Illinois

Nathaniel Pope: Giving Illinois Its Shape

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Fall brings many rituals to the state line area of northern Illinois. Weekends are filled with raking leaves, apple ciders, apple orchards, bon fires, hay rack rides, pumpkin festivals, and football; Ah, yes…football. I live in a town that is filled with half Packers fans, half Bears fans. The school where I teach is the same. However, there are times when I think northern Illinois has more in common with Wisconsin than it does with the rest of Illinois. Once one gets south of Interstate 80, Illinois has a different feel to it. The pace of life is slower and the land is flatter (until the tip of southern Illinois and the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys). I sometimes wonder if I am in different state than I should be. If it wasn’t for Nathaniel Pope in 1818, I would be.

For over a 100 years, Illinois was known as the Illinois territory and controlled by the French. A scattering of French trading forts existed along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois rivers. Father Pierre Marquette suggested a canal connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River seemed like a natural idea for the economic benefit of the interior of the continent. At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the territory was ceded to the British. For a whopping 15 years, the British took little interest in the area and had just a few forts. During the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark and the Long Knives invaded from what is now Kentucky and took Fort Massac and Kaskaskia and proceeded to march across the territory to Vincennes securing the upper Midwest for the new United States of America. During the War, Virginia would control the land for a while. After the war, the Illinois Country became part of the Northwest Territory.

In 1800, Illinois then became part of the Indiana Territory under the governance of a young William Henry Harrison. Due to geographic circumstances and the lack of technology, Illinois and Indiana both grew northward starting at the Ohio River. In order to trade goods, both were initially dependent on southern river traffic to exist.

In 1809, Illinois became its own territory that extended all the way to the northern tip of Wisconsin into eastern Minnesota.

The settlement of the territory was slow due in fact to its isolation on the western frontier, but also in part to the climate, access, and the inability to plow the thick prairie  soil, not to mention Indians in its northern portions.

Nathaniel Pope would change the Illinois territory. Born in Kentucky, Pope’s brother, John, was a U.S. Senator from Kentucky. John Pope used his connections to appoint Nathaniel secretary of the new territory.

Nathaniel Pope

Nathaniel then helped get his cousin, Ninian Edwards, appointed Governor of the territory. Before Ninian assumed his role, Nathaniel appointed others that supported Ninian to government positions in the territory.

In 1812, the territory was progressing slowly. After the War of 1812 ended, a portion of what is today western Illinois was designated as the Military Tract for payment for veterans of the war in lieu of a cash payment. However, Illinois was only at 30,000 in population despite the tract. Nathaniel Pope wanted to be more than just the secretary of the territory. He ran to be the delegate to Congress for the territory. He felt he could do more for the territory to help make it a state. A Kaskaskia newspaper said of him,

It would be doing injustice to Mr. Pope were we not to recommend him to our fellow citizens as a man in all respects deserving public confidence …. His mind is also unbiassed [sic] by party prejudices; for it is well known that he has always stood aloof from those party disputes. . . .The general interest would therefore be more likely to be his polar star in the discharge of his duties ….

Here is a map of Illinois before Pope began the push to statehood.

Notice the northern border of the territory

The boundaries of Illinois were basically set by three rivers on the south, east, and west borders. The Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers hemmed in the slowly growing populace. The northern border of the territory was initially set at the southern end of Lake Michigan. Pope, saw this as a disadvantage should Illinois become a state. While Illinois was populated in the south, very few residents lived north of Vandalia in 1818. But as the Illinois delegate to Congress, Pope was determined to put Illinois on the map, even if it meant rearranging the map.

The Northwest Ordinance originally called for the border to be at the southern tip of the Lake. But when Pope began his push, the border shifted. First, Pope asked for the border to moved 10 miles north of the southern tip. Then after a census was taken to assure 40,000 residents lived in the state (When it was closer to 30,000), Pope submitted his second proposal, eloquently making his case for a new border in the north for two reasons.
1. Economic – Pope argued that if Illinois was given more of the lakefront, the trade in the state would be more connected with northern states by way of the lakes. Trade would flow through the north rather than along the rivers of the south. It would make the great lakes the center of commerce rather than the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
2. The cause of Union – Slavery, while in the back of some minds, was most likely an issue. Although it was never explicitly stated by Pope, the growing sentiment of the time that would be reflected in the Missouri Compromise two years later in 1820, it can be inferred from tying the new state to the north economically through the Great Lakes, was an astute accomplishment in hindsight. Illinois would be in the center of the Union come 1860. While many in Southern Illinois would be sympathetic to the Confederate cause, the state would not.

Illinois in 1818 with its new northern border

Today, Pope’s shifting of the border to 42 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude has had a profound effect economically on the state and the culture of the region. There still lingers animosity between Illinois and Wisconsin over the moving of the border. Wisconsin would not join the Union until 1848 largely because of its small population. By ceding 8,500 square miles of lakefront property to Illinois, Pope and Congress shifted the fortunes of the two states. Wisconsin would become part of the Michigan territory. In 1837, Chicago was officially founded. And after a railroad and a canal connected the lakefront to the rest of the state, Chicago’s fortunes forever changed. Even today, while the largest city in the state, and half its population, Chicago does not consider itself part of the state. It is its own entity culturally and economically.

For Pope, he would go on to be judge for the United States District Court for Illinois. His son, John, was commander of Union forces at the second battle of Bull Run. Nathaniel Pope has Pope County named after him in southern Illinois.

Cheap Trick: Budokan and the Summer of 1979 Revisted

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In about two weeks, a new exhibit opens up at the Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois. Surprisingly, the exhibit is about Rick Nielsen’s love affair with guitars and picks. Having lived in Northern Illinois most of my life, it comes as no surprise that Nielsen will be giving back to the community in some way. He and his band mates have done so often throughout their almost 40 year career. The exhibit, which runs from August 11 until April 2013, is lined with guitars and other memories of Nielsen through the years. For Nielsen, his love affair with the six string began long before Cheap Trick was formed. However, when one tends to think of Cheap Trick, the summer of 1979 comes to mind. They were everywhere that summer. Looking back for the band, it was when they exploded all because of one live album that was never meant to be.

Rick Nielsen began playing in bands at the age of 15.  It was not until 1970, however, that Nielsen began his recording career. Joining up with bassist Tom Petersson, the band Fuze released its one and only record. Returning to the Midwest, Nielsen and Petersson continued to play gigs as Fuse. Joining them was drummer Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson). The band eventually moved to Philadelphia and renamed themselves “The Sick men of Europe.” In 1973, the band returned to Rockford. Adding vocalist Randy Hogan, the band began calling themselves Cheap Trick. The moniker stems from an off-handed remark by Petersson that the band Slade used every “cheap trick” in the band. Hogan did not stay as the vocalist very long. The band recruited Robin Zander to take over for Hogan. The lineup was set.

In 1975, the band began touring around the midwest and recorded a demo. The band would be signed to Epic Records and the first record was produced by Jack Douglas. Recorded in 1976, the record was released in 1977. The record did receive good reviews but failed to catch on in the US. Their second record, In Color, was recorded and released that same year. The band did not like the production, but something was stirring for the band. While they had failed to catch on at home. The band was quite successful in Japan. This success enabled the band to record and release their third album, Heaven Tonight in 1978. The first single, Surrender, charted albeit at #62.

In order to cash in on what were three gold records in Japan, the band took themselves across the Pacific to tour Japan in the spring of 1978. The resulting concerts, and recordings of them, would propel the band forward in their career. Nielsen said of the band’s Japanese success happened because of their association with Queen. Nielsen said,

Queen had heard our first album pre-release and asked us if we would open two shows. Japanese journalists came to see Queen, and while they loved them, of course, they thought that the opening band – us – really had something. So they started writing about us.

The recordings of two concerts at the Nippon Budokan were intended to for a future Japanese only release. Nielsen was startled when the band returned to headline in 1978 when 5000 fans greeted Cheap Trick at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

“I thought the president of Japan was on the plane or something. We were just flying coach. There were kids everywhere trying to get to us, we were told not to look out the windows of our rooms, otherwise kids outside would faint and go crazy. We couldn’t believe it. All this for us?”

The band’s forte was live performing. In an era where bands paid their dues by touring and being great live performers, Cheap Trick did not disappoint at Budokan. The record begins with the appropriately titled, “Hello, There.”

Followed by Come On, Come On, the band’s signature power guitar and catchy melodies embodied their “power pop” style.

But Cheap Trick is more than that. It is a rock and roll band that never eschewed the melody. Next came the song, “Lookout.” Nielsen said of the song, “Lookout is fun, it’s fast, it starts and stops, it’s loud. Basically, it’s a Who pop song. We never emulated The Who, but if we ever stole anything from them, at least we changed the key.” The song “Big Eyes” came next.

Side one closes with the song, “Need Your Love.” Nielsen labels this as one of his favorite tracks because of Zander’s vocals. He said,

I think of this one, and the image is of watching a drunk guy who trashes around at a show, bangs his head against a wall, jumps into a moshpit, but then he gets out and goes to his girlfriend and asks, ‘Are you OK, honey?’ If you wanna get laid, you have to be nice occasionally.
That’s why Robin’s voice is so great: he can go from being the nasty villain to the sweet, lovable guy, and switch them back and forth. A song that’s gooey all the way through is disgusting; on the other hand, if you’re just ‘Kill your mother, kill your father, kill your dog!’ the whole time, that’s too extreme the other way. This song has the balance.


What happened on side one is not too different from most bands of the era. Influenced by The Beatles, the band walks a fine line between its own creativity and paying homage to the bands before it. As side one closes, the power pop begins to fade to display a full on rock band gracing the stage.
Side two kicks off with a cover version of the Fats Domino Song, “Ain’t That a Shame.” NIelsen said,

“We were asked to do a cover song for the show, which was fine – we’d always done some covers. One day, we were listening to John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album, and one of the songs on there is Ain’t That A Shame. ‘Hey, if it’s good enough for John Lennon…We did our own version of it, throwing in all the breaks and build-ups. It’s a simple three-chord song, so we made it way harder than it had to be. We kind of made it a cross between the ending of The Beatles’ The End and something from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.”


The band continued to head full on as a rock band with the song, “I Want You to Want Me.” Originally a single off the second album, the song had failed to chart in the US when the band played it at Budokan. The summer of 1979, it would propel the album to triple platinum.

For me, the track I loved in the summer of 1979 was Surrender. At track #8, it is filled with every “cheap trick” in songwriting. Power chords, a catchy melody, a sing-along chorus, an allusion to Kiss and VD in the same song, but not together. For a teenage boy, it was a slice of heaven! It still is having been covered by Green Day and the Foo Fighters.

The album closes with two songs, “Goodnight Now” and the live staple “Clock Strikes Ten.”

While the concerts were recorded for TV, the album did not come out until later that fall in Japan. 30,000 import copies soon made their made to the US. DJs began to play the record on Album Oriented Radio (AOR). The public began to crave what Cheap Trick had to offer. Epic relented and released the album in 1979. 3 million units later, it is still the best selling record in the Cheap Trick catalog.

While the album did launch Cheap Trick as a major act in the US, the band never quite reached those heights again. For me, I loved the next few albums: Dream Police, All Shook Up, and One on One. I had think they were the only band I had all on 8 track. But by the mid 80s, I was off on another musical tangent. But the band never stopped playing. I have seen them three times and they always deliver the goods. They are still making records and still touring. They were named by Billy Corgan and Kurt Cobain as having an influence on their careers and music. It is strange looking back how a live album recorded thousands of miles away by a band ten miles from where I live resulted in their prolonged careers.

A few years ago, I had a student did a history fair project on Cheap Trick. Bun E. was gracious enough to do a phone interview, with thanks to his mother (who I knew through my friend Dave Oberg). He came across as a very down to earth guy. I ran into Rick Nielsen two years ago at the Stone Eagle Tavern in Rockford. I walked away ironically humming, “Stop This Game.” I find them to be great guys. Strangely, I once asked my students what they wanted to be when they grew up. One student, Kara, replied in 1998, “Mrs. Robin Zander.” I don’t think her goal has ever changed and it’s all because of one album that wasn’t meant to be.

Cheap Trick has been quoted that they did not like the production on their early albums, mainly In Color. But when you look at the totality of the songs on Cheap Trick, Heaven Tonight, and In Color, what is seen and heard is quite the display of song craftsmanship. The band is never going to win any contests for its lyrics, but the melodies, the riffs, all play into their strength as a live band. What Budokan captured was that strength. I would have liked to have seen the songs “He’s a Whore” and “Southern Girls” on the record, but that is just my own personal preference. The album with its crowd screams reminiscent of the Beatles, has held up well. Despite the fact that the record was recorded in Japan, it displays why the band is still together today (minus Bun E)…they know how to rock a stage.

Nielsen, Zander, Carlos, and Petersson (left to right)

For track by track discussion of each song, please see the following interview:

http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/interview-rick-nielsen-talks-cheap-trick-at-budokan-track-by-track-539192/7

Albert D.J. Cashier: Dressing Up for the Civil War

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Albert D.J. Cashier a.k.a Jennie Hodgers

In the summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln called for more soldiers to enlist to put down the rebellion. All through out Illinois, many men heeded the call. For one young Irish immigrant living in Belvidere, Illinois, she too wanted her own piece of excitement in the grandeur of the Civil War. Jennie Hodgers, all of 18 at the time, signed up to join the Illinois 95th Infantry Regiment being put together in nearby Rockford on August 6 of 1862. Hodgers used the name Albert D.J. Cashier and was given the rank of private. Hodgers said, “The country needed men, and I wanted excitement.” She is one of over 400 documented cases of women serving as a soldier in the Civil War.

Little is known of the life of Albert Cashier before the war. A few facts gathered at a deposition shortly before her death reveal the life the young immigrant had before the war. Jennie Hodgers was born December 25, 1843 in Clogherhead, Ireland in County Louth. Somewhere in the late 1850s, or early 1860s, Jennie came to America and settled in Belvidere, Illinois working at a shoe factory. The historical record does not have a lot of documentation on her. On her enrollment forms, she was said to have a light complexion with auburn hair and blue eyes. She was five feet tall and weighed 110 pounds. In those days, no medical exam was required to enlist. This fact probably helped to reveal her gender.

Cashier’s deposition in 1915

The Illinois 95th Regiment began by training at Camp Fuller in Rockford before leaving the confines of northern Illinois to head south that fall down to Cairo. The regiment traveled by rail on the Illinois Central. There were 988 in the regiment when it left Rockford in mid-November. The regiment was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee. The regiment reached Grand Junction, Tennessee on November 21, 1862. Over the next three years, the Illinois 9th Regiment saw action in 40 places in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama including the Siege at Vicksburg in 1863.

For Cashier, all accounts that can be found point to her being a good soldier. One rumor has her being captured by the Confederacy. But she quickly escaped before she could have been found out. August 16,1865, the company was disbanded near the Gulf of Mexico. Cashier returned to Belvidere for a while before moving to Saunemin, Illinois, near Joliet. It was there that the historical record finds Albert D.J. Cashier.

Cashier worked many odd jobs, took part in the community, and even voted. Cashier also filed for a soldier’s pension in 1899.

However, it took her until 1907 to complete the process. The US Government required a medical exam to complete the process. Somehow Cashier got it done.

In November of 1910, Cashier was doing odd jobs for State Senator Ira Lish. Unbeknownst to Lish, when he backed up his car one morning he did not see Cashier working because of her diminutive stature. The resulting accident broke her leg and caused Cashier’s identity to be compromised. Somehow, she convinced the doctor not to reveal her true identity.

The end of life for Cashier was not pleasant. Racked with dementia, she was placed in Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Quincy, Illinois. Cashier was admitted as a man. However, in 1914, her condition continued to deteriorate. She was transferred to the State Hospital for the Insane in East Moline, Illinois. It was here that Cashier was discovered to be a female. She was forced to wear dresses. Reluctantly, she gave in to the demands. However, word leaked of her gender and the resulting news captured the attention of people across the nation.

One newspaper (The Hartford Republican, June 6, 1913) said the following upon meeting Cashier,

I had expected to meet an amazon. A woman who had fought in the death grapple of a nation and had lived and toiled as a man through half a century should be big, strong and masculine. And when I entered her hospital ward there rose and came to meet me, in her faded soldier’s uniform, just a little frail, sweet-faced, old-lady, who might be anybody’s grandmother.

Throughout the early part of 1915, Cashier gave accounts of her life as a man. Many of her former comrades were surprised at the news but somehow supported her by protesting her treatment. When Cashier died that fall, she was buried in her uniform and given a military funeral. She was buried in Saunemin with a simple marker. That marker was replaced with a more elaborate one a few years ago.

For most of the 400 women who served in the Civil War, most of them returned to live as women after the war. Cashier did not. Her desire to live as a male in a male dominated world gave her privileges she could never have had as a woman at that time including voting, certain jobs, and status in society. It is truly a remarkable story for the time period. I have always thought Cashier’s life would make a great movie.

For further reading:
The History of the Illinois 95th Infantry Regiment: http://www.archive.org/stream/ahistoryninetyf00woodgoog#page/n18/mode/2up

Ken Norton: The Man Who Shut Up Ali

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My students look at me funny when I talk about watching sports in the 1970s. Every Saturday afternoon was reserved for the Wide World of Sports. It is not like today where one can turn on the TV and find several 24 hour sports networks. In the early 70s, the greatest athlete was none other than Muhammad Ali. It was always a thrill whenever Ali showed up on TV, especially when Howard Cosell was doing the interviewing. Never have an athlete and an announcer been so linked as those two. Ali was a boxer and showman unlike any other the world had seen. He still is the most well-known athlete on the planet, even more than Michael Jordan. In March of 1973, a man born in Jacksonville, Illinois not only defeated Ali, but also broke Ali’s jaw. It was a fight that shocked the world. Ali had only lost to Joe Frazier previously. However, Ali was beginning to move from his early 30s to his mid 30s. Norton, 29, changed the boxing landscape in the 1970s and gave Ali his hardest challenges in the ring over the next three years.

Leading up the fight, Ali had not taken Norton seriously. In the prefight discussion, Cosell mentions Ali’s attitude and light 10 oz. gloves and how those gloves could harm a man. In the first round, the newspapers reported that Norton had broken Ali’s jaw. Trainer Angelo Dundee wanted to stop the fight, but Ali would not let Dundee throw in the towel.

The fight, seen here in its entirety, shows Norton’s unorthodox style of dragging his right foot while putting more pressure on his left.

The resulting decision for Norton reshaped the boxing landscape for Ali. Had Ali won, George Foreman would have been next. However, with Norton’s win, a new champion would determine the order of battle.

Norton had led a checkered and unusual life. Born in Jacksonville, Illinois, Norton grew up in the central Illinois town wanting to get out. Boxing was no where on the horizon for him. Football and track were if he could make it to adulthood. Sports Illustrated’s Dan Levin described Norton’s early life:

He was kind of a wild kid, not delinquent wild but wild in a way that made it seem he would never live to grow up. One day when he was 8 he raced a train to a crossing on his bike and lost. There was not much left of the bike, but all of Ken seemed to be there still. At 14, on another bike, he was hit by a trailer truck and wound up on its hood, again unscathed. Scratch another bike. In high school he lettered in basketball, football and track and got numerous scholarship offers.

He chose Northeast Missouri State and immediately was hit by a car, breaking his collarbone. Six months afterward he drove his car into the side of a bridge, where it hung by the rear door from a piece of railing 50 feet above a lake. Later, on a bet, he took eight sleeping pills and had to have his stomach pumped.

Eventually, Norton joined the Marines and it was there he learned to box. Norton said, “The Marines were tough but they taught me to be my own man.” From 1965 to 1967, Norton won the All Marine Corps Boxing Championship. Shortly before his release from the Marines, Norton turned pro.

Norton struggled for several years to eek out a living. When Norton was signed to fight Ali, he was ranked number seven in the world. He was not the number one contender and Ali saw the fight more as a tuneup before Foreman. Norton saw the fight as an opportunity to put food on the table for his young family, including his son and future NFL linebacker, Ken Norton, Jr. Norton never forgot that about Ali. For this reason the two would meet again six months later in September of 1973. Today, years take place between title fights for some boxers. But in the 70s, it did not take long.

Ali was in much better shape for the second fight. He trained hard. The results of the second fight reshaped both men’s careers. Sports Illustrated wrote of the fight:

Ali won the first half of the fight. By the middle Norton’s youth and strength began to flourish. By the 12th round Norton had caught up, and the match looked so even that Ali decided he had to gamble. He met Norton in the middle of the ring with combinations of punches and a show of determination that made the younger man stop his steady advancing. Ali stood in and fought, and at the bell it was still undecided whether he had won. Referee Dick Young’s vote carried it for him [...] Ali himself was so unsettled that seconds after the bell he took a poke at Bundini, who turned around and swung at Bingham. Bob Aram, Ali’s lawyer, might have wanted to swing at all three of them. He had in his pocket a $10 million offer from a London promoter for a fight with Foreman and another offer for a rematch with Frazier in December. Now both fights were endangered. The offers hung on Ali beating Norton, which he did—but perhaps not convincingly enough.

Ali would win the split decision but it would be another three years before they fought again. Some boxing figures and sports writers had Norton winning the second fight. In the meantime, Norton became an actor while Ali would fight the biggest names in Frazier and Foreman. A third fight would take place in 1976. For Norton, these were big paydays that allowed him to not only help himself, but others. He began doing charity work and continues to do so today.

The third fight was just as controversial as the results of the second.

Ken Norton was a dog that would hound Ali the rest of his days. While Ali wanted to fights the Fraziers and Foremans of the boxing world, he was left trying to fully defeat Ken Norton in a manner that would satisfy Ali’s critics. He never did. And in the end for Ali, maybe that was best. His best days were either well behind him or taken from him for refusing to serve in the military during Vietnam. For over three years in his prime, Ali did not box and could not get a license to do so. When he got his license back in the early 70s, Joe Frazier was who he wanted to fight. Ali did three times, and decidedly beat him twice. But it was Ken Norton who gave Ali everything. BY the time it took Ali to get Norman off his back, Ali was past his prime and George Foreman was just entering his. The year Ali spent fighting Norton was one he would never get back.

For Further Reading:
Going the Distance : The Ken Norton Story
Believe: Journey from Jacksonville
Sports Illustrated:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1087226/index.htm

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1091645/index.htm

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1087730/index.htm

Barbed Wire Barons – Glidden, Ellwood, and Haish

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Growing up in rural northern Illinois, history is everywhere, as it should be. From the flat lands of DeKalb County to the rolling hills of Ogle, Carroll, and Jo Daviess Counties, the land is filled with stories of Prairie Bandits, Indian Wars, Inventors, and a Pioneer Spirit. First settled in the 1830s, northern Illinois has a much harsher climate than the southern part of the state. Illinois became a state in 1818 and it took 12 years for settlement to creep its way north from the south. The southern part of the state benefited from the Ohio and Mississippi River systems along with a humid subtropical climate. However, the south did not have the great thick rich soil of central and northern Illinois that farmers craved. Slowly, farmers and civilization made its way north. The invention of a self cleaning plow in 1837 combined with the I&M Canal, further spurred northern settlement. And in doing so, pioneers encountered a land filled with life, and winters that would chill the bones. Out of these environs would come three men who would transform one community and the western United States.

In 1843, Joseph Glidden moved to Ogle County with his young wife and sons. They would all perish in the next few years except for Joseph. Leaving Ogle County in 1850, Glidden settled on a farm 1 mile west of DeKalb. In 1851, he would marry Lucinda Warne. The land, 600 acres in all, required a lot of work. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Glidden prospered and was a stalwart member of the community. For several years he was sheriff of the county in addition to being a farmer.

Issac Ellwood had a different route to the county. Ellwood, as a young man, worked on boats traversing the Erie Canal, worked as a clerk in a store, and went to California in 1851 as part of the Gold Rush. Whether it was working in the mines or in a store, Ellwood was quite frugal and saved his money. Ellwood would spend 4 years in California before heading back east. Ellwood made his way to DeKalb in 1855. Upon arrival, he set up a hardware store in the little town of 500.

While Glidden and Ellwood were both born in the US, Jacob Haish was born in Germany and immigrated to the US in 1836. In the 1840s, Haish first made his way to DuPage County before marrying and moving to the DeKalb area. While Glidden was a farmer and sheriff, and Ellwood a businessman, Haish was a carpenter. He set up shop in DeKalb in 1853. It was Haish who first had the idea for a new kind of fencing. Haish originally tried using Osage Orange bushes to keep livestock in. The thorns of the bushes were very similar to the barbs of what would soon be barbed wire. However, the bushes took up too much space and took too long to grow in addition to maintaining. They also did not adjust well to the climate of the North.

As these three men plied their individual trades, they all became very prosperous in their own right. They did know each other (It’s hard not to in a town of only 500-700). Legend has it that the three men all attended a local fair where they saw the latest style of fencing called barbed wire. Actually, barbed wire had been around since the 1840s. Not the wire that we know today, but early predecessors nonetheless. At the fair, this version of barbed wire was attached to wood. It was not a stand alone fence or wire. All three men purportedly left the fair feeling that they could do better. Legend also has it that by the early 1870s, Glidden’s wife, Lucinda, was tired of the cattle roaming all over the place. She urged her husband to do something about it.

In spite of local local legend and myth, both Glidden and Haish set about in the early 1870s to make a new, better version of fencing. Glidden often used hairpins of his wife to test out his latest model. Glidden began applying for patents on barbed wire as early as 1873. But his 1874 version would become the most widely known. Dubbed “The Winner”, for reasons that will be explained later, the two wires intertwined with a single barb.

Glidden's Patent

Haish had begun work on his own version. Haish’s version was very similar to Glidden’s. It contained two wires strung together and a single barb. Like Glidden, Haish began work in 1873 on his barbed wire. It was not until 1875 that Haish perfected his version of barbed wire with the “S Barb”. Over the next twenty years, the two men would spend over $2 million in litigation over who had the idea and patent first. They both would make millions more in manufacturing but eventually they would settle out of court. Each would pay the other the same amount per pound produced. However, Glidden’s patent would be declared “the winner”.

Haish's Patent

Issac Ellwood was not an inventor but he was a shrewd businessman. For the vast sum of $250, Ellwood went into business with Glidden manufacturing the wire. Both men became very rich very fast. Glidden would not stay in the business long. He sold his interest, and kept a royalty, to Washburn and Moen. Glidden would go on to own the local newspaper, bank, hotel, and many other businesses in the now thriving capital of barbed wire.

As for the wire, it transformed the west. The long cattle drives were now over. Railroads came to town to pick up the cattle. The occasional range war sprang up as emotions boiled over water rights and land access to take the cattle to the railroad. Indians called the wire “The Devil’s Rope” for what it could do to flesh. Some states even tried to outlaw the wire. They failed.

But in the 1870s and 1880s, railroad companies loved the wire. Instead of having to pay out damages to farmers whose cattle wandered aimlessly on to the tracks, the railroad companies used the wire to stop livestock from running in to the train.

But back in DeKalb, barbed wire made the town. Using immigrant labor, Swedes came to work in the barbed wire factories, each employing near a 100 men. The town grew and with it, Glidden, Ellwood, and Haish each were philanthropic with their wealth. From banks to a post office to a hospital to a library, the three men provided much needed capital for many public works.

In the 1890s, the three men, along with Clinton Rosette, sought to bring a teacher’s college to DeKalb. The men, who had different political philosophies, set aside their differences to make it happen. DeKalb, along with Dixon and Rockford, were the final cities in competition for the college. The three men knew that if DeKalb got the college, then the community would thrive even more. Glidden offered 60 acres to be set aside for the college and Ellwood would provide interest free loans for the construction of what would later be called Altgeld Hall. A plaque of the four men (Rosette included) hangs in the library at NIU, aptly named, Founders Memorial Library. And NIU’s sprawling campus now encircles the Glidden homestead.

No matter where you go in DeKalb, or the county, you are reminded of the influence that these three men have had. From roads to streets to buildings and a University, the town still remembers. Ellwood’s house still stands as do Glidden’s homestead and barn. Unfortunately, Haish’s home was destroyed in the early 1960s. Their influence as barons and pillars of the community still stands.

Altgeld Hall today

For further reading on the impact of Barbed Wire – Read The Devil’s Rope

For further viewing – See Barbed Wire Pioneers produced the Department of Communications at NIU.