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Mysterious Morgan Township

By Michael Kleen

With a colorful past that includes long-lost towns, determined hog thieves, and cemetery lore, Morgan Township in northeastern Coles County is one of the area’s most interesting destinations. The township is around nine miles long, four and a half miles wide in the north and a mere one and a half miles wide in the south. The Embarras River valley and timberland lay along its eastern border, and the familiar prairie lay along its western border.

Morgan Township was named after David Morgan, a Kentuckian who arrived in Coles County in 1834, but that part of the county was heavily populated by American Indians prior to his arrival. Today, it is home to the communities of Bushton and Rardin, as well as acres of pristine, natural wilderness.

According to the History of Coles County, 1879, a number of Indian burial grounds are scattered around the township, although none have been excavated by archeologists. In 1877 or ‘78, a man named Henry Curtis dug up a human skull, as well as a few other bones, while looking for bait worms. The skull possessed a bullet-like hole in the back. Curtis, shocked by his discovery, quickly reburied the skeleton and covered the site with rocks. It was never determined to whom the skeleton belonged.

Greasy Creek

Tales of Coles County, Illinois by Michael KleenOne of Morgan Township’s prominent features is Greasy Creek, a tributary of the Embarras River. It is known by that name because of the conspicuous acts of a few hog thieves. Under cover of darkness, two men allegedly stole their neighbor’s hogs, prepared them alongside the creek, and discarded the innards into the water, making it appear greasy. In the course of their thievery, they severed the animal’s heads to prevent identification (the hogs were earmarked by their owners), then threw the heads in Greasy Creek along with the innards.

The History of Coles County, 1879 names these hog thieves as a father and son, Jesse and William Chastene, whose crimes were well known and were not limited to stealing livestock. Jesse and William also sold a plot of land containing apple trees to David Morgan, removed the trees during the night, and carried them off to a new claim. Along with being a prominent early settler in the township, David Morgan, incidentally, was also the area’s first Justice of the Peace.

Curtisville

The History of Coles County, 1876-1976 tells us that Morgan Township contained some of the first land to be settled in Coles County, on account of a prevalence of good forests and freshwater springs. The first schoolhouse was constructed in 1839, probably in an area known as “Greasy Point,” but its exact location has been lost to history. It was about a mile or so southwest of that point that settlers attempted to build Curtisville, the first village in the township, at or near the intersection of county roads 1700N and 1820E.

Curtisville originally contained a store owned by a man named Cutler Mitchell, a blacksmith shop, as well as a few houses. The village was never officially platted, but it was featured on early maps and possessed a post office in 1867. According to the History of Coles County, “the post office was simply an office for the convenience of the neighbors, and whoever went to town brought out the mail-bag. It was not a regular office, nor was the mail brought regularly, but as it suited the convenience of some one who had other business at town.”

Aside from an old, crumbling barn, all traces of this village have disappeared or were plowed over a long time ago. Only windswept corn and soybean fields remain.

Union and Knoch-Golladay Cemeteries

There are two cemeteries of interest in Morgan Township. The first, Union Cemetery, rests at the edge of the timberland, across the road from the former location of the Union-Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Aside from an antique outhouse, this cemetery boasts some impressive monuments. Visitors familiar with the St. Omer “witch’s grave” are surprised to discover an identical monument in Union Cemetery. As if to preempt any similar rumors, an inscription on this particular monument reads: “he died as he lived—a Christian.”

The second, Knoch-Golladay Cemetery, is accessed by way of a winding, rugged road. It rests at the top of a ridge a stone-throw from the Embarras River. Some of the oldest graves in the county are located here, but the most interesting one is more recent.

A lone headstone belonging to Emma Knoch sits at the extreme right-hand side of the cemetery. Shortly before she died of an illness in 1952, Emma dug her own grave about a foot deep so that it was certain where she would be buried. The reason: she wanted to greet visitors from the afterlife.

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