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Interesting Reminiscences of Old Times – Something about the Early Settlers and Primitive Customs

To the editor of the Illinois State Journal:

            If you will allow me, I will give you a few condolences of the earlier days of dear old Sangamon.  I was but a small boy when the first number of the JOURNAL (SANGAMON JOURNAL I believe it was first called) was issued by Simeon Francis & Bros.  My father, Charles F. Cabaniss, owned half a block on the northwest corner of the public square, on which he built a log cabin, where the family resided some years.  While residing there it was my lot to play the part of shepherd boy, and I have often found the cattle grazing on the then commons, (where now stands the old State House) I afterwards saw some of the same ground occupied by a wooden jail, erected near where the northeast corner of the old Capitol now stands, and within the walls of the old wooden jail was confined the condemned Vammole, who was hanged for the alleged murder of his wife.  And the old Capitol with her basement, hides from human sight the spot where the last whipping post that I ever saw, to which men were tied and punished by the officer of the law with a whip in hand for the crime of stealing.

            Illinois as a state soon after abolished the law punishing theft at the public whipping post as being too strongly tinctured with the spirit of the feudal ages, and adopted the more profitable and effectual method of punishment compelling men guilty of stealing to serve under taskmasters within the confines of prison walls as long as the law may direct.

            In perusing the columns of the JOURNAL published today, I find the names of many old friends, and many of them I find where I found the name of the founder of the JOURNAL over forty years ago (Simeon Francis) in the obituary list.  And again, other familiar names I find, descendants of the hardy pioneer families of old Sangamon which is pleasant for me to read, who have kept pace with the progress of the times, and gained for themselves confidence and distinction among the good people of the State, thereby securing to themselves profit and pleasure to be enjoyed by the Mathenys, Hickoxes, Herndons, Hawleys, Hays, Jaynes, Enoses, and many others.

            One more item (that may interest some) about the first visit of the lamented Lincoln to the place that he afterwards helped to make the capital of the State.

            A gentleman by the name of Denton Offit, who, rumor said, had been largely engaged in the pork packing business, and had met with some reverses, and learning there was a great amount of beef, pork and corn on the farmers’ hands, and offered at very low prices, from the fact that the supply had far outstripped the demand, thought he would try to replace some of his losses by venturing upon an experiment of running flat-boats out of the Sangamon River loaded with the products of the farmers’ great abundance, that was seeking a market at almost any price.  Such inducements were amply sufficient to put in exercise the speculative genius of an enterprising man like Mr. Offit, and while en route to Springfield, he met with Abraham Lincoln, and a gentleman by the name of Johnson, east of Springfield, I think in Macon County, and was so impressed with the candor, frankness, and intelligence of young Lincoln, that he ventured to employ him; he employed Mr. Johnson also, and they all started for Springfield.  They procured a canoe and descended the north fork of the Sangamon River, landing at a point northeast of Springfield, near a farmer by the name of Powell; thence passing through Germany Prairie to Springfield, where Mr. Offit at once inquired for some person that was familiar with building and running flat-boats, and was directed to my father.  They soon agreed on terms, and the company all started for my father’s residence, three and a half miles northwest from Springfield, in what was then called the McKinnie, or Lanterman settlement.  They then went into the Sangamon bottom, just opposite the well-known Horseshoe Lake, and found suitable timber for boat building.  Mr. Offit then left and traveled over the country some days, and found loading for his boat in abundance.  My father, with Lincoln and Johnson, commenced work hewing timber.  They concluded the next day they must have a canoe, and Mr. Johnson and the writer started for the point on the river where the canoe was left.  We stopped all night with Mr. Powell.  Next morning we set out with good cheer, and descended the Sangamon River to a point near the Horseshoe Lake.  Thus your writer had a long ride in a canoe (not the Mayflower to be sure) but the boat that brought the preserver of the Great Nation that was founded by the passengers of the Mayflower, when he first came to our long loved Sangamon, it seemed that she was a blest-spot of creation, and destined to be the home for training and fostering men of great minds; such as Lincoln, Douglas, Baker and others.

            The timbers for that boat were all hewn and hauled to the river and floated down seven miles to a small village called Sangamon Town or Broadwell.  Mr. Johnson left before we had finished getting out the boat timbers.  Mr. Lincoln would chop notches and split off the large heavy blocks, and I would follow and hack to the line.  Mr. Lincoln boarded with us some weeks, in the meantime interesting and amusing of evenings, all with whom he mingled with his rich fund of jest and real life.

            I have heard my father remark that he thought young Lincoln was destined to fill positions of great trust.  Although very plain in his dress and humble in his manner, his deportment of character evinced the coming greatness of the man.

            All things now ready for completing the flatboat, Lincoln and all hands left for Sangamon Town and my book closed of him, you know the rest.

                                                                                    G. E. CABANISS
Illinois State Journal
- January 12, 1874

            DULL AGAIN – There is again a dearth of local items.  Isn’t it about time for somebody to get killed?  Weddings are getting to be matters of such every day occurrence, as to be inferior, as a matter of news, to a prizefight even.  Wanted – a murder, or other important local news.
Illinois State Journal - May 13, 1874

SOMETHING SHOULD BE DONE – When water is permitted to remain in a gutter until it turns green, and is boiled down by the sun to about the consistency of soft soap, assumes the elasticity of India rubber, smells as loud as a locomotive whistle, and looks so unutterably disgusting to look at it is equivalent to an overdose of ipecac, when all these things occur at one and the same time, why is it not proper to open up a convenient pipe, and let on sufficient water to float the accumulated nastiness into the sewers?  The health officers can be pointed to several such sights in this city.  The filth and stench are death breeding, and ought to be removed.  It is all nonsense to talk about cleanliness in back yards, while the public streets present such sights to the eye and such smells to the nose.  There was yesterday, also, in plain sight upon the corner of Washington and Eighth Streets, the carcass of a dead horse, which should be placed where the putrefaction is less offensive.
Illinois State Journal
- July 3, 1874