The County's First White Settler
It is generally agreed that Michael Sprinkle, a gunsmith, was the first white man to settle within the present limits of Gallatin county. He is supposed to have come to Shawneetown as early as 1800 where he remained till 1814 when he removed into the country some four miles.
First White Settlement
Shawneetown without doubt became the first white settlement. There was a ferry at Shawneetown probably as early as 1800 or within a year or so thereafter. Its necessity resulted from the travel out of Kentucky to the salt works which were at Equality ten or twelve miles up the Saline river. The continual moving of people back and forth between Kentucky and Illinois brought many people within the county at an early date. Settlements sprang up about Equality, Omaha, and in other neighborhoods. The first settlers at Shawneetown evidently followed their own sweet will in locating their cabins, but in 1808-9 the general government ordered the town laid out, which was done. The Indians still resided in that locality. In 1812 a land office was located in Shawneetown. Many prominent men early gathered about Shawneetown.
A Land of Floods and Levees
The Indians of the village which was located at this point, gave the whites to understand that the land overflowed and the people must often take to the hills for safety. In a very early day the people began to construct levees for protection against high water. There have been floods every decade almost since the town was laid out. About 1859-1860 the state granted the town a charter to borrow money with which to build a levee. The state granted aid. The work went forward slowly. In 1867 the river covered the entire town and rose into the second stories. The state and town had spent many thousands of dollars on the levees and they were thought safe, but in 1875 they broke and the town was flooded. For several years the floods seemed to come annually. In 1884 the city was flooded the water rising 56.4 feet above low water mark. More money was spent and the levees raised. By 1888 or 1890 there were four and a half miles of levees, built at a cost of $200,000. In 1898, or thereabouts, the levees broke above the city and great damage was done property by the enormous current which swept through the city. Many homes were swept away and more than a score of lives were lost. The general government appropriated $25,000 with which to repair the break in the levee, and thousands of dollars in money, clothing and food poured into Shawneetown from every hamlet, village and town. In 1907 another severe test arose, the water reaching 52.8 feet. By prompt and vigilant attention by the city the threatened danger was averted.
A few years ago the state created an Internal Improvement Commission. This commission has expended many thousands of dollars of state appropriates in an effort to strengthen the Shawneetown levees. An effort is also on foot o get help from Congress, and there is reason to believe, since the high water of April, 1912, that the levees are proof against the waters of the Ohio. [Webmaster's note: high water broke through the levee the following year in 1913.]
The history of the county, at least in its earliest decades, is identical with the history of a number of Illinois' great names. Probably the oldest name among these is that of the Wilsons. Alexander Wilson an early emigrant to Illinois settled at Shawneetown so early as 1802 or [p. 471] thereabout and operated a ferry across the Ohio river. His son Harrison Wilson was an ensign in the war of 1812 and a captain in the Black Hawk war. Harrison had two sons, Bluford, who was adjutant general of volunteers during the Civil war and solicitor for the U.S. treasury in Grant's administration. The other son, James H., was born in Shawneetown in 1837. Educated at West Point; held positions in the Engineer corps of several expeditions. Rose to the rank of major general and was detailed to pursue Jefferson Davis in his flight from Richmond, Va., and eventually captured that distinguished prisoner. The returned to private life. When the Spanish-American war broke out he served as Major General of Volunteers. He has written several books of travel and biography.
General Thomas Posey
General Thomas Posey was born 1750 in Virginia. He was captain and lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary war. He was at Stony Point and at Yorktown. He held the position of lieutenant governor of Kentucky, U.S. senator from Louisiana, territorial governor of Indiana, made his home in Shawneetown and lies buried in Westwood cemetery, Shawneetown.
Other Prominent Men
Other prominent citizens of Illinois whose lives were connected with Gallatin county history were John McLean, representative in congress; Gen. John A. McClernand, warrior and statesman; John Marshall, pioneer financier; Henry Eddy, veteran newspaper man; Gen. John A. Logan, the idol of the Illinois volunteers; Robert G. Ingersoll, the matchless orator; Chas. Carroll and Thomas Ridgway, noted financiers and public spirited citizens of later years; Gen. Michael K. Lawler, a hero of two wars.
Town of Equality
Equality is a thriving town on the Saline river some ten or twelve miles from Shawneetown. It has extensive coal miens and has one of the largest coke ovens in the state. In this city will be erected a monument by the state in honor of the public service to the state of Gen. Michael K. Lawler. The appropriation has been made and the work is under way. Omaha in the northwest corner of the county, Ridgway toward the center, and New Haven in the northeast are all towns of importance. The last named was settled by Jonathan Boone, a brother of Daniel Boone. Boone settled New Haven as early as 1812 or 1814. He built a stockade known as Boone's Fort. Four miles west [webmaster's note: should be south] of Shawneetown is Bowlesville, a small village whose chief interest was coal mining. Here lived fifty years ago a gentleman whom Mark Twain made famous-George Eschol Sellers. In Twain's "Golden Age" George Eschol Sellers is dramatized as "Colonel Mulberry Sellers," or "Millions in it." The friends of Mr. Sellers remember him as an honest, industrious, intelligent gentleman who spent his time in making inventions, managing a great coal company, and cultivating silk worms. He had a valuable private library and kept open house to distinguished visitors.
A Pioneer Industry
On February 12, 1812, congress created the Shawneetown land district. Leonard White, Willis Hargrave, and Philip Trammel constituted a committee to set aside the land adjacent to these salt works as a "reservation" for the benefit of the salt works. The timber was needed for fuel to boil down the brine. Something like 100,000 acres of land was reserved from sale in the immediate vicinity of the Great Half Moon Lick which was found near Equality. An additional 84,000 acres were reserved in other southern Illinois communities. On the Saline river which rises in Hamilton, Franklin and Williamson, and empties into the Ohio in Gallatin county, was found on one of the great salt licks which is to be found, in the United States. There was also in the immediate vicinity salt springs of strongly impregnated water. This lick is within a half mile of the town of Equality, Gallatin county; the spring is down the Saline river about three miles. The salt making process was very simple. Large iron kettles holding from forty-five to ninety gallons each were brought down the Ohio from Pittsburgh to Shawneetown. Long trenches were dug in the ground and lined with rock on the sides. The kettles were set over these trenches and the spaces between filled with mortar or mud, a chimney was constructed at one end of the long row of kettles and a fire kept constantly burning underneath the kettles which were filled with the brine. The brine was gotten by digging wells from thirty feet to 2,000 feet deep.
The fuel was the timber off the reservation. This was easily furnished for a few years, but soon the timber was cut for one or two miles. Then the cost of hauling fuel to the wells and the furnaces was too great to justify the continuance of the business. Then was shown real genius — then came the forerunner of the present pipe line system The furnaces were now moved to the timber in some instances some three or four miles away. The water was carried to the furnaces in wooden pipes. These pipes were made by cutting down trees about ten to sixteen inches in diameter and into lengths of from twelve to twenty feet. A two-inch auger hole was bored endwise through these logs. At the butt end the opening was reamed out, while the smaller end of another log was trimmed to enter this enlarged opening. The small end was inserted into the butt end and the joint made secure by a sort of battering ram.
To prevent the butt end from splitting, iron bands were fitted over the log. These wooden pipelines ran straight from the wells to the timber, over small hills and across streams. To force the water over the small hills a sort of standpipe was constructed at the well high enough to force the water over all points between the wells and the furnaces. In crossing the streams the pipe line was forced to the bottom of the water by heavy iron riders said to weigh several hundred pounds.
In the days of the pipe line system, there were hundreds of men employed, lumbermen, wood haulers, firemen, hands to attend to the evaporating pans, coopers, inspectors, store-keepers, rivermen, hoop-pole merchants, and overseers. The pipes were first bored by hand but soon a horsepower auger was arranged. Negro slaves were the principal laborers. Later when the improved machinery, etc., was used, they made as much as 500 barrels a day. The manufacture of salt ceased about Equality in 1870 because salt could be made cheaper in other parts of the country.
George W. Smith. 1912. A History of Southern Illinois:
A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People, and its
Principal Interests. Chicago, Ill.: Lewis Publishing Co. 1:469-474.
©2003 Jon Musgrave