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The Families

Bloomington was not an empty place when the 1838 pioneers arrived. The Dawsons and Evans, among others, had already arrived and established homes in Blooming Grove. Illinois was also occupied by Native Americans. A tiny teepee is drawn on the map to represent the indians that lived on the edge of the town. 

At least one of the settlers had happy relations with the Indians near Bloomington. John Dawson, who came here as a young boy, was very fond of two Indian women that he called Aunt Peggy and Aunt Nancy. During one winter he had no shoes and the women made mocassins for him. He played with their children and was entertained in their “wigwams.” Dawson’s sister, Mrs. Paist recalled being carried to the wigwam on a woman’s back and being fed nuts. Peggy and Nancy were not Illinois Indians, but were from New York and educated there. Dawson also told of one old Indian woman who was ill and suffering greatly. According to Dawson, the Indians decided that she was a witch and killed her, burying her under only branches and leaves. He told of a deerskin suit the women had made for him, which was stolen by travelers who stayed the night in the Dawson cabin. He much regretted losing that treasured relic of his boyhood.

Maria Dawson Paist told stories of domestic life on the prairie in the earliest days (around 1828):  Mrs. Paist remembered her mother fondly  in 1904:  “She was an utterly fearless woman, would ford the Mackinaw when it was above the bed of the buggy and the ponies had to swim for it, and the coarsest roughest men became quiet and gentlemanly in her presence. Her sunny disposition, helpfulness, wit and humor made her the life of social gatherings she attended.” Mrs. Paist could also remember when Indians lived nearby and how her mother would face them down, even when they were painted up in fearsome war paint. Mrs. Paist also remembered the fruits of the prairie, prepared by her mother. They would gather wild crab apples, strawberries, raspberries and black berries and preserve them with sugar. Dried apples and peaches, beeswax and honey were sold by her mother in Springfield, Peoria and Chicago, and she would travel there in a light buggy pulled by two ponies.


The bread available to the pioneers was quite monotonous – corn bread. The corn was pounded and milled in a burned out tree stump made for the purpose. After the first fanning mills (made by Seth Baker) came to the county, white bread was more commonly available. Wheat had to be milled in a coffee mill or milled at very distant horse mills.

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