Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"There's the mill that ground our yellow grain,
Pond and river still serenely flowing;
Cot, there nestling in the shaded lane,
Where both lily and rose were blooming.
There's the mill that ground our yellow grain,
There's the gate on which I used to swing
Brook and bridge and barn and old red stable;
But, alas, no more the morns shall bring
That dear group around my father's table;
There's the gate on which I used to swing!"
---Ralph Hoyt

I have noticed that as men and women grow in years, that it is to those of their childhood they most fondly turn, as well as to the home where they were born and the scenes more vividly impressed upon their memory. The expression "when I was a boy" is more frequently heard coming from a man grown in years rather than from the middle-aged one whose career is partly at least still before him. This is not so with the one who has passed the milestone on life's journey that marks the down-grade portion of the life that is still left him. The old home with all its well remembered surroundings is all the more clearly brought to mind, because everything in childhood and every girl and boy is more powerfully impressed upon the receptive minds of the young than can possibly be the case after the cares of life begin to take hold of one engaged in the great battle of life.

The home of childhood is never so humble, so poorly furnished, or so meager of comforts that the young boy or girl does not look back to it with fond endearment, and this is so even though the reminiscent individual in after life may have met with great success and is able to surround himself with all the comforts and luxuries that success may bring, and the "old cabin home," it may have been, still holds the warmest place in his heart. In taking a backward look, I sometimes think that notwithstanding the wonderful conveniences and the great advancement that has been made by the people of this country in the mode and method of living, that the present day does not bring with it the genuine enjoyment of fifty and more years ago. I am aware that much of this comes from the glamour that hangs over the early life of one and all, and that much of this feeling is due to the fact that as a rule young people more fully enjoy their surroundings than those on whom the cares and struggles of life have left their imprint.

It is a fact that the young of today may and in all probability will, make the same remark fifty years hence, and fully decided in their own minds, at any rate, that "there were no times like those when we were boys and girls," and this will probably continue till the end of time. It really does seem to me that what is known as the "Christmas Holidays" --the last week of the old and the beginning of a new year--are not so thoroughly enjoyed, so wholly given up to real, genuine happiness as they were--say fifty years ago. by the young the fourth of July and Christmas Day were the two days in the year that were all that is meant by the term "holidays," and I well remember as a boy how joyously the youth of the region where my parents then resided welcomed them both.

Fourth of July being very much closer to the period that made the day a noted one in this country was very much more generally observed and celebrated than it is now, for in my boyhood days there were a good many soldiers still living who had fought in the Revolutionary War under the glorious Washington of which they were very proud, and had the right to be so, as well. It was the custom of the period to which I allude, to observe the Fourth of July nearly always a big free dinner with the customary procession, and memories of the War of 1812, still being quite prevalent, almost every thriving county-seat had its independent and uniformed military company. for these companies the Fourth of July was a gala day. Nobody would dare to charge a penny for anything that a member of these independent companies may have desired --a meal, a drink of cider, or something stronger; a cigar, or anything else. It was everybody's day, and it seems to me now even at this late day, that everybody, regardless of age or sex, thoroughly entered into the spirit of the celebration--the anniversary of the day that made us a Nation. In those days the survivors of the Revolution were the guests of the day; and old and gray-headed, they were provided with a gaily decorated wagon drawn by four horses, and all of them assembled in the same vehicle.

We were even then getting farther and farther away from July 4, 1776, and there were occasions when it became difficult to secure a sufficient number of the veterans of the War for Independence to fill the wagon, and on one occasion I remember hearing the story told, after the celebration was over, that at least two who had ridden in the Revolutionary wagon were not entitled to be classed among Washington's veterans, as they were Hessians under Gen. Kuyphausen, and had fought against America! The story turned out to be a fact, but they had deserted their colors during the war and had come out west with the tide of emigration after it was over and had settled in Seneca county, and when veterans of the Revolutionary war were called for to ride in the wagon on the 4th of July, they offered their services and were accepted! When this course was complained of afterwards, they excused themselves to the committee by saying that nothing was said in the invitation about which side they had espoused!

At the time of which I am writing, however, Christmas was the season of real happiness and enjoyment, and how plainly fixed in my mind is many of the scenes that surround Christmas eve and the day itself! It was a day for assembling the family in the old home circle--like Thanksgiving Day is even yet, in New England--and was a period of pure unalloyed delight to one and all; and how many old recollections and scenes that have laid dormant for many years cluster around Christmas day in the years that have since flown so swiftly! How many of those early-day friends that we met in those years whose hearts have ceased to beat; how many pleasant looks that shone so brightly then have ceased to glow; the hands we then clasped, grown cold; the eyes, whose glance was then sought, have hid their luster in the grave, and yet the laugh, the jest, and the most minute and trivial circumstance connected with the observation of the day, by means of the clear-cut recollections of youth, are as plain before the reader, I feel assured, as though they had occurred but yesterday.

Happy, happy Christmas that can so touchingly, yet truthfully, win back to the man the delusions of their happy days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that calls the distant member of the family, thousands of miles away, it may be, back to the fireside and the home of his youth! These reflections will, we fell sure, be endorsed by the older readers, and in after years sanctioned by the younger ones of today then grown old, for in after years the youth who thinks it such a long, weary time until he reaches twenty-one, when reaching the close of his years, will only be too willing to admit that the shortest thing he has ever known is--life!

Readers of these sketches will remember the reference in them to Dr. Griffith, a resident of Warsaw previous to the civil war, and the writer's declaration, that since that period he had not heard nor could learn anything of him. Alex Adams, a boy-time friend of mine, within an hour after the sketch containing the reference to Dr. Griffith made its appearance met me on the street and gave me the information that when in the hospital at Mumfordsville, Ky., Dr. Griffith was in charge of his particular ward, and as a physician attended his case for several days, though he could not remember the regiment to which he belonged; but that he had learned that he was at some time in Kansas, where he had become a minister of the gospel in some one of the church denominations. I was pleased to receive this meager information of one with whom I was on the most agreeable and intimate terms up to the beginning of the war in 1861.

Very naturally the perusal of anything concerning early times leads many whom I meet to bring the subject up, and I have gleaned considerable information in that way since these sketches have been commenced, some parts of which have been incorporated into a portion of those which have appeared, while the knowledge gained of others remain to be used in the future. Only a few days since I was talking to a friend who was perusing these sketches, when he said with no small amount of interest, although he could lay no claim to being an old settler, he being only forty-one years old; "but," he said, "I have heard my father relate some of the particulars of incidents that have already appeared, and who endorsed them all as truthful and interesting reminiscences, and they had proven so to him."

He was wonderfully surprised when I told him that when I was a boy I had seen many well-built and comfortable log-cabins in the erection of which not a nail had been used from beginning to end. He could scarcely believe the statement, but the fact can readily be substantiated, as the saying is, by "a cloud of living witnesses," and I am sure I would not have to go out of town to prove the correctness of the statement. An ax, an auger, a drawing-knife to make the pins, a frow, and a few other implements, including a hand-saw--every neighborhood had at least one cross-cut saw that could always be borrowed--were all that was necessary. The walls in a cabin were always built of round logs, but this style was only the forerunner of the more aristocratic hewed-log-house that followed at a later period.

At the corners the logs were notched so as to permit them to come closer together, and thus save as much "chinking" and "daubing" as possible, when it became necessary to close the cracks. Clapboards were rived out of an oak tree selected for its straight grain, and consequently easy riving, and these were used for the roof. They were held in place by weight-poles running transversely with the clapboards. Window frames were made from the same tree, split out with a frow, and pinned together at the corners. Sometimes there was glass in the windows, but it was not at all uncommon to use oiled paper instead. The doors and even the hinges were made in the same manner, everything requiring it, pinned with wooden pins, and even the latches and hinges were all of wood, the former being lifted from the outside by a buckskin string thrust through a hole, the pulling of which would raise the wooden latch, and at night the simple pulling of the string into the inside of the house served as a lock for the door!

Here it will be seen we have a fairly comfortable house, free from the use of a particle of iron. The cause for this lay is the excessively high price of nails. There were a very scarce article. In all new countries, owing to the fact that they had to be hauled so far from the factories, by slow-going teams, over execrable roads, and sometimes none at all. The nails used by all Northern Ohio people had to be hauled by teams from Pittsburgh, Pa., and so great was the cost on arriving that the people simply decided to do without them. To the Pioneer this will not be a strange or even curious statement; but the man doing business today is often surprised to learn that houses were constructed from start to finish without the use of a single nail, or a bit of iron or steel of any kind.

Then, too, I have known shingle-roofs for the hewed-long houses to be put on by the use of home-made nails, made by the proprietor and his employees of the nearest blacksmith shop. Of course they were costly, for each one had to be forged out by hand--a slow process, even when the blacksmith was an expert in the rapidity with which he could turn out what was at the period spoken of as "shingle-nails." It should be borne in mind, too that the shingle known in those days were called the "lap-shingle;" that is, they lapped over one another, and they, too, were shaved out by hand, and even a hole had to be punched for the nail, to prevent splitting as well as from the fact that the nail had to go through the thicker part of the shingle, and its head would be covered by the next one. In those early days, too, horse-shoeing nails were made by the blacksmith who shod the horse, and many times the owner of a team or a single animal would have to wait at the shop not only for the shoeing but the time consumed in making the nails as well, although it was the blacksmith's custom to put in all his leisure time--that is when he was not crowded with other work--to make up a quantity of nails so as to be ready for future shoeing calls.

The manufacturers of iron in those days made iron into what was called "nail-rod" for the special purpose of being worked-up into horse-shoe nails by the blacksmith. All these minor things are well known to older people, but as there are a good many young people who read the newspapers in this advanced age, I fell quite sure that to many of them--all of them, perhaps--these smaller incidents concerning the way in which their grandfathers lived will not only be news, but interesting to many. Would the boy of today believe that matches only came into general use in the early forties? In fact it was still a good deal later than that when they became a necessity. There was a sort of antipathy to their use at the first attempt to introduce them. They were called "locofoco matches" at first and were of the old fashioned brimstone kind, that smelled so strong that it forced the idea upon the mind of those who smelled them that the place that all people are seeking to avoid in the future, was near, and its proprietor had thoughtlessly left a door or a window open for which brimstone fumes were escaping at an alarming rate!

Before matches came into use a flint-and-steel and a piece of punk were found in many homes so that a fire could be struck in case it had gone out in the great fire-place with which all houses were provided. This, however, seldom happened, because it was the duty of the last person to go to bed to cover up the coals with ashes so as to save fire for morning. It was the custom then, in houses not provided with flint-and-steel, for the first one up, on finding the fire gone out to take a shovel and go to the nearest neighbor--sometimes only a mile and a half away--and secure a shovel full of coals in order to reestablish a fire on their own hearthstone. The writer remembers many occasions he did this when a boy, only my folks had a nearer neighbor than a mile and a half away.

Warsaw Daily Times March 1, 1902

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