JOHN T. ALEXANDER
Although born in Wellsburg, VA on September 15, 1820, John began learning the cattle business after he and his family moved to Ohio in 1826. As he grew he learned from and worked with his father. The elder Alexander was a drover who provided cattle from Ohio to eastern markets such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and Boston.
At age 20 John decided to go west on his own. Arriving in St. Louis he found employment with Christian Hays, a large livestock operator. Soon he was sent to central Illinois to buy cattle for Hays. His successes led him to want to run his own business, which Hays loaned him the money to start.
In 1845 John fattened 230 cattle and drove them east from Illinois since no railroads extended that far west. Carefully driving the cattle to minimize weight loss and grazing them wherever he could, he eventually arrived at Albany, NY. There he sold them for $31 a head for final delivery in Boston.
By 1848 John decided to buy land where he could fatten cattle for market. He purchased property in Morgan County, east of Jacksonville for $3 per acre. The Toledo, Wabash & Western RR was later built nearby and the train stop was named Alexander in his honor.
He completed another drive before the railroad came through. In 1855 he took his corn fed cattle to the nearest rail station, Logansport, IN. Then by rail and lake steamer finally got them to New York City, with some going to Boston. This venture cost him money as his final sale price was less than he had been offered in Illinois.
From then on he was able to use railroads to move his beef. One source said he sent 15,000 head to New York City between 1857 and 1860, yet another said he sent that many in 1859 alone. Whatever the exact amount he moved a lot of cattle and popularized the idea of using corn to fatten them prior to market. Being in the corn growing area of central Illinois enhanced his ability to do so.
John T. Alexander stayed in the cattle business by buying, feeding and selling them. He bought land and later had to sell it to cover his debts. He made and lost money up to his death on August 22, 1876. All those would make interesting stories, but they are beyond the scope of this pre-Civil War site.
Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest – Joseph G. McCoy - 1874
Jacob Strawn and John T. Alexander: Central Illinois Stockmen – Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society – Clarence P. McClelland – June, 1941
Illinois: A History of the Prairie State – Robert P. Howard - 1972
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