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posted: 5/13/2014 3:20 PM

Tales of early Arlington Heights traded at settlers' reunion

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Because I spend a good bit of time thinking about how things worked (or how the people of early Arlington Heights worked things) in early days in this area, I read with interest in the June issue of Consumer Reports magazine that it's now possible to start dinner as you buzz along the Jane Addams Tollway at 55 miles an hour.

You can use your smartphone to turn on your stove so the minute you walk in the house you can pop your dinner in the oven and start setting the table.

Ah, heat the oven. That sounds so simple. I think back to Dr. Fred Miner, an early settler whose first step toward dinner was a trip to the wigwam of a local Indian. There Miner could procure a "brand of fire smoking" sticks from which he could urge enough heat to cook some corn meal bread.

When Mrs. Joseph Barnes told this story about Miner getting "a light" from an Indian neighbor at the 1885 Old Settlers' Reunion, she suggested that some in the audience might "inquire why we did not carry matches with us" and light our own fires.

"But that was before the day of matches," Mrs. Barnes explained. Just as it was before the day of smartphones turning on your stove.

Moreover, when pioneers in this area were running out of food, they again turned to the Indians. Judge Bradwell said at the same Old Settlers' picnic that often in early days "we came near starving and probably would have done so had it not been for the game we shot or bought from the Indians" who camped in Elk Grove.

The usual diet in the 1830s when the first settlers started farming here was corn and bacon. Some settlers had brought their own piglets when they came. But corn was the basic.

Almeda Dunton, wife of Arlington's founder William Dunton, described an early meal consisting of corn meal "Johnnycake" for the dinner and popcorn for dessert. The prairies were so difficult to plow that the first farmers used "to break the prairie and chop(ped) the corn in with an ax." They harvested the corn with a hoe.

Evelyn Allen Frake described for the picnickers the projecting end of the log which her family used as an observation post to watch for Indians who might be hostile.

"Mother, not being familiar with the howl of the wolves which infested the prairies, mistook them for the whoop of savages." So she hung bed quilts over the windows at night so that the Indians "should not discover us by the light."

Looking back, Mrs. Frake was amused at her mother's stratagem for keeping the Indians (or wolves) away from her door. The light "could not have been seen much further than a lightning bug." It consisted "of a button tied into a rag and set into a saucer of lard."

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