Early Times in Kosciusko
Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

There's many a rest in the road of life,
If only we stop to take it.
And many a tone from the better land,
If the Querulous heart would wake it!
To the sunny soul that is full of hope,
And whose beautiful trust n'er faileth,
The grass is green and the flower are bright,
Through the wintry storm prevaileth
---M. A. Kidder

Life is not all gloom, by any means, and I have met many old friends since beginning these sketches of other days that go to show that many people grow old pleasantly, and look to the not far-away end of their journey fearlessly and yet full of hope; strong in the faith of a blessed here-after, when the toils of life are over. Of course, there are those whose tempers have grown somewhat crabbed and crusty, and whose life seems to have been at least a partial failure, at best, who seem morose, soured and petulant, so that it is really unpleasant to meet them, and hear them repeat their oft-told tales, and grumbling conversation. Happily, however, this class are few, and the man who continues in a happy, joyful frame of mind, notwithstanding his growing years, are greatly in the majority. The older ones of the readers of these scribblings, very often stop me on the streets to relate some incident of early times, and one, on hearing them relate the anecdote, or incident, would think that they were again among the scenes of their young manhood.

All early settlers were hunters and trappers, almost by nature, and nearly all of them could use a gun equal almost, to the "crack-shots" of today--those who claim to be professional marksmen. Game formed a large portion of the pioneer larder, at the period when forests rather than farms covered much the greater portion of the land. Every cabin, almost, contained a rifle--a small-bored barrel for the smaller game, and one carrying a larger bullet for deer and bear.

And many of the first settlers were experts in shooting. Many hunters of that period would disdain to shoot a squirrel anywhere else than in the head, and this he did very often at long range. The hunter of an early date bought his lead in bulk, and cast his own bullets with moulds made to fit the calibre of his gun. The same was true of his powder and percussion caps--if, indeed, he did not use a flint-lock gun. The shot gun among the pioneers was scarcely known. It was a hunting implement entirely unpopular. With the experts of that day shooting from a rest was also ignored, all of the finest and best shots using only the "off-hand" method.

Very often on Saturdays there would be a shooting-match at some given point, well understood, however, in the thinly settled country; but at which almost every man who owned a gun would be present. Prizes were also given to the winners, generally consisting of live turkeys, the owner of birds getting his pay for them by charging a small amount to the marksmen participating. Usually the mark to be shot at was very small, scarcely ever larger than the bottom or the top of a cap box placed against a tree, the distance from it being first agreed upon and while it is impossible for me to state what excellent shooting was often made, yet I have heard the old pioneers talk of the wonderful accuracy of some of the marksmen present, for days after the match had passed off.

Only the other day, in speaking about early days, and the interest he had been taking in the perusal of these old-time tales, J. W. Hoover, ex-county commissioner, and a gentleman well-known to all the people of the county, recited an incident of his small boyhood days. His father had settled on a farm east of Warsaw at a very early day and, of course, like all the pioneer, he was quite "handy with his shootin'-iron," and every winter made it a point to keep the family supplied with fresh meat; devoting considerable attention to hunting at that more idle portion of the year for the farmer. J. W. Hover, however, at the time alluded to was a mere lad, and the incident he related, pertained more to fishing than to hunting; and it was the change in the kind of game sought that secured for the boy the chance to go along with his father. Fish in all of the many lakes in this county were plentiful at an early period, so that the fishing for the finny tribe was made by standing on the shore, and casting the bait as far out in the water as possible.

Sometime had elapsed when the boy concluded to change his base and wended his way to a point some distance away from the one that had been selected by his father. Before proceeding farther, however, it should be stated that a neighboring farmer of Mr. Hover, owned a pet female deer, that was quite tame and wandered about the place to suit her own convenience. She discovered the boy at the point where he was fishing and at that particular period being the mother of a very handsome fawn--destined no doubt to furnish the hide to make some "nabob" young man of the "backwoods" a handsome and very fashionable vest--she, like all mothers, resented the boy's appearance, evidently having her fawn hidden at some point near by, and fearing danger for her off-spring, vigorously attacked the lad. The boy had nothing to defend himself with but his fishing-pole; but anyone knowing the temper of a deer in such circumstances and their ability to put up as vigorous a struggle as almost any other animal of a much more vicious nature, can realize and perceive that young Hover was in a critical position. He beat the deer over the head to the best of his ability and ran towards his father he came to his assistance and finally drove the deer away. Deer-hunters will tell you, however, that the boy was in great danger, and but for the assistance of his father, Kosciusko county would have had to make a commissioner at a later day--very likely out of much poorer material.

Like sheep, deer are considered an inoffensive animal but when fully aroused and at bay, they are exceedingly aggressive and can "put up" a wonderfully vicious fight and often will keep it up until forced to succumb through a mortal injury of some kind. I remember one occasion when I too, was a lad, of seeing two deer just west of the second Tippecanoe bridge, when that region was all in woods, and even the second bridge had not yet been erected, engaged in, what was to me a very curious preceding. right in the middle of a blind road that led through the timber and with their hair on end, was engaged in what I thought at the time was a mild contest of jumping. I got close to them but I could not see for the tall grass on each side of the road just what they were doing. Ere long one of the deer--the doe, it was--discovered me, gave the alarm and both were off for what, they reasoned no doubt , were safer quarters, I presume. I went forward to see what it was that had caused them to act so queerly, and there lay in the road a large sized rattle snake literally cut to pieces with their sharp hoofs. I afterwards learned from an experienced hunter that deer would always fight snakes on sight, and with their feet, but jumping on them--all four feet gathered under them and striking the snake at the same time, leaping quickly aside they escaped the return strike of the snake, and were nearly always successful in putting an end to the life of the crawling reptile. In the heat of this fight, with their hair on end--even pointing forward--and an aggressive look in their faces, the wild-eyed, mild-mannered deer in this instance had the appearance of a "fighter from away back!"

I have in these weekly sketches--weakly both ways, it may be in make-up as well as appearing once-a-week--mentioned some of the odd, as well as familiar and prominent characters I have known during my residence in the county. On this point it would hardly do to leave out the name of the late Samuel E. Loney, who came here from Knox county, Ohio. On arriving in Warsaw he entered into partnership with the late Hiram Bair --a brother of Andrew J. Bair, still a resident of the town and one of the best men the editor ever knew and with whom he learned the "art preservative of all arts." This only lasted for a short time and the partnership was changed, the late Richard Loney taking Mr. Bair's place, the brothers being skilled cabinet makers, an excellent trade for a new country--at least after the first settlers began to desire to get away from the auger and handsaw sort of furniture; the chair in place of a four-legged bench, and a real cupboard with shelves instead of a dry-goods box set up in a corner with rived out shelves, and a turned post bedstead in place of poles driven into holes bored in the wall and a prop under the other end.

At any rate this cabinet shop was a feature of Warsaw for many years, although S. E. Loney retired from the firm, and at first engaged in the fur trade, at that time a very profitable business, and an article that always commanded cash when wheat did not. For a good many years "Sam Loney" as everybody called him, bought furs for the big eastern houses; afterwards engaging in buying and handling wheat for several different firms. Al through his life too, he was in demand as an auctioneer and I presume--indeed I feel safe in saying--that during his life in this county that he "cried" a sale in every neighborhood of Kosciusko at one time or anther, and I am confident that he was personally known to more farmers during his life than any other man in the country. At an early period in his career in this place he was "mine host" of the "old corner tavern," erected by the late Michael Funk--father of the well-known Funk family of this place--who came to Kosciusko county from Wooster, Ohio. The tavern afterwards became the Wright House, and the ground is now covered by what is know as "Temple Block." Very often we hear men inquire of us of Samuel E. Loney from distant points of the county.

In early days nearly every town in the country contained a tan-yard, where leather, "as was leather," was made. I have already alluded to the fact that preceding the approach of winter, fifty, sixty and more years ago, the shoemaker went to the homes of the farmers and made up the shoes for the whole family for the coming cold winter; but I did not carry the subject farther and state that every farmer when he killed a beef or a calf took the skin to the proprietor of the nearest tannery and had it made into leather for his own use. Even sheepskins were used in the same way and tanned either with the wool left on, or taken off and sold as a separate product. Tanneries were very numerous in early days, and one of the first important enterprises in Warsaw was the tannery operated for many years by the late Benjamin Richhart. Hides were tanned by the use of oak-bark, and to prepare it, it had to be ground up fine, in order to get that portion that contained the most tannin. This was usually done by a mill run by horse-power, and the writer ground bark when a small boy one whole season. I stuck to it for one summer, and my head goes around with that old horse even yet, when I think of that particular oaky-bark season!

I do not know whether the statement is true or not, but I have heard it said many times that the old process of tanning--the one alluded to--took two years from the date of leaving the raw hid at the tannery, until it came out a finished piece of leather. Certain it is that the hide went from one vat to another, an infinite number of times, and were I to make a guess I should say that the Richhart tannery contained from thirty to fifty different vats, and as the hide had to pass through them all before it went to the finishing-room, where it was repeatedly given a dose of "dobbin."

Speaking of "dobbin," which was a yellowish "salvy" mixture made of tallow, rosin and other ingredients, reminds me that it became especially fashionable for greasing coarse boots and shoes--blacking was not used, and was almost unknown in the early days--and it seems to me that I can almost yet smell the "dobbin" greased boots and shoes of those early days. It is a long way for a smell to reach, but the odor seems quite distinct, now that I am thinking and writing about it! After making the remark that it only requires five days now to make leather that formerly took two years, I feel like dismissing tannery, tanning "dobbin," and the entire onerous subject for a week!

Warsaw Daily Times March 8, 1902

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