“The Watering Place”

            Everyone has a favorite one.   A special place to go for some liquid refreshment.  Some prefer spirits, some a well on the old farmstead, some a spring flowing from a hillside, some in the early days of life on the prairie found refreshment with a reed and a crawdad hole.  These early settlers in the Bunker Hill area were called “Suckers”.  They learned their methods from the Native American inhabitants.

            When traveling the prairie Native Americans learned where water could be found, if they didn’t, life was short and their death was painful.  In the Bunker Hill area one spot was known by early settlers as “The Watering Place”.  The following article is reprinted in its entirety from the September 11, 1928 issue of the Bunker Hill Gazette News.  This was after the completion of Paving of State Highway 112, later to become the present route 159.


            Route 112 Covers Part of What Was Once an Old Indian Trail

A very interesting article and letter was received from State Senator Norman G. Flagg of Madison County in which it gives some very interesting early history of the Old Indian Trail, a part of which is Now State Highway Route 112.  The article and letter follows:

From Fort Russell North Toward Peoria

(Extracts from papers of the late Zimri A. Enos)    July,  1911.

“This trail was the route which the army under Governor Edwards in 1812 followed in their march from Fort Russell near Edwardsville to Peoria.  This trail or trace would as an interesting matter of history be definitely established before all evidence of its location is gone.  I have a general idea of the route of the trail or trace from Edwardsville as far north as Elkhart derived from a personal knowledge of fixed points in it, the topography or character of the country over which it passed and in the manner in which the Indians usually selected their ground routes, following the high ground or dividing ridges in the prairie.  Heading streams and avoiding passing through heavy timbers as much as possible, and seldom pursuing a straight line.  I know that the PATH from the HOUSE to the STABLE on a FARM SEVEN MILES NORTH of EDWARDSVILLE   (the PADDOCK HOME) was and is now the line of the Old Trail.  From Fort Russell north for about eighteen miles to the OLD WATERING PLACE AT THE HEAD OF Paddock’s Creek, a short distance northeast of the town of Bunker Hill, the trail ran in a generally straight course through the prairie along the dividing ridge between the waters and timbers of Paddock’s Creek on the east and Indian Creek on the west, thence in a north-east course through the prairie to the points of timber at the head of Dry Creek (designated in old times as Dry Point), thence to Honey Creek (known in old times as Honey Point), and thence to head of timber on Horse Creek (the three creeks running into Macoupin Creek on the west) and thence north to Macoupin Point, the little grove of timber at the head of Macoupin Creek, thence north through the prairie and between the timber lines of Brush Creek.  Horse Creek and South Fork of the Sangamon river on the east and Sugar Creek on the west, entering Round Prairie and crossing the Sangamon river between the mouths of Sugar Creek and the South Fork, thence by Clear Lake and through the prairie to Buffalo Hart Grove, thence on the divide between the water of Lake Fork on the east and Wolf Creek on the west to Elkhart Grove et.

            This route of the trail for over 100 miles from Edwardsville (with the exception of the Sangamon river and timber) crossed no stream of any size and passed through little timber, followed nearly the watersheds or divides of the streams through the prairie.

            The watering place mentioned in this article was too important a place in the first settlement of the country to be passed by without some further mention.  It was the head of the channel of Paddock’s Creek and where the combined flood waters of several sloughs or drains had been able to cut through the tough prairie sod and wash out a long wide and deep hole that was filled with a never failing supply of good spring water.  It was on the line of the regular traveled road from Springfield to St. Louis, and from it to the first house on the road south was about thirteen miles   And in a dry time for this fifty odd miles there was no other chance for water for man or beast.  It was always a stopping place to water and frequently to camp.”

            Solomon Preuitt, who came to Madison Co. in 1806 describes Fort Russell as Follows:  “Old Fort Russell, a stockade with huts inside.  A company of regulars under Capt. Rainney there.  Half an acre picketed in.”

            In Edwardsville Spectator, April 27, 1822 was advertised a “stage wagon” to run from Springfield to St. Louis once in two weeks, taking two days for the trip.

            July 24, 1836 Gershom Flagg, who settled on the Flagg homestead in 1818, wrote to a Vermont brother:  The 4-horse Mail stage passes here every day in the week except Sundays.”

                                                                                                            Moro, Ill.,   Sept.12, 1923

Mr. Elmer Goff,
Bunker Hill, Ill.,
Dear Sir:
            The above account of the Old Indian Trail, which later became the “Springfield Road”, will possibly of interest at the present time, in connection with the opening of route 112.  And when the busses are placed on this route, history will truly “repeat itself” as the stagecoach referred to above was merely the forerunner of the modern motor bus.

            Can you locate this watering place referred to in this sketch?  It must be west of the present Dorchester and not far from the Hood School.  Evidently it was of great importance to the travelers of a century ago.  The Fort Russell mentioned was one mile out of Edwardsville, and was about one-quarter west of the location of route 112.  Its site is known exactly and is marked by a cedar flagpole carrying a copper plate, but should be permanently marked with something better.
                                                                                                Yours Truly,                                                                                                                Norman G. Flagg


            In the above articles it appears that the Springfield to St. Louis Stage would have followed the Indian trace and probably traveled across Wolf Ridge (later Bunker Hill in 1836) as early as 1822.  The Lincoln Postal Office was established on June 22, 1833 to provide mail service in the local area.  John Wilson was the postmaster.  Lincoln was a community of two houses and a saw mill.  The settlement was named after Elijah Lincoln and was located on the prairie about one and one-half mile south of the present community of Bunker Hill.  He was joined by a Mr. Tuttle.  In 1836, Dr. Budden built an ox mill near the settlement.  In June of the same year the said mill was dismantled of its power, i.e., the ox, in default of money loaned by Messrs. True and Tilden.  With the loss of the mill, the settlement of Lincoln was abandoned and the Postal Office was moved to Bunker Hill in 1837.  James S. Cook was the Postmaster there.  In 1836 Gershom Flagg, who settled on the Flagg homestead in 1818, wrote to a Vermont brother:  The 4-horse Mail stage passes here every day in the week except Sundays.”  This would be the same stage traveling through Bunker Hill.

            Two Stage Coach Stories of 1836

            A CLEAR CASE OF DOG EAT DOG….……As the days grew shorter, the stage from the north was often delayed until well into the night, or rather until well near morning, as proved to a well filled coach on a bitter cold night in December.  On the occasion in question, snow covered the ground, and the almost trackless prairie was not easily navigated.  In the darkness the coach broke through the ice into Rice’s lake.  In vain did the horses pull their level best, in vain did the driver ply whip and expend a volume of profanity which would have annihilated all pretensions of our army in Flanders as contestants for the championship in the field of vituperation.  Whip and oath alike proving ineffectual, the driver appealed to the passengers for assistance.  These gentle souls, who were bundled up vainly trying to keep each other warm by tight squeezing, did not relish a half hour’s work in an ice hole at midnight with the thermometer below zero, and gave the driver to understand that they did feel disposed to allow such a dangerous innovation upon their rights as passengers - they had paid their fare, and they proposed to ride, not to get out and freeze to death - if he was a d-d fool enough to get himself into a scrape, he might look to his own resources for relief.  With such and similar soothing admonitions did the Christian pilgrims seek to minister to the wounded spirit of the driver.  Jehu was staggered - but only for a moment.

            With the pious exhortation, “Stay there and be d - d!  I’ll not freeze to death either!” he mounted one of his horses, and leading the others made good time for the hotel, where he reported what he had done, and (to the everlasting discredit of poor revengeful humanity, be it said) with an unmistakable chuckle which conveyed to his astonished auditory the impression that he had performed a highly meritorious action.  What was to be done?  The people would freeze to death if they were left there all night.  The driver didn’t care, he had done his duty.  The worthy landlord thought of his ox team and sled, which were soon brought to door by Augustus Greeley.  Upon this primitive vehicle were piled stacks of buffalo hides, quilts and blankets that the freezing passengers might be made as comfortable as possible.  Young Greeley was not insensitive of the situation and with the assurance that the net income of the trip should accrue to him free from government tax, the oxen were coaxed into a style of locomotion which must have been surprising to themselves.

            By two o’clock a.m. the beleaguered stage was reached.  It required but a glance to detect the astounding demoralization of the occupants of that stage.  Every conceivable anathema was invoked on the head of the stage driver, and each individual endeavored to eclipse the combined efforts of all his companions in the invention of unheard miseries and torments to be visited upon that retiring (moderate pun) individual.  The papal anthema was a benediction contrasted with his outpouring of their vials of wrath.  They cursed the stage driver and his descendants to the last generation; and then commenced with the foundation of the world and cursed his ancestors from the year 4004 B.C. down to the year 1836. In fact, we may venture the assertion that they curse him to this day.

            By a dexterous flank movement, Greeley was enable to affix the sled chains to the coach pole.  A vehement crack of the whip and a grand climax of profanity from the occupants of the stage and the entire outfit moved off at a good pace, and at five o’clock the hotel was reached.  Nor did ever a more peevish heart broken crowd ever enter a hotel.  They had exhausted themselves in their consideration of the stage driver and his family connections, and the reaction had left them feeling much as does a drunkard after a night’s debauch.  They could not but appreciate Mr. True’s kind attentions, however, and were speedily serene, while the ox driver was made glad for many a day by a well filled purse.

            A STAGE COACH LOST….Speaking of stage coach experiences, we are reminded of an incident which took place during the same winter.  The Gwin stand was the place for breakfast for the stage going north, and this necessitated an early start from Bunker Hill, even long before daylight.  On this occasion the driver was prompt in his departure with a well filled coach, and although darkness shut out everything from human gaze, he felt consoled by the fact that he had driven across that same prairie a hundred times when it was fully as dark.  But his faith did not save him, for as he neared the Rice lake he veered to the right to keep clear of the ice, and kept veering to the right until he came to the breaks out east of town on the Mercer place, when he plainly told the passengers that he was entirely lost.

            They at length discovered a distant light, and notwithstanding the driver insisted it was the wrong direction, they insisted that he should head his team for it; and they finally brought up at the very place they had left two hours before in high expectations of hot coffee, etc., The Gwin stand.  When they had learned their location they refused to go until a breakfast had been provided.

            Township organizations had not yet been thought of, and roads were in a most villainous condition during the winter and rainy seasons.  It was in those days no uncommon thing to see a stage driver pass with his horses and the mail bags thrown across their backs, it being an impossibility for coaches to go through on time.