Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"When the golden-rod has withered and the maple leaves are red,
When the robin's nest is empty and the cricket's prayers are said,
In the silence at the shadows of the swiftly hastened fall
Come the dear and happy home-days, days we love the best of all.
Then the household gathers early, and the firelight leaps and glows,
till the old hearth in its brightness wears the glory of the rose;
Then the grandsire thinks of stories and the children cluster sweet
And the floor is just a keyboard for memory's pattering feet."

It was my lot when but a small boy to live in a home of veterans of both the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812, my grandsire having served three years in a Maryland Regiment of Continentals, and my own father under Gen. William Henry Harrison in the second war with Great Britain, and as a consequence, tales of both wars as told by the participants in each, were an almost nightly occurrence when the family gathered around the great hearth in which a blazing fire of logs, is a still cherished memory of my boyhood days. For the three years preceding the removal of the family in Kosciusko county, we lived in the country and it was a feature of early times for a good deal of visiting among the neighbors of a yet new country and many of my most vivid and pleasant recollections gathered about those three years of life in the country.

Things have vastly changed in the country of the present day, as they have in the towns and villages also. Then, a farm, to all intents and purposes, was the home of its owners. The farm was expected to produce--with the exception of a few groceries, dry goods and occasionally some luxuries--all that was needed in life. Though very young at the time, I remember the going out of the old-time hand sickle, and the incoming of the cradle as a means of harvesting wheat, and I distinctly remember of seeing in a wheat field of my uncle, near-by, fifteen men with sickles i the same field cutting the ripened grain; the leader in the advance, and the next one following a short distance behind, cutting across the field and then hanging the sickle over their shoulders, binding the cut wheat into sheaves on their return trip. Then came the cradle with its five or six feet of swath, the raker and binder following--sometimes, however, the same person doing both. Although the cradle was a great advance on the sickle, yet its introduction was slow and many farmers clung to the sickle even after it became quite general.

I have said that the farm of sixty and more years ago was the home. It was, too, the place on which everything the family used was raised. Every farmer had a small flock of sheep, whose fleeces were worked up into winter clothing; very slow work to do so, it is true, but it was a necessity and consequently had to be and was done. The "big-wheel" spinner of those days is a dazzling memory of the writer even to the present day, and I can see her in my mind's eye, very plainly even yet. How she used to make the wheel hum! The wool had to be sent to some rolling mill to be carded, and put in proper shape for spinning; but in many cases even this was done at home by the use of wool-cards, one held in each hand. Every neighborhood had its fast spinning girl, whose services were always in demand; but the present age is too far distant from the period spoken of to remember the number of skeins she could turn out in a single day; but I do remember that I had a beautiful step-sister, older than myself, who enjoyed a big neighborhood reputation as a rapid and good spinner. She came to Warsaw along with the family; married Edward Harvey, and died in Logansport, in 1854, remembered no doubt as a very handsome young woman by the earlier citizens of this town.

On all the farms in early days the clearing of from two to ten acres was always in vogue, and the oft-heard term of the "new-ground" always referred to the piece that was being made ready for the plow at the time. For many years in any and all new countries preparations were always going on in the winter to have it cleared for planting in the spring; but now that timber is sold to dealers standing, the term "new-ground" as understood in early days, has become obsolete; but the gray-headed, old man of today will bear it in mind as a boyhood remembrance, at any rate. Besides the winters on an old-time farm was not the idle period they have since become. All farms were provided with a set of tools of some sort, and rainy days--or those that work could not go on well in the clearing on account of the weather--the time was put in , in making ax-handles, mending broken single or double-trees, the making of a new plow-beam or something of that order. There was in fact no idleness on the farm, and as I have spoken of the wool-spinning girl, it would be unfair not to mention that every farm put out an acre or more of flax for use in making linen and tow clothes. The spinning of flax and tow was done on a small wheel; the flax or tow held on a distaff, and the manipulator of the wheel seated, and putting and keeping it in motion with her foot. Generally it was the kindly old mother of the family who did the flax and tow spinning, and it is a fact that some very handsome linen cloth was produced at that period, even by this slow and laborious process.

There was one source of revenue for the pioneer that seems to have passed entirely out of existence, and that is the asheries. During the period when everybody all over the country seemed to be engaged in clearing land, asheries spring up at every crossroad hamlet, village or town. The owners would gather up the ashes from the clearings paying, from 2 to 3 cents a bushel for them in goods at a store, as most of them that came under my observation were operated in that way--and although the price paid was small, yet it helped many a young man and many a fair buxom damsel to purchase a suit of "store" clothes, or a handsome gown. here in Warsaw the Chipman Brothers--early dry goods dealers--operated an ashery for many years, and beside fur, the potash made from these ashes was another article that brought cash instead of "dicker" in payment. The potash made here had, of course, to be stored in tight barrels and was hauled from here to Fort Wayne in wagons and from there transferred to the larger cities by canal and lake transportation, there being no railroad in all the west at that time.

I have spoken of the coming of the cradle as a harvester and what an improvement it was upon that of the old-time sickle; but while it was considered an innovation at first, its merits over the hand instrument were too great to prevent the cradle from winning its way to popularity, and ere many harvests went by, almost every neighborhood could boats of its crack-cradler. The grain cradle held on for many years only to be replaced--in fact, wholly driven out--by the horse-power reaper of today, with the many improvements in machines that were to follow. the horse-power reaper at first only cut the grain, depositing it upon a platform where a man with an ordinary rake gathered it into sheaves. The reaper of today is a vast advance on the first crude one of the McCormick pattern; the first one of which to be used in this county, if I mistake not, being purchased and used by the late Samuel Hall on the west end of the "Big Prairie."

When I let my mind hark back to the pioneer days and think of the older men of that period it is always with recollections of the queerly clad man of maturer years. Compared with the apparel of the present day a suit of clothes of sixty years ago would almost cause a hearty laugh at the present time. A suit of clothes in early times was made to last, and fashions might change as they would, yet no suit of clothes would be abandoned until worn out. Men of my age would no doubt remember the very high quilted collar of the dress-coat; the exceedingly short waist, and the grass or metal buttons, the coat often being spike-tailed, although some "frocks" were worn. The over coat was commonly drab in color; long-tailed, and with probably from one to five capes, overlapping one another to shed the rain from the shoulders. As there were few vehicles in any new country--save the old Pennsylvania covered wagon, with its stiff tongue, and its bed built in panel-work, with trap-door pockets in many places used as a receptacle for small tools, and all of it under a large tow-linen cover, the wheeled vehicle that brought the family from the east to their newly sought home in the west--the going from place to place was done on horseback; men women and young ladies becoming experts in this mode of travel.

Side-saddles were scarce and almost of fabulous price; hence it was no uncommon thing for mother and daughter to use a man's saddle, throwing the extra stirrup out of the way across the saddle, and I have often seen both ride bare-backed--or with nothing more than a saddle-cloth or blanket under them, and sometimes even, both on the same horse. Probably no reader of these reminiscences has forgotten and never will forget the old-time leggings that were worn sixty years ago and more by horsemen; now however passed away, and never seen in all probability by the majority of those who may peruse these sketches--they have so entirely disappeared. As already stated it was a period of the "man on horseback" used, however in a different sense from the same term of a later period--but in the days referred to, leggings were as common as the horse itself, or the rider. They consisted of about a hard and a half each of green baize- a kind of cloth that afterwards came into use as a covering for writing desks, but is now gone by for even that purpose--and were wrapped around and around from the instep to about the knee, and tied on with a sort of ornamental tape. A traveler on horseback in those days never went anywhere without his leggings--they being just as necessary as the steed he rode!

In some one of the earlier of these sketches I spoke of the great lack of and the necessity for amusements to mix up and for a time take the mind away from the rugged hardships of pioneer days, when all kinds of work was of the hardest and a day's work was often fifteen hours instead of the eight that is now so strongly insisted upon. It can be readily perceived by the men under forty years of age that amusements must have been in demand when corn-huskings and the hard work of helping in a clearing was among the amusements of the pioneer days, and that feats of strength, wrestling, jumping and racing were also classed as amusement. It was this great necessity for something to brighten up and cheer the participants that back into the later forties created such an organization of a social order known here in Warsaw as "The Eclampsusvitas." As its name indicates, it was organized first, last and all the time for the fun that could be got out of the initiation of new members, and as the ritual was not rigid in its mark-up, as is the case with the more important orders of the present day, a latitude was permitted to suit the initiation to the applicant and to make it less or more severe--funny or less amusing, according to the initiation at the time.

I remember the night that I was taken in quite well, and one of the incidents of my introduction may be briefly referred to. The night was a cold one, and the place was the warehouse of the Stapleford store, with a back entrance on what is now Wall Street. The mercury, I remember, was several degrees below zero; a new trace-chain had been procured from the store and laid out in the alley in the snow and after being stripped to the waist I was conducted into another room, and as I passed in through the door, this trace-chain, cold as below zero weather could make it, dropped in folds about my bare neck and breast. My first thought was that my initiators were "branding" me so much did the cold chain feel like heated iron! A story is told of a Hottentot of South Africa who, for the first time, touched a piece of ice, that had been brought down to that region in the hold of a vessel to make cold storage. On picking it up he dropped it at once, declaring that it burnt him. So it was with me! Time and space will not permit me to speak even briefly of the tricks played upon a candidate for admission. The sole object was to make fun, and "The Eclampsusvitas" always succeeded; for the next candidate was forced to sit down in an armed chair, into which had been placed a large sponge freshly dipped in water from which the ice had been broken in order to saturate it! Sitting down on a sponge dipped in a barrel of water, when the weather was below zero, was considered fun in those days! It may be remarked that fun and play was almost as fierce as the hard work the people had to undergo; but amusement must be had!

I remember an incident that may be worth telling of this same order. A man by the name of Wm. Neal lived south of town, and being in the city, he was besought to join the order. It took some time to induce him to consent but he finally did so. On this occasion the meeting was held in the main room of the old court house. Neal appeared at the proper time; was taken in hand, blindfolded and taken before the late George R. Thralls, who was presiding as Head Mogul on that evening. He was marched all around here there and everywhere, until he was ready to consent to the most horrible eventualities, and was played all sorts of tricks. On that evening Chief Mogul Thralls wore a tinseled paper cap over six feet in height; before him on a stand lay two immense brand new butcher-knives crossed; at his side sat lawyer Cornelius and the late Judge James S. Frazer, all of them thoroughly enjoying the tricks and pranks played upon the candidate undergoing initiation. Neal, a large powerful and high-tempered man began to surmise that the secret society was nothing more than a means to make fun at his expense. He had remained in town all day long in order to become a member of the great benevolent association of kindred spirits; so that when he was led up in front of Mogul Thralls, the blindfold had scarcely been removed before his surmises became convictions in his mind, and the first thing he did was to snatch the Mogul's tall cap from his head and tear it into shreds. Nearby sat Wm. Pottenger, a brother-in-law of Thrall's, violent tempered also, and at times off his mental base. No sooner had Neal snatched the cap than Pottenger seized one of the butcher knives, and if assistance had not immediately come, he certainly would have plunged the blade into any part of Neal that was nearest him. On this occasion the fun had been fast and furious, but it came so near a tragedy that it put an end to an order whose only purpose was to furnish amusement to a people whose hearts were pining for something besides hard work and the never-ceasing drudgery. Instead of going on horseback, as was the custom, every farm in the county now is possessed of from one to six buggies, and many of them have family carriages in addition. Verily, the pioneers of this section of Indiana built on a solid foundation, and no one honors them and the children who follow in their footsteps, and it may be, now occupied the same old home, more than the writer of these sketches. Cherished be the memory of the men, who in order to clear up the country, mowed hazel-brush with a scythe so that their descendants could do the same thing with a big yield of timothy!

Warsaw Daily Times March 22, 1902

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