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It appears that settlements were not made along the Mackinaw at as early a day as they were made in the southern part of McLean County. We find Blooming, Randolph’s and Funk’s Groves had each several families as early as 1833, while it was five or six years before any are reported as being in White Oak. Doubtless this was owing to the fact that the settlement of this State was then proceeding from the south toward the north, and the early pioneers felt that the Mackinaw Timber was rather a frontier settlement.
The pioneers of the other groves in McLean County preferred to live together, being anxious to build schoolhouses and have the social and religious advantages of well-settled communities, rather than be scattered too far apart. Probably the presence during these years-from 1823 to 1829 – of large numbers of Indians along the Mack inaw had something to do with this state of affairs. These Indians were regarded as friendly, but no one knew just how far to trust them. In fact, in 18’37, troops were called out to protect settlers living north of the Illinois River, and it required considerable courage to locate many miles in advance of a strong settlement.
The southern portion of White Oak Grove – that which forms the north part of the present town of White Oak – must have presented an interesting appearance to the early prospectors. Here was a magnificent body of timber, fronting upon a beautiful tract of the finest prairie to be found in the State. A few miles in the rear was a stream well stocked with fish: while the Grove was a noted resort of deer, turkeys and other wild game of the period. Here the pioneer might reasonably look forward to a long season of good hunting, while lie could, at the same time, avail himself of all the advantages to be derived from timber and prairie adjoining in such large bodies that neither would be likely- to be at once taken by new settlers.
The correctness of this reasoning, so far as it relates to wild game has been proven by the fact that two deer were killed in this neighborhood as late as 1874; while, at the present time, White Oak Grove possesses wild turkeys and more game than any other timber of Central Illinois, though the Mackinaw does not furnish fish as it did fifty years ago.
Smith Denman, the oldest man living in White Oak, was its first pioneer. He settled here in September, 1829. During the same year, Thomas Dixon arrived, and, also. Littleton Sandford.
In 1830, Elisha Dixon. John 13-own, Samuel and Robert Philips settled here. In the spring of 73′.31, three brothers, John, James and William Benson, settled near each other, on the south side of the Grove. A year after that, Abraham W. Carlock made his home about one hundred yards west of the McLean County line, in Woodford. During the same year, Zachariah Brown and Orrin Robinson made their settlement. Reuben Carlock came in 1833.
Other settlers, also, arrived before this time, so that by the end of 1836, there was a goodly number in and about the Grove. Some of the above-named should be credited to Woodford County. Several of the early pioneers bad lived in other portions of McLean County before taking up land here.
The Bensons were sons of John Benson, of Blooming Grove, and came to that settlement with their father in 1823. They took a prominent part in the affairs of that settlement. Their father is often referred to in its history. He taught school at the southwest side of Blooming Grove several terms, was first County Treasurer of Tazewell County and was one of Blooming Grove’s best men. He removed to White Oak in 1842. Here he passed the last years of his life-a remarkable instance of longevity ; he died in 1874, having been ninety-six years old. He lived in the ” Benson settlement,’ with his three sons, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren – 115 in all, most of whom were living in the same neighborhood.
Mr. Benson was a genuine pioneer. He lived in Kentucky in his boyhood, until 1798, when his father removed to Southern Indiana. In the war of 1212, John Ben son fought with Gen. Harrison at Tippecanoe. In 1830, he removed to Illinois. He was one of the best specimens of the early pioneers, having been a man of some education, while he was, at the same time, a hard-working, industrious settler. His memory will be gratefully preserved by our community as well as revered by the large family which he founded. His three sons, who settled in White Oak, were “chips of the old block “-men most admirably fitted for the work they undertook. In fact, Smith Denman, the Dixons; the Browns, the Phillipses, the Carlocks and all the pioneers were first-class men.
Here was organized, naturally, at an early day, one of the pleasantest communities to be found in the West. The early settlers were well-disposed persons, and their descendants are of the same disposition. It is not saying too much to state that nowhere in McLean County can its equal be found. The present generation is largely made up of people who were born here or who have lived here from their childhood; and they have nearly all fallen into the good ways of the settlement.
The town possesses five churches, with seat-room enough for more than all its inhabitants-something that can be said of but. few towns in the United States. Its inhabit ants are mostly a church-going people. They are honest, moral, religious, social, economical, are not in debt, have no paupers, do not go to law, are generous to each other in misfortune, have no aristocracy, pay their bills-in short, form a strictly well regulated, we might almost say a model, community.
Here we find, more marked than in any other town in the county, the simplicity and good habits of our early settlers, uncontaminated by modern degenerate practices. There are no large villages near enough to attract the attention of the younger people, and they find amusement and sociability at home, and grow up purer and better than would be the case were they convenient to a city. Besides this, we should mention the fact that the population has changed less than any other, is made up more of the families and descendants of the first settlers, and is mingled less with foreigners than is the case in most towns. Fortunately, the foreigners living here are nearly all of the religious, careful, economical class, whose manners and customs are largely in harmony with those of the balance of the community.
The family connections of the Bensons, the Carlocks, the Browns, the Phillipses, and those of a few others of the old families, form some remarkable circles of relatives, living in good circumstances, moral-nearly all of them religious-bringing down to the present generation the best qualities of the early pioneers of this county, they are among the very best specimens of the “good old times” that can be found in McLean County. Their influence has affected the whole neighborhood favorably, and the honesty and good conduct of the people of the township have given it an enviable reputation. “Little White Oak” is the favorite of the balance of McLean County. Its history should be written with more care than we can give, as it abounds in most interesting events. Unfortunately for us, we can devote but little space to the fractional township now under consideration. We hope the history of the whole of White Oak Grove, without regard to the present township lines, will be written by some person who can do justice to the whole Grove.
The deep snow which came late in 1830, and stayed until February, 1831, found only seven families at the Grove-Elisha Dixon, Smith Denman, Thomas Dixon, John Brown, Samuel and Robert Phillips and Littleton Sandford. Elisha Dixon arrived the very day the snow commenced falling. There were over forty days in which snow fell, and it was thirty-six inches deep on a level in the Grove. In some spots where drifts formed from prairie winds, the drifts were from ten to fifteen feet deep. As none of the settlers had been here over about a year, and most of them less than that, they were not as well prepared as were those who lived at Blooming Grove and other old settlements, and there was considerable suffering. This story has been so often told, and is repeated so much elsewhere in this book, that we will give it little space in this chapter.
The sufferings of this little band of pioneers, however, deserve more particular record, it being almost the beginning of history, as far as White Oak Grove is concerned. At the time of the Black Hawk war, in 1835, several of the bravest men volunteered in Capt. McClure’s company, and served through the campaign. Among the number were John Benson and Mr. Phillips, and there were several others.
After the news of the defeat of the troops from McLean and Tazewell Counties at Stillman Valley, the whole of this region became panic-stricken, and there were frequent “scares” along the Mackinaw, that in after days were often made sport of, though at the time they occurred they were terrible. There was so much reason to dread the Indians that a company was called out to guard the “frontier” of McLean County, and they patrolled the ” border” for sixty days, most o£ the time, however, being farther east and northeast than the territory under consideration. The people living a few miles north and east were much more frightened than the residents of White Oak Grove.
Among the settlers who were in the township of White Oak, or in the Grove very near the present township, in the year 1841. we find the names of Smith Denman, Thomas Dixon, John Dixon, Joseph Dixon. Elijah Dixon, Elisba Dixon, James Ben son, John Benson, William Benson, Silas Garrison, Reuben Carlock, George Carlock, A. M. Carlock, Abner Peales, John Hinthorne, Samuel Kirkpatrick. John McGee, Stephen Taylor, Isaac Allin, Richard Rowell, Frank Rowell, R. C. Brown, Jeremiah Brown, Orman Robinson, Zachariah Brown, John W. Brown, John Denman, James Phillips, Lewis Stephens, D. M. Stephens, Jared D. Franklin, John Hinshaw.
This indicates a very fine settlement for this early date, and shows us that the timber-land was probably all taken that was situated convenient to the prairie.