Robert F. DOWNEY, a retired farmer and an honored veteran of the Civil war, now residing in the village of Magnolia, is a native of Illinois, his birth having occurred in the northwestern corner of Livingston county, near the present site of Streator, on the 14th of February, 1840. His father, Elzy DOWNEY, was born in Greenbrier county, West Virginia, while his mother, who bore the maiden name of Mary BETHUREN, was a native of Ohio and died in Livingston county, Illinois, when our subject was only two years old. The father subsequently wedded Nancy JOHNSON, who passed away in Magnolia two years after her husband's death. On leaving his native state Elzy DOWNEY removed to Ohio and located in Logan county, but in 1832 he came farther west and settled in Livingston county, Illinois, on the banks of the Vermilion river, where he took up a tract of government land and erected thereon a log house. At that time the Indians were still very numerous in the locality and there were only six or seven families living along the river. He continued to make his home there until 1842, when he removed to Magnolia, where he resided until his death, which occurred about 1895, when he was eighty-four years of age. By his first marriage he had one child, a daughter. By his second marriage he had three children: Sarah Jane, who died in 1864; Robert F., whose name introduces this sketch; and William J., who died at the age of one year.
Robert F. DOWNEY passed the days of his boyhood and youth in Magnolia and attended the common schools, pursuing his studies in an old schoolhouse where the seats were made of slabs. At the early age of ten years he began earning his own livelihood and for a time covered corn with a hoe at twenty-five cents per day. At that time nearly all the farm work was done by hand, hay was mowed with a scythe and then raked. In a barn which stood just south of town and was recently burned our subject helped thresh wheat, driving horses over the grain laid on the floor. It was tramped in this way for a while and then turned and tramped again. Later the grain was gathered and on a windy day it was winnowed in the wind.
Mr. DOWNEY continued under the parental roof until after the outbreak of the Civil war, when in 1861 he enlisted at Bloomington in the First Illinois cavalry. At the battle of Lexington, Missouri, he was captured with Mulligan's men. At that time the Confederate states had not been recognized as a belligerent power and no one knew or thought that the war would last long and no prisons were ready for the captives, so that they took the oath of allegiance and were sent home. Later our subject tried to re-enlist, but was not allowed to enter the service. After the war he worked on a farm by the month for a year or two and then purchased a tract of one hundred and fifty-six acres of land on section 3, Roberts township, Marshall county, a part of which was covered with timber, but the remainder was improved. To the cultivation of that place he devoted his energies for many years and is still its owner, the farm now comprising one hundred and sixty-four acres, and besides this property he has a nice home in the village of Magnolia, where he now resides. For several years past he has rented the farm and has practically lived retired, enjoying a well earned rest.
Mr. DOWNEY was married in 1867 to Miss Luella PARKER, who was born in Hancock county, Illinois, on the 15th of February, 1852, and is a daughter of William L. and Rhoda PARKER, both of whom are now deceased. Her parents came originally from Virginia, but located in Illinois at quite an early day. Unto Mr. and Mrs. DOWNEY were born eleven children, but the second died at the age of one year. The others are as follows: William E., a merchant of West Point, Adams county, Illinois; Minnie L., the wife of Charles DANIELSON, living near Granville, Illinois; Lilly M., wife of Allen COE, who now lives on our subject's farm in Marshall county; Mary S., wife of Jacob PIPER, living in Magnolia; Elzy, who is a graduate of the state normal and now principal of the schools at Clyde; Laura, wife of J. B. THORNTON, living at Long Beach, California; Luella F., wife of George RAMSEY, whose home is in Clyde, Illinois; Joseph M., who is a graduate of the Northwestern Dental College of Chicago and is now engaged in practice of his profession at Magnolia; and Alva Isabelle, wife of Frank PETERSON, of Seneca, Illinois. This is a family of which the parents have every reason to be proud, as they stand high in the various communities in which they reside. Five of the children are college graduates and every one was valedictorian of his or her class.
By his ballot Mr. DOWNEY supports the men and measures of the republican party, but has never been a politician in the sense of office seeking, though he takes a commendable interest in public affairs. He is a member of Magnolia post, G. A. R., which is still in existence, although the organization holds no meetings, as only six or seven of the members are now left, the others having gone to join the silent majority. Mr. DOWNEY has quite a number of interesting souvenirs that he has picked up at various places, including a shell that was fired at the battle of Yorktown in 1862 and never exploded. It was dug up in the field by a negro, the load taken out and brought to Magnolia by B. F. BAKER, an old soldier, and given to the Grand Army post. When the society dissolved the property was divided and it fell into the hands of Mr. DOWNEY, who was for some time commander of the post. He also has a piece of granite from the monument erected to the soldiers who fought at Yorktown during the Revolutionary war. During his long residence in Putnam county he has become widely and favorably known, and as an. old soldier and honored pioneer he well deserves mention in this volume.
Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.