Early Times in Kosciusko

Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

Aye, call it holy ground--
The soil where first they trod:
They left unstained what there they found,
Freedom to worship God!
-----Felicia Hemans

The above lines are taken from the poem written by Mrs. Felicia Hemans in speaking of the ground upon which the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower when they first landed on the rock-bound and at that period the desolate shores of the New World. The same is true of any of the virgin ground when first pressed by the foot of the pioneer. They were, indeed, and in truth a peculiar people, and hundres among them lost no time in removing to a newer and more thinly settled region just as soon as the onward march of civilization brought them too many neighbors! There were hundres upon hundreds of the surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War, who, owing to the stirring life they had led during that crisis, could not settle down to the ways of peace, and hence these became pioneers and they were afterwards augmented and reinforced by the same conditions following the war of 1812, and of course there was always a sort of nomadic border line of fighters at all times to be found along the western frontier, and when pressed by too many neighbors, they would shoulder their trusty rifle, gather their families about them, if they had one, and trudge farther to the west--ever westward--and there await the oncoming tide of settlers that was soon to follow.

When it is understood that in the life of the writer he saw the last of the Indians removed by the government from northern Ohio, and about then years observed the removal of the last of the red-skins taken away from this section of Indiana, surely an illustration is furnished of the rapidity with which this country has been pupulated and brought under civilization!

Take the city of Chicago as another example. That town is just the age of the one who is penning this sketch, and if a stranger visiting that wonderful city were told, of this fact he could scarcely believe that in some brief a period a city like that, with its palatial homes and its twenty-five story business houses, with all the concomitants of necessities and luxuries added; all its vast railroad and business enterprisers could not have been constructed in that time, even though an army of men, and the daily labor of every one of its citizens had all been united in order to build a city covering so much ground and so thickly studded for miles with buildings in every direction, even had they attempted nothing else; but all this time every branch and every feature of business was being carried forward usual in a city of now 2,000,000 of people! It is astounding; surely such a growth as followed the war of Independence has never been known in the world's history, and it was the pioneer who blazed the way!

In my last sketch I referred to the political fight that occurred at Bourbon in 1856, but even before that, presidential campaigns had assumed an acrimonious form. As early as 1848, a Free Soil part had been formed, having its origin, if I remember aright, in the state of New York, where it was nick-named as "The Barnburners." In that year, it ran a presidential ticket with John Van Buren--a son of ex-president Van Buren --as its candidate for the head of the ticket. That year Gen. Zachary Taylor was the Whig candidate, and the Democrats ran lewis Cass. The younger readers of these sketches should bear in mind that in the west abolotionists were very few and yet scattered all over the country. I heard it said at the time there were only seven of them in this county, and I presume the statement to be true.

The Free Soil party of New York took advanced ground on the slavery question, and it not only organized the party in that state, but also sent missionaries abroad to present their political views and spread them before the people, and it was in the year 1848 that colored people were first seen in Kosciusko county. The Free Soil party had employed two colored men to speak on the subject of slavery. The two arrived in Warsaw, and of course there was no one to receive them or show them any attention whatever. The one who did the speaking was an unusually bright man and an eloquent orator, thoroughly well-read on the question of slavery. The other one led in the singing and was along, I suppose, as much for company's sake as anything else. They carried large posters with the name of the place and date of speaking left blank, ready to be filled in when an opportunity for public speaking had been arrange for. They had been here for a few hours and through the efforts of Rig Gordon it was determined to let them speak in the old court house, then a comparatively new building.

Quite a good-sized crowd had assembled to hear the colored speakers. The two black men opened the meeting with a lively and appropriate song, and the speaker was going along remarkably well, and, for an audience that many of them had never before heard a colored speaker, the closest attention was being given him. He had already furnished specimens of eloquent oratory, and the people were beginning to feel glad that they had come out, when crash went two large stones right through the window immediately in rear of the judge's desk, occupied at that moment by the speaker. The audience was startled, but the colored men were as frightened as though they had seen a ghost. The speaker closed almost as soon as the second stone fell into the house, and both were so scared that their faces assumed almost a white look. Refusing to continue his speech, the meeting was adjourned, although there was a good deal of anger and condemnation expressed against the perpetrator. The two colored men left at a very early hour in the morning, and I only allude to the incident to show the bitterness that had been growing up between different political parties.

In those days it was customary during every presidential campaign, at least, for both sides to erect a pole in the public square from which a flag representing the party to which it belonged floated on the breeze. That very same year it became necessary for a party to guard these poles at night to prevent them from being pulled down. Several attempts were made to do this by both parties in 1848, and I remember a good deal of scheming on the part of these guards to catch the other side "off duty." The campaign had progressed until more than half the period had gone by, when one day the lowering clouds that gathered in the southwest gave every token of a storm, and word was sent around to the Whig guards that the signs were favorable to pull down the hickory pole during the storm that seemed probable. Consequently the Whig guards assembled in Thralls' drug store. Sure enough the storm came on, and the night was as black as ink. A 2-inch auger had been procured and in a remarkably short time the pole was bored through a sufficient number of times that even a light pull on the lanyards was sufficient to topple it over, and down came "Old Hickory" with a crash! Following the event I remember there was a jolly time in Thralls' drug store and Bram Funk, Bill Chapman, I think, and myself were there!

Along in those days a German by the name of Lowery kept a grocery in a small building located on the alley-corner of the lot now occupied by Ripple's livery stable. Immediately opposite on the corner where Petry's residence now is, Elijah Hays, still a resident of the town, operated a blacksmith shop. As was customary in those days, there being no inhibition against selling intoxicants, Lowery kept whiskey for sale, and occasionally it was quite lively about his premises. In some way or other Lowery procured a cannon--or rather, an instrument to make a noise. It had formerly been the large journal of a saw-mill, and some one getting hold of it thought it would make a cannon in the absence of anything better, and with infinite patience and much labor, had drilled an inch-and-a-quarter hole into the round part of the journal to a depth of about ten inches. This, when loaded with a quarter of a pound of powder, and well "tamped" in with plugging, made a noise almost as load as a six-pounder.

Lowery was a Democrat, and consequently this cannon--nick-named "Old Mother Lowery," was always used on Democratic days. This angered the young Whigs greatly, and they resolved to steal the cannon away from Lowery. This was done several times, the cannon remained first in the hands of one party and then in the other. This continued until after the war. On one occasion--I think it was when A. P. Willard was a candidate for governor--"Old Mother Lowery" was out and made a noise all day. The late Alfred Wilcox was a Democrat in those days; so ardent too, that he had become considerably "worked up" over the stealing by the Whigs of "Old Mother Lowery." So when the latter resolved to capture the gun, it being once more in possession of the side that really owned it, Alfred Wilcox, and it may have been Riley White, still living amongst us were on watch, but after the night meeting was over, and stillness reigned all over the little village, the Whigs disappeared from the streets.

The cannon was so heavy that it required the strength of two men to convey it from one point to another. Wilcox was guarding it, and it should be remarked that the cannon was square from the journal to its extreme end the other way, and was fixed into a piece of oak wood about ten inches square and two feet in length. On coming back to the streets after an hour or more of hiding, the Whigs discovered Mr. Wilcox sitting on the square block of the gun sound asleep. Rig Gordon--he was always on hand when fun or mischief of any kind was on tapis--discovered that Riley White was nowhere near just at that moment, so two stalwart friends very gently and cautiously raised Wilcox up sufficiently to permit the gun to be slipped out from under him, and substituted a chunk of cord-wood under him, and thus "Old Mother Lowery" was once more in the hands of the Whigs.

The late Lewis Funk was the last one who knew anything about this gun. He hid it away and it is presumed the secret of its whereabouts died with him. It was not always mischievous tricks that were carried on in those days. Fist-fights were numerous during election times, and party scraps with each recurring election were growing more and more acrimonious, and a bitterness prevailed that even then the storm that finally broke over this nation was foretold by many thinking men.

Warsaw Daily Times January 18, 1902

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