News and Events


Fellow Society members:

I trust that this communication finds you all well. I want to assure you that during this unprecedented time I and the rest of your officers and board members have been in touch and have been making decisions we trust will be in the best interest of the McDonough County Historical Society, and all of you.


As a result of uncertainty surrounding our health situation, we are canceling all meetings for the remainder of 2020. Our speaker for September has been contacted and has agreed to reschedule for the year 2021. We will consider, between now and next year, possible speakers to fill the November 2021 slot. In order to counter our tendency to be Macomb focused, we might think of people with expertise related to our outlying McDonough County area who would be willing to come at the end of next year to talk to us.


As a result of our lack of normal activity during 2020, we will apply dues paid for this year to 2021. No membership dues will be collected from current members for the 2021 calendar year. In view of the amount of funds we have on hand and the fact that we have only paid room rent to the Spoon River College Outreach Center once, and only published one newsletter, we can well afford to do this.


Since we will not be holding the November meeting at which we would normally be electing officers for the coming year, we are extending the terms of all current officers and board members, so that their expiration dates will fall at the end of 2021.


As a result of the closure of Western Illinois University, Kathy has produced no newsletter since the one for Winter 2020. She will be sending one out at some point this coming summer or fall. The size and form of it, however, are dependent upon the degree to which Western has opened and therefore the access she has to materials in the Archives.


We have made the decision to eliminate all future January meetings, not because of concerns regarding COVID-19 but instead as a way of coping with the treacherous weather that typifies that month and that contributes to consistent low attendance then.


If anyone is interested in becoming membership chair for the year 2021, please let me know and I will be glad to initiate contact and begin working with them. Of course, during upcoming months, we might all be thinking of friends and neighbors who might have an interest in joining our group and who only need an invitation from us to make that happen.


Please know that your officers and board members will continue to be in communication as this year progresses, reacting to current matters and planning for a healthier and happier, and more active, 2021.


Larry Zigler

President, McDonough County Historical Society

Please mark your calendars: The MAY 11TH meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society has been CANCELLED.

We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding!

Stay safe!

from the McDonough County Voice newspaper - Feb. 12, 2020


Quintus Walker and his famous Deer Park Farm


One of McDonough County’s most noted pioneers was Quintus Walker—whom I wrote about back in 1983, in two newspaper articles that were later reprinted in my book “McDonough County Heritage” (1984). But I have run across other information about him since then, and his remarkable love for local wildlife and for the pioneer experience makes him a fascinating figure.


A child of the frontier, Quintus was born in Adair County, Kentucky, in 1814, and he moved with members of his family to Clary’s Grove, in Sangamon County, Illinois, during 1830, when he was 17. Of course, he may have met young Abraham Lincoln, who then lived nearby, at the log cabin village of New Salem.


In the fall of 1831, the Walkers moved to McDonough County, settling near Camp Creek in Industry Township. As Quintus mentions in a six-page memoir that appeared in the 1885 “History of McDonough County,” they suffered through “a very cold and stormy fall and winter,” when the Walkers “had nothing to live on except bread . . . made from frost-bitten corn, grated into meal . . . [that was] scarcely fit to eat.” There was also little wild game, due to the previous (January through March) “Winter of the Deep Snow,” which had killed many animals.


He also recalls their rough log cabin, with its “fireplace made of earth” and its cracks between the logs, which allowed the snow “to sift in, all over everything.”


In August, 1833, he married Mahala Campbell—also from Adair County, Kentucky—who had been born in the same month and year, May of 1814. They took a “wedding tour” to a mill just south of Macomb, in a conveyance that Quintus describes in his memoir: “I took the fore wheels [i.e., the front axle with two wheels] of a wagon, put a sack of corn on it, and hitched a yoke of oxen to it, and [we] seated ourselves on the sack, driving the cattle without any lines.” The fact that they stopped at Troublesome Creek, to see “the Indian’s grave, who had been killed by a deer,” reveals his interest in the early culture and stories of our county.


Late in 1835, the young couple moved to Walnut Grove Township. There “the deer and wolves became very plentiful,” as he recalled, and it was such an unsettled area that some “Indian wigwams were still standing,” and “buffalo and elk horns were lying on the prairie.”


Quintus then became not just a good pioneer farmer but a very avid hunter. As his memoir mentions, he killed roughly 50 deer every year, for some 20 years—or about 1,000. He also recalls that “At one time, I even killed 10 deer in 11 successive shots.” So he became a local legend as a deer hunter—and a storyteller.


He also mentions in his brief memoir that “I used to capture fawns . . . and would let them run in an enclosed lot, where they would breed.” That became, in fact, the most noted rural site in early McDonough County—“The Deer Park” of Quintus Walker, located in the northeast quarter of section 16. People heard about it and often came by just to see it.


The popularity of The Deer Park apparently prompted him to capture and raise other wild animals, too. In John Regan’s frontier book, “The Emigrant’s Guide to the Western States of America” (1852), the author depicts The Deer Park and Walker’s other animals:


“Mr. Walker has set up a kind of deer-park . . . enclosed with poles fourteen feet high and a zigzag or worm fence. . . . In this he has enclosed about two dozen of the native deer. . . . He showed us also a young prairie or grey wolf, which he keeps in a hen-coop—and a sulky, ill-natured, and ill-looking ‘varmint’ it was. Our host seemed indeed to be quite a virtuoso in his way. He had guinea hens, peacocks, wild turkeys, and wild geese and ducks tamed, two squirrels in cages, a badger, a rattlesnake, and a skunk. . . . In his barn he had a turkey buzzard, a hawk, redheaded woodpeckers, bluebirds, cat birds, and a few species of ground squirrel . . . called ‘chipmunk.’”


So, by about 1850 Quintus Walker had a kind of personal zoo on his property, which was often called “Deer Park Farm.” And he and his wife were apparently used to boarding travelers there, too. As Regan, who stayed overnight, also mentions, “He amused us till bedtime with stories of his many strange adventures.” Walker was indeed a well-known storyteller.


In 1923, Walker’s grandson, Melvin C. Pollock, provided a lengthy recollection of his grandfather for the “Macomb Journal.” He recalled seeing The Deer Park, which Quintus eventually discontinued sometime after the Civil War.


But the enclosed site was also used for other purposes. The Walkers’ 50th wedding anniversary was celebrated there by a huge crowd 1883. And 12 years later, an 1895 “Macomb Journal” article indicates that “over 200 people attended the 62nd wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Quintus Walker, held in the noted ‘Deer Park’ grove on their farm.” And on that occasion, Quintus spoke about their marriage on the frontier. So, the elderly couple, both in their early eighties by 1895, had become much-appreciated symbols of the pioneer generation.


He and his wife eventually left the farm, late in 1900, to live with their only child, a daughter, Mary Pollock, in Good Hope. Quintus died there in January, 1902, and Mahala died a few months later. Both were nearly 88 years old.


In the 1923 recollection of Quintus by his grandson, Melvin Pollock also remembered constructing an historic-type log cabin, at his grandfather’s request and direction, in the 1890s. It was created to be “a sample, or relic, of the old days, in which he [Quintus] stored a number of old relics and old implements that he had used in his younger days, among which was the spinning wheel, a stone hand-grist mill to grind corn, a cradle to cut grain, a reap hook, some of the old utensils used to cook food in the fireplace, a large elk horn as well as a number of deer horns, and numbers of other articles of [the] early days.”


So, in effect, Quintus Walker also developed the first museum in McDonough County, several years before his death. And according to Melvin Pollock, that cabin was still standing in the 1920s.


Because The Deer Park, which early residents in the area all knew about, and the log cabin, which was built to house relics and show later generations what frontier life was like, both made the Walker farm a distinctive historic site, the McDonough County Historical Society is now investigating that area of Walnut Grove Township, to determine, if possible, their exact location. An illustrated program about the Walker Deer Park Farm will be given at a future society meeting. Of course, if anyone knows of surviving photographs or information about either Quintus and Mahala Walker or their farm, please contact Historical Society president Larry Zigler ( or vice president Kathy Nichols (


Aside from the significance of Quintus Walker as a noted early hunter, wildlife keeper, and historic site creator, he is a good example of someone who found meaning in his own life by relating to both the natural world around him and to the remarkable process of cultural change—of which we are all profound expressions.


Speaker and writer John Hallwas is a columnist for the “McDonough County Voice.” Research assistance was provided by WIU archivist Kathy Nichols.

The next meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society will take place on Monday, March 9, 2020. 

The program will be: A New Look at French Peoria During the War of 1812.

Speaker: Marty Fischer

Although current historical writing of the destruction of French Peoria during the War of 1812 all agree that the event occurred at the future site of modern Peoria,  accounts from 1812 up through the late 1800s do not support that view.  These early accounts place the site 100 miles downriver from Peoria near modern day Naples, Illinois.  I will review those accounts and show that they lead to several villages and a huge fort over three times as big as a football field that sits on the high prairie between Meredosia and Arenzville. 

The meeting will be held at 7 PM at the Spoon River Community Outreach Center at 2500 East Jackson Street.  The building is at the intersection of Bower Road and Jackson St. (Hwy 136 & 67). 

We encourage members to bring guests to our meeting and program.

The next meeting of the McDonough County Historical society will be Monday, November 11, 2019.  This meeting will be held at the Spoon River Community Outreach Center, 2500 East Jackson Street, Macomb.   Our program will be presented by John Hallwas and is entitled "Compton Park: Macomb's Celebrated Subdivision Beautiful."  In addition, the election of officers for 2020 will be held.

Monday, September, 9, 2019, at 7:00 p.m., the members of the McDonough County Historical Society will meet in Conference Room B at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street, Macomb IL. Our program will be provided by WIU history professor Greg Hall. In his talk, entitled "The First Illinoisans: Prehistoric Native American Peoples in Illinois with Special Emphasis on Western Illinois," he will present an overview of prehistoric peoples of Illinois, from Paleoindians to Mississippians.

McDonough County Historical Society Announcements Spring, 2019   

No Spring Newsletter     

These announcements are being sent out because our McDonough County Historical Society Newsletter, filled with historical items, won’t be issued this spring. Long-time editor Kathy Nichols, our vice president, recently developed serious problems in her right knee, so she has not been able to go to work at the WIU Archives, or get much else done, during the past couple of weeks. In fact, because her knee problem has worsened, she is now temporarily at Heartland Health Care Center (8 Doctors Lane, room 224), and her doctor will determine the necessary procedure (probably a knee replacement) this week . So, Historical Society leaders simply decided to omit the spring newsletter and send out these announcements. Of course, our best wishes are extended to Kathy, as she gets her knee problem taken care of.                     

Oakwood Cemetery Program and Tour     

The Friends of Oakwood Cemetery—which is a kind of spin-off group from the Historical Society, and includes such figures as our society’s current president, Larry Zigler, our vice president, Kathy Nichols, our secretary, Ken Keudell, and one of our board members, John Hallwas, together with half a dozen other historical activists—has worked with Oakwood Cemetery sexton Gary Rhoads (who is also in the Friends group) to develop a spring tour of the Oakwood Abbey mausoleum and some noted grave sites. That free tour will take place on Saturday morning, June 1, at 9:30 a.m., and of course, the public is warmly invited. Among other things, the tour was prompted by the fact that Oakwood Abbey was constructed exactly 100 years ago. Gary Rhoads has developed a new historic marker for the mausoleum, and he will be leading the Abbey tour, followed by the gravesite tour with John Hallwas. The latter will focus on a variety of interesting gravesites, including some military ones, for this spring also marks the 150th anniversary of the first Decoration Day (later, Memorial Day) event in Macomb.


On the Thursday before that tour, May 30, at 7:00 p.m., the Western Illinois Museum will be having a two-part program. The first is focused on the work and services of the McDonough County Genealogical Society and the WIU GIS Center, in relation to cemeteries, graves, etc., and that will feature comments by Marla Vizdal and Chad Sperry. The second part, titled “The Meaning of Cemeteries and Macomb’s Oakwood,” will be given by John Hallwas, the author of a book on Oakwood, Here to Stay (2012), and many articles on the cemetery’s historic graves.       


The May 13 Historical Society Meeting       

The May 13 meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society is set for 7:00 at the Spoon River College Outreach Center, on East Jackson Street. Along with the usual brief reports,and announcements by the president, there will be a program titled “Women of the Illinois HomeFront during World War I” by Virginia (“Ginny”) Boynton, who is a professor of history at WIU(and the former chair of that department). Of course, women became involved in a variety of new responsibilities during that war effort a century ago. Our thanks to society board member Sterling Kernek, retired from that same department, for lining up that program by Professor Boynton. Society officers and board members will look forward to seeing you at that meeting.  

Ginny Boynton
Ginny Boynton

The next meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society will be Monday, May 13, 2019, at 7:00 PM. 

The meeting will be held at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 2500 East Jackson Street, Macomb, IL.

Our program will be provided by Ginny Boynton. She will speak on “Women of the Illinois HomeFront during World War I”.   Boynton is a professor of history at WIU (and the former chair of that department). 

We encourage members to bring guests to our meeting and program.



September 9, 2019 - Greg Hall

November 11, 2019 - John Hallwas

all meetings will take place at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 

2500 E Jackson St., Macomb, Illinois 61455

Thank you to Jean Ray of the McDonough County Genealogical Society for creating a page on their website for cemetery information compiled by Gil Belles. 

Previously this information was available on the McDonough County Historical Society website. Now the work begun by Gil Belles will be maintained and expanded by the McDonough County Genealogical Society.

Gerald White
Gerald White

The next meeting of the McDonough County Historical Society will be Monday, March 11, 2019, at 7:00 PM. 

The meeting will be held at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 2500 East Jackson Street, Macomb, IL.

Our program will be provided by Gerald White

He will be speaking about an archaeological dig at his family farm on the Lamoine River.   Native Americans lived in this area many years ago. 


We encourage members to bring guests to our meeting and program.

January 14, 2019

Spoon River Community College Outreach Center, 

2500 E Jackson St., Macomb, Illinois 61455

Marty Fischer will speak on "Ancient Works Near LaGrange" - a large fortification that is all but unknown today. Was it an Indian construction or a French post/fort or both? Why was it forgotten?

Next McDonough County Historical Society Meeting

Monday, May 14, 2018, at 7:00 p.m.

Conference Room B -Spoon River Community College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street, Macomb IL. 

Speaker will be WIU history professor Greg Hall speaking on “The Path to Freedom: The Underground Railroad and McDonough County, Illinois".

The programs are free and open to the public.

Gil Belles at Old Bedford Cemetery
Gil Belles at Old Bedford Cemetery

A special invitation to all McDonough County Historical Society members to attend the next meeting of the McDonough County Genealogical Society-The next meeting will feature

Chad Sperry from the GIS Center.

February 19, 2018 7:00 pm at Western Illinois Museum,

201 S Lafayette St, Macomb.

As the Genealogical Society takes over the Historical Society cemetery signing project that was lead by Gil Belles for so many years, we have invited Chad Sperry of the WIU GIS center to be our speaker for the Feb.19th meeting.

Gil worked with Chad to plot the cemeteries of McDonough county on the GIS map.

The Genealogical Society would especially like to invite the McDonough County Historical Society members to this meeting as we transition this program from the Historical Society to the Genealogical Society.

Monday, January 8, 2018, at 7:00 p.m., the members of the McDonough County McDonough County Historical Society will meet at the Spoon River Community College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street .We will have a brief business meeting, followed by a program entitled “Early Roads and Settlement Patterns in McDonough County” by our own Marty Fischer.

      Marty has spent years applying his engineering background to his investigation of trails and roads in our region of Illinois. What is more impressive is that he’s made use of his findings to enhance his understanding of the everyday experiences of our early settlers in this place—the ways in which those people lived. When I asked him for a brief overview of his talk, he said in part, “The county’s first trail was to guide southern Illinois pioneers from Beard’s ferry across the Illinois River to Rock Island and into the mining region of northwestern Illinois. In 1826, when McDonough County was founded, pioneers began settling in three distinct groupings that became three distinct settlements. When the county was granted self-governing status in late 1830, some of the first items that the commissioners went to work on were the laying out of roads to places of importance. Over the next twenty years, prior to the coming of the railroads, twenty-four settlements appeared.” As we prepare to celebrate Illinois’s Bicentennial, Marty’s talk will paint a fascinating and unique picture for us of the very early days of Macomb and McDonough County.

Remembering Gil Belles

Celebration of Life

and Ice Cream Social 

will be held on Saturday July 15, 2017 from 1:00 PM until 3:00 PM

at the COFAC Recital Hall Western Illinois University.

Here are directions and parking information for COFAC Recital Hall

WIU Mourns Passing of RPTA Professor Emeritus Gil Belles

May 25, 2017

MACOMB, IL ‐‐ Gil Belles, professor emeritus of Western Illinois University's recreation, park and administration (RPTA) department, was killed in a vehicle accident this morning (May 25) in Macomb. Arrangements are pending at Dodsworth‐Piper‐Wallen Funeral Home.


"The Western Illinois University community mourns Gil's tragic death," said President Jack Thomas. "He was a wonderful man, and will be missed. We send our deepest condolences to Gil's many friends, his family and to the members of his WIU family."


Belles arrived at Western in 1968 to teach history. While he was in that department he helped create a Black Studies Area and then chaired the department of African American studies. In 1985, Belles "retrained," earning another degree, and began teaching in the department of recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA). He taught in RPTA, creating courses for the tourism component of the curriculum, until his retirement in 1996. Along the way, he chaired the Council on Admission, Graduation, and Academic Standards (CAGAS) for three separate terms. He was the recipient of the College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Outstanding Teaching Award, five WIU Faculty Excellence Awards and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Wittenberg University, to name a few.


During his tenure, he was actively involved in such campus activities as Open Door and the President's Task Force to End Homophobia, and continued to be involved in numerous community and civic organizations including the Performing Arts Society, YMCA of McDonough County, Tri‐States Public Radio and Tri‐States Audio Information Services, the Western Illinois Museum, Meals on Wheels, McDonough County Historical Society and the Macomb Public Library. "


Gil took his roles as a faculty member and community member in a manner that we should all try to emulate. He was always attending events on campus and in the community, and he was a great representative of Western," said Brad Bainter, vice president for advancement and public services and executive officer of the WIU Foundation. "Not only did he support areas in the community, like the hospital and the Y, he has also given approximately $600,000 to Western that will forever keep his spirit alive at this University that he loved so much. He was a great friend through good times and bad. I know that I will miss his presence and support."


In 2009, the College of Fine Arts and Communication recognized Belles with the "Distinguished Friend of the College Award." Belles is a past board member for the Performing Arts Society and was instrumental in leading the effort to renovate the COFAC Recital Hall Green Room. The PAS named the Green Room in Belles' honor. In addition, he supported many Alumni Programs functions and was instrumental in coordinating the annual Homecoming run/walk.


Belles delivered the inaugural Jackie Thompson Wellness Lecture, "The Importance of Wellness in Your Life," in October 2011. An advocate of health and wellness, Belles could often be found at WIU's Student Recreation Center and the McDonough County YMCA.


In his earlier years, he served as the swimming coach for the YMCA, the high school and the WIU Water Polo team, which won the NAIA national championship in 1969. He created the first WIU TinMan Triathlon in 1980 and served as the event's director through 1985.


He was recently inducted into the WIU Phi Kappa Phi chapter, and was featured in a 2016 episode of the PBS program "Illinois Stories." The program focused on public art on Western Illinois University's Macomb campus, and featured Belles, who started a project to add signage to the public art at WIU (and in Macomb) in order to give credit to the artists. In Spring 2016, Belles co‐coordinated an extreme triathlon at Macomb's Spring Lake. He also was an active participant in the annual Senior Olympics held at WIU.


Posted By: WIU News, University Relations Phone: (309) 298‐1993 * Fax: (309) 298‐1606

The next meeting of

the McDonough County Historical Society

will be on March 13 at 7pm.


Our speaker will be Tom Stites and the program will be

"Downtown Macomb Businesses: 1962-1968." 


The meeting will be held at the Spoon River College Outreach Center on East Jackson Street.

On Jan. 23, 2017, the McDonough County Historical Society received $50 from Ginny Ewing as a Memorial gift in her husband Jack's name toward the Rezab Prairie Meadow.

Jack and Ginny were Life Members of the MCHS.

She lives in Florida.


As an on-going project for the past five years, the McDonough County Historical Society locates cemeteries in the county and places a marker at each one, so the cemeteries will not be lost and so that those who came before us will not be forgotten.

A marker has been placed at 95 cemeteries in the county. 

The McDonough County Cemetery Marker Project is a project of

the McDonough County Historical Society, Macomb, Illinois.

The project has been coordinated by Gil Belles

of the McDonough County Historical Society. 

The cemetery markers project is supported by Clugston-Tibbitts Funeral

Home in Macomb and Blandinsville, the Community Quality of Life

Advisory Committee, Dodsworth-Piper-Wallen Funeral Home in Macomb, Table Grove State Bank,MidAmerica National Bank, the McDonough County Highway Department, the McDonough County Genealogical Society and the McDonough County Historical Society.