Charley Fash

Charley Fash, the well known and popular blacksmith and wagon maker of Limestone Township, is a representative of an old and honored pioneer family of this county. He was the third child of eleven children, six sons and five daughters, born to Daniel and Pheobe (Campbell) Fash, and is a native of New York, his mother of Tarrytown, and a daughter of Joseph Campbell of that town. His father was a son of Daniel Fash whose wife’s family name was Bogert. They were seafaring people, and were of fine physical proportions, strong constitutions and great powers of endurance, and these were also the characteristics of the Fashs.

The father of our subject was born and reared in New York City, and after his marriage in Tarrytown, continued to reside in the city of his birth for some years, and there four of his children were born. When the son of whom we write was three years old, his father came to this county, in 1833, bringing his family with him, and though so young our subject can well remember many incidents connected with that ever memorable journey. They packed their goods in boxes and bundles in their home on the North River, and he recollects the excitement incident thereto, and of lying on a feather bed whilst the packing was going on. Their household effects were shipped to Peoria by water, their furniture being of very fine and costly character for those days, and in some way it was missent and they never got it, but heard from it some twenty-five years later in St. Louis and at that time from the ill care it had received it was badly decayed and useless. Mr. Fash rigged out a one horse wagon, in which he and his wife and four children started on their journey, taking with them a large churn , which held all their provisions, which lasted until they got to Pittsburg, Pa. On their arrival in that city, they became tired of that mode of travel, and Mr. Fash sold his horse and wagon, took the boat in company with old Dr. Rouse, and came the rest of the way by water to Peoria, where they landed in the fall of the year. Grandfather Fash had preceded them and met them on their arrival, his family coming out next year overland with a number of wagons. His death, however, occurred before they got here.

When the Fashes came to this county they found it in a very wild, uncivilized condition. There were no bridges around Peoria and the sloughs were swampy so that they had to drive around the head of them to keep from sinking down, as at times the mud was so deep in some places that a man would sink into the soft earth up to his waist. The roads being so bad it was no easy matter to go, to market, and the early settlers had to be content with living on what they could raise at hand. Much of the time there food was grated corn, which was made into what they called a “sop.” They grew pumpkins, cut them in slices and dried them for future use and the preparation that they made from that and the prairie chickens they could track formed their chief subsistence. A neighbor Joe Brown, built a rail pen in which he would often catch as many as two hundred chickens a day, from which he would pick the breast feathers and feed the meat to his hogs. On Sunday the great dish for dinner would be wheat bread, which was also used for state occasions; when anyone came this bread was brought out in the shape of yellow biscuit. In cases where the visitor would be regaled with white bread and butter, the little children would stand aside and see the morsels disappear with silent envy. The itinerant Methodist preachers of those days used to be the great and favored ones, and when they put in appearance at a pioneer home all the good things that the house afforded were set before them and each growing boys ambition was to be a Methodist minister. It would take nearly a week to go and return from the mill even to get corn cracked the settlers going to Mackinaw, Rushville, or Snatchmine for such purposes. They finally rigged up a rough apparatus to serve as a mill just at the outlet of Peoria Lake, where they built a large round log across the stream in a frame, and the water causing this to revolve, ground the corn as at one end a rude shaft was fixed and attached to the burr in the mill, and this crude affair was all the mill Peoria had for some years, and as our informant very expressly says “a man could eat about as fast as it could grind.” One of the main comforts of life was the “prairie scratches”, a species of itch, which was very prevalent, and at times very severe and offensive. This constituted the only ailment in the family of our subject, as his father never paid out money in doctor’s bills in rearing his large family of children, except when one of them was ushered into the world.

Mrs. Fash was a lady of refinement and considerable culture, being reared among the best families of New York City, for many years could not be reconciled to her lot and many a time her hot tears poured down on the heads of her lonesome children as she would sit and think of the life before her, as they lived in a lonely country, theirs being one of three houses between Peoria and Farmington. In the course of the years, however, some of her relatives moved here and she became more reconciled and enjoyed life.

Daniel Fash moved from Peoria to Rushville not long after coming here, and built a house, but did not like the place and returned to Peoria the same year. He subsequently located two and one-half miles east of Farmington in this county, where he had a cabin built by Mr. Campbell and Clem Ewalt, and also had twenty acres of land broken. His home was in the tall timber, while his farm was on the open prairie. After a few years he built himself another house, but did not occupy it long, trading off that place as soon as possible, as he had no other but a tax title to it. He traded his land for one hundred and sixty acres where our subject now lives and got five-hundred dollars to boot. Here he and his wife made their home until their death, which occurred in the year 1882. They had lived here nearly half a century and had witnessed and aided the growth of the county and their memory is cherished as among our most respected pioneers. The father was a sturdy Jackson Democrat in his politics, and remained faithful in his party until the day of his death.

Our subject grew up under pioneer influences of the home that his parents had made in this county, and in 1850 was married to Miss Frances J. Smith, who bore him five children, three of whom survived and were all born in California, as our subject was a resident of that state for many years. In 1854 he started out for that land of promise with his wife and one child in an ox wagon, accompanying a train of emigrants across the plains. At Salt Lake City they abandoned the train, and for awhile he worked at his trade of blacksmithing at that place. Two months later he resumed his journey to the Pacific Slope, but when they got to the desert their team gave out and he took his child on his back and with his wife trudged on their way. A train from Iowa overtook them and he paid its captain twenty dollars for the privilege of having his wife ride. The train subsequently broke up along the road leaving our subject, his wife and child with their few effects sitting by the wayside. The situation was very serious as he only had ten cents in his pocket, and scarcely knew where to turn. His wife gave way and began to cry, but he finally got her comfortably fixed in the woods with the baby and he went along to a wayside town, where he secured employment for himself and his wife at a rate of three dollars each. They stayed there until they had accumulated some money, and he opened a smithy and did work for a Mr. Hall from Peoria for a year at a rate of ninety dollars per month, earning his employer ten dollars a day for every day in the year.

Mr. Fash first started in Eldorado and afterward was in many places finally going to San Joiquin County where he took up a farm and lived there five years. He then had the misfortune to lose his devoted companion, she dying in 1867 of consumption, leaving three little children, aged from six years to ten months. Their names are John Daniel, Phil Sheridan, and Sarah. The latter is the wife of Hugh hart, an expressman of Peoria and they have three children two girls and a boy. Phil married and lives in Peoria where he drives a team for a feed store: John is a blacksmith in Farmington.

After the death of his wife our subject sold his property in California and returned to Knoxville, he having been on the Pacific Coast thirteen years altogether, and returned from there by way of the Isthmus of Panama and New York. He built himself a home in Knoxville, and in 1868 bought the place on which he now lives, it being a part of the old homestead where his boyhood and youth were passed, and in 1870 he moved onto it. He was married a second time in the fall of 1868, to Miss Mary Cover, of Knoxville, who has been to him a true wife and to his children a kind step-mother. Besides successfully carrying on a large and lucrative business as a blacksmith and wagon maker, he pays much attention to cultivating his land, having fifty acres most of which is improved.

Mr. Fash inherited in a full degree the fine physique for which his ancestry were famous, and his stalwart proportions well fit him for his calling, in which he is very skillful, being a first class artisan. He is well endowed mentally, possessing a clear brain and keen wit, and is noted in this locality for his quaint lucid expressions and humorous originalities. He is withal generous, frank open-hearted, and is a general favorite. Mr. Fash was originally a Democrat, but later in life he became a Republican, and is still a sturdy advocate of the policy of that party.