Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"Come dear old comrade you and I--
We'll steal an hour from days gone by--
The shining days when life was new,
And all was bright as morning dew,
The lusty days of long ago,
When you were Bill and I was Joe!"

In my sketch of last week I briefly referred to the passing of the sickle and the incoming of the cradle as implements for handling the ripened grain of a new country, and barely alluded to the present reaper that now does so much of the severe labor of harvest-time on the farm. The harvester of today has been so repeatedly improved that it would be out of my power to note them as they successively occurred. As already stated the first horse-power harvester did little more than cut the standing grain, leaving the raking and binding nearly as it was before; but improvements and additions to the machine followed so rapidly that even the farmer himself could scarcely recount them as they came along, so numerous were they. I do remember one thing that when it came it was thought to be not only a labor-saver but a cost-saver as well, but which turned out to be anything else than either. This was when wire came in as a binder instead of twine, and which, after a full and fair test, proved to be a failure in more ways than one, and the manufacturers of reapers were compelled to return to twine as a binder for typing the sheaves.

One especial feature of wire as a binder that seems curious and which among several others aided in "relegating it to the rear" was the fact that it seriously interfered with the health of cattle. Perhaps this was not the principal reason of its overthrow, but it certainly had its effect, and it may have been even more so than the public is aware. In using wire, bits of the iron would be found in the straw and of course these bits would be stacked with the straw and as all farmers after threshing time is over permit live-stock of all kinds a free run to the straw-stack clear through the following winter, if the straw-pile was sufficient in size to last that long, and it has always been the custom--is, even yet--to use whatever remained of the straw-stack with all its accumulations during the winter and have some one with a team engaged in hauling the debris of the barn-yard out to the field where it was "spread" as a strengthener of the soil of the particular field that was to be used for the next crops.

It was not long after the introduction of wire as a binder, that a queer sort of disease was found to be affecting cattle, and even horses were not exempted. In this enlightened day, it was not long until the discovery of the cause of this peculiar disease among livestock; and I remember that it occasioned at first surprise and considerable disbelief--that its origin lay in the use of wire-binders. Our butchers were not long in find bits of iron-wire in the intestines of beeves they had killed and on corroboration of this fact, the veterinary surgeons of the country soon traced the disease to its source, which in the end led to the complete abandonment of wire and a return to the twine which had preceded it and which still continues in use today.

I remember, too, when the first threshing machine came into vogue and displaced the old flail, an instrument that previous to the introduction of the threshing machine was employed on every farm in the country. At the same time there was another process of extracting the grains of wheat from its surrounding chaff, and I feel certain that if the boy of today was to be a spectator of the process he would be surprised, indeed. All farmers of fifty, sixty and more years ago endeavored to have a barn floor; but in the absence of a barn, a smooth hardened spot of ground was selected, and swept as clean of dust as it was possible to do. Either here or on the barn-floor, the wheat in the sheaf was thrown, the binders cut, and the straw with heads full of grain were strewn in a loose way, and finally four to eight horses were turned loose upon it, and made to go round and round on this straw thus bruising and stamping out the grain from the chaff. This process was called "tramping out," and was in common use when I was a boy. The flail, however, was present to a greater or less extent on every farm. This process consisted of a stick of hardened wood, slightly over two feet in length tied to the end of another piece or handle of similar timber with buck-skin leather or raw-hide and with this primitive sort of an instrument--in use even as far back as Bible Times--the grains of wheat were separated. Of course, the grains of wheat would settle to the bottom and after all of it seemed to be threshed out, the straw was carefully removed and the grain collected in a bin including the chaff, of course, to await the process of separating by the use of a fanning mill--still another farm implement that has disappeared and which there are farmers of the present day who have never owned one! I, however, remember as many as five of them in the same barn of a nearby farmer, whose wheat crop each year was always quite large. As a boy I often turned the crank of a fanning-mill and I remember I used to wonder why I might not have shoveled the wheat and chaff into the hopper and been given the lighter work instead of the much more muscular manipulation of a very hard turning crank.

Just before the writer's family removed to this country--in 1845, the year after James K. Polk was elected president, bringing on the Mexican war--I saw the first threshing machine. Like the reaper of those days, the thresher did not accomplish a great deal--merely loosening the wheat from the chaff, but leaving both of them in the same pile to be raked away from the "tail end" of the machine. The first thresher only passed the wheat through a spiked cylinder on which the necessary teeth required to separate the gain from the chaff were arranged. The sheaf of wheat was passed up to the platform of the feeder, where the latter--though sometimes he had an assistant with a sharp butcher knife--cut the binder. In those days the binder was a wisp of the wheat straw itself, the feeder than putting it through the spiked cylinder.

The power for operating this cylinder was four, six or eight horses. That is as many animals as I ever saw hitched to the same horsepower, but I have heard men say that they had known the number to be ten, but in either case the crudity of the horsepower must be apparent to the present manufacturer of machinery. The power demanded was only to turn the cylinder and yet it took six or eight horses to put and keep it in motion! I do not know it to be a fact, but I presume that machinery is now made so perfect that a single horse could do the work. Then, cog-wheels came fresh from the iron founders, not one of them given the dressing that a file would impart, let along the nicely adjusted and cut-cogs that are now used in all sorts of machinery, so finely adjusted and so smooth that not a pound of power is lost for the want of smooth adjustment. What a great difference there is between the thresher of today and the one I begged my parents to let me go and see in 1845, and which in the early morning we could hear its hum, and though it was even threshing wheat at a point four miles distant, I went over and stayed all day, so filled with curiosity was I at the improvements made over the "tramping-out" and the use of the "hand flail." Today the wheat comes from the machine sacked ready for market; the horse has given place to steam and the number of bushels that can be threshed, cleaned and sacked seems almost fabulous when compared with the old methods. Truly the American people are living in an age of progress and of wonderful advancement.

I have before stated in these columns that writing upon any one subject very often suggested another, and I am again reminded of this fact, for the reason that when I went to see George Moon--one of the oldest residents of this town, who is in his 87th year and an invalid--he informed me that his granddaughter, Mrs. Ed Bowser, had read my last sketch to him. He was particularly interested in the allusion to the secret order of the "Eclampsusvitas," and the almost tragedy I had related in connection with an initiation as recorded in the sketch, and corroborating it by saying that it was himself that seized the arm of William Pottenger when he grabbed one of the butcher knives as related in the previous article. He admitted that he could never have stayed the blow but for the assistance of others; but he is confident that in seizing Pottenger's arm he prevented the blow at the moment and gave time for assistance to come to him; and this is true too; for in the melee that occurred, coming upon the party so suddenly I could not distinguish one from the other, and it must be remembered also that I was a boy of 17 in a crowd of full-grown men; and somewhat disposed to stay "a leedle back" anyhow!

The "Eclampsusvitas" was a secret order originating in this place, if I remember correctly, but I think a lodge of "the order" was also projected at Goshen. Certain it is that Judge Chamberlain of that place became a member of the order at Warsaw, where he was initiated during one of his terms of the circuit court, and I am almost sure that a similar instution was launched at Goshen.

It was soon after the death and burial of "The Eclampsusvitas" as a secret order that a similar one called "The Sons of Malta" swept over the whole country. It was actuated by the same idea--that of furnishing amusement to an over-worked people, who were pining for something to lift them out of the daily drudgery of life. The nearest organization of "The Sons of Malta" was at Fort Wayne, and was called "Pizaro Lodge" and it contained a number of members from Warsaw, the late A. J. Powers, "Rigdon Gordon, George Moon, the late William Criswell, and others. While it was conducted on a much more extensive scale, yet its ritual like that of our own lodge here in Warsaw, was subject to change according to the abilities of a candidate in a physical sense, as well, as if he would be disposed to permit the many tricks that were played upon him during the ceremony of initiation, without resenting them. These features always had to be looked to, for there were some candidates who would not suffer much foolishness and at times knock-downs occurred in consequence. The initiation fee was $5 and as everybody joined "the order" a big sum flowed into the treasury. This fund was always used for charitable purposes and I remember frequent occasions of a thousand or more loaves of bread being given out to the poor in this way in Fort Wayne. Indeed, in several cases room rent was paid for poor women out of this fund, and I remember a poor and helpless widow of that place, for whom the order purchased a new cook stove, paid her rent for six month or more, and supplied the larder with a quantity of provisions for herself and little ones. That was a characteristic of the times referred to and charity was a recognized feature of the whole country in early days.

In consequence of the fact that very many people believed that the late Wm. Williams--"Billy" Williams as he was always called--and I were brothers, I desire, since I wrote in such a complimentary way of him in one of these sketches to once more publicly say that no relationship existed between us. And I would not have written of him as I did, had there been any consanguinity existing; but the subject is always mentioned to me whenever I got to Indianapolis; or, meeting old acquaintances of his on the cars, I am frequently asked about my brother and sometimes taken for him in person, old residents of the state declaring to me sometimes that they heard me speak at Logansport, Rochester, or Crawfordsville, only to be surprised when I tell them that was another Williams and the only connection between us was that we had always been friends and lived in the same town; but no relationship existed.

Another thing I wish to correct, and that is, in referring to the early courts --those existing previous to 1852-- I stated that the late John Rogers was an associate judge. This was an error. Rogers was a judge of the probate court of that day, and James Humphrey was an associate judge serving at the time with James Bowen as already mentioned.

Readers of these sketches will remember that I could not give the number of skeins of spun wool that constituted a day's work. An elderly lady, who knew in her girlhood days, all about the "big spinning wheel," the "dough boy"--a little stick used to keep the wheel in motion--"reels," "swifts," etc., informs me that sixteen "cuts" with four cuts to the skein of wool chain, or twenty "cuts" for "filling" spun more loosely, made a day's work. I also remember that when the spinning days came, there was always some girl in the immediate neighborhood who would win a reputation as a rapid manipulator of the "big wheel," and it is a fact--for I noticed it as a boy--that the fastest spinners always had plenty of beaux. How does this compare with the present day? Yet it is a bona-fide fact!

It should be born in mind that in these sketches I am writing of what came under my own observation, and not what was seen about the same period by some other individual and looked at in a different light and with different environments; but I want once again to say that I have been more than pleased at the many compliments I have received from many dear and revered friends of my boyhood and earlier manhood days. They do this in many ways; by sending word or personally requesting me to keep them up; by writing me from distant states telling what deep interest they take in them,. and how they remind them of the "old home back in Indiana," and in person when they meet me on the streets, I never for a moment dreamed these sketches of early times--hastily written as they needs must be--would "take" so well. Indeed I only contemplated at the start of wring four or five articles; but it is now fully seven months, without missing a single number that they have appeared in each issue of THE INDIANIAN during that time. I am surprised both ways --that is, in keeping them going so long, and also in the manner in which they have been received by old friends everywhere.

Warsaw Daily Times March 29, 1902

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