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Early Settlers

Old pic of bluff

Old photo of “The Pinnacle” looking north.

The story of how Savanna gets its roots begins in 1800 in Boston, Massachusetts, as a family by the name of Bellows had a daughter, Harriet, and their neighbors, the Pierce’s, had a son named Aaron. The two were married and started on their adventure, reaching western New York in 1815. They resided in New York for ten years, and Aaron Pierce engaged in the business of removing trees from the wilderness.

The couple had three children during their time in New York and in 1825 made the six-week trek and settled in Bond County in Illinois, just north of St. Louis. It was there they became acquainted with two other pioneer families, who had made the journey from Kentucky. There were George Davidson and his wife, and his son Vance; and William Blundell and his wife, who was a daughter of the Davidsons.

The families farmed for two years but decided to head north to Galena as the heard of the lead mines. When they reached Galena they decided they didn’t like lead mining and decided to move south down the river to a “beautiful valley on the banks of the Mississippi River” that Vance Davidson had noticed on trip from Rock Island to Galena a year previous.

So once again, the Pierce family loaded up in a covered wagon drawn by oxen and took an old Indian trail, led by Vance Davidson. When they reached the Apple River, they came across two men who were building a flour mill. This was later used by the settlers for grinding the grain and was called “Craig Mill”. The place was afterwards called “Wappello” and is now know as Hanover.

On the afternoon of the third day, Nov. 4, 1828, they reached what is now Savanna and took refuge in an old Indian wigwam at the location of the Pioneer Monument.  

A few hours later two other families arrived by boat—George Davidson and his wife; and William Blundell and his wife.

The three families began clearing the land and building log cabins from the walnut trees growing in the valley in what is now the north end of Main Street.

The cabins were completed by Christmas. Aaron Pierce, George Davidson and Vance Davidson then returned to Bond County to drive back the stock they had left when they moved to Galena. These were the first domestic animals in Carroll County and consisted of three cows, the same number of horses, and a couple of yoke of ox.

After returning they began clearing the ground for spring planting. The trees were felled and the cordwood piled in ranks along the bank of the river, ready to be sold to the steamboats in the spring. This was the main object of the pioneers when settling this location.

Each family had had a large part of ground surrounding their cabins, four acres, and the remaining ground was laid out in 12 acres for each family, to cleared till as he chose. According to records the first years the crops yielded wondrous crops with 125 bushels to the acre. With the corn ground into meal at Craigs Mill, it was carried on horseback to the settlement. With wild berries growing abundantly all about them and with nuts and honey, to supple delicacies, the settlers were in no danger of lack of food.

On May 8, 1829, the Pierce family welcomed their fifth child, Mary Jane, the first white child born in the settlement and the first in what would become Carrol County. That fall, the Blundells had a son, Jefferson.

Also during 1829, four men staked their claims to the Savanna area. Bob Upton, soldier of fortune and mail carrier through the valley to Rock Island, and three other men—John Bernard, Edward Corbin and Leonard Goss.

According to letters written by Mrs. Blundell, Indians were common visitors to the settlement but were friendly and made no trouble. She recalled a large cottonwood tree near what is now Marquette Park where the natives would stop and celebrate their victory with a dance.

She recalled one night when more than 100 Indians camped at the site and more than 500 passed by in canoes after returning from a successful campaign in southern Wisconsin.

“In the evening they built their bonfires and formed themselves into a ring, with one large brave standing in the center holding aloft a spear from battle. The other Indians, forming a circle with their spears and other  implements of warfare, danced around him chanting a peculiar weird air, and keeping time with the spears. With bodies bent over half-way over and the hideous countenances, they kept this dance up all night. But with the break of day they loaded into their canoes and departed, much to the delight of the dwellers in the little log cabins.”

Life was still not easy for the settlers as they had nothing to light the cabins, except candles or coon oil in saucers with rag wicks. There was no kerosene and no place to cook expect the fire place as stoves were unknown to the settlers. 

There were no matches to start a fire, so they needed a spark from a flint or to borrow some fire from one of the neighbors. The water used was dripped from two bubbly springs nearby and a spring house was built in which to keep milk cool and the butter sweet.