1878 Bee-Hunting

During the early settlement of this part of the State, one of the prevailing customs of the pioneers was “bee-hunting.” Often a small company would travel many miles into a wild, unsettled country, in search of the sweet-flavored honey of the wild bee. Large trees, containing many gallons, and often a barrel, were frequently found by bee-hunters. The little, busy bees would be carefully watched as they flew heavily laden with the riches extract of the flowers that were purely native and unknown to the present generation. They always took a bee-line for their homes. This was a correct guide to the sturdy hunter, who had studied with care the ways of the bee and by their knowledge took advantage of the little insect. Once on the trail, good bee-hunters were almost certain to catch the rich prize. After the bee tree was discovered it was no trouble to get possession of the honey. The tree was felled, and the hunters would rush for their booty ere it was lost by running out upon the ground.
In 1827 Andy Osborn, Andrew Scott, John Slatten and Gaddial Scott, four sturdy young men from Sangamon county, made a tour through this country in search of honey. They pushed ahead, over prairie and through timber, until Henderson Grove in this county was reached. Here they discovered two well filled trees, and without trouble were soon possessors of their delicious contents. This little company camped on the land now owned by John Miles, on the Warren and Knox county line. They remained for one week, during which time they met neither white man nor negro. The only persons these explorers met, from the time of their leaving Sangamon county until they returned, were a Mr. Atwood and his son, who lived south of the old Galena road.
When we remember that all of this section of the country was not inhabited save by the red man and wild beasts of forest and prairie, one will certainly come to the conclusion that the Sangamon county boys were great lovers of honey, or else were fearless of danger and cared not for hardship. Mr. Gaddial Scott seemed to have formed a good impression of Knox county, for we find him moving here a few years after.
These men were the first, so far as we know, who crossed the prairies of Knox county. Hunters and travelers had previously been here, but when, or who they were, is not known. Mr. Scott and Mr. Osborn subsequently came to the county to live, and the former is at the present time an active citizen.
Knox county seems to have been especially favored in quantity of honey produced by the wild bees. Trees containing them were in great abundance. Indeed, the county was known as a land flowing with honey. There were men living within its boundaries who followed no other business than gathering honey and the honeycomb. They made their regular trips to market, disposing of their stock. The wax was the principal article, however, that they marketed. While John G. Sanburn was in the mercantile business at Henderson, he sent to St. Louis several barrels of strained honey at one time, together with a large quantity of beeswax. The price generally paid for honey was 37½ cents per gallon.
Parnach Owen took nine gallons of strained honey and twenty-two pounds of wax from one tree, which, although often excelled, was an extra good tree.
Casks were often made of hollow bass-wood logs, from one to three feet long, with a bottom set in. These were made watertight and were used for years.

Contributed by Pat White and Charlotte Babicki, extracted from the 1878 History of Knox County, Illinois, published by Charles C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, pages 121-125.

Templates in Time