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  • Dale C. Maley

Origins of Indian Grove Township

Indian Grove Township is among the three townships in the Fairbury area and the one that includes the city of Fairbury.

The first settlement in Indian Grove Township was Joseph Moore. He came from Overton County, Tenn., and arrived here in the Fall of 1831. His journey to Illinois was a difficult one. He walked on foot while his wife carried their infant on her lap while riding a horse. He staked out a claim in the timber bordering Indian Creek, on which he permanently settled.

In 1832, A. B. Philips, known as Barney Philips, settled in Indian Grove Township next. He was also from Tennessee and had been a neighbor of Joseph Moore. Reverend John Darnall, a brother of Martin Darnall, the first settler of Belle Prairie, came to Indian Grove soon after Barney Phillips.

Malachi Spence, his son, James Spence, and Richard Moore settled a year or two after those already mentioned. Richard Moore was from Overton County, Tennessee. The Spence and Darnall families came from Kentucky. Mrs. Glenn Phillips, a widow lady, came from the same neighborhood in Tennessee, and she arrived with the Spence and the Moore families.

When the first white people settled here, they had to go some distance to mill their grain. They had to go to Green's mill on the Fox River near Ottawa or the Crow Creek mill below Peoria. When Mr. Moore made his first trip to the Crow Creek mill, it was a one-week trip. The distance was sixty miles and was the best chance for grinding in their reach until a mill was built on the Kankakee River at Wilmington. It was sometimes about as hard for the newcomer to find grain as to get it ground after he had got it, for no one had been in the country long enough to have an over-supply. There was no mill in this township until the erection of one in the village of Fairbury, except a little horse-powered mill built by Mr. Smith about 1840.

For many years, the nearest post office was at Bloomington. In those early days, Bloomington consisted of a small log house with a little store and a post office. The postage on letters was twenty-five cents. This amount would be equivalent to $6 in today's dollars. Postage had to be paid by the letter receiver. Because the person could not afford the postage, mail would stay at the post office for a considerable amount of time until the postage could be paid.

In those early times, the settlers hauled wheat to Chicago and congratulated themselves highly if they were fortunate to get fifty cents a bushel for it. Chicago was a tiny town. The city had yet to rise from the bogs and marshes of Lake Michigan to become a great grain market later.

The first birth in this township was that of John R. Phillips, a son of Barney Phillips. He was born on May 9, 1832. The first wedding was between John Darnall and Keziah Spence. They were married by Squire John Thompson, of Mackinaw, in early 1832.

Esther Spence died in 1832. She was buried in the little graveyard situated on the line between Indian Grove and Belle Prairie Township, near where Martin Darnell initially settled. She was the first death in the Indian Grove settlement and perhaps the first in the county. Her coffin was made of walnut slabs split out of the tree, hewed down, and then dressed smooth.

The first Justice of the Peace was Rev. John Darnall. He was a preacher, a Justice of the Peace, the first Postmaster, and a man of considerable importance in the neighborhood. One of the first medical doctors to serve this township was Dr. C. B. Ostrander. He was widely known for his ability to tell tall tales.

One time a patient complained to Dr. Ostrander that the bill for his services was too high. The Doctor informed the patient, very confidentially, that he would not be surprised if he knew the cost of the medicine. Dr. Ostrander told him the drug cost $2,700 an ounce, and it required the services of ten men for four months to gather just one ounce. Furthermore, nine of the ten men lost their lives while gathering medicine. The $2,700 figure that Dr. Ostrander used in his tall tale would be equivalent to $65,000 in today's dollars.

The sound of the Gospel was heard in Indian Grove Township almost as soon as the pioneer's ax. Reverend John Darnall was a Baptist preacher and the first to proclaim the word of God in the new settlement. Rev. Robert Smith, a Cumberland Presbyterian, was the next preacher.

The first school in Indian Grove Township was taught by Chancy Standish in 1835. He was from New York and came to the settlement in 1835. After he arrived, the local people began building a little log cabin for school purposes. This log cabin was the first schoolhouse in the township. In this building, Standish taught the first school. This schoolhouse was a general subscription school where the parents of the students paid the teacher's salary. In this era, there was no public money for educational purposes.

About 600 Kickapoo Indians camped in what is now Indian Grove Township. The name of the township comes from this Kickapoo camp. All of the Kickapoo left their settlement in Indian Grove about the time the first settlers arrived. They moved to Oliver's Grove, about three miles south of Chatsworth.

Both Indian Creek and Indian Grove Township got their names from the Kickapoo tribe that lived in this township.

(Dale Maley's local history article is sponsored each week on Fairbury News by Antiques & Uniques along with Dr. Charlene & Doug Aaron)

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