1878 Going to Market

The early settler experienced great trouble in marketing their produce. Grain was generally carted to Chicago, especially from the northern part of the county, until the introduction of railroads. Peoria was also a market, but more particularly from the western and southern parts of the county; yet grain and hogs have been marketed in Chicago from all parts of the county. Of course it took several days to make the trip; and as there were few good hotels along the route, the farmers generally slept in their wagons and prepared their own meals along the road. Their cooking utensils consisted usually of a frying-pan and a coffee-pot, and their bill of fare would be hot coffee, bread and fried bacon. At that time Chicago was nothing better than a great, overgrown village, set down in what appeared to be the lowest and muddiest spot in creation. The farmers unloaded into a hopper, and the elevators were no better than will usually be seen in most country towns. At times when roads were good and prices a little up there was often a big rush; and as they slowly unloaded and advanced the length of one team at a time, the unlucky farmer would sometimes be delayed several hours before he could get his grain into the hopper and the cash therefore into his pocket.
The price for wheat in Chicago ranged from forty cents to a dollar and twenty cents a bushel, but it seldom reached as high as a dollar; it generally ranged at fifty or sixty cents. The farmers were not in any danger of becoming suddenly rich by selling their wheat at these prices and carting it to Chicago; yet all enjoyed such trips, for many things occurred on the way that make the old men, in now rehearsing them, wish they were young again, and could once more repeat them, as of old.
About 1842, while Jonathan Gibbs with several others were on their way to Chicago with wheat, and were sleeping in and about their wagons, they were awakened before break of day by a man on his return trip, who called out, as he came in sight of the sleepers: “Ho! All ye who are drawing wheat to Chicago for forty-seven cents a bushel, you should be up and rolling on your way.”
Gaddial Scott, John Martz, Andrew Osborn, a Mr. Field and others, made a trip to Chicago one fall. They could get but twenty-five cents a bushel for their wheat in this county; so they thought they would try the Chicago market, which was considerably better for them, as they received sixty-five cents a bushel, which they then regarded as a large price, although they were eleven days an a half in making the trip. Allowing thirty bushels to the load, we find they received $19.50 for the wheat, which, calculating the time spent in marketing, is less than $1.70 a day for man and team. But when we reckon the time and labor spent in growing, harvesting, threshing and cleaning it, especially with their antique and much inferior machinery, we find the compensations received for labor in those days were meager indeed. Several little incidents occurred during the trip of the above mentioned gentlemen. Mr. Scott had never visited the city before, and when hey came in sight of it, noticing the masts of the ships which lay in the river, he thought they were a strip of dead timber. On reaching the city and when near the river, driving along on one of the busy streets, he was so much interested in the tall masts of the shipping that he forgot to notice his team, which run into the one ahead of him, smashing the feed-box, which was always carried on the rear end of the wagon bed. A dog they had along became so bewildered at the sights of the city that it forgot to follow its master closely, and was accordingly lost. Several days afterward, however, it returned home, with no desire whatever to take another trip to Chicago.
Mr. Scott brought three barrels of salt home with him, for which he paid $1.50 per barrel; the price for that article here being $3 per bushel. Jonathan Gibbs says he paid that price for salt in 1838, getting fifty-six pounds to the bushel. One cause for this staple article being so high was that the Illinois river was so shallow that navigation on it was prevented.
In the winter of 1841 Judge R. L. Hannaman drove 1,300 head of hogs from Knoxville to Chicago. For these he paid $2 per hundred pounds net. He had them slaughtered and packed in that city, and shipped to New York and Boston. In the enterprise, which at the time was a stupendous one, Mr. Hannaman lost $5,000. He had sixteen boys employed to drive the stock, and consumed sixteen days’ hard work to reach the city. Considerable trouble was experienced in securing places to stop over night, as the number, both of boys and hogs, was so large that but few settlers along the route could accommodate them. One night Mr. Hannaman and his whole company remained with John H. Bryant, a brother of the poet, who was then living in a comfortable dwelling on a fine farm near Princeton. In Chicago he stopped at the “Illinois Hotel,” kept by Colonel Beaubien, a Frenchman, who was quite extensively known through Northern Illinois. In relating the incidents of the trip, the Judge remarked: “At that early day Chicago gave no hint or suspicion that she would ever become the great commercial metropolis of the Northwest. She was then a small town, situated in the midst of miry swamps, any quantity of which I could have bought for almost nothing, but would not have accepted as a gift.”
In the winter of 1842-3 Jonathan Gibbs went to Peoria to sell his pork; but the highest offer made him was by Cortennis & Griswold, large packers, which was 1 ½ cents per pound for dressed hogs, and 3 ½ cash or 4 cents in trade, for green hams, and the same for lard. Over a fire-place in Mr. Gibbs’ log cabin sixteen barrels of lard were tried out that fall. Such a stupendous job of work would scarcely be undertaken by any family at the present time.

Contributed by Pat White and Charlotte Babicki, extracted from the 1878 History of Knox County, Illinois, published by Charles C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, pages 117-119.

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