Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"Home of birth, our dear loved land,
Thy glories stretch from sea to sea;
From ocean lake to tropic strand,
Land of the fearless and the free!
From where the Western Golden Gate
Gleams ruddy in the sunset rays,
To where the stern Atlantic chain
Looks proudly on the rising day--
From far Niagara's deluge wild,
To Florida's perennial flowers;
Ne'er has the sun of heaven smiled,
On such a heritage as ours.
'God and the Union!' This our creed
Our motto this forever be--
So shall our starry banner float
Forever o'er the brave and free."

Readers of the news of the day, and all those who keep in touch and note the pulse-beat of America cannot do otherwise than to admit that in consolidating public sentiment through what was so long designated as the North and the South forever keeping up the idea that there was a division of sentiment, the Spanish-American war was a god-send to us as a people, and that henceforth we were a Nation with all the full meaning of the term. Of the veterans on both sides during the civil war this is especially true, and it is a consolation to the brave survivors of that unprecedented and unparalleled struggle, that there is now scarcely a ripple of rancor visible in either section of the country, the Spanish-American war having brought together in the same corps, divisions, brigades and even in the same regiment, in many cases, under officers who had fought on different sides in the great struggle of 1861-5, where they thus learned each others' worth, and mostly as the sons of the veterans of the period alluded to they became friends, talked over the battles in which their fathers had fought, and the soldier from the Northern section warmly praising such men as Fitzhugh Lee and Joe Wheeler, both of them conspicuous cavalry leaders in the civil war, but then serving a common country--a restored country, indeed--with consummate bravery and skill but above all, loyalty to the flag, which all such as they were glad in their hearts, contained not a stripe the less, or had "lost a single star".

No one can converse long with the veterans of the North to learn that they were proud of the acquaintances they had made among the troops from the South, during that war, and are elated over the bright prospects for the improved commercial conditions that are looming before the world so visibly that even the not particularly well-informed on such subjects can see them as plainly almost as those who have labored for them both in and out of Congress until now, it looks that an Isthmian Canal is a positive certainty; and who can fully predict what that means, especially to what was the Old South? In fact the construction of the canal will place the once "seceded states" right at the head of the market with the identical products the world most needs and must have. Whatever aids the South in this way will be equally beneficial to the busier North; for now that the country is united in reality as well as in name, as a Nation containing within its own limits almost every product in use among the people of the whole world, who shall say that the future is not most promising indeed, for all America. "America" spelled with a big "A?" It is not always that wars end in making people better friends who were enemies, but this the Spanish-American war did for this country, and in that particular as well as the wonderfully promising outlook now lying indirectly because of it--certainly it has been worth all and more than it cost.

In very early days Warsaw contained one of the queerest characters known to this section of the state in the person of Stephen Philpott, Sr. He was of English birth, but had come over from that country and settled in Ohio-Billville, if I remember correctly. As a boy I happened to be at the old tavern located on the corner no occupied by Temple Block, and kept by John Blaine on the evening of his arrival. This was several years before the coming of the railroad and he had come as far as Fort Wayne by canal, and from there he reached Warsaw by private conveyance. His English faculty of converting his "o's" into "h's" and vise versa was particularly odd to me, and I sat in the tavern "bar-room" as the present "office" was then termed until a late hour. I had already discovered that the three lakes lying right up to the corporation lines had attracted the old gentleman just as soon as he arrived, and even on the first night it was easy to perceive that Warsaw had appealed to him greatly, so that before he started on his return to his family in Ohio, he had fully determined to make this little village his future home. PAGE TORN AWAY --- ...engage in that business in the town. Honest as a man could be; upright in all the walks of life and charitable to a remarkable degree, there have been few persons in the town that aided more people than "Old Sinner" Philpott --a name of his own selection, and by which he went so constantly, that there are people in this place and vicinity who believe it to have been his real name.

In religion he was a "Universalist" and he lived at a time when that denomination was far from popular. On his belief he was ever ready for an argument and in maintaining his side he was exceedingly skillful and forcible. He was a warm, personal friend of the writer, and afterwards, when I founded THE INDIANIAN, he did everything in his power to aid in getting it on its feet financially, and there were many times I went to him to borrow the money to pay for a small "bundle" of paper in order not to miss an issue. Looking back over that time I can't think of any one, when I needed a friend, that assisted me more frequently than "Old Sinner" Philpott.

He was the first man in the town to erect an ice-house for the purpose of storing that commodity for sale during the hot summer months. He was so charitable and so fully lived up to his principles, that though the fact has been mentioned in these columns, a good many years since, the story will bear repeating. He lived just north of the present home of John H. Rousseau on Lake street, and as he boated and fished a great deal, he built a small wharf and boat-house at the foot of the bluff in the rear of his residence. Not far away at that time was a tumble-down old barn on the shore of the lake behind the present home of Fred Clark. The barn had a roof on it, and perhaps some of the siding still remains. This, "Old Sinner" determined to convert into an ice-house, and as it stood close to the lake's edge, it did not take him and his boys long to fill it with ice almost to the roof. He then sided it up and filled in the crevices with tan-bark--every town, almost, had a tan-yard in those days--and awaited the coming of warm weather.

His jewelry store up town--then grown to a considerable size for that period--was near the present Hickman business house, and THE INDIANIAN was located in the upper or third story--in fact was built and fitted up for it especially by George R. Thralls, the original builder; so that in coming and going to my own business I met "Old Sinner" several times a day. Following his ice venture in the spring, as I came past his store, I overheard a conversation between the old man and a stranger. They were talking about ice, and the subject arresting my attention, I remained a moment to catch the drift of the conversation. I heard the stranger say: "Well, I will go an even hundred better." This led me to believe that he had made a previous offer, so that after the stranger had passed on, I asked Philpott what the offer was for and he replied that the stranger hailed from Cincinnati, where he was connected with a packing-house of large size, and he had offered him $700 for his ice, just as it stood, the stranger to pay all expenses of shipping, and carnage to the cars, and had afterwards increased it a $100, making the sum of $800. I was astonished that "Old Sinner" refused the offer for I knew that it had taken himself and boys only about ten days to fill the ice-house, and told him so, making the remark that $80 a day was a pretty snug sum for wages alone, as he had been to no other expense. "That," said "Old Sinner," "is true, and it was not the price that caused me to refuse." "What was it then?" said I. "Well Reub, 'tis this way. In the hot summer months there is always a great deal of sickness, and the folks of the town have depended on me for 'hice' at such times for two or three years past, and when I thought of them I could not make up my mind to disappoint them." That was the "Old Sinner." He had the courage to refuse that magnificent offer for ten days' work so that he would not disappoint those who had depended upon him for a supply of "hice," as the "Old Sinner" called it.

The next summer came, and with it more than an average severity of sickness in August and September, and very often I saw "Old Sinner" Philpott trundling a wheelbarrow-load of ice to his customers all over town, and giving it to those unable to pay for it as willingly and as cheerfully as he took the trifling amount of pay received from those able to buy it! There are not many "Sinner" Philpotts in all the country now! This was in 1857, and I remember that the incident made such an impression upon me that on reaching the editorial room I sat down and wrote an article on the subject of "The Ice Trade," wherein I extolled the purity of the water of the three lakes that touch this city; the ease with which it could be stored ready for shipment on the new railroad--the Pittsburgh was then a year old--and the money that could be made out of the ice business, closing the half-column article with the prediction that I expected to see the day that Center Lake's entire shore would be crowded with ice-houses all the shore. While this has not literally become true; yet if all that had been built on the shores of the other lakes had been added to those constructed on Center, the prediction would reach a long way toward fulfillment at the present day.

Another peculiar character of early days was the late George R. Thralls. He was engaged in the drug trade along with his brother-in-law, John W. Pottenger, who now lives at Hiawatha, Kan., both of whom were warm, personal friends of the editor of this paper in his boyhood days. In fact both gentlemen gave me much encouragement and all the patronage possible in my newspaper venture, and I have always held them in high esteem. Thralls acquired the nickname of "Old Watch" in the early days and when politics raged hotly here and elsewhere. The way in which he got the sobriquet came from his writing a short but very caustic article for my paper on the political questions of the day, and for want of a better incognito signed it "Old Watch." Afterwards the name of the author became known, but the sobriquet stuck to him, and became so general, that like that of "Sinner" Philpott, he was so commonly known as "Old Watch" that before his death in Florida twelve or fifteen years ago, there were many people in this county who knew him by no other name than "Watch" Thralls.

In early days he was prominent in all public matters. He entertained a firm belief in the future of Warsaw, and it was he who built the first brick residence in the town, and afterwards erected the four-story brick business house now occupied on every floor by John Grabner with a hardware store. He in later life visited the South during the days when there was such a steady flow of Northern emigration into Florida, the orange and pineapple, as well as early vegetable culture, having amounted to almost a craze. Thralls was captivated, and removed to that region and died there. The old man was a pleasant, social, and agreeable gentleman, and for many years his store was the headquarters, where assembled the principal people of the town to regale one another with the latest jokes, the newest story and to discuss politics--always an interesting subject in small towns, and very generally the principal one when a campaign was either coming on or was at its zenith. "Old Watch" was a popular man among the pioneers of the county and retained his reputation among them as long as he remained a resident of the county.

In speaking of THE INDIANIAN entering upon its forty-seventh year in a late sketch I omitted to mention--in describing the excessive labor required in a printing office in those times, and the number of hours I worked, with all others in those days--that the three persons who printed the first number of THE INDIANIAN on the first Thursday in January, 1856, are all alive, and are still residents of Warsaw. The writer did the presswork; John H. Rousseau--then a good-sized boy--rolled the forms, and Nelson Richhart turned the crank. Of course, in those days all country newspapers were printed on hand-presses, and the operation was a very slow one indeed. I remember that we three commenced operating the press at about 9 o'clock on Wednesday evening and the sun was just beginning to shine brightly on Thursday morning when the last sheet was printed. The idea of working all night was for the reason that the room had been completely warmed--without which, in the winter time, it is impossible to do good press-work--and if we did not print it that night the room could not be got in order, open as it was, and cold as the weather had become at that time, until a very late hour the next day. It is rather odd that the three individuals who worked that entire night, are still all alive and residents of the same town. An incident like it does not often occur, and if the same conditions hold good in next January"we three, and no more," ought to hold a tri-reunion?

Warsaw Daily Times January 25, 1902

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