Henry Seeley

Personal

Gender: Male

Date of Birth: 1805

Birth Place: Ontario County, NY

The Seeley Family

Soon after we had entered on the task of collecting materials for this work we had opportunity for a conversation with Mr. Henry Seeley at Bradford, and gathered therefrom the following reminiscences of early days in that part of the county:

Mr. Seeley was born in Ontario county, New York, in 1805, and so has already measured out his “three score years and ten,” but at the date of this interview, was still hale and vigorous, in full possession of all his mental faculties. He has evidently enjoyed few educational advantages, but has naturally quick perceptions, and strong practical sense — a man of nerve and resolution, well adapted to pioneer life.

When he was but eleven years of age his father removed from Ontario, New York, to Vermillion county, Indiana; here in the “Hoosier State” he grew to manhood, and married in 1831. In 1832, this young couple removed to Peoria county, Illinois, and in 1834, to what has ever since been known as “Seeley’s Point,” a beautiful grove, two and one-half miles from the present town of Bradford. By this, it will be seen that this man was among our very first settlers. General Thomas had not yet reached Wyoming, or Major Moore, Osceola. Not a settlement had yet been made at what we now call Kewanee, or Wetherfield, or Providence! Boyd, at his grove, eight miles east of Bradford was one of the nearest neighbors, and the old bachelor Grant, had a little hut on what has long been the Holgate farm, Penn township. One cabin near the present village of Wyanet, was the only habitation between “Seeley’s Point” and the Winnebago Swamps.

It was in the spring of 1834 that Mr. Seeley built his cabin and established himself at the “Point.” During the summers of 1834 and 1835, many adventurous travelers made their way here, looking for homes in this fertile region, and Mr. and Mrs. Seeley exercised with no sparing hand the rough but generous hospitality of those times. He says twenty persons at one time have found food and shelter in the single room he owned and occupied.

A portion of the tribe of Indians known as Pottawatomies still wintered regularly at Walnut grove; with these Mr. Seeley generally continued to sustain friendly relations, and traded quite extensively with them at times; he understood their language and could speak it fluently when in practice. During the latter part of 1835, when he was absent from home, attending to business in Peoria, an Indian came to his cabin, having with him a large bark bag or sack, which he wanted filled with shelled corn, offering therefor, a fifty cent silver piece — less than half its value at that time. Mr. Seeley’s father was the only man about the house, and being old and feeble, naturally shrank from having any altercation with the savage, so he promptly complied with the demand, and the purchaser rode away on his pony, doubtless well pleased with his success.

Not many days had passed until he again presented himself at the cabin door, with a similar bag and a similar piece of money. This time Mr. Seeley was at home, and not having the fear of Indians before his mind, said as plainly as he could that “unless Pottawatomie produced a bigger coin, viz: $1, he should not have the corn.” He mounted his poney empty handed this time, and rode away very sullenly. The incident would sometimes recur to the settler’s mind, for well he know the Indian would never forget him, or the affront, until in some way the account was balanced.

And it came about in this way. In the winter of 1836-7, when no work was going forward, Mr. Seeley proposed to a new neighbor (a Sturms) to ride with him over to Walnut grove and see what the Indians were doing.

Not far away (probably at Bulbona grove) there was a French trading post, where powder and whiskey, and such like adjuncts of civilization could be obtained, and as Mr. Seeley and his friend approached the grove it was evident the Indians had plenty of both. A truly hideous chorus of whoops and yells saluted their ears, interspersed at intervals with the sharp report of firearms. But the men were well mounted and carried trusty rifles, so nothing daunted they rode forward toward the scene of excitement, and found as is usual among Indians on such “sprees,” only one sober man in the whole encampment; it would seem the redman is this much wiser than his “white brothers,” they always keep one sober to look after the safety of the rest! On this occasion, the squaws were busy hiding arms and weapons of all sorts, lest their drunken masters should do themselves or others serious injury. Soon a group of desperate looking savages approached our horsemen, bearing among them a small keg or cask of liquor, veritable “fire-water,” from which they drank by turns, without stint or measure. They first invited Sturms to partake, which he thought best to do very sparingly, the keg was raised to Seeley’s saddle bow, who was preparing to follow the example of his friend, when, quick as the lightning’s flash, and Indian sprang to his side, and snatching the precious keg, exclaimed in his own dialect, “mean white man, mean white man, he have no whiskey.” Mr. Seeley, although startled for a moment, did not fail to recognize in the excited creature before him, the baffled trader in corn.

The coveted keg was swiftly borne into a neighboring thicket, followed by the howling savages. Mr. Seeley rode away, feeling satisfied that the feud was considered settled.

This gentleman also tells many characteristic tales of the time when he “hauled his crop to Chicago,” and then sold his wheat at fifty cents per bushel, and other things in proportion. Mr. William Moore, another old settler was often his companion on these trips.

This Moore was what in common parlance is called “close fisted,” and the amusing dilemmas into which this niggardliness sometimes led him, and his companions, furnish themes for many hearty laughs, even after the lapse of years. But as it is not so much fun as facts we are after, we merely record, on one of these expeditions that they traded their wheat for salt, a commodity so essential to the pioneer, yet sometimes difficult to obtain. This salt they sold for $8 per barrel, on Spoon river, “Elijah McClennahan paying ten bushels of as good winter wheat as he ever saw, for one barrel of salt!” Frontiersman as Seeley was, and unused to the modern luxuries of “laid out roads,” bridges, and guide posts, he knew how to steer his course by the sun, through the day; by the stars through the night; and seldom lost “his bearings.” But sometimes sun and stars would fail him, and when the snow lay deep over the trackless waste filling even the Indian trails to the level, he would become bewildered.

On one of these occasions when returning from the land office at Dixon (we believe,) he was relieved from suspense by blundering on the solitary cabin, referred to, near the present site of Wyanet. Hastily dismounting, he enquired of a woman who answered his summons at the door, “for the way to the head waters of Spoon river.” The woman looked embarrassed for a moment, “did not think she could direct him there,” but said, “from a rise of ground not far off he could see “Seeley’s Point” which she supposed might be in that region somewhere.” He did not say he was “the dweller at the point,” but mounting his weary horse struck out again across the prairie and soon gaining the ridge now known as Bunker’s hill, was cheered by a glimpse of his own grove. There he has lived more than forty years, years too every one of them rich in results; lived to see

“The wilderness rejoice and blossom as the rose,” his old hunting grounds transformed into fruitful fields — markets brought to his doors, all the evidences of wealth and cultivation occupying the waste places of old; such have been the experiences common to Stark county pioneers.

Mr. Seeley had a father and brother or brothers, also citizens of Stark county, from its organization. We often meet with their names in studying the old records, but have no further particulars of their lives to record.

And the subject of this little notice, has paid the debt of nature since this work has been in progress.

Very suddenly, we learn, he was called away! Thus they go, these old men, these faces once so familiar!

Soon another generation will possess the land and not an old settler be left to tell the story of the past — then shall these simple mementos of our fathers acquire a value they possess not now.

“Stark County and Its Pioneers,” by Mrs. E. H. Shallenberger Published by B. W. Seaton, Prairie Chief Office, Book and Job Printer, 1876