This township is one of the best watered in the county. It is crossed by Scattering Point Creek in its western part; by Rook’s Creek, from which it receives its name, through the eastern and central portions; by the Vermilion River, in the northwest corner, and variously traversed by numerous small tributaries of these streams. The eastern and northern parts are well timbered, though the large trees fell before the axe of the pioneer, and by the old water mills were rapidly converted into lumber.
Away from the streams, the surface of the township is rather undulating, and well adapted to stock grazing. The land is very productive, and many of the farmers confine their occupation to raising grain. In the early settlement of the township, wheat was one of the principal crops grown. Of late years, however, corn has done better and is now the principal grain crop grown. Oats and rye do well and are raised to a limited extent.
The earliest settlement is this township dates prior to the Black Hawk war. It is a noticeable fact, and one the reader cannot well pass by in these pages, that all early settlers located near the timber. There were many causes tending this move. The majority came from a wooded country, and, not knowing the prairie could be cultivated and having no implements with which to do it, had they desired, allowed it to remain as nature formed it. Being accustomed to log cabins, large fireplaces (and who of such does not yet love to linger over the wide old fireplace?), with the blazing log fire, they very naturally sought for the same comforts in their new home. Coal was not then to be had; hence we find the pioneers of Western life, with scarce an exception, taking their claims near the timber, and in many cases, planting their first crops there.
The first settler in the township was Roderick Rook, from whom the creek and the township afterward received each its name. He brought his family here in the latter part of 1830, and located a claim where is now the farm of Nathan Huston. Mr. Rook came from Pennsylvania to the Sucker State, and though this part was then a wilderness, with hardly an inhabitant, with his German pertinacity, he stuck boldly out for it, and that year found a suitable home and determined to locate.
At that date, there was not a sign of civilization where Pontiac now stands, and not a village in this part of Illinois could be found. The nearest point was Bloomington, on the south, then scarcely worth the name of that village. Ottawa, on the north, was just coming into notice; Chicago was a small trading village, with more Indians than white men; Springfield was only small town; Jacksonville had about 200 inhabitants; while “Egypt” was the “land of corn and wine” to many a frontier settler, who replenished his crop of corn from that locality when nature failed him or his supply was exhausted.
Mr. Rook built a small cabin immediately on his arrival and began the subjugation of his pioneer farm. Mr. John Johnson, who followed him in 1833, thinks he came in the spring of 1831, and raised a crop that season. He is certain he preceded Mr. Garret Blue, the second settler in the present bounds of Rook’s Creek Township, whom he thinks came in the autumn of 1831. Mr. Rook remained on his claim until about 1835, when he sold to Robert Breckenridge and went to Missouri. From that State as though desirous of getting farther in advance of settlements, he went to Texas. In all his removals, his family remained with him, and with him went to the Lone Star State.
Mr. Blue’s family consisted of his wife and several children. Mrs. Johnson thinks a daughter of his, Keziah, was the first white child born here, and that the marriage of another daughter, May, to Lemuel Barrett, was the first nuptial event in the settlement. “We generally had a frolic, when a marriage occurred in the neighborhood,” said Mrs. Johnson, in a conversation with the writer, “but when Mary was married; there wasn’t enough to make a frolic if we had invited everybody on the creek.” Weddings were a source of great pleasure to the pioneers, and when one occurred, everybody was always invited. A great affront could not have been given than to have omitted inviting any neighbor to a wedding. It was rarely if ever, done, and only when a feud or an ill feeling existed between the family of the groom or bride and some of their neighbors – a state of feeling rarely existing. A settlement of a few families was made on the eastern side of Rook’s Creek about 1831 or 1832, by a Mr. Hill, David Kinkaid, and a Mr. Moxley. These persons, it seems made a very short stay, removing in a year or two after their settlement. They were, no doubt, only looking for a permanent location, and not feeling satisfied with the country here, soon left for other parts. While living her, Mrs. Hill died. This is believed to be the first death in the settlement. So of all the pioneers who had so bravely endured the trials incident to frontier life, Mrs. Hill was the first to lay herself down in that quiet sleep that “knows no waking.”
We have digressed somewhat in our narrative, and will return to Mr. Blue. He, as has been narrated, sold to Jacob Marks. When Mr. Marks took possession, Mr. Blue went to Wolf Point, where he passed the remainder of his days. One of his daughters married and removed further west; the other is now the wife of Reuben Bennett, of Amity Township.
One of the earliest residents near the timber skirting Rook’s Creek was Andrew McMillan, whose claim was in Pontiac Township. His sons were grown when they came. It was in his house that the first election for county officers was held, May 8, 1837, when the highest number of votes any candidate received was eight-six.
Mr. John Johnson, already referred, came to the settlement in August 1833. He brought his family first to the cabin of Mr. Blue, with whom he remained until his crops were gathered. He then went to his own selected claim and there he is yet living. He built a small log cabin, in which they lived until he was able to erect a better one. His first son occupied the site of his present home, and here he and his family passed many happy days.
The oft-repeated story of the emigrant’s removal to the West need hardly be repeated here. It was substantially the same in all cases. Almost all came in the large canvas-covered wagons, drawn by as many horses as their means allowed them to own. On the way, they camped out when no sheltering house could be found, and prepared their evening, morning and noon meals by the roadside over a fire kindled for the purpose. In this way he journeyed on, over plains, through forest, fording streams, with the sun, in many cases, his only guide from one landmark to another. When he arrived at his destination, his first care was the erection of a cabin, which, with its mud or puncheon floor, its stick chimney, rude door and no window save the openings left here and there between the logs, sufficed him many days for house. Mr. Johnson, says that when he arrived on the banks of Rook’s Creek, no families save those mentioned – Mr. Rook’s and Mr. Blue’s were living in the confines of what is not Town 28, Range 4east. He made the third actual settler, the families of Mr. Hill, Mr. Kinkaid and Mr. Moxley, from their short stay, not being counted among actual settlers. Mr. Johnson says concerning the time of this settlement.” The prairie west of me was as wild as it ever was. There was not a house to be seen anywhere on it, and one could travel many miles before he would find one. Wolves were as plenty as blackberries, and were rather bold in their movements. I could have shot lot s of them from my cabin door. They would commonly stay in the prairie in the daytime, and come to the woods at night. Deer were not so plenty as first after a few years. The Kickapoo Indians had hunted a good deal around her, and had driven them away. The killed more does than bucks and hence put a check on their increase.” After a few years, however, they increased rapidly, and Mr. Johnson and other pioneers tell how they could go out on the prairie any time and see from fifty to one hundred. The early settlers often supplied themselves with clothing by tanning the hide of the deer, dressing it with oil and making pants or cloaks. If tanned and dressed properly, the hide would always remain pliable, and not shrink when wet, and was very durable. Wild ducks, geese, cranes and prairie chickens abounded then in great numbers. They furnished plenty of food for the early settlers, and afforded fine opportunities to any wandering nimrod who desired to enjoy this healthful sport. The gradual encroachment of the white man drove way these natives of the prairies, until now not one remains.
The next settler after Mr. Johnson was Mr. Robert Breckenridge. He came in 1834, purchased the claim of Mr. Rook; returned to Ohio, and sent his boys to the new home. They brought part of their goods in wagons, and shipped part by water around to Hennepin, where they found them, and from thence brought them to Rook’s Creek.
Another native of the Buckeye State, Thomas Pendiel, with his brother David, came about the same time. They did not remain long, however, removing to some other locality.
David Corbin also came to Rook’s Creek about the same date, from the Vermilion River. A short time after this, the land was surveyed and the settlers were required to go to Danville to the land office and pay for their claims. They commonly paid Government price, $1.25 per acre, and were always allowed first choice in the entry of their homesteads. Did a speculator attempt to overbid them at the land sale; they were a kind of law unto themselves, and per-bidding against any of them. He must content himself with un- settled lands, and generally acceded to the demands of the settlers.
Mrs. Johnson states that for several years after the settlements we have described, they were allowed to live alone, no new settlers appearing. This part of the State had as yet not outlet for its products nearer than Ottawa or Chicago. Bloomington was only a small trading place and post office, affording no market for grain or hogs. As the country nearer the river was yet thinly settled, emigrants located there, in the Western Reserve or in the Sangamon country. This retarded the upper central par of Illinois, and not until the completion of the canal and the railroads did that part of the State whose history these pages chronicle fill rapidly with settlers.
In the spring of 1840, school was opened in a small log house, in what is now Amity Township. It stood near the line dividing Amity from Rook’s Creek, neither of which were then contemplated, and was the school for all the children on the creek. Many came quite a distance and boarded with some of the nearest residents. The teacher received her pay directly from the patrons in the form of subscriptions. The school was maintained three months, and had an attendance of from fifteen to twenty scholars daily. The next school in the neighborhood was kept in Mr. Johnson’s cabin the following summer, and had about the same number of scholars; studied the same branches, prominent among which were the three “R’s”. Not long after this, the community concluded a schoolhouse would be a good adjunct in their midst, and quite a number getting together on the farm of Mr. Breckenridge, erected a very substantial log structure, and the following winter, 1842-43 saw a very credible school taught therein. Like its predecessors, it was a subscription school, and in fact for over ten year none other was sustained. In the erection of the log schoolhouse, the Edgingtons took a prominent part, and were always firm supporters of any and all education enterprises.
In Amity Township, the principal sale of the school section was made in 1847, through five years before this, twenty acres had been sold. The sale of the land created a fund for school purposes, and was the principal reason of the firm establishment of the school in the early days of that township. The people of Rook's Creek, though known there only by the Government survey, desired to profit by the success of Amity, and petitioned for the sale of the school section. November 24, 1854, this sale was effected, and with the fund on hand derived from the state only yearly enumeration, constituted a fund amounting to nearly two thousand dollars. With this amount secured to the township, a good beginning could be made. It is to be remembered all this money was not paid as yet, but was secured. At a meeting of the residents in the township, it was decided to make two or three districts and erect in the one most populous a suitable schoolhouse at once. The school was in operation during the winter of 1854-5, as we find from a report made by William McMillan, Township Treasurer, for the latter year. From this report we learn that there was taught one school by a “male” teacher; that he had 30 scholars – 16 boys and 14 girls – attending his school; that he was paid $18 per month, and that there was only $21 in the treasury to pay him, compelling him to wait until the tax was collected. This report further states that the amount of the principal of the township fund was $1,853.12; that the amount of interest on township fund paid into the township treasury was $186.15; that the amount of State or common school fund received by the Township Treasurer was $216.50; that the amount of ad valorem tax was $$572, which he is able to record as all paid. The Treasurer states, also, that the “whole amount paid for building, repairing, purchasing, renting and furnishing school houses was $686, and that the amount paid for school apparatus was $15.61. Mr. McMillan reports three districts organized at that date, including the school mentioned, the other two building houses shortly after. From the erection of the school house and its school of thirty scholars dates the beginning of the public common schools of Rook’s Creek Township, and from that time, as new settlements were made, other house were built, until the common number – nine – is now reached. Good schools are now the order, and are regularly sustained from five to seven months during the year.
Religion and education generally go hand in hand in the history of our country. The first settler desires a schoolhouse and then a church, and rests not until he gets them. Earlier than the school, came the ministers of the Gospel and proclaimed its good news. But the people were poor, not able to support a minister, and contented themselves with meeting in each other’s cabins and holding a service of prayer and song. After the schoolhouses were built, they occupied those until they were able to erect a house exclusively for religious purposes. The first attempts for the formation of a religious society were made in the autumn of 1858. In October of that year, Rev. D. Anderson, a Methodist minister, who had been several times along the creek holding services in schoolhouses and dwellings, organized a class consisting of Samuel and Martha M. Malone, John and Mary Lilly and Jesse and Catherine Legg – six members. Mr. Malone was appointed Class Leader, and Mr. Lilly, Steward. Before the year closed, this little band was joined by Mrs. Lucinda Riggle. It met in the old schoolhouse near the church, in which building the congregation met until the completion of their present house of worship.
Rev. A.C. Frick was the next preacher here, and under his labors the congregation increased to forty members. In 1860, Rev. Brandenburg was appointed; in 1861, Rev. Robt. Pierce; in 1862, Re. P. A. Crist; and in 1864, Rev. A. P. Hull; and as the congregation had materially increased in wealth and numbers, it was determined to erect a church. As this required a legal existence, that year Trustees were elected. Rev. A. E. Day was appointed preacher for 1865 and 1866, and during the latter year a revival was held, resulting in the accession of quite a number of members. The church was completed the next year, while Rev. Thomas Cotton was Pastor, the dedicatory sermon being preached by Rev. E. P. Hall. At the Conference the next year, the Rook’s Creek Church appeared for the first time on the church records, and has since been regularly represented. This same year, the Prospect society was formed. Two years after, a class of several members was formed at Gray’s schoolhouse, and O. P. Croswell appointed Leader. In 1871, the parsonage was erected at an expense of $622. The congregation is now entirely self-sustaining and is quite prosperous. The Pastor is Rev. J. L. Ferris.
The Germans have a church in the northwest part of the township, erected some two or three years ago. They are quite numerous in this vicinity; are industrious and rapidly cultivating and improving their lands.
Rook’s Creek Township was one of the first formed in the county, and, as has been noticed, was named in honor of its first settler, Mr. Rook.
The first town meeting was held April 6, 1858, and the first election that spring. William T. Garner was its first Supervisor. Among its prominent men is Mr. Geo. B. Gray, now a member of the State legislature. He is one of the wealthiest farmers in the township; has been President of the Agricultural Society at different times, and has always been one of the county’s most influential and honored citizens.
Away back in the annals of its earliest years, the township possessed an unenviable name in the county, owing to the presence of a few who can, if they chose, give an ominous name to any locality. Happily these are all gone now, and the township bears a name equally honored with all its contemporaries. Of the time of which we are speaking there lived on the edge of Pontiac Township Mr. John Kelley, an eccentric individual, who had a habit of coming to town every day. So constant had this practice become, that he was known by everyone; and did he by chance omit his daily trip, everybody noticed it, and straightway wondered what had come over Uncle Johnny. He did not, it seems entertain a very high opinion of Rook’s Creek Township and though a strong Universalist would declare if there was a place of future punishment, it was in Rook’s Creek or near there. A local poet thus records an absence of Uncle Johnny from town, the stir it creates, and where he was found:
“Where Rook’s Creek rolls its turbid tide
To meet Vermilion’s gentler flow,
Three weary travelers were espied,
Just as the setting sun was low.
Their shouts filled all the evening air;
“Where is John Kelley; where, oh where?”
“Where is John Kelly?” still the cried,
And echo rolled the notes afar,
Until a distant voice replied,
Like Music from some distant star;
You’ll find me here, below the ridge,
Just northward from the Rook’s Creek Bridge.
They found him digging gin the ground,
The victim of some mystic spell’
He cast his fearful eyes around,
He said: “I fear there is a hell. I think that I can plainly trace
Its indications in this place”.
Uncle Johnny is now an inhabitant of Kansas, but is well known to every settler
in all this country and many will readily trace his peculiarities in the poetry quoted.
Rooks Creek Township is now fully settled. Several excellent farms are in its boundary; and many wealthy farmers reside where once
“The Indian in all his glory stood,
The lord of all the viewed.”
The present township officers are as follows: Clerk, S.L. Cunningham; Collector, H. Hutson; Assessor, S. B. Tuttle; Road Commissioner, M.Bonham; Supervisor, James Marks; and Wm. Askew and S. B. Tuttle, Justices of the Peace.
A History of Livingston County, Illinois
Wm. Le Baron Jr. & Co. Chicago 1878
History transcribed by Karen Adams, volunteer