Early Indiana

An Extract Taken from "Life in the Clearings"

Quite a number of the readers of our paper commented on a brief articles in these columns, a few days ago, on the early settlement of the county, and the differences between the times then and now. The following extract from a paper read before the "Indianapolis College Association" by Prof. John Campbell, will no doubt revive the recollections of many of the pioneers of this section of Indiana. It certainly will convince all who peruse it that Mr. Campbell knows what he is talking about, and was personally acquainted with the "clearings," "choppings," "grubbings," and "loggings" of the old days. Here is what he says.

The pioneers of seventy years ago numbered only 65,000 in the entire Territory. They had come, a heterogeneous mass, from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New England from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas from Ireland, Germany, England and France. Attracted by the glowing reports of this El Dorado, they came a vast army of settlers the 24,000 of 1810 swelling to 147,000 in 1820, and to 343,000 in 1830. In 1840 the population increased to 685,000; in 1850 to 988,000; in 1860 to 1,350,000; in 1870 to 1,680,000; in 1880 to 1,978,000, and at present it is over 2,000,000. The early settlers came under all the difficulties incident to slow travel, with heavy wagons, over roads well-nigh impassable, hinderd by bottomless mud and unbridged rivers, exposed to all the hardships connected with camp life in a wilderness; yet they came, a mighty host of heroic men and more heroic women, and made this wilderness a home.

A stranger riding through the West,
By chance did find a Hoosier's nest:
In other words, a Buckeye cabin,
Just large enough to hold Queen Mab in.

The pioneer's first work was to cut out a location and with the logs construct a cabin wholly unpretentious yet withal comfortable. Game and fish were abundant, and in their season berries and wild plums were added to the bill of fare, which usually consisted of pork, corn-bread and hominy. The great work of the first settlers was to get rid of the thick timber growth that they might cultivate the land. "Life in the Clearings," is a subject of itself. The trees were cut down, then made into workable lengths, then rolled together and burnt. Amid the stumps, charred logs and ashes of the clearing, the pioneer planted his first crop of corn, potatoes and tobacco, happy in the thought that he was now "getting settled" in the world. This was spring-time, and he worked and waited for the needed harvest. This harvest came, but before wheat-sowing time another unwelcome experience awaited him. The luxuriant growth of vegetables and weeds, with the newly disturbed soil, developed malarial diseases of malignant type. Mud, timber and ague constituted the trinity of trouble in the early development of this State. It was easy enough to raise 100 bushels of corn to the acre, but the difficulty was to get the acre cleared. Then, after the corn was produced, it was more difficult to be compelled to spend a goodly portion of the proceeds of his crop for barks and whiskey, or quinine straight, to stop his chattering and shivering, and burning, as illustrated in the Wabash shakes; and to crown this misery, without a particle of that best of sauces, a good appetite to enjoy the remnant of the results of his toil. This was pioneer life. This trinity of trouble has ceased to trouble us. It is no longer a question how to get rid of our forests, but how to preserve them. He who plants a tree now is a better citizen than he who needlessly destroys even a sapling. The mud difficulty exists chiefly off the thoroughfares, and although there are and must be bad roads, where they are not artificially improved, in a land as fertile as ours, yet the judicious farmer may so adjust the times for the short hauls necessary for marketing of his crops that the mud trouble may be said to be no longer serious. The ague also has largely diminished, and in a great portion of the State has almost wholly disappeared. This is due to improved drainage, destruction of weeds, better food, better houses and better living. The log cabin is now only a reminiscence, and with it has gone a large part of the pestilent fevers which a quarter of a century ago gave this State and neighboring States a not desirable notoriety.

Northern Indianian January 15, 1885, p. 1 column 2

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