Calhoun County

1934 History of Calhoun County

Chapter 10 ~ Social Life

If we are to believe the letters written by the older inhabitants and tales related to us by our grandparents, the people in the olden days had many way to amuse themselves, and life was not the dreary existence in an isolated cabin, as we often allow ourselves to imagine it was.


The great amusement of our grandparents and great grandparents was dancing. One of the old inhabitants of the Civil War days said:

"There were a few days of the year, New Year's Day, Washington's Birthday, Fourth of July, and Christmas, that we set aside by both old and the young, as a day to be hallowed with merriment and pleasure. Usually on those days a grand ball would be given, and grand it was too. At the home of Antione DeGerlia's in a spacious and palatial hewed log house, on the spot where Paul Godar now lives, and at Hamburg at the house of Ferdinand Wineland, the grandest of the grand balls were given in those days, and were attended by the best people in the land; perfect order was maintained; nothing that would tend to mar the pleasure of the guests tolerated."

"Dancing was a great sport", says another old settler, "I never attended but one ball and then only a few hours. The houses were too small to accommodate the dancers, and those who were not dancing would stand in the yard around burning log heaps. Sometimes there would be a general fight, and the girls would mix in the fight as well as the men, but 'Still the dance went on.'"

Judge F. I. Bizaillion of Hardin said: "As to dancing, we had them two, three, or four times a week and sometimes on Sunday. Very often the county officials took part in our dances." Another pioneer who came to Illinois in 1839 "found fiddling and dancing the order of the day".

Most of the dances were held in the homes of the settlers. One or two fidddlers and sometimes a third person with an accordion made the music. The type of dancing was what is now called "Square Dancing."

When a group of people came together to do some work, they usually had a dance in the evening. If a man had a great number of logs to be moved, or a barn to be built of logs, he would invite from fifteen to thirty neighbors to help him. In the words of W. E. Barber an early settler, "It was hard dirty work but it was given in a spirit of neighborly helpfulness and performed in the spirit of fun and frolic. As the forenoon wore on the noise was apt to increase, especially if the whiskey jug was in evidence, as it usually was when the accommodations permitted, a dance would follow, in the evening. House raisings offered another opportunity to extend a helping hand, and to have a good time. In the same list may be placed corn-huskings and brush-cuttings."


A custom that has nearly disappeared is that of "Christmas Shooting" and "New Year Shooting". A north Calhoun pioneer described the custom as follows:

"A crowd of men and boys would collect and form a company, armed with guns, bells, horns, anything that would make a noise, and then they would go from house to house through the whole neighborhood, ringing bells, blowing horns, and firing guns in their march around the house, until at last they would be invited in, and after a social repast of apples, pies, doughnuts, etc., they would move on to the nearest neighbor, missing no one." As a general rule the people of the German Catholic communities did not go around in this manner on Christmas eve, due to the fact that it would interfere with their church duties on Christmas morning. But they did go around on New Year's eve, and cider, wine, and whiskey were usually included in the lists of refreshments that were served.

The custom of going about on Christmas eve has died out in most places due to the fact that Churches and Communities have programs for the children on that evening. But New Year Shooting is still practiced in Richwoods and Point Precincts.


Another celebration that is somewhat similar is known as "Three Kings' Night", and is held the sixth of January. Three men of the community would mask and dress to disguise their identity, and in company with the other young men, would call at different homes of the community. Usually persons with some musical or vocal ability were chosen as "Kings", and they would sing or play at the homes of the people they visited. The same type of refreshments was served to the visitors as was served on New Year's eve, and it is said as the evening passed, the vocal and musical numbers increased both in volume and quantity. This custom is usually linked with the German communities and was brought over from the Fatherland. Probably the only community that celebrated this day, in 1933, was Meppen.


Nearly all accounts of the early days in Calhoun County mention the spelling school. As one writer in the Hardin neighborhood said, "I must not omit the good times we had at the log cabin raisings, log rollings, shooting matches, and so on, but the spelling school was the boss." Another said: "The singing and spelling schools and the debating societies were the only forms of amusements of an intellectual character within the reach of most of the sections."

One of the last of the spelling schools held in Hardin vicinity was held in 1916 or 1917. The pupils of the high school and upper grades spelled against some of the older people of the town, who had had experience in the spelling schools of the old days. Needless to say that when all of the young people were eliminated, a long line of "old timers" were still standing.


Another form of amusement that was popular in the early days was sleighing. Every farmer had a large bob-sled, and during the winter months, it was in use much of the time. Trips to church and to the stores would be made in it, and in the evenings the young people would go to dances, parties or just for a ride. When the automobile was introduced, the sleds began to decrease in number.


Fairs and picnics were held in the county from the earliest times. The Fourth of July was a favorite time for a picnic and celebration. One of the most famous of these was the Centennial celebration that was held in Hardin on July 4, 1876, on the lots just north of the present site of the Hardin High School building. It was at this celebration that John Lammy read his "History of Calhoun County". This was an account of only a thousand words in length, but was very important not only because it was the first attempt to collect some material on the history of the county, but because its author had been an eye-witness to many of the events which he described, and had been personally acquainted with most of the early settlers. Several bands were organized before 1900, and they played at most of the picnics and fairs. A band was organized one summer at Jennings Grove, in Belleview Precinct, and a young man named William Cody, who was taking care of some cattle for a man in the neighborhood, joined the band and helped furnish music for a picnic. Cody went west that fall and later became famous in the western country. He was known to the people of the west as "Buffalo Bill".

A county fair was organized, and the fair was held at Kampsville and sometimes at Hardin. During the last two years of its existence, it was held about a mile north of Hardin, just south of the mouth of the "Poor Farm Hollow". The last fair was held about the year 1910. The main reason for its failure was the lack of financial support.


There were a number of baseball teams in the county in the nineties and much enthusiasm was shown for this sport. Another form of sport that was popular was that of horse racing. On Sunday afternoons groups of young men would congregate in different places and the afternoon would be spent in riding their horses up and down the roads.

Skating was always popular and there few places in the county that was over a few miles from either of the rivers, or some bay or lake. On Sunday afternoons large crowds of both young people and adults would congregate. But, like sleighing, skating has lost much of its popularity in the county.

Extracted 20 May 2017 by Norma Hass from History of Calhoun County, pages 73-75.

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