Montgomery County Illinois History

Timber Rat Society

From Waggoner Vignettes by Horace Q Waggoner, Jr. (1986)

Bert Aikman, a long-time farmer in Township 11-5 (Pitman Township), in his oral history memoir, applied the title “timber rats” to those who settled along the forested waterways of the western part of the township.  He called those who settled on the prairie “prairie suckers”.

Some dozen timber rat families established farmsteads in Township 11-5 during the first West Central Illinois land boom.  These farmsteads, nestled along the forest western boundary of the township between Horse and Macoupin Creeks, were on the eastern fringe of a rural community developing in Macoupin County.  The first formal social action on the park of this community was to organize church denominations.

The Methodists and Baptists organized in 1829.  In 1830, they, together with the newly organized Christians, constructed the Sulphur Springs Church.  It would seem that the Baptists took the lead as they reserved the first Sunday of each month for their services.

The same year that the Sulphur Springs Church was constructed, A Methodist Church was built at Leesburg, the village just south of Township 11-5, which would soon be renamed Zanesville.  However Sulphur Springs, being closer and without a creek to ford, was easier for the township’s timber rats to reach.

The first child born in Township 11-5, to the Hendershots at Macoupin Point in 1827, presumably would have been christened in a Sulphur Springs congregation after the organizational action.  The mother died in 1828, the first death in the township, too soon for services to be conducted by a local area formal organization.

The Sulphur Springs Church saw the first marriage of Township 11-5 people when David G Whithorn married Catherine, the daughter of David Bagby, in 1834. 

Provisions for education followed closely of those made for religion.  A formal school was started in the Sulphur Springs Church in 1830 and the same year a schoolhouse was constructed in the village of Leesburg.

Other than church, and school for the children, there was little local social activity.  The timber rats were too busy getting their farms established to have much time for socializing.  For the most part, that done at the homes was associated with the needs of the farmsteads or farms.  These gatherings, commonly called “bees”, were for such purposes as the raising of buildings, corn husking or wheat cradling where socializing could take place while essential tasks were being performed.

Monthly militia muster days and annual election and Fourth of July celebration days were occasions to visit Leesburg.  Here general merchandise, hardware, blacksmithing and medical attention were available.  Longer trips were infrequently made.  Hillsboro, the county seat, might be visited for matters of law or for the milling facility located there.  Edwardsville might require a marketing trip now and then, but stock buyers moving through the area collecting herds of cattle and hogs generally took care of this. 

The timber rat families of Township 11-5 continued to look to Sulphur Springs and Zanesville as the primary centers of their social activities through the depression years of the 1840’s.

Transcribed by Ann Stoddard, December 2010

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