Jefferson County

By Jerry Elliston

Does anyone know what a "wide fence row" is? This little true story
reveals one of the little known problems of the early pioneer farmer as
he struggled with a hundred others. William King Bean and his good wife
Clemenza Thompson were pioneers in Long Prairie, not far from Mt. Vernon,
Illinois. He was known as "Uncle Will" to the family and to the community.
Soon after he and Clemenza were married they moved to Long Prairie and
selected the site of their future home. They built a log cabin, cut the
timber, cleared the land, broke the soil, put up fences and began raising
their large family. These were hard years, filled with back breaking days
of hard toil, from sun up to long after sunset. There was little time for
things that could be put off until another day. Like many of the other
settlers, Uncle Will put off going to the nearest land office which was
located at Shawneetown, about seventy miles distant. Year after year he
put it off. He was known as a "squatter" on the land. Most of his neighbors
were "squatters" too, but it made little difference because all pioneers
honored and respected each others rights. The day came, however, when unscrupulous
neighbors got greedy for a "fast buck" and began buying their neighbors
land with all of the improvements. It was perfectly legal since the first
person to file on a quarter section was the legal owner. Many good pioneer
families were forced to move away from land they had considered their own
and which they had cleared and improved. Needless to say, many lifelong
animosities and family hatreds were created. On Long Prairie the spirit
of helpfulness between neighbors that had prevailed since the first settler
came, disappeared overnight. Suspicion was everywhere and no man trusted
even his closest neighbor. Uncle Will went about his work always telling
himself that he would go to Shawneetown "tomorrow" and file on his land.
Days passed into weeks and one day an old friend and neighbor rode in to
warn him and tell him of a conversation he had overheard. It seems that
John Vaughn's eyes sparkled when he looked at Uncle Will's farm and he
had bragged that he was going to the land office the next day and buy the
Bean farm for a little nothing. Uncle Will suddenly sprang into action.
That night after it was dark he saddled his fastest horse and took off
for Shawneetown. He rode through the long night as fast as his black gelding
could run. Southeast through the little village of Mt. Vernon, 27 miles
further to McLeansboro, then south to Eldorado 21 miles more, and east
another 15 miles to the little pioneer settlement of Shawneetown, located
on the west bank of the Ohio River. The faithful gelding was nearly "dead
broke" when he rode into town and stopped in front of the United States
Land Office in midmorning. Uncle Will was a weary man himself, but he had
arrived in time. Before resting or feeding the gelding, he saw to it that
his land was really his own. He paid for it in gold and got his official
title. One can only imagine the relief he enjoyed as he walked out of that
office. He need have no further worry about unscrupulous neighbors taking
his farm through a loophole in the law. After a few hours to rest the faithful
gelding Uncle Will saddled up and started home, back over the long trail
again. Whom should he meet on the trail about half way home? None other
than John Vaughn! We will perhaps never know for sure what John Vaughn
was going to Shawneetown for, but he had made the boast. When Uncle Will
arrived home the first thing he did was build another fence between his
farm and that of John Vaughn. Ever after he would not allow his stock to
graze within 30 feet of John Vaughn's land. Gradually trees and brush grew
up in the "wide fence row" was and still is a monument to a feud in southern
Illinois between an honest pioneer farmer and an unscrupulous Land Grabber
of those difficult times. The Will Bean farm was located about 3/4 of a
mile north of Ryder on the west side of the road between the George Hicks
place and the Rich Davis place, on a lane that went west about 1/2 mile.
The old sand stone lined well and signs of the cabin were still there three
years ago. Will Bean was Margie Ellistons great grandfather. 

SOURCE: Prairie Historian  SUBMITTED BY: Misty Flannigan  Jan 18, 1998


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