The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by Jim Clayton, Quill Reporter
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has three definitions of folklore;
"1 : traditional customs, tales, sayings, dances, or art forms preserved among a people
2 : a branch of knowledge that deals with folklore
3 : an often unsupported notion, story, or saying that is widely circulated."
Of these three definitions only the third implies that some folklore may not be 100% authentic, but it does not say that it is totally inaccurate.
Most would agree that there is even an element of truth in most gossip, but gossip is far from what is commonly referred to as folklore.
American folklore has been around for centuries (the Merriam-Webster definition was dated 1846).
Much of what we know about our history and more specifically our family history is steeped in lore.
Many of us are enthralled to hear, and eager to pass on what we hear to other family members or friends when a topic of interest comes up that might be related to family history.
"The Cooper Place"
Here, near Hancock County we have at least one piece of history that is drenched in folklore and family tradition.
One such tale surrounds what is commonly referred to as "The Cooper Place" located on the south edge of Lomax and currently owned by Clayton Stambaugh.
On the property is an old out building that was built circa 1850.
"I have heard many people of my father's generation and before refer to this as the Cooper Place or the Cooper House," says Stambaugh.
"It is my understanding that Mr. Cooper never lived here as he was a riverboat captain and this place was originally built as servants' quarters."
The original house and out buildings sat on approximately 1200 acres and the farm hands lived in the house and took care of the livestock and grounds.
The southern portion of the house and the large out building and tower (photo) are all that is left of the original Cooper farm.
"I have not been able to find much documentation, but it is my understanding that northern troops during the Civil War would get fresh mounts here on their way to and from the Mississippi River as they were travelling back and forth to battle.
"I have even been told that there are 8-12 Civil War veterans buried on the place, but we have found no evidence of that," added Stambaugh.
"We tried for years to get some help with documentation and restoration from the state, but we barely got a response and could not continue to devote the time necessary for such a task.
"We have not tried anything in recent years, but I would really like to know more about the history of the place."
The veterans that were possibly buried on the farm may have been southern troops being transported to prisoner of war camps in Chicago who died as a result of their wounds or other diseases which was very common during the Civil War.
"We really want to preserve this old building. I truly believe it is something very special for our community. We had to remove the roof as it became hazardous, but I really want to keep the rest, especially the tower," Stambaugh stated.
Another piece of folklore was passed on to Stambaugh concerning his building when a group of college history professors (two from the University of Illinois and a third from Western Illinois University) visited the property.
"They told me that it looked like an Army Corp of Engineers job based on the building style and how closely it resembled the architectural style of the old arsenal at Rock Island," remembered Stambaugh.
"It would make sense that the Army had a hand in it as they had contracted with Mr. Cooper to provide horses for them as well."
Stambaugh also said that there is an old tin type of the original building in the courthouse at Oquawka, IL and that he even has a photo copy in storage somewhere.
According to other folklore passed on to Stambaugh there might have been an Underground Railroad connection to his place.
"I was told that when they redid the foundations sometime in the 1920's there was an underground room found that no one knew about that could have been used to hide slaves.
"It could have also been a cellar or a cistern as well, but I have not been able to find any documentation."
Much can be said for the importance of writing things down and preserving things for posterity's sake, but it is not as much fun as listening to generation after generation hand down the stories as a part of their own family history and as a result becoming part of our own American Folklore.
(Publisher's note: It is interesting reading Jim Clayton's story on this ole tower. As I attended the Civil War meeting at the library in Burlington, Iowa last month, the secretary for the group from WIU had pictures of this tower which they were passing around. They said that this was one of the few shot towers left in the U.S. in which they made ammunition during the Civil War.
They also said that Stambaugh was able to sell the lumber from the roof of the barn at a good price due to its quality and rareness. It was the only thing that sold out of the entire offering, he said.)