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

by Reub Williams

"Home of our childhood! How affection clings
And hovers round these with her seraph wings!
Dearer thy hills though clad in Autumn brown
Than fairer summits which the maples crown!
Sweeter the fragrance of thy summer's breeze
Than all Arabia breathes along the seas!
The stranger's gale wafts home the exile's sigh,
For the heart's temple is its own blue sky!
Oh, happiest they, whose early life unchanged,
Hopes, undissolved, and friendships unestranged,

Tired of their wanderings, still can deign to see
Love's hopes and friendship centering all in thee
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Doubtless these lines of the gifted poet, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes in reference to the old home, have been perused with a sad pleasure by most people who have left the home of their childhood, and under whose eyes they may have fallen. Every man and woman preserves through life the sincerest love for the spot where they were born, and spent their infantile days--perhaps grew to early man and womanhood--only to take up the journey to the West in search of a new home. The intense longing for the old home only becomes more accentuated the longer that force of circumstances compels them to forego the visit back to the scenes of their earliest recollections, which is doubtless held in every man and woman's heart which steadily holds to the self-made promise that some day--sometime--they will return to the home where they were born. This well understood and deeply entertained promise is especially held by the emigrants from this region to that land of promise for so many years and know as "Beyond the Mississippi."

It is altogether likely that there is no home in the farther West, where the old home has not yet been revisited, that the promise does not remain in full force. The old folks may not speak of the old home visit to any great extent, but down deep in the hearts of the old people--sons and daughters, too, if they were born in the old cabin of their fathers--exists the promise strong as ever, and only waiting the time that it can be conveniently and effectively put into a full fruitation. How often has this paper--a journal that has in all probability more subscribers in the West than any other country journal in the State--contained the mention of the arrival back at their home in Indiana, this or that person; "Mr. and Mrs. So and So;" with often the remark added "this is their first return to their former home in fifteen, twenty and maybe even thirty years!" During all those years the promise to revisit the "old place" has laid dormant in their hearts and is only at last fulfilled!

While on this subject, I am reminded of an incident that occurred to the writer, and the late Hiram F. Berst, of this city, the year following the great grasshopper raid that destroyed to fully as great an extent the growing crops as did the great frost in June for the first pioneers of Ohio and Indiana, described in a former sketch--greater, because the grasshoppers swept everything green and growing while the great frost referred to did not prevent the pioneers from gathering a fair crop of corn, and it occurred sufficiently early to permit a crop of buckwheat, that enabled the early settlers of that period to have buckwheat cakes lying around loose on chairs, window-sills--in fact so plentiful, that after they got cold the cakes--a half-inch in thickness, some of them-got in the way! The grasshopper stopped at nothing; he ate everything green. In an attempt to save some garden-truck, the lady head of a Kansas or a Nebraska cabin or sod-house, covered the growing garden-truck with bed-quilts and comforts! Even these were eaten up or at least cut to pieces in the effort of the grasshopper to get at the more succulent food that he knew was under cover. Why the "hopper" even cut out and ate all the mosquito nettings tacked into the windows to prevent the ingress of that other great pest, the mosquito!

As a matter of course, there was actual suffering in all that region visited by that wonderful covering of the whole Western country that in addition to the destruction of every living green thing they came in clouds sufficient to obscure the light of the sun and in reality in places prevented the running of cars, the wheels crushing them in cuts in the road to such an extent, the would slide rather than go forward, and thus eventually bring the train to a halt much as if soap, tallow or lard had been placed upon the rails! This is a well substantiated fact, as is everything I have written above concerning this raid. Farmers were wonderfully discouraged, and with good reasons, too. Not a few of them sent back to friends and relatives for financial assistance to help tide them over till another crop might come in; others sold their land for a song, so far as prices were concerned; while others still placed mortgages upon their property to obtain money for present needs, and it is safe to say that such a scourge had never been sent upon a people since the days of the Pharaohs, although there have been what has been known as "locust raids" that have visited some parts of the earth, but these visitations were more like the "milk sickness" of early pioneer days in this State--always over in the next county--but the Kansas and Nebraska pest was in every sense a present and a terrible reality.

I have already said that it was the year following the grasshopper disturbances, that Mr. Berst and myself visited Kansas, stopping first for a few days at Kansas City, a town that at that time was a lively place, giving every evidence even then of the size the city has since become. We had no special object in visiting the West further than to see what it was like; although Mr. Berst was anxious to visit a town lying some seventy miles distant from railroad communication where he had a claim of some sort on a piece of land. We had taken the cars for the nearest point reached on the way to the village it was desired to visit, and there--owing to the fact that the government had been disposing of all of its surplus property following the civil war--we found a livery stable well supplied with ambulances, the owner--reasoning quite correctly, too--that they would be just the thing for such parties as ours; for besides we two, there were two more travelers desiring to reach the same place.

Had we been wise, we would have had a lunch, and enough forage for a couple of horses stored in the ambulance; but as it turned out the absence of food for both man and horse, provided the means for making the acquaintance of an Indiana lady whose "dug-out" house we would have passed, but for the fact that hunger induced us to drive a full half mile off the main road to reach the "dugout" that we could see by its low roof looming up on a rise of ground away to the right. On reaching the spot I called at the door, when a fine looking lady of about forty years of age made her appearance, and in response to the request for dinner and sufficient provender to feed our span of horses she replied: "There is plenty of fodder and some corn for your horses, but I can only give you yourselves corn-bread and coffee." So the party stopped; a good-sized boy took charge of, and fed the horses, and we were invited into the spare-room of the dwelling.

There may be those who read this incident who know but little about a "dug-out." It was the first dwelling of the pioneers of Kansas, and was built of sod; usually of one story, and the half of that sunk into the ground, generally to the depth of four or five feet: the walls carried to about the same distance above the ground, and the "sod edifice" then roofed over. The dug-out for a country noted for its high winds was just the thing for the newcomer. It could be built in a short time, was warm and comfortable for the winter and its slight elevation above the ground rendered it safer and less liable to be bodily carried away by any tornado that might travel in its direction. The one in question had two rooms--a sort of sitting room and the kitchen. The lady of the house invited us to be seated in the main room while she went to prepare us something for the "inner man."

There was a center table in the middle of the room we occupied, and on it were strewn some books, a couple of albums and some papers, and in looking over the latter I discovered a copy of THE INDIANIAN, much to my surprise; so when she again entered the room I said to her: "You must be from Indiana." "Yes," she replied, "my former home was in Kosciusko county, near what is now Mentone; but it is now fifteen years since I have seen anyone from the old state that I knew!" "Well," I said, "you are gazing upon a Kosciusko Hoosier now, and I see you have a copy of the newspaper I publish." "What," she replied, "is this Reub Williams?" and when I replied that it was, right there before us all, she gave me a hug that showed in its intensity how gratified she was over meeting some one from the "old State" and "County."

It can truthfully be added, too, that the dinner embraced more than corn-bread and coffee; for she sent her boy on horseback with a hurry order for a loan of butter and I noticed also she somewhere found a jar of plum preserves, and this too followed the year of the grasshopper raid! In a certain sense this incident might not be quite appropriate under the heading of these sketches, for it happened away off in central Kansas; but as the two principal parties hailed from Indiana and from Kosciusko county likewise, it may not be so far out of the mapped-out line as at first supposed.

Few of the parents of children who still reside here in the county in which they, themselves were pioneers, can fully realize the utter lonesomeness of a prairie country ere it becomes settled up. The eye can take in much vast areas of distance, can at a glance perceive that it is miles upon miles to the next "dug-out" and hence "company" in such a country is simply out of the question, and therefore, a lonesomeness, such as a timbered region never knew, seizes upon the settler, and especially the women folk, some of whom may have left the old homestead hereaway, just after the marriage know had been tied--as was the case in the instance related above--and the pair had journeyed to Kansas to become pioneers there, just as their parents had come from Ohio or Pennsylvania to help make Kosciusko the county it is today, and aid in building up the reputation of the "Old State," until it is now second to none in all that goes toward making a happy, prosperous people.

It was the lonesomeness of that prairie home that almost took the breath away from the lady who had left here as a bride, when she ascertained that I came from her old county and knew her people well. How often, she told me had they been almost ready to make a return visit to parents and people back in Indiana, and one cause or another had compelled them to delay their return to the "old folks," from year to year and again they were making preparations for the visit when the grasshoppers came and literally destroyed every vestige of green thing, not only on their place but throughout the whole country--an area covering indeed, several states--so that it is not to be wondered at that the meeting called up to her very many disappointments that had again and again tied herself and family fast to their environments for some time longer in the future, at least.

No wonder the tears rolled down the lady's cheeks as she talked to me of her old home back in Indiana and her great desire to see her parents once more; and it was not a surprise to me that she kept myself and all the party talking to the very last moment it was possible for us to stay, if we expected to arrive at our destination that night, and tears again rolled down her face as she bade us goodbye. In retrospections of the past this incident often comes to my mind. I have not mentioned the lady's name for the reason that she has many relatives still living in the south west part of this county; and I often think that her life out in Kansas was very similar to that of her parents when they first settled in this county; but the utter lonesomeness of a new prairie country never has had its counterpart in any timbered region.

While on this subject it strikes me that I might as well close this particular reminiscence by relating an incident somewhat similar to the one told above. This one relates to a young couple who on the day following their marriage departed for a new home in Iowa. As this was nearly twenty years ago, it may be said that Iowa at that period was a comparatively new state, too, though it now numbers a couple of millions of people and has more miles of railroads crossing its lovely face than most of those constituting this great Union. The brides name was Josephine--I will give that much of it, at any rate--and she was but seventeen years of age at the time of her marriage and it can be truthfully said that she was the pet of the household; the joy of the entire family, and was very beautiful, and a resident of this city; and what remains of the family still resides here. Her husband was a farmer and followed the same calling in Iowa. I think he owned eighty acres in Mahaska county at the time he was united to the fair Josephine; if not, he soon afterwards owned a fine farm in the Hawkeye state; was industrious and successful.

The point I am seeking to make is that here was a delicate young girl of only seventeen summers; the idol of her household, leaving at an age so young to assume in a comparatively new country all the responsibilities of a wife in a place where she had not one single acquaintance, save her husband. Think of it! Raised in town; knowing nothing about a farm and its manifold perplexing duties; and though by no means an idle girl previous to her marriage; yet she became all that a wife could be to a young industrious, hard working man. No doubt she, too, had her hours of homesickness and yearning to once more meet father and mother' yet it was fifteen years before the joy of her heart was fulfilled; and then she came back with two or three little prattlers with her to be welcomed by grandparents whom they had never seen. It was only the offspring of a pioneer people that could and would do such a thing as is here recorded, and I very much fear that the girls who would willingly shoulder such responsibilities--voluntarily assume them, knowing at the time what was before them in labor, in pains-taking saving, and all that is called nowadays the drudgery of life--are growing far fewer than they were forty and fifty years ago. The fifteen years they were absent from their old home, while they did not make them wealthy; yet it could be truthfully said that they were well-to-do people; so that it cannot always be predicted what a girl of seventeen can do until something occurs to call forth her upbringing. Are we getting too far away from the pioneer days to have such instances as this common? I sometimes fear so!

Warsaw Daily Times April 26, 1902

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