In 1984 Johnny Jean Clark (Mrs. George D. Clark) wrote to the Coles county, Illinois Genealogical Society with information she wanted to share about her grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Burtner. The third paragraph of her letter (image below) indicates she is sending the autobiography of her grandfather.
The autobiography she enclosed was typewritten. There is no indication if it was transcribed from a handwritten document or if her grandfather was the typist. The document is on file with Coles county Genealogical Society (they published portions of it in Vol. X, No. 9 - Oct 1984 newsletter titled "Among the Coles"), as well as Carnegie Public Library in Charleston, IL.
Here are some passages from the autobiography (no attempt has been made to correct the spelling, grammar or punctuation):
"My father, Jacob Burtner and Miss Leah Evinger of Clark Co., Ills, was married 8 Sept., 1846 and lived in a log house 2½ miles south east of Westfield, Ills, on a 200 acre tract, Mother's Father gave her. In this log house I was born May 15, 1848. In Dec. 8, 1849, a brother was born and Mother died and brother also, Dec. 11, 1849. After that, Father took me to Grandmother Burtners for a home. My Mother's people tried to get me but Father would not give me up. So for that, they beat him out of the estate that was Mother's.
Father worked at a saw mill in Westfield, Ills. In Aug. 16, 1851, Father married Miss Malinda Hackett of Coles Co., Ills. He then moved in a little log house with a stick chimney on Grandfather's place. We lived there about 2 years. In 1858, I think, we moved up to Douglas Co., Ills on a farm, 80 acres, raw prairie land. We had a hard time, I and Father did, because my stepmother was not good to me and father had to work so hard to make a living and get his land paid for and broke out. Had a fair house, frame, 2 rooms. Rail pens, built up and covered with prairie hay for barn. Forked post put in ground and poles over top and covered with prairie hay on top and sides for shelter for stock. Raised corn, wheat, oats, squashes, pumpkins, beans, potoatos and corn. I dropped corn, barefooted, many day with snakes crawling all round me.
We lived there until 1861, the year the War broke out Between the States. Father went to Grandmother's to do some work in Sept. and took the flux and died there. During this time, there was born in the family, 3 half brothers and 4 half sisters. Two died infancy.
In my Mother's family there were two brothers and two sisters besides herself. One sister died early. The other married Rev. David Brown up near Lafayette, Ind. After Father died, the oldest brother, Daniel Evinger came and took me away from my stepmother and took me up to Aunt Betsey Brown's to live, 175 miles away. I had seen then but did not remember anything about them. They had 4 children, three girls, one boy, most all grown. When Uncle Daniel went home and left me, it most killed me. Never away from home much and among strangers. Cousin Mahala, Aunt Betsey's oldest girl, who afterward went to Africa as a missionary, took me in hand for she was the best girl I ever saw. She was my close chum. She sang with and prayed with me. Took me to church, to S. School. Got me into church, that was in Dec., 1862. I joined the U. Brethren Church at the old U.B. Church close to the Tippecanoe Battle Ground, Ind. Uncle David Brown help do the preaching.
Cousin Mahala got married and her and husband went to Africa as missionaries. That made trouble for me for my best friend left me. I loved her as my own life."
Coles county, IL probate record #2385, Bk D, Pg. 636 (dated 2 Jul 1855) shows that Daniel Evinger was appointed guardian over Benjamin (age 7) and his "estate which may be wasted if care benot taken" (image below).
On 14 Feb 1865 (at the age of 16) he joined the Union Army, and was mustered into service at Danville, IL. He was in Company B, 154th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and ended up in Murfreesboro, TN.
"When we landed there in March, the weather was awful. Cold, rainy time. Lots of men sick, the measels. Took off lots of men. Hospitals was full. We camped inside the Fortress close to Fort Rosencrans. My company lay close to the Nashville Pike. I got sick. Had the mumps. Was sick when Lincoln was killed. That was the Lonsomest Day I ever saw."
He was mustered out at Nashville, TN, 28 Sep 1865.
Daniel was released as Guardian 14 Jun 1869 when Benjamin was of age. At that time, Daniel turned over $340.49 (Benjamin's estate).
Life was not to become any easier for Benjamin as later entries in his autobiography can attest:
"I got acquainted with Miss Mary E. Robertson and was married Dec. 10th, 1871. I then moved to another farm to ourselves, Spring, 1872, had two teams, had 80 acres for corn, Was in dept some $500. And it Rained. Rained up to July. I made no crop. Gave up everything to my creditor and went to work by the month. Moved to Tuscola in Spring, 73. Mary's father was all right but the step mother was Satan himself. She hated me above all men because I was a Federal Soldier and she was a Rebel and I stold the Girl away and married her. When our children were born, she never came near. Walter was born Oct. 24, 1873 in Tuscola. Wilbur E. was born Dec. 22, 1877.
The next spring I was elected constable and I had plenty riding to do. Last of July, I taken the Flux and in Aug., Walter B. took the Flux and died Aug. 27. And Wife took the flux and died Sept. 8, 1878 and I was Down. My stepmother took me and Wilbur to her home west of Tuscola, 6 miles. I never got so I could walk until in November. Stayed there that winter and work. Done what I could. The old lady came and wanted me to give her Wilbur. I told her No. His mother told me not to let her lay her hands on him. There I was again. Worse off than nothing with a dear baby boy to have to commit to the care of others. But I ask God to help me and I went to work."
In spite of the hardships of his life, Benjamin forged ahead. He was something of an inventor and submitted two patents. One in 1880 (U.S. Patent #231,883) for a "Check Row Corn Planter" (image below).
On 7 Sep 1881 Benjamin F. Burtner married Lucy Foreaker in Edgar county, IL. They had 3 sons (Frank, Horace and Paul) and 1 daughter (Nona). In 1882 Benjamin filed his second patent (U.S. Patent #265,570); this one for a washing machine (image below).
Benjamin died on 16 Jan 1930. His widow Lucy is last found in Wharton county, Texas living with her daughter, Nona Fargason. So what can we learn? We all have a choice in life...to overcome our difficulties or be overcome by them.