Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"He taught his scholars 'The rule of three,'
Writing and reading and history, too.
Taking the little ones on his knee,
For a kind old heart in his breast, had he,
And the wants of the smallest child he knew--
'Learn while you're young,' he often said,
'There's much to enjoy down here below;
Life for the living and rest for the dead."
---Anon.

It was not always that the old pedagogue of fifty and more years ago, was so kindly in disposition as is foreshadowed in the above lines. Of course, there was a spirit of strict,--even severe--justice in the old-time schoolmaster, that most men of my age will remember, and now the young scholar of that day who has since grown to manhood, will, I feel sure, agree with me in the statement that as a rule they were fair-minded men, desirous of improving the minds of the pupils placed under their charge, and to advance them in knowledge so far as the limited means at hand, such as short terms, and the wonderful scarcity of books that prevailed in all the country schools and in many of the towns of that period as well.

My limited attendance at the public schools leads me to assert that they were most strict as to discipline and order in schools and lost no time in inflicting punishment or chastisement upon the scholars who were disobedient; who broke the rules adopted by the teacher as announced at the very beginning of a term. In compelling obedience the old early-time pedagogue was always sustained by parents, and it was a no infrequent occurrence that if a boy received punishment at school, a similar "course of sprouts" awaited him on reaching home; or as soon thereafter as the father learned of the chastisement of his son, the theory governing the parent being that a son of his must so conduct himself and obey the rules of school so closely that punishment by the teacher would be unnecessary.

In part of Ohio in which I resided when a boy--and the same was true of this section of Indiana--parents always sustained the teacher in corporal punishment, with only here and there an exception, that sometimes led to trouble between parents and teacher, though this was always the exception. The teacher of the period of which I am writing while not what is called a thoroughly educated man was accomplished and capable for whatever he professed to be able t teach; that is, the common branches. What is rather peculiar--at least it would be so construed at the present day--was the fact that many of the teachers of over fifty years ago were Irishmen of the better or rather middle-class, possessing what was termed a fair education. This class of Irish people came to America some years before the Revolutionary War in considerable numbers and it was only natural that they took to school-teaching in a country that was so new and which contained so few educational facilities, that this point along fitted them for teachers. At any rate, quite a number of the teachers of my boyhood days were either Irish or defendants of people of that nationality.

The first school I ever attended as a boy that was taught by a man was in Tiffin, Ohio, the teachers name being Alexis Nolin--an Irish name the reader will discover--and as strict a disciplinarian as any military martinet of the civil war period ever became, or ever aspired to be. During the two brief terms that I took the few lessons per day under his administration as head of the school, the progress of the pupils seemed to be satisfactory to the parents at least; but the scholars were all aware that Nolin kept a "cat-o-nine-tails" in a private place in his desk, and so far as the writer was concerned, if he did not feel the effects of this "feline with nine tails" within the first fifteen minutes after morning school school call, he felt that there was something wrong! It was only on a few occasions, and with the bigger boys that this instrument of punishment was severely used, and I remember on one occasion that Nolin himself came out of the contest second best, three or four of the boys double-teaming on him and giving him far the worst of the contest. This particular struggle came very near breaking up the school, but the affair was finally patched up for the reason that parents generally were so anxious to have their children in school, that harmony was restored so as to let the school continue, so determined were they that their children should gather the book-learning that the father and mother of a still earlier day had to pass through life without.

On nearly every occasion, when I revisit my old home, I meet gray-headed men who were boys then and who took part in or were spectators of that particular school fracas and among them in George Seney, now an ex-member of Congress, Christopher Parks, John Huss and others. The school that I attended just before my parents removed to this county was kept by a man by the name of Elias Hyter, and I still preserve among the keepsakes of my boyhood days, several mementoes from him. As I have already said I was quick even as a very young scholar to take up spelling, and hence, at the class contests on Friday afternoons, I very generally stood at the head, for which the teacher always offered a prize. He was one of the finest penmen I have ever known, and therefore his prizes were usually tastefully designed testimonials written very handsomely with borders in vari-colored inks, and it is two or three of these testimonials, for being at the head of the reading and spelling classes, that are among the few effects left of the winter of 1845-46 just before our removal to the then "far-west," less in reality than 200 miles, but oh, so far away in the minds of the many neighbors who assembled at the old home to see us depart.

It was under this teacher' administration that the studying of geography by singing the names and pointing them out on the map came into vogue, and while sport may have afterwards been made of the method by the many more learned teachers who followed that period, I can, I think, truthfully assert that the plan was excellent, and more than anything else induced the scholar to take a deeper interest in his geography lesson. The plan has long since ceased, but I doubt not that many readers as they peruse the above allusion to the "singing system" of teaching geography, will remember the time very well, and it may be it will recall to them many of those whose voices then joined in so melodiously, but are now, alas, stilled forever!

The courts of Indiana, previous to the adoption of the new constitution, which occurred in 1852, if I remember correctly, were known as circuit and probate courts. The latter had sole charge of decedents' estates, and appointed administrators, guardians and executors under the provision of the wills left by a decedent, while the circuit courts covered the same cases that are now assigned to its jurisdiction, with all the probate and even the ditch law, is now enforced in many cases, in addition, the law established the probate court having been abolished and all its business transferred to the circuit court. Under the old custom there were three circuit judges--the judge proper--always a lawyer--and two associates, the latter selected from prominent men of either party from each county. In quite early days John Rogers, who followed Andrew J. Bair as publisher and proprietor of the Kosciusko Republican, the Whig organ of the county, at that time, served as associate judge for a period, as did also James Bowen, who lived west of town and was the father of Mr. Wm. Bowen who is still a resident of this place. As a boy I remember these two, and I also think that Elijah Horton, then a resident of Oswego, served in the same capacity, although the appointment to the place may have been only temporary. The founding of THE INDIANIAN by the writer and his partner, the late G. W. Fairbrother, as the organ of the then brand new Republican party, influenced Rogers to remove his establishment to the West, and he settled at Sigourney, Keokuk county, Iowa, where he started a paper called "Life in the West." The town was named after the poetess and writer Mrs. Sigourney, whose writings at that time were very popular, and are still preserved by the readers of those days, in scrapbooks and clippings. I afterwards learned that she aided financially in assisting the paper, as a recognition of the honor bestowed upon her in naming the town after the poetess, but I am not prepared to vouch for the truthfulness of the story.

Elijah Horton--generally spoken of as Judge Horton--was a man of ability; a lawyer and a wide reader on general subjects--in short, for those days, a scholar. He had settled in Oswego in the infancy of that town, and when it was an applicant, with a very good show, too, for the location of the county seat. After that question was settled--a question that wrought up the voters to a very great extent--Judge Horton kept the only public house in that place, and as he was a man of refined tastes, as was his family also, he catered to a class of customers of leisure. He had loaned a great deal of the money he had brought with him from York State, in assisting to improve the water power of that region--the remains of a race of nearly three miles in length being still visible-but which fell through with on the defeat of the town to be the head-center of Kosciusko county, carrying with it the money of not only Mr. Horton, but a large sum for Ezekiel French and Dr. Roland Willard. At the breaking out of the civil war, Judge Horton was one of the board of county commissioners, and what is more, a very efficient and able public officer. the two other members of the board were John D. Highway and James Wooden, both of them prominent men in the early affairs of the county and both were quite early settlers in their respective localities. John D. Highway afterwards represented the county in the state legislature for two terms, if I remember correctly, while it is altogether possible that James Wooden would have done so likewise immediately following the war had he lived till it could have been accomplished. At any rate the subject of honoring the old gentleman in that way was very generally talked of with a decided disposition in the affirmative. He died, however, before the proposition could be carried out.

As a boy I also remember the name of a very kind-hearted elderly gentleman by the name of Harvey Veneman, who lived in Turkey Creek township who served as a county commissioners, either by election, or appointment, I cannot tell, but I do remember the old gentleman quite well, as he boarded at the home of the parents of the writer during term time. His son, Captain Veneman, commanded a company during the civil war in the 100th Indiana Infantry, a part of the brigade commanded by the writer, and with whom I became well acquainted, and kept track of for awhile after the war; but whose location or whereabouts I have lost. He was known as an excellent officer, and possessed many of the goodly traits of his kindly old father.

The late Joseph A. Funk was the auditor of Kosciusko county at the breaking out of the war and of course pursued by the board of commissioners, whose names I have given above, and in the absence of all law on the subject--there being none on the statute books as to the calling out of such a body of troops, or how they should be cared for and the expenses met--it can readily be perceived that a great responsibility rested on the shoulders of the commissioners. This only lasted, however until the legislature, which had been called into session as soon as Sumpter was fired upon, could legalize the acts of the boards and provide for future management for war measures. From the very beginning of the war Governor Morton was anxious to have the Democratic party espouse the side of the Union, and it was with this object in view here in this county--as well as in many other counties in the state--a union of the two parties favoring the suppression of the rebellion was fostered; so that in the first election in this county after the war began, instead of a Republican, a union party was formed in order to induce union Democrats to espouse the cause of the war for the union. I was not at home during that year, having entered the service at once, but I can very well remember how greatly I and many other members of the first company to enter the service, lamented the defeat of Judge Horton as a member of the board of commissioners. I may be wrong in saying that Mr. Horton was defeated for I suspect that he made room on the Union ticket for the nomination of David Rippey--a Democrat from away back--in order to promote and help extend the cause of the country in that party, whose leaders all over the land were already beginning to oppose the Lincoln administration and the conduct of the war. Horton was such an excellent man for the place, and had already done so much in his way to aid the Union cause that there was a very general feeling that a mistake had been made by the change, and while it was true that David Rippey, espoused the Union side, yet as hostilities grew more and more bitter (as did politics here at home, also) there were times that he accentuated the truthfulness of the mistake by his opposition to appropriations that were so necessary in aiding the state government to keep the quota of troops for Indiana up to the maximum. Of course the expenditures were large--they could not be less in time of war; local bounties had to be provided for, recruits had to be kept at the hotels and boarding houses until they could be transferred to the state government at Indianapolis, etc., and there came a time when one commissioner would not vote for these very necessary appropriations, leaving the other two to endorse them alone, thus proving the assertion of a vast number of the voters of the county that Judge Horton should have been retained as a member of the board of commissioners at that time.

I want to repeat once more that in writing these sketches in many cases they are designed--or rather the subject on which I write, is--for the information of the younger portion of the readers of THE INDIANIAN, those who were boys or born during or soon after the close of the war; and who, consequently have never had an opportunity of gaining information--except in detached fragments, it may be--through their parents or the old settlers whom they may have heard talking of pioneer days, and I have been much pleased to learn from these younger men that they have perused these sketches thus far with much interest and pleasure. I am pleased all the more for this because they have always been written on the spur of the moment, the author not knowing what he intends to write, but takes up his pen and begins, permitting one subject to suggest another and thus form a sufficient amount of material for the space allotted for each number of the paper.

Warsaw Daily Times March 15, 1902

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