Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Naper's Settlers Arrived at the DuPage River 179 Years Ago This Week


We don't know the exact date when Joseph Naper, his family and his friends arrived at the banks of the DuPage River, but it was most likely around July 15, 1831, according to several sources who were recorded some years after the event. That would be this week!

When Kate was researching and writing her first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, she made an effort to go out to a local prairie and see what it looked like in the middle of July to pick up details of what the settlers must have experienced.

Northern Illinois is pretty darn hot and humid in July. But 1831 happened to have been a relatively cool year. Spring was a long time coming and the sailing season on the Great Lakes started later than usual because the ice didn't break up at the normal time. Contemporary letters also mention a cool, wet June. It may have been fairly warm when Naper's group headed out from the Chicago settlement to walk to their new home, but the prairie must have been quite green and lovely still.

Chicago wasn't much of a place yet. There were only native wigwams and log homes. Mark Beaubien had started work on his Sauganash Tavern, which would be the first frame house in the area, but he wouldn't be done until autumn. Wagon-makers, and thus, wagons, were few, most likely owned by the folks who already lived here. They probably rented them out, but research shows that settlers often brought wagons with them when they came west by ship like Naper did.

They would remove the wheels and tie them to the masts. The square wagon box would be lashed to the deck with other cargo. Once at their destination, they could reassemble the wagons.

John Murray, Ruth's father and Joe Naper's brother-in-law, drove the settler's cattle overland from Ohio and was there to greet them when their ship arrived. Once the wagons were reassembled and packed, they hooked up the oxen John had brought to pull the wagons.

Most folks are aware that Chicago was a huge swamp and wagons had a lot of difficulty in the mud. Since it had been a late, wet spring, these settlers must have had a very difficult time of it. Research shows that often they would hitch several pairs of oxen to one wagon, pull it to drier ground, unhitch the oxen, and go back for the next wagon.

It took the settlers three days to walk the twenty-six miles to the DuPage River. With many wagons and an especially soggy swamp, they may still have been in site of Lake Michigan at the end of the first day!

Experience the Settler's Prairie for Yourself

Like Kate, you may want to stand in an actual northern Illinois prairie this week and imagine that you are one of Naper's settlers from Ruth by Lake and Prairie. Much of the original prairie has been plowed up or built over, but there are still a few places that are either original or restored.

One of the best places to find original prairie is in very old graveyards. Yes, the settlers long ago dug the holes for graves, but they didn't plow the land, so it continued to grow in the natural way. Conservationists will often collect seeds from old graveyards to help create prairie restorations with native plants.

The Belmont Prairie in DuPage county boasts some original prairie, but there are also some restored areas that are worth a trip. Both the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Fermi Lab in Batavia have been working on prairie restorations.

If you visit, use all your senses to put yourself in the shoes of the early Illinois settler. What can you smell and hear? How does it feel to walk through such tall grass? How about the bugs? Imagine yourself barefoot, for nearly everyone went barefoot in the summer to save on shoe leather, walking for three days in the July sun.

Now imagine how you would explain hitting the highway in an air-conditioned SUV to Joe and the rest of the group! Our forefathers were certainly a hardy lot!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Norwood Park 136th Birthday Party
Saturday, July 24
12:00pm - 4:00pm
and 5:00pm - 10:30pm
The Norwood Park Historical Society celebrates the city's 136th anniversary with two free events on the grounds of the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House.
Re-enactor Kevin Naughton sets up a Mini Civil War Encampment camp on the lawn from noon to 4 p.m.
Guests are encouraged to visit him, ask questions, and learn all about the life and times of a Civil War soldier.
In the evening, bring your blanket and picnic dinner after 5 p.m., and dine al fresco on the front lawn of Chicago's oldest home. At 8:30 p.m., a comedy will be shown. While these events are free, donations will be gladly accepted.

Steam Century Mystery
Saturday, July 17
2:00 pm until 10:00 pm
Midway Village Museum in Rockford invites guests into the fantastical alternative history that is known as steampunk. Steam Century Mysteries presents "It came from the Arbor or The Implications of Ill-Gotten Memoria Upon Community Hematology." Guests will experience a unique, truly immersive Victorian era science fiction/fantasy with the entire Victorian Midway Village as a backdrop. A special barn dance and steampunk vendors are also part of this event.
Group reservations and Victorian costumes are encouraged!
Cost is $35 per person and $30 for museum members. Recommended for ages 14 and up unless accompanied by a parent.
Registration required.

Summer Sundays at the Colonel Palmer House

Sunday, July 18
1:00pm -4:00pm
Join us for a peek at 19th century farming and household chores.Take a wagon ride through the field, learn to shuck and
shell corn and then grind it to make meal. Try your hand at kneading bread, shelling nuts, and making butter. Then try
doing laundry in a wash tub with a wringer, cleaning rugs on a clothes line or piecing a quilt on a treadle sewing
machine.
Demonstrators will encourage you to give it a try. Fun for kids and adults alike. Tour the historic home and learn Palmer family history from costumed staff. Displays and a craft area for the children. Admission is free.