesting.

Daniel Boone House

The sturdy Daniel Boone home in Defiance, Missouri may come as a surprise to those who think he lived in log cabins all his life. A talented blacksmith, he handcrafted the home’s locks, hinges, and other hardware.

For instance, in May 1804, Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark and their Corps of Discovery pushed off into the Mississippi River from Wood River, Illinois and headed up the Missouri River. The expedition’s goal was to explore the huge Louisiana Territory President Thomas Jefferson had bought from Spain and determine if there was a practical trade route to the Pacific Ocean.

Although just under way, Lewis and Clark decided to make a brief stop just a bit upstream from St. Louis. They had been told the old explorer, soldier, and settler Daniel Boone was living just a few miles away, and so they decided to stop by to see what the old pathfinder might be able to tell them.

So, the story goes, the pair visited Boone to ask about the techniques they might use and dangers they should be on the lookout for while exploring the West. The picture of the two eager young explorers conferring with the grand old man of frontier adventure is a fascinating one. But then Boone was a fascinating fellow in his own right, something you find right away when you visit his imposing three-storey Pennsylvania-style stone house (and you thought he lived in a log cabin!), which is still standing and lovingly maintained in the hamlet of Defiance, Missouri, just west of St. Charles. And thus did three of the three greatest explorers the U.S. has produced get together to chat.

Illinois history is sprinkled with such coincidences, and they are often the things that make reading about it so much fun.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was a legendary lawman in the Old West. His father, Nicholas, a town constable in Monmouth, Illinois, didn’t get along with a faction in town led by Presbyterian Marion Morrison.

For instance, a 1997 issue of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society had an interesting article about Wyatt Earp’s father, Nicholas P. Earp. We all know the story about Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil and Doc Holiday at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz. But few of us know their introduction to law enforcement came from their father, Nicholas, who was the town constable of Monmouth, Illinois, located on U.S. Route 34 in western Illinois’ Warren County.

Just like his sons, Nicholas didn’t get along with the local power structure. He had continual run-ins with a band of local ministers, lawyers, newspaper editors, and officials from Monmouth College, at that time a strictly religious school. Nicholas not only had strong personal views, but was also distrustful of reformers of any stripe. His problems stemmed from his relative unconcern with enforcing Monmouth’s temperance ordinance, which was favored by local Republicans (the temperance party) and influential Presbyterian congregations. Liquor was supposed to be sold only by druggists for medicinal purposes, but Nicholas and his brother Walter Earp were in favor of a liberal interpretation of the law (including what “medicinal” really meant) and came down on the side of their friends, the drug store owners. One of the Earps’ antagonists was a fellow named Marion Morrison, a staunch Presbyterian and temperance man.

John Wayne.jpg

John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Mitchell Morrison, was the namesake of Wyatt Earp’s father’s political enemy. It is too bad Wayne never played Earp in one of his films or a historical circle might have been completed.

And that’s where the historical coincidence comes in. Marion Morrison, the political enemy of Wyatt Earp’s father, it turns out, was the great-uncle of actor John Wayne who made his name in western movies. In fact, the Earps’ enemy, Morrison, was the actor’s namesake. John “Duke” Wayne’s real name was, of course, Marion Mitchell Morrison. John Wayne never played Wyatt Earp in the movies, but if he had it would have made for some nicely symmetrical history.

The Illinois historical event that arguably had the most historical coincidences was the Black Hawk War of 1832. The unequal conflict was fought between a rag-tag band of Sauk, Fox, and Potawatomi Indians led by the influential Sauk warrior Black Hawk on one side and the Illinois militia and U.S. Army on the other. The coincidences abound in the roster of those fighting against the Indians, which appears to be a veritable Who’s Who of Civil War personages.

For instance, not only did Abraham Lincoln, future U.S. President during the Civil War, participate in the Black Hawk War, but so did U.S. Army Lt. Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy. Lincoln, a young Illinois storekeeper at the time, served in the militia, where he was elected captain of his militia

Abraham Lincoln

A young Abraham Lincoln served in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War, along with several men who would be his allies and enemies during the Civil War.

company. Davis served near the end of the war doing various administrative tasks. To add to the interest, both Lincoln and Davis were born in Kentucky, Davis to a moderately wealthy family and Lincoln to a very poor one.

In the aftermath of the Black Hawk War, one of the tasks Davis was ordered to undertake was to escort the Sauk and Fox prisoners, including Black Hawk, to prison. He was under the orders of another U.S. Army lieutenant named Robert Anderson. Almost 30 years later, Anderson, then a major, would be in command of Ft. Sumter when it was fired upon by South Carolina secessionist forces loyal to his one-time brother-in-arms, Jefferson Davis.

The aide-de-camp of Gen. Henry Atkinson, the U.S. Army commander on the scene during virtually the entire Black Hawk War was another young U.S. Army lieutenant named Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston later served in the army of the Republic of Texas from 1834-37, and was named the Republic’s secretary of war in 1838. Later, he moved back to the U.S., rejoined the U.S. Army, and served on the western frontier with the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment until the

Jefferson Davis

Lt. Jefferson Davis was one of the U.S. Army officers who served during the Black Hawk War, and who eventually turned their coats during the Civil War. Davis served as the Confederate States of America’s only president.

Civil War broke out. He resigned his commission, went home and was appointed a Confederate major general to fight against his old comrades. A friend and favorite of President Jefferson Davis (with whom he had served during the Black Hawk War), Johnston was killed in action at Shiloh in 1862.

The other major Civil War personage to serve in the Black Hawk War was Gen. Winfield Scott. Scott led the U.S. Army reinforcements who arrived (carrying the dreaded Asiatic cholera disease with them) in Chicago in the summer of 1832, and he helped mop up after the Black Hawk War. When the Civil War broke out, Scott was the U.S. Army’s commander. And while’s Scott’s “Anaconda Plan” to squeeze the Confederacy into submission by dividing the Confederacy by controlling the Mississippi River and attacking it all around the periphery came in for derisive criticism at the time. In the end, the basic points of Scott’s strategy were adopted piecemeal and became the eventual strategy Abraham Lincoln adopted to defeat the South.

Historical coincidences can sometimes offer important insights into the motivations driving historical events. Mostly, though, they’re just plain fun.

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The time they tried turning Model T Fords into farm tractors

Had to go here and there over the weekend, and couldn’t help but notice all the water standing in fields here in the Fox Valley.

While I was up north trying to entice nice plump walleyes to take my bait, it apparently rained a lot around these parts. Farmers who were lucky enough to get their crops planted in those fields now sporting ponds of various sizes will be forced to replant. These days, it’s expensive in energy, seed, and fertilizer costs, but at least it’s doable. Back in the day before motorized farm equipment, such a condition could lead to economic disaster.

When World War I broke out, farmers in Europe and North America almost exclusively farmed with horses. From pulling plows and other soil preparation equipment to providing the power to run elevators and other on-the-farm equipment, the horse was king.

Steam tractors had been in use for decades prior to that time, but they were mostly used simply to tow threshing machines and their related equipment from farm to farm, upon which they supplied stationary steam power via pulley and belt to run the machines.

1912 Rumely Oil Pull

The kerosene-fueled Rumely Oil Pull was one of the first popular internal combustion engine farm tractors. Heavy, underpowered, and expensive, they weren’t overwhelmingly popular.

But with the continuing development and perfection of the internal combustion engine, change was on the horizon by 1914. By then, a few tractors with kerosene-fueled internal combustion engines had already appeared on farms around the country. The new machines were still big, expensive, underpowered, and often unreliable, and farmers were concerned that they had to purchase fuel for them instead of growing it on their farms like they did for their horse teams.

When war broke out, however, the European armies began buying huge numbers of horses and that, to the consternation of U.S. farmers, caused the price of even mediocre horseflesh to skyrocket.

On Dec. 9, 1914, Hugh R. Marshall reported in the Kendall County Record that: “A representative of the Montreal Horse Company, who was in Yorkville last week, gives some interesting information. He was here buying [horses] for the artillery and cavalry of the European armies and says that England and France have placed orders for 80,000 horses…The average price now being paid for horses is about $110 each, he says, and if the present demand continues an ordinary plug horse will next summer be worth $300.”

When the U.S. entered the war three years later, the demand for horses just kept climbing. But by then, tractor manufacturers were working hard to perfect their machines, none more so than Chicago’s International Harvester Company. By the time the U.S. entered the war, IHC was marketing Titan tractors along with their own IHC brand.

Moline two-wheeled tractorIn 1910, there were just 10 tractor manufacturing companies in the U.S. By 1920, the number had skyrocketed to 190 companies. Most of the machines being produced were of the familiar wide front end four-wheel design, although three-wheeled tractors and four-wheeled tractors with narrow front ends were not uncommon. And starting in 1913, the Moline Plow Co. in Moline, Ill. had begun manufacturing a two-wheeled tractor, sort of like a giant modern garden tractor, designed for use with a variety of attachments, including plows, harrows, planters, cultivators, and mowers.

But tractors, even two-wheeled Moline Universals, were expensive and farmers, always short on ready cash, were looking for something cheaper.

1917 27 Jun 20th Cent Farm HorseEnter American ingenuity.

By 1917, the Ford Motor Company had manufactured two million Model T’s. In their myriad of variants, Model T’s were everywhere doing about everything a motor vehicle could be modified to do. So it was almost a natural progression when some bright inventors created Model T add-on attachments to transform the ubiquitous vehicles into lightweight farm tractors.

In Yorkville here in Kendall County, while Hemm and Zeiter were selling two-wheeled Moline Universals and Jacob Armbruster was marketing hardy 10-20 Titans, J.E. Price became the local dealer for the 20th Century Farm Horse, an eyebrow raising tractor attachment for the Model T.

Manufactured by the Farm Tractor Company at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the attachment kit cost $190, a fraction of the cost of a new traditional tractor. For that amount, the purchaser received a kit that bolted onto the rear of a Model T frame, replacing the Ford’s rear wheels and differential with a sturdy two-wheeled carriage and heavier differential featuring two large steel wheels with lug treads.

As Price’s ad in the June 27, 1917 Record put it: “The 20th Century Farm Horse is guaranteed to equip any Ford car to do the work of 3 to 4 horses on any farm. Why pay $700 or $800 for a heavy tractor when your Ford will do the work for one-fifth the money?”

20th Century Farm Horse in action

After bolting the 20th Century Farm Horse attachment onto his Model T Ford, the farmer still had to figure out how to use it, especially with some tow-behind equipment like this farmer’s binder. It often wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Indeed, it seemed like a tempting deal. “Not only is the original cost small, but the cost of running is away less than horse feed,” Price contended. “They don’t eat when not in use. They don’t get tired. Flies don’t bother them. In hot harvest weather they don’t drop in the harness. In the rush season, plowing can be done at night by means of the Ford headlights. When the plowing season is over, two hours’ work and you have a Ford pleasure car.”

So, what wasn’t to like? Well, it turned out that while Model T’s were perfectly fine for driving around the countryside on the often-terrible roads of the era, they really weren’t built to be driving across farm fields pulling agricultural implements. The kits not only lacked air and oil filters to prevent damage to the Model T’s engine, but there was no additional oil capacity for the engine crankcase.

Actual tractors of that era were, according to The Agricultural Digest of November 1917, designed for three major purposes: belt purposes, heavy drawbar work, and light cultivation work. The 20th Century Farm Horse was fine, it appeared, for light cultivation work. But it was less able for heavy drawbar work—pulling plows and other such tasks—and totally unsuited for belt work. What was belt work? Tractors were expected to be able to use their power take-off pulley to power grain elevators, threshing machines, hay presses (stationary hay balers), and other equipment. Model T’s were built without any sort of a power take-off.

Still, the lure of only having to buy one complete motor vehicle that could be quickly transformed from the family auto into a tractor and back again was a strong one.

Intrigued by the idea, The Agriculture Digest conducted a trial with a 20th Century Farm Horse and, unfortunately, found it wanting. The machine was barely capable of pulling a two-bottomed plow through even mildly heavy soil. Further, the two-hour change-over promised in Farm Horse ads was wildly optimistic, the magazine found. In fact, it became almost standard practice to buy an old Model T and just leave the Farm Horse attachment permanently installed.

The era of tractor attachments for autos was a brief one, ending by the mid-1920s. And there is no telling how many—or few—Kendall County farmers bought into the idea. But farm equipment collectors still prize these unusual vestiges of the era when farm mechanization was just getting a good start in the U.S.

 

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