The publishers have requested us to write a sketch of our life—a difficult and delicate thing to do. We are like the boy who said he was not used to having his teeth pulled and was afraid it would hurt. We have written many obituaries (not our own), but have never written a biography and are afraid it will hurt. But we promised to do it, and therefore make the effort. As all things must have a beginning and should have an ending, we shall endeavor to begin with the beginning whether we succeed in ending or not. We meet with difficulty, however, at the start, because we were born at a tender age, a long time ago, and a long ways off. We had no scratch-back and pencil to make memoranda, and were too much engaged in admiring the wonderful things of this wonderful world to give special attention to our birth, hence, we are remitted to the family tradition for the date, place and surrounding circumstances of our birth. Relying upon that family tradition—and what well-regulated family would be without a tradition, as they are a very handy thing in a family. We were born on the ides of April, 1823, at the homestead of Joseph and Elsie Armstrong, on the East Fork of Licking, in McCain Township, Licking Co., Ohio. Julius Caesar we believe was born on the same day, A. C., 98. The difference between us was but 1921 years. He became famous from the expression “Et tu, Brute,” whilst we have our fame yet to win, hence we have something to do. Our advent to this mundane sphere was not hailed with demonstrations of delight as we have been informed. (Personally, as we said before, we have no distinct recollections on the subject, because we were only a boy when they were looking for a girl.) They made two more efforts—two more boys. It was too discouraging—they quit. We are told that we came to this world with an empty stomach, wry face and crabbed disposition. To the first count we plead guilty, and admit that we have labored assiduously to fill that self-same empty stomach with indifferent success, lo! these fifty-nine years. To the second count, we enter a special plea of confession and avoidance, admitting that it is true, but allege that they pinched us. We always make a wry face when pinched. To the third count, we would enter a plea of not guilty were we not afraid they will call our wife as a witness against us. If they should do that, we are a gone coon, so we have concluded to enter a plea of guilty, and throw ourself on the mercy of the court. Before coming to this conclusion, we tried to remember whether we had not been called a little angel or cherub some time in our life, but failed, and consoled ourself with the reflection that the good die young, or, in other words, angels are short-lived and ephemeral and we’re glad that we never tried to be one. We are told that thumb-sucking was our special delight. No wonder we never got on in the world; this early habit stuck to us like a brother, and has kept us poor all our life. We have also been informed that we took our gruel and catnip like an old soldier at the business, and were intimately acquainted with wind colic, and have been windy ever since, that, we were an adept at that other youthful accomplishment—drooling. That our hair was white, eyes hazel and face green-looking. The former stuck to us till in our teens, and “tow-head” was our pet name; the latter commenced to sprout when about twenty, and has sprouted ever since. Our complexion was fair, but for a multitude of freckles, which grew into speckles like unto a turkey’s egg. The Seventh Son, common report said we were the doctor; Dame Nature had endowed us with the healing art by the “laying on of hands.” We always thought Common Report was a common liar, so we took no stock in the doctor theory, but others did, and came from far and near for the removal of warts, wens and other excresences which rumor said would flee at our approach. We approached, but they didn’t flee; they stayed. The days of miracles had passed, and we declined to revive them; hence we worked no miracles. We attended school at a proper age and earned many laurels as a good fighter—few as a good scholar.
In 1831, our mother and brother determined to go West. This was before Greeley’s advice, “Young man, go West,” was made public. One brother had already gone West, another had crossed the “silent river,” leaving seven still at the old homestead. We could not make up our mind to be left like poor Joe all alone, so we concluded to “move on” with the rest of the family. In arriving at this decision, we were not aided by a desire to rival Buffalo Bill in slaying buffalo, or Donald McKay as an Indian-killer, as we had not then read their exploits. Strange as it is true, we had never read a dime novel and were entirely free of sentimentalism. “The household gods” being stowed to the best advantage in the capacious wagon-box of a prairie schooner, with four horses for motor-power, we folded our tent, and “like the Arab, silently stole away,” following the Star of Empire westward ho! What between mud and mire, rain, hail and sleet, our four weeks’ journey overland were tedious, yet we enjoyed it well, from the fact that our cousin, who was a few months our junior, accompanied us, and we took solid pleasure in trouncing him several times per day just for fun. Occasionally, however, he turned the tables, and trounced us. This was less agreeable. We reached our land of promise—Sand Prairie, near Lacon, Ill., April 28, 1831. Stopping the first night with a paternal uncle, Gen. John Strawn, we got into a bit of an argument ere we had been there fifteen minutes. A controversy arose between our new-found cousin Enoch and myself as to which was the best wrestler. Although 9 P. M., and quite dark, we proceeded at once to try conclusions, which resulted in a fight, and we were banished early the following morning to the shanty on our brother’s claim on the prairie. A good fighter was not then appreciated.
The family did not take to sandy land worth a continental, so in July of that year stakes were again pulled, and we migrated north to La Salle County, and located some seven miles southwest of Ottawa. Here we took the ague, or the ague took us, and shook us lively like for six consecutive weeks, despite of all the bone-set and waughoo teas we could swallow. Quinine was a luxury not to be had, if, indeed, it had yet been discovered. On the day we had our first shake, we ate heartily of mutton and worty squash—our last meal of that kind of fodder. We acquired a distaste, yea, horror, for them, and have never eaten sheep or squash since. The darned ague shook itself weak, and finally abandoned our poor, emaciated anatomy, and has given us a wide berth ever since. True, it has come round occasionally to let us know it still lived, but has never tackled us in real earnest. There was no salt to be had in that vicinity that fall, hence the prospect for meat was like the boy’s ground hog. We had to have salt or no meat. Chicago, 100 miles away, was the nearest point where it could be obtained. We had no correspondents there from whom to order it by telegraph or telephone, nor had either of them been invented. We had no railroad, canal or stage line, nor freighter’s line, and lastly, we had no roads but Indian trails. Salt must be had and we determined to have it. So, taking an older brother, William E. (or he taking us), we yoked up two yoke of oxen and hitched them to a sled on which was placed the schooner-shaped wagon box, with old Watch, the faithful dog for company and guard, we started for Chicago December 23, 1831, and reached there in four days. We were much surprised at Chicago. Instead of being a respectable village, there were but two white families there (Kinzie and Miller). The soldiers had been ordered from Fort Dearborn, so the place seemed deserted. We got our salt and returned home to rejoice the hearts of all our neighbors, all of whom were, like us, without salt, and must have it. After all this, one of our neighbors, with whom some of our older brothers had difficulty about claims on the Government land, had our mother arrested for selling salt without license. But as no law could be found in the statute “agin it,” she was honorably discharged. Having procured salt, the wild hogs—with which the river bottom was well supplied—had to suffer. How these hogs came there, and in such large quantities, it would be difficult to tell, but we found them there and were glad of the find. Sod corn we had by purchase of a small field of it from T. J. Covell, for whom Covell Creek was named. Too small to use the ax or maul to advantage, to us was assigned the pounding of corn in a wooden mortar during the winter of 1831-32. The finest of the “mash” was sieved through the sieve and made into corn-dodgers. The rest was boiled for hominy or samp. Thus we fared sumptuously on hog and hominy. For “Sabbaday” we ground a little wheat (of which we had a two-bushel bagful) in a coffee-mill, and bolted it through a jaconet cape of our mother’s, and made “slapjacks.” They were bully. In May, 1832, the Sac and Fox Indians got on a rampage, and did some indiscriminate scalping of women and children, not far distant from our home, hence we emigrated to a fort in Putnam County, and remained until the Indians were tamed. We did not volunteer to assist in their taming. We let our older brothers, Wash and Bill, take our place in that gentle amusement. In the winter of 1832-33, we attended, as we believe, the first school for “pale-faced” children ever opened in La Salle County. The teacher was a Miss Farnam from away down East. This school was taught in a log schoolhouse, 14×16 feet, some four miles southwest of Ottawa, which we believe was the first schoolhouse built in La Salle County. In the summer of 1836, we tried to sell goods at Hidalgo, on the Waupecan, near the road crossing, three miles southwest of Morris. Hidalgo was then the leading village of the county. It boasted a saw-mill, blacksmith-shop and dry goods store, all belonging to G. W. Armstrong. But the Waupecan went dry, more than half the year, hence the mill proved a failure, and Hidalgo was deserted. In that winter, we were at school in Ohio. In 1838, we clerked for George W., and tried to keep his books at Utica, Ill., where he had a contract on the canal, and in the winter of 1838-39 we attended school four miles southwest of Utica, and had to cross the Illinois and Big Vermillion Rivers to get there. Gen. William H. L. Wallace, who fell at Shiloh, was our classmate at this old log schoolhouse on the bluff. This was the best school we ever attended, especially in the study of arithmetic. In 1841, we taught our first school at Hollenbeck’s Grove, in Kendall County. Hon. George M. Hollenbeck, James L. Haymond and others now living were among our pupils. In April, 1842, we came to Morris on foot and alone—as the girl went to get married—big with expectations. We were to keep books for the Emperor, Bill Armstrong, for our board, and literally chaw old Blackstone. We failed, on account of typhoid fever, and left him in August for our mother’s farm in La Salle County. We then entered Granville Academy and prepared to enter Illinois College in September, 1844. But trying to carry the studies of freshman and sophomore together, we broke down in health and returned home in July, 1845, and opened a select school in Mechanic’s Hall, in Ottawa, which we sold out to Mr. Hampden, and returned to Morris in October of that year, and have remained here ever since.
Immediately on our return, we opened a general store in the southwest room of the Grundy Hotel, then standing, but was burnt down in 1851 and the Hopkins House erected on the spot. We then built what is the main part of Dr. Hand’s residence, in 1846, for a store and post office. There were two other small stocks of goods here, which we purchased and united with our other stock. In the early part of that year, we were appointed Postmaster of Morris, under Polk’s administration, and was succeeded by C. H. Gould, under Taylor’s administration. December 22, 1846, we married Miss Mary J. Borbidge, of Pittsburgh, Penn., a highly-accomplished and elegant lady, who died of consumption in 1862, leaving three sons—Charles D., Elwood and William E.—all of whom survive and are married. In the Mexican war, we raised a company, and were elected Captain, but the quota being full before our report reached the Governor, hence our company was not received, and we did not go a-soldiering. Owing to a too free use of our name on other people’s paper and official bonds, we were forced to the wall financially in 1849, and were elected a Justice of the Peace but did not like the business. We had lots to do, but never had a heart for badgering and brow-beating. In the spring of 1850, we were elected Supervisor of Morris. In the winter of 1851-52, we went to Springfield to get relief on a Collector’s bond, and succeeded. While there, we got a position in the State Auditor’s office, and selected the lands of the Illinois Central Railroad, and under the dictation of Gov. Bissell and Robert Rantoul, Jr., we drew the charter of that road, forever securing to the State 7 per cent of the gross earnings of said railroad. We also drew the charter of the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad, and when its construction was begun, in the spring of 1852, we secured the position of Assistant Engineer, and ran the transit line from Joliet to Ottawa, and the bench levels over the same line, and also the level from Tiskilwa to Geneseo. Receiving the offer of better wages on the survey of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, we resigned our position on the Rock Island Railroad and accepted the other, and reported to Capt. Whittle at Galesburg for duty. We run experimental levels on that road until we found they had no money in their treasury, when we quit and came home. We then entered the store of Judge Hopkins as general manager and bookkeeper, where we remained until the spring of 1853, when we called the attention of Judge Hynds (County Judge) to the necessity of selecting the swamp lands of the county under the act of Congress of September 28, 1850, and was appointed to survey and select the swamp lands of the county. Under this appointment, we surveyed and selected the swamp lands at the salary of $3 per day, “to be in full for all expenses of whatsoever kind,” says the law. Our team and driver cost $2 per day, while the law allowed but $1. We did the work and never asked for extra pay. We then prepared and procured its passage by the Legislature a special law authorizing the sale of these swamp lands without draining them, and, being appointed to make sale, we sold them in 1865 for the sum of $23,724.92, and collected from General Government for cash sales made between the passage of the act September 28, 1850, and time of selection in 1853, $1,700, all of which was paid into the county treasury, making a total of $25,424.92 realized from the so-called swamp lands of the county, with a claim on the General Government for some thirteen thousand acres of land entered by individuals by land warrants after the act of 1850, and before their selection in 1853. These swamp lands were selected in the wettest season we have had for a quarter of a century, hence the selections and confirmations were very large. We were the first Supervisor of the town of Morris, and again held that office in 1853, when we were elected County Clerk. Our parents were Democratic, and we followed their prejudice politically, and became the same, casting our first vote for Polk, in 1844; Cass, in 1848; Pierce, in 1852; Buchanan, in 1856; Douglas, in 1860; McClellan, in 1864, and was on the electoral ticket for Seymour in 1868; Greeleyized in 1872; for Tilden, in 1876, and Hancock, in 1880. We were re-elected County Clerk in 1857, although Buchanan received but 600 votes to Fremont’s 900 in 1856. When Fort Sumter, was attacked by the Confederates in April, 1861, we made the first war speech of the county, and, as Chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, we introduced the first resolutions denouncing secession and in favor of coercion. We were offered the Colonelcy of the Sixty-fifth Illinois Regiment by Gov. Yates, but, owing to the very delicate health of our better half, we were compelled to stay at home. In the fall of 1854, we were elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, I. O. O. F., and in 1857, Grand Representative to the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the United States for two years. In the fall of 1861, we were elected without opposition a delegate from La Salle, Livingston and Grundy to the State Constitutional Convention of 1862. In 1863, we were elected to the State Legislature from Grundy and Will without opposition, and, in 1872, from Gundy, Kendall and De Kalb without opposition, and were placed on the Judiciary, Railroad and Judicial Department Committees. At this session, the statutes were revised, in which we took an active part. We were the author of several important laws now in force, among which are the jury law, county court law and escheat law, besides materially amending the criminal code and the road and bridge law. Admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of Illinois February 3, 1865, and by the United States Court June 3, 1868, we entered into a law partnership with B. Olin (now Judge of the County Court of Will County) in 1865, which lasted five years. On the 25th of August, 1863, we married our second wife, Malina J. Eldredge, at Plano, Ill. From this connection, we have two sons—Frank, aged sixteen, Perry, aged eight years. In 1876, we were appointed Master in Chancery, and, in 1877, Trustee of the Illinois Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary, which position we still hold. In 1870, we were elected to the School Board, and served seven years. During that time, the present fine stone building was erected. We took an active part in building this school-house as Clerk of the Board of Education and agent to negotiate the school bonds. We have spent much time and considerable money in developing the geology of Grundy County, and as the result we have a fine collection, especially in fossil botany. We deposited for safe keeping a carload of fossil trees, or their impressions upon the shale overlying the coal, in the new State House at Springfield some eight years ago, while our home cabinet at the Academy of Sciences in Morris is large and valuable. Tiring of the hard labor required in collecting geological specimens, we have more recently directed our investigation to Indian history, legends, traditions, customs, habits and social relations, occasionally scribbling poetry—a habit we contracted (when we went to see our girl) in our youth, the greater portion of which has been published in the local papers here and at Ottawa. No history of Grundy County would be complete without a sketch of Perry A. Armstrong, statesman, lawyer, author, historian and dependable citizen, who loved his county and never ceased in his efforts to advance its interests, or those of Morris. He was born on the family homestead, in McCain Township, Licking County, Ohio, April 4, 1823, a son of Joseph and Elsie Armstrong, who came to Illinois in 1831, locating first at Sand Prairie, near Lacon. They were driven out by the troubles of the Black Hawk War to the fort in Putnam County, Ill., but returned to their home when hostilities were over. Perry A. Armstrong began his business career in 1836, but later resumed his studies, and in 1842 arrived at Morris, on foot, his object being to assume the duties of bookkeeper for William Armstrong and to study law. Still later he returned to the farm, but in October, 1844, came back to Morris, which place continued to be his home the remainder of his life. Here he opened a store, and in 1846 built a structure designed for mercantile purposes, and in it carried a stock of goods and kept the post office, he being appointed postmaster by President Polk. When the Mexican War was declared, Mr. Armstrong raised a company, of which he was made captain, but its services were not needed, peace having been declared. He held many offices, among them being justice of the peace and supervisor, and as one of the State Auditor’s staff in 1852, he selected the lands of the Illinois Central Railroad; with others drew the charter of that road, and also that of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad; and as assistant engineer ran the transit road from Joliet to Ottawa, and also the level from Tiskilwa to Geneseo. Following this he was engaged in surveying for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Mr. Armstrong then was general manager for Judge Hopkins until he was appointed to survey and select the swamp lands of Grundy County according to Act of Congress of September 25, 1850, but made no money at the work. Having completed the survey, Mr. Armstrong procured the passage through the Legislature of an act he prepared authorizing the sale of the swamp lands, and sold them in 1865 for $23,724.92. Mr. Armstrong also served as County Clerk of Grundy County, and in 1861 was elected a member of the State Constitutional Convention. The following year he was elected to the Legislature, and in 1872 was re-elected to the same office, during that session serving on the Judiciary, Railroad and Judicial Department committees. In the meanwhile, in 1865, he had been admitted to the bar, and had become the author of some important laws, including the jury law, county court law and escheat law, and had materially revised the criminal code and road and bridge laws. In 1868 he formed a five-year partnership with Judge B. OLIN, and in 1876 was appointed Master-in-Chancery. In 1877 he was made a trustee of the Illinois Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary, and at the same time was a school director, remaining on the board for seven years. While on the board he served it as clerk, and assisted in negotiating the school bonds. Mr. Armstrong was a man of varied tastes and talents, and did much to develop the geology of Grundy County, and was a recognized authority on the history of his part of the State. Twice married, his first wife was Mary J. Borbidge of Pittsburg, Pa., whom he married December 22, 1846. She died in 1862 leaving three sons: Charles D., Elwood and William E. In 1863 he married Malina J. Eldredge of Piano, Ill., and they had two sons, Frank and Perry. ((Source: History of Grundy County, Illinois. Chicago: O.L. Baskin & Co. Historical Publishers, 1882, p. 3-8.))
No history of Grundy County would be complete without a sketch of Perry A. Armstrong, statesman, lawyer, author, historian and dependable citizen, who loved his county and never ceased in his efforts to advance its interests, or those of Morris. He was born on the family homestead, in McCain Township, Licking County, Ohio, April 4, 1823, a son of Joseph and Elsie Armstrong, who came to Illinois in 1831, locating first at Sand Prairie, near Lacon. They were driven out by the troubles of the Black Hawk War to the fort in Putnam County, Ill., but returned to their home when hostilities were over. Perry A. Armstrong began his business career in 1836, but later resumed his studies, and in 1842 arrived at Morris, on foot, his object being to assume the duties of bookkeeper for William Armstrong and to study law. Still later he returned to the farm, but in October, 1844, came back to Morris, which place continued to be his home the remainder of his life. Here he opened a store, and in 1846 built a structure designed for mercantile purposes, and in it carried a stock of goods and kept the post office, he being appointed postmaster by President Polk. When the Mexican War was declared, Mr. Armstrong raised a company, of which he was made captain, but its services were not needed, peace having been declared. He held many offices, among them being justice of the peace and supervisor, and as one of the State Auditor’s staff in 1852, he selected the lands of the Illinois Central Railroad; with others drew the charter of that road, and also that of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad; and as assistant engineer ran the transit road from Joliet to Ottawa, and also the level from Tiskilwa to Geneseo. Following this he was engaged in surveying for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Mr. Armstrong then was general manager for Judge Hopkins until he was appointed to survey and select the swamp lands of Grundy County according to Act of Congress of September 25, 1850, but made no money at the work. Having completed the survey, Mr. Armstrong procured the passage through the Legislature of an act he prepared authorizing the sale of the swamp lands, and sold them in 1865 for $23,724.92. Mr. Armstrong also served as County Clerk of Grundy County, and in 1861 was elected a member of the State Constitutional Convention. The following year he was elected to the Legislature, and in 1872 was re-elected to the same office, during that session serving on the Judiciary, Railroad and Judicial Department committees. In the meanwhile, in 1865, he had been admitted to the bar, and had become the author of some important laws, including the jury law, county court law and escheat law, and had materially revised the criminal code and road and bridge laws. In 1868 he formed a five-year partnership with Judge B. Olin, and in 1876 was appointed Master-in-Chancery. In 1877 he was made a trustee of the Illinois Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary, and at the same time was a school director, remaining on the board for seven years. While on the board he served it as clerk, and assisted in negotiating the school bonds. Mr. Armstrong was a man of varied tastes and talents, and did much to develop the geology of Grundy County, and was a recognized authority on the history of his part of the State. Twice married, his first wife was Mary J. Borbidge of Pittsburg, Pa., whom he married December 22, 1846. She died in 1862 leaving three sons: Charles D., Elwood and William E. In 1863 he married Malina J. Eldredge of Piano, Ill., and they had two sons, Frank and Perry. ((Source: History of Grundy County, Illinois. Chicago, IL, USA: Munsell Publishing, 1914, p. 755-756.))
The gentleman who constitutes the subject of this brief sketch was born in Licking county, Ohio, April 15, 1823, and came to Illinois with his mother and brothers in the spring of 1831. He is the seventh son of Joseph and Elsie Armstrong. His early opportunities for an education were poor, but he possessed an inquiring mind and retentive memory and acquired a fairly good but not classic education at the Granville (Illinois) Academy and Illinois College, paying his way by working Saturdays and teaching school and laboring at farm work during vacations.
The day he was twenty years old he came to Morris with the intention of making it his home. Like Japheth in search of a father, he came on foot and alone and “across lots”, carrying all his worldly goods (which included Blackstone’s Commentaries) in a cotton bandana handkerchief, and two smooth Mexican quarters in his pocket, expecting to make law his profession; but an accident happened to him, from which he narrowly escaped with his life, being thrown in the Illinois river by a the sinking of a ferry-boat while trying to ferry a lot of cattle over the river at Morris, which resulted in a severe attack of typhoid fever. After lying in bed at the Grundy hotel several weeks, he was taken overland upon a feather bed in a wagon to the home of his mother in LaSalle county, where he remained until able to resume study, and then returned to Granville Academy, Putnam county, to finish his preparation to enter Illinois College at Jacksonville; and in September of that year he matriculated in that college as a sophomore; but, his health failing, he spent only two years in college and then returned to Morris, in the fall of 1845, where he opened a general or country store and was appointed postmaster; and at the spring election for school trustee, 1846, he was elected one of the trustees of township 33, range 7, and was made president of the board.
When Governor Ford issued his proclamation of May 25, 1846, for volunteers of the Mexican war, Mr. Armstrong was the first to respond, and raised a company, which elected him captain; but, owing to our not having daily mail, the report of the organization, though immediately mailed, did not reach the adjutant general’s office at Springfield until after the report of Judge Dickey’s company of Ottawa, though organized one day later, had been received and his company accepted, which filled the quota of Illinois volunteers. Hence the Morris company was disbanded, and all the military honor Captain Armstrong acquired was the naked commission as captain of the Grundy county militia, which cost him much time and money in organizing and drilling a lot of stalwart men, chiefly composed of canal hands. That commission, as well as the title of captain, has long been lost and forgotten.
On the 21st of December, 1846, Captain Armstrong was united in marriage with Miss Mary J. Borbidge, of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, a lady of refinement and education as well as a devout Christian, who ably assisted her husband and Dr. Hand in organizing the first Sabbath-school in Morris; and, being the best Biblical scholar, she took charge of the Bible class. To them were born four sons: Fidelius H., who died in infancy; Charles Dale, an elocutionist and ventriloquist, who was killed at Lawrence, Massachusetts, December 26, 1899; Elwood, who is a prominent physician and railroad surgeon at Greenleaf, Kansas; and William E., shipping clerk for the Plano Harvester Company. The first wife died of consumption September 4, 1862, and on the 23rd of August, 1863, the Captain was married to Mrs. Malina J. Eldredge, of Plano, Illinois, who still survives, and has been the mother of three sons: Lewis W., who died in infancy; Frank N., a physician and surgeon of Richmond, Illinois, and Perry A., Jr., who is a dentist of Chicago.
In 1847 Mr. Armstrong was one of the Illinois delegates to the river and harbor convention, where Mr. Lincoln and he were committee-men from Illinois upon permanent organization. He favored “Tom” Corwin, of Ohio, while Mr. Lincoln was for Edward Bates, of Missouri. Mr. Armstrong was the first supervisor of the town of Morris; was elected justice of the peace in 1849; was a clerk in the office of the auditor of public accounts during the winter of 1850-51 and drew the charter of the Rock Island, LaSalle & Chicago Railroad, now the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, also of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, and the Illinois Central Railroad, and made the selections of the government land which inured to said railroad under the congressional act; and then went upon the survey of the Rock Island, LaSalle & Chicago Railroad as assistant engineer in 1851, and ran its experimental levels from Joliet to Ottawa and from Tiskilwa to Geneseo, and then went to Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and ran the level from Galesburg to Pond Creek, now Sheffield; but on discovering that there was not enough money in the treasury to pay one month’s salary he resigned and came home, and was appointed swamp-land commissioner of Grundy county, to select and sell the unsold government lands that should fall within the meaning of the swamp-land act of congress of September 28, 1850. By personal surveys and inspection he secured the title to about three thousand acres, which he subsequently sold for several thousand dollars, which went into the county treasury.
At the November election, 1853, he was elected clerk of the county court and re-elected in 1857, and in 1862 he was elected to the constitutional convention from LaSalle, Livingston and Grundy counties without opposition, and to the legislature from Grundy and Will, in 1863, and again in 1872, from DeKalb, Kendall and Grundy counties, without opposition, and served on the judiciary, judicial department and railroad committees in the latter session; and was the author of our present common-law jurisdiction of county courts, and the law of escheats and our jury law, with many amendments to our criminal code, road and bridge and other laws; and was on the Seymour ticket in 1868.
Captain Armstrong was the grand master of the grand lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of the state Illinois in 1856-57, and grand representative to the sovereign grand lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of the United States for 1858 and 1859.
He was an active supporter of the government in the war of the Rebellion and assisted in the organization of soldiers, making war speeches all over the surrounding country as a war Democrat and was a personal friend of Mr. Lincoln and Senator Douglas, both of whom he has entertained at his home in Morris, and in turn he was entertained by them at their homes in Springfield, Illinois. In the winter of 1851, Mr. Lincoln and he alternating, read the entire works of Sir Walter Scott. In the fall of 1863 he engaged in the purchase of horses for the army and continued at that until the close of the war. He was admitted to the bar in 1863, entering into partnership with Judge Benjamin Olin, now of Joliet, under the firm name of Olin & Armstrong, which was the leading law firm for several years. Mr. Olin withdrew from the firm in 1870, locating in Joliet. In 1876 Mr. Armstrong was appointed master in chancery of Grundy county, and held that office for twenty-two consecutive years. He was the secretary of the school board nine years and also secretary of the board of trustees of the Illinois Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary for nine years, and president of the board of directors of the Morris Cemetery Association seventeen years, during which time Evergreen cemetery emerged from obscurity to a first class cemetery. He is the dean of the Morris bar and the oldest Master Mason and Past Master, Royal Arch Mason, and past high priest, Knight Templar and past commander, and was deputy grand commander of the grand commandery of the state of Illinois in 1863 and is the oldest thirty-third degree Mason of this state, in date of membership.
Though he never had any pecuniary interest in a newspaper, he has conducted the political column of several during presidential campaigns and is the author of The Sauks and of Black Hawk War; and has written many poems, which have been published, among which are a Child’s Inquiry, What is Heaven, and a Funeral Dirge to General Grant, and the disappointment of Judge Carter’s little son Allan over his failure to grasp a ray of light, etc. But his master poem is a Greeting to the Pioneers of Northern Illinois, which has not yet been published. He was always an admirer of nature and an enthusiastic geologist, and has shipped to the Smithsonian Institution at Washington city within the last year over three tons of fossil botany of his own collection, and he has been the historian of Grundy county from its birth up to the present time. For many years he personally knew every citizen in the county, even to his Christian name. ((Source: Biographical and Genealogical Record of La Salle and Grundy County, Illinois, Volume II, Chicago, 1900, p. 448-451.))
Writings of Perry Austin Armstrong:
- Historical oration before the Old Settlers Association of Grundy County Illinois. Morris, IL: Reformer Office. 1876.
- Sauk-e-nuk, the ancient city of the Sauks: its location, construction, population, government, antiquity and home life, Black Hawk’s Watch-Tower, and Lover’s Tomb. Rock Island, IL. 1885.
- The Sauks and the Black Hawk war: with biographical sketches, etc. Springfield, IL: H.W. Rokkers. 1887.
- The Piasa, or, The Devil among the Indians. Morris, IL: E. B. Fletcher, printer. 1887.