Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Lee County Part of Ogle County Illinois

After the adoption of the constitution in 1818, and the rapid settlement in the newer parts of the state, communities desired closer communication with county seats and so, early, those settlements broke away from the parent county and set up for themselves.

When on Jan. 31, 1821, Pike County was formed; Lee County became a part of Pike County. When on Jan. 13, 1825, Peoria broke away from Fulton, Lee became a part of Peoria County.

In the year 1826, voters in the northwestern part of the state became numerous enough to have appointed for them a voting precinct on Fever river, near Galena, called the Fever river precinct and on August 7, the first election was held, of which Nehemiah Bates, Jesse W. Shull, and Andrew Clamo, sworn in before John L. Bogardus, J. P., acted as judges.

In that same year, 204 persons were listed as tax payers and a deputy from Peoria was sent up to collect the taxes. But the citizens of that district defied the deputy and he returned home without any taxes. Such a state of anarchy could not endure for long and so Jo Daviess County was organized Feb. 2, 1827, and Lee came into that jurisdiction. The process was slow, but nevertheless, certain.

Then in the year 1836, Ogle was organized and our stay in Ogle provided us with some of our most interesting history. But before entering Ogle I should state that the first election precinct which embraced Dixon and in which its people might vote, was established June 8, 1831, by the county commissioners of Jo Daviess County, and was defined as follows:

"It is considered that the persons residing within the following limits shall constitute voters within Buffalo Grove precinct, viz.:

East of the Lewiston road and south of a line to include the dwellings of Crane and Hylliard, running to the southern boundary of the county inclusive.

''It is considered that John Dixon, Isaac Chambers and John Ankeny, be and they are appointed judges of elections for the Buffalo Grove precinct.''

This Lewiston trail crossed Rock River at Prophetstown and passed up through Carroll County, not far from Lanark.

But even for those days, Galena was a long distance away for county seat purposes and impatient for more convenience, a new county was prayed for in the confident expectation that by its erection a settlement, instead of a raw piece of prairie remote from settlement, would be selected, and an act was passed by the Legislature, and approved Jan. 16, 1836, erecting the county of Ogle. Its area comprehended the present counties of Lee and Ogle.

Two of the three commissioners, appointed by the act, met as ordered, June 20, 1836, at the house of Oliver W. Kellogg, in Buffalo Grove, from which they traveled over eastward and located the county seat in the midst of a wild unsettled country and on a claim ''claimed'' by John Phelps and a stake was driven in the land to indicate that it had been selected for county seat purposes.

It was the rule at the time that when commissioners had selected raw land for county seat purposes, the United States would donate the same for the purpose and issue a patent.

In this instance, the location was done so carelessly that a mistake was made in the description of the quarter section and later, the mistake created a fruitful subject for litigation. But, the spot was the one upon which Oregon, once called Florence, stands today. Then the house of John Phelps was about the only one near the place.

The action of the commissioners made every settlement in the county angry and at the first election Oregon had to fight them all.

The act provided for an election of county officers on the first Monday of April, 1836, but because the commissioners had not met to locate the county seat and because of indifference, the election was not held until Dec. 24, 1836, the date set by Thomas Ford the judge of the Sixth judicial circuit, so that meantime the territory remained under the jurisdiction of Jo Daviess County.

By the same act creating Ogle, Whiteside County was erected, but for reasons, similar, perhaps to those existing in Ogle, "Whiteside was not organized completely until 1839, when Lee and Whiteside both were cut off from Ogle.

Some historians have made the mistake of stating that Ogle County as created by the act of the Legislature, embraced Whiteside County. Such was not the case. Whiteside was attached to Ogle during its formative process for judicial purposes only.

By the time this election day called by Judge Ford had rolled around, the fiercest rivalry between Dixon and the so called village of Oregon, had sprung up, and so the two places prepared to grapple for supremacy.

Inasmuch as the county commissioners would control the place of holding the courts and could control the county officers as well, until suitable buildings were provided, and they were made the judges of what constituted suitable county buildings, Dixon and its friends prepared to secure the election of commissioners favorable to Dixon, and it presented the names of Virgil A. Bogue, of Buffalo Grove; S. St. John Mix, of Byron and Cyrus Chamberlain, of Lee County (now), but a resident of Grand Detour precinct. Oregon presented the names of Isaac Rosencrans, Ezra Bond and W. J. Mix of Oregon.

Following was the vote:

Dixon Candidates
V. A. Bogue 98 votes
S. St. John Mix 98 votes
Cyrus Chamberlain 95 votes

Oregon Candidates
Isaac Rosencrans 89 votes
Ezra Bond 90 votes
W. J. Mix 87 votes

Votes on county officers were as follows:
Recorder, James V. Gale, 138; B. J. Phelps, 48.
Surveyor, Joseph Crawford, 119; William Sanderson, 63.
Sheriff, W. W. Mudd, 95; Jeremiah Murphy, 93.
Coroner, L. H. Evarts, 94; Ira Hill, 96.

The poll book showing the 188 voters, voting at that exciting election, has been destroyed partially. The only names left on it are:

J. P. Dixon
W. A. House
L. Crandle
E. W. Hine
J. L. Spaulding
A. Shepherd
J. F. Sanford
D. Javinole
M. T. Kimball
L. S. Huff
A. Rue
J. Rue
C. N. Turner
J. Young
A. Dickerman
H. Hill
B. B. Brown
J. Snyder
S. S. Spaulding
R. Murray
P. Cameron
W. Southall
William Sanderson
S. Sharer
S. Gilbraith
G. Chandler
James V. Gale
G. Rosencrans
W. W. Mudd
D. Brown
J. W. Jenkins
John Boardman
S. C. Fuller
Robert Page
David Reed
H. Rosencrans
S. Smith
G. Angel
Jas. Williams
I. W. Moss
S. Johnson
_____ Driscoll. Mr.

Gale, of Oregon, recorder-elect, made the following entry in his diary, which indicates mildly the feeling aroused at that election:

''There was great excitement at this election. All the towns were against Oregon. A large quantity of whiskey was drunk, and several fights occurred. Dixon, Grand Detour, Buffalo Grove and Bloomingville (now Byron), all combined against Oregon. A great deal of hard feeling grew out of this election that lasted until Lee County was set off and erected into an independent county. One man became so boisterous and pugilistic towards his brother that he was tied with a rope. It was the noisiest, roughest, most exciting election ever held in the county.

The judges of that election were James V. Gale, G. W. Rosencrans and Jonathan W. Jenkins. The clerks were Smith Gilbraith and George Chandler.

Smith Gilbraith was appointed clerk of the county commissioner's court. James P. Dixon and Oliver W. Kellogg, father of Mrs. E. B. Baker, signed his bond. Thus Dixon controlled the situation and thus it will be seen how, with a technical county seat at Oregon, all the courts were held in Dixon at the schoolhouse. Until Lee was set off, the county commissioners' court, which must not be confused with the circuit court, was a peripatetic affair.

The first session convened Jan. 3, 1837, at the house of James Phelps in Oregon City. Present, Virgil A. Bogue and S. St. John Mix. The first order made was the appointment of Smith Gilbraith, clerk.

On March 6, 1837, the commissioners met at the house of Mr. F. Cushman, Buffalo Grove. At this session Cyrus Chamberlain appeared, and Oliver W. Kellogg was appointed county treasurer and entered into bonds in the sum of $3,000 with James P. Dixon and E. W. Covell, both of Dixon, as sureties. At this session, too, license was granted E. W. Covell, to sell goods, wares, merchandise, etc., for one year, in consideration of the payment of $10 to the county treasurer. This $10 was the first money paid into the treasury.

It may be interesting to know, at this point that the first license to keep tavern in the new county was issued to Joseph Sawyer, and the second one was issued to Adolphus Bliss of Inlet notoriety, for which each paid $10.

One of the first as well as one of the most important duties of the commissioners at that session was to lay off election precincts, two of which fell to territory now embraced in Lee County. The Dixon precinct was bounded as follows: ''Commencing on the west line of the county on township line between sections 22 and 23; running east eight miles; then south to Rock River; down Rock River to the south line of section 17; then east two miles, then south three miles on line between sections 34 and 35; then east to town line; then south to the north line of town 20; then west to county line; then north to place of beginning.''

William P. Burrows, James P. Dixon and William Martin, were appointed judges of elections, and the house of E. W. Covell, was named as the voting place.

Inlet was named also as a precinct: Bounded on the north by Dixon, Grand Detour and Oregon City precincts; on the east, by the county line, and on the south and west by the lines of said county. Zachariah Melugin, Thomas Dexter and Charles West were appointed judges and the house of Cory don Dewey was made the polling place.

March 7th, Adolphus Bliss and others presented a petition asking for viewers to view for road purposes, a route past the ''Traveler's Home,'' the log tavern of Bliss. Five dollars was deposited to pay the viewers' expenses and John Dixon, Corydon Dewey and Zachariah Melugin were appointed viewers and their report was unfavorable to the proposed road. It may be well to add at this point that the deposit of money in those days went to pay the viewers' fees; if the road was built, it was returned; if not the money was not returned.

At this same meeting, rates for tavern keepers were established and so were rates for the Dixon ferry.

Tavern Rates
For each meal of victuals 37½ cents
For keeping each horse one ''knight,'' to hay and grain 50 cents
For each lodging 25 cents
For each drink of spirituous liquor 12½ cents

Rock River Ferry Rates
For each yoke of oxen and wagon $ .75
For each additional yoke of oxen 25
For two horses and wagon 75
For each additional horse 12½
For each two horse pleasure carriage 1.00
For each man and horse 25
For each footman 12½
For one horse and wagon 37½
For each horse and gig 50
For each horse or ass 12½
For each head of cattle .O6¼
For each head of sheep or hogs 06¼

At this same very important meeting the commissioners ''Ordered, That, on the second Monday in June next, such portion of the section of land on which the county stake is stuck, be sold at public auction for the benefit of Ogle County; the portion to be sold to be hereafter designated by the county commissioners." Another important order was made, to-wit: for the election of justices and constables on April 12th, following.

In Dixon, Benjamin H. Steward (30 votes) and John Morse (29 votes) were elected constables.

In the Inlet precinct, Daniel M. Dewey was elected justice of the peace (17 votes), and Charles West was elected constable (17 votes), and from a history of Ogle County which speaks plainly, we are told: ''Justice Dewey, Constable West, Adolphus Bliss (of the old Travelers' Home), his wife, Hannah, and a few others of their gang, because of their 'close' connection and secret and suspicious ways of transacting public and private business, came to be known to the pioneers as 'Dewey, West & Co.' ''

On March 8, 1837, the commissioners adjourned to meet at Grand de Tour (so spelled), June 6, 1837.

At an election held in Dixon, June 10, 1837, two justices and two constables were elected: Samuel C. McClure received 31 votes for justice, Horace Thompson 19 votes, and E. W. Covell 1 vote. For constable, Daniel B. McKenney received 35 votes, Samuel Leonard 10 votes, and S. Britton 1 vote.

The next, an extra session, was held at Dixon, July 29, 1837, and at it, the petition was approved, asking that no license be granted for the sale of liquor in Dixon.

''Ordered, That the clerk shall not grant to any person or persons, license to keep grocery in the town of Dixon.'' Our first dry period in Dixon! Though by reference to the list of indictments returned at the first term of the Lee circuit court, for selling without license, it will be guessed that liquor was to be had.

The county officers made but little in those days: Smith Gilbraith's fees amounted to $8.87; his records, stationery, etc., $8.50, and this account was the first one presented against the county of Ogle. The next session was held at Buffalo Grove, Sept. 4, 1837. Meantime, in August, under the law, Smith Gilbraith had been elected county clerk; his bond for $1,000 with Cyrus Chamberlain as surety, was approved. At this session, this very important order was made by the commissioners: ''Ordered, That the clerk inform all the county officers and the judge of the circuit court, that Dixon has been selected as the place of holding courts until August, 1838.''

The next, December, session was held in Dixon.

At the March, 1838, session, the Dixon ferry was assessed a tax of $30, which was larger by 100 per cent than any other of the seven ferries in the county; the ferry charges too were revised at this session moderately, by adding to the lists of vehicles, sleighs. Some more minor changes were made too. So one may see how migratory the place of holding the county commissioners' court had been. The present board was determined to remain away from Oregon. During all this time, the commissioners had met but once at the house of John Phelps and that was the first time.

To criticize and question the motives of the first commissioners did no good and so the friends of other settlements determined to seek relief by carving a new county out of Ogle. This information was not known generally and so in August, 1838, when under the new law three new commissioners were to be elected, Dixon made no opposition to the efforts of Oregon to elect them. Messrs. Martin Reynolds, Jacob Parry and Masten Williams, all partisans of Oregon, were elected. They met in Dixon, in special session, August 30th, and ordered that the October term, 1838, of the circuit court, be held at Dixon; after that, at the house of John Phelps, Oregon City, and that the county court be held thereafter at the house of John Phelps.

But when news reached Oregon City that Dixon had been permitted even that small concession, its withdrawal was demanded the very minute the commissioners met at Oregon. Accordingly we find that in September, the order was revoked so far as Dixon was concerned, and the October term, 1838, was ordered to be held in Oregon, although as a matter of fact, it was not. A climax had been reached. Peaceful men had tired of waging warfare and of fighting out the controversies. The feud had extended to include members of the family, the women and the children. The story is told to the effect that one day John Phelps had to come to Dixon on business. Father Dixon kept the only tavern in the place. Phelps was hungry. Father Dixon was absent, but just the same, Phelps did not want to enter; but he had to. During the meal, Mrs. Dixon is reported as remarking to Phelps: ''It is a good thing for you, Mr. Phelps, that Mr. Dixon is not home today, for if he was, you would get hurt. There would be a fuss.''

To which Phelps is reported as replying, ''It is a good thing for Mr. Dixon, madam, that he is not at home, for if he was, he surely would be hurt. I was born in a fuss, and nothing pleases me better than to be engaged in a fuss.'' There may be considerable improbability about this story, but as a matter of fact the climax which brought matters to a focus, was enacted in Galena when Phelps while in Galena, discovered the plans of Mr. Dixon, by reading a notice posted to the effect that at the next session of the Legislature, a bill would be introduced for the formation of a new county which would include Oregon on its northernmost line. Immediately, Phelps posted other notices to the effect that at the next meeting of the Legislature he would apply for a division of the county whose south line would include Dixon on its extreme southern limit.

At once, Mr. Dixon sought Phelps and the agreement was made that an equitable division should be made which would give to Oregon the county seat of Ogle and to Dixon the county seat of the new county.

Lee County History


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