Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dark Bend

Lawrence County News July 30, 1959
 Dark Bend:  Many  years ago, when George Whitaker was Sheriff of Lawrence County, he was asked to go to Dark Bend and arrest a horse thief from Kentucky. Sheriff Whitaker took a 14-year-old boy with him and they went to the cabin of the man to be arrested and arranged to stay all night. The Sheriff had planned that sometime while there he would grab the man, and while he held him, the boy would handcuff him.
About bedtime, Sheriff Whitaker asked for a drink of water and as the man turned to go for it, he grabbed him and they placed the cuffs on his wrist. It was afterwards learned that the thief was a killer as well as a horse thief. 

An earlier article in the Lawrence County News June 25, 1959 helped explain the Dark Bend area:  
Several months ago, John Allen, professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University, was in Lawrenceville and he and the editor of the Lawrence County News went on a junket trip into what was once known as The Dark Bend. The following is Professor Allen’s story of what he learned from the day spent interviewing people and searching the records.

The French spelled the name of the River Embarrass, and pronounced it Em-ber-RAH.  The spelling remains the same but things have happened to the pronunciation. The English came and called it Em-Braw. Now it is Am-braw. This strange name for a River is explained by the fact that it sluggishness, and countless billions filled with driftwood and nags, made navigation difficult enough to embarrass the best of boatmen.
Whatever the pronunciation, it still is a small, dull and muddy river that meanders hither and yon in an aimless and indecisive way across Jasper County, Illinois and on through Lawrence County to join the Wabash. 

Before the coming of railroads it was declared a navigable stream and numerous flat boats, to carry products downriver, were built on its banks at Blakman's mill, just south of Charleston.

In early days the dense swampy woodlands along the stream were difficult to penetrate and building of roadways was practically impossible. Settlers did not look upon the region with favor. The densely wooded and swampy region southeast of Newton and beyond the Embarras soon became known as The Dark Bend, now shortened to The Bend. It continued to be a neglected region and government surveyors did not come to run section lines there until after Illinois became a state. In fact, their surveys were not completed until 1839.  None of this land was sold until the ‘40s and very little of it until the mid-‘40s. Nevertheless, it did not remain entirely  unpeopled.

It attracted a curious lot of settlers, more properly called squatters, who often came to avoid the long arm of the law. Among these were robbers, horse thieves, counterfeiters and sundry other lawbreakers. This lawless element soon developed a kind of mutual defense fraternity that thwarted the arrest and conviction of its members. It was almost impossible to convict a Dark Bender. These bands continued to be an annoyance for many years, one group about Chancey remaining active until after 1856.

This swampland into which men came to squat proved to be an excellent feeding ground for livestock. Horses and cattle thrived on the lush grass, and hogs fattened on the mast of pecan, hickory and oak. These squatters- in- hiding could thus easily manage for plenty of meat. They simply went into the woods, selected the hog they wanted and shot it regardless of its ownership. To remove all evidence, they would cut off the head of the pig and toss it away. Tradition has it that Greasy Creek and Hog Jaw Pond came by their names in this way. One man apprehended scalding a headless hog– a distinct violation of law –plead that “yuh  jes cain't scald  a hog good with its head on.”  His expression became a colloquialism.

Cattle, horses and hogs that strayed or were enticed into Dark Bend were generally considered lost. Few dared to go there searching for them, apparently believing they also might be ‘lost’.

Counterfeiters moved in early. One of these, a Dr. Sulver, came with his son-in-law in the very early 1820s. It was this man, according to legend, who set up the forge which was found many years later on the bank of a branch that has since then been known as Mint Creek. Other counterfeiters followed.

The beginning of the end of the reign of the lawless in the Dark Bend country came when Joseph Piquet of Alsace in France prospected for a colony location and selected the region about present-day Ste. Marie. Here he bought thousands of acres of land to which his relatives and friends came from Europe to form a “Colonie  de Freres”, or Colony of Brothers. This group started arriving in the late ‘40s.

About 1850 German immigrants begin to settle around the fringes of Dark Bend. Despite the fact that some of their barns and houses burned mysteriously, they stayed and others came until finally, the dark days of the Dark Bend were ended.

Today the land is cleared of its dense forest and drained. Mailboxes beside the gravel roadways bear many German names, those of the people who came to settle and symbolize a locality that once knew a very different way of life.
Editor:  Dark Bend is not technically located in Lawrence County but is close to Chauncey, so I thought some of you might find it interesting. Some researchers think Betsy Reed, the woman hanged in Lawrence county for poisoning her husband,  grew up in Dark Bend......