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

by Reub Williams

Away out in the country
Where there is no clang and roar,
Where it's eight miles to the RR
And it's three miles to the store,
There is peace and there is quiet;
Man are not contending there
For the power that seems precious
To the wealthy millionaire.
Away out in the country
Where the woods are full of joy,
And the hens are cackling loudly
At the sun-baked farmer boy,
There is never any crowding
There is room out there to spare,
And the people aren't breathing,
Flying rubbish with their air.

During all my life, I lived in the country somewhat less than four years; but that period was at a special time in life when impressions are the most vivid, and perhaps the best remembered; and oh, how often some portion of those years come back to my memory as the most pleasing of all the years that have come and gone to me since, as a boy, I roamed that portion of the country as free from care or "as the wind that blows." Immediately opposite to the home of my parents on what was then known as "Old Portland Road," there was a deep, untouched woods; and it seemed to me even yet, in that dense natural growth of timber, I knew every squirrel-gray or black--every red, or pine squirrel as the pioneers called the saucy, barking smaller animal of that species; every chipmunk, whose delight was to lead me a race after him, the little fellow always sticking to the next one to the bottom rail of the old-time "worm-fence" and did it so effectively that he was seldom caught; every kind of bird that made a stop in that region and stayed all summer, as well as the nest of most of them-though I was a boy who never robbed them of their eggs, or made war upon the feathered tribe in anyway whatever. From having been so well posted in bird lore as a boy, I am surprised at my want of knowledge now, and cannot well account for it save through the sheer forgetfulness of growing years.

The "Old Portland Road" as it was known to the pioneer of Northern Ohio, who is now 60 years and over, was what might truthfully be called a greatly traveled highway for a new country. It was the one great route for the farmers south of Seneca country to the wheat markets on Lake Erie, and as the names "Portland", "Venus" and other towns now forgotten and now unspoken, I rather surmise that Sandusky City has absorbed them all. While it seems like an untruth to state in these days of railroads in almost every county, yet it is a fact that farmers living as far south as Springfield and Dayton Ohio carried their wheat to market from those points--more, considerably more than 100 miles--in the old-fashioned, stiff-tongued wagon, with never less than four and often six horses hitched to the same kind of a wagon that has been nicknamed Queen of the Mississippi as "The Prairie Schooner."

On one occasion my father suggested to me to count the number that passed in a single day; but to only make a record of those drawn by four horses. I did so and the number was seventy-four; but on other occasions--for I afterwards kept up the count on my own accord--they numbered once, a hundred and three. Sitting in Webb's drugstore three-or four-years since, I mentioned the above incident in the presence of Dr. Eli Lafever, of this place, who at once endorsed the statement, he as a young man having had charge of one of the old-time wagons and was engaged in hauling wheat to the market referred to. I have heard it stated--though I have no way of corroborating the statement--that a hundred bushels of wheat was not an uncommon load for those old-time teamsters.

South of Dayton in the wheat and flour market was Cincinnati, and I have since heard from men engaged in the traffic from Dayton southward, where the roads were good, that teamsters very often carried a hundred barrels of flour. This, it was stated, was all that could be loaded upon one of those old-fashion wagons. There was always a great deal of rivalry between teamsters to gain the credit of carrying the largest number of barrels of flour from Dayton mills to Cincinnati; one of the teamsters procured four ice tongs and swung that many barrels under the wagon--the tongs grasping the projecting "chimes" of the barrel. I am not writing this from a personal knowledge, but as a story told in my presence many years ago.

In reading my comments in reference to the old "Franklin Stoves" an account of the coming of which appeared in one of the sketches not long since, the editor of the Peru Republican, describes the old-fashioned fireplace and its discomforts for cooking purposes. I have lost the copy containing it, or I would insert it here in its entirety; but will only do so from memory after a casual perusal. The present generation does not know--nor could it well know from description--the immensity of the old-time fire-place. Many of them were simply huge--no other term describes them--and some of them, as has already been stated, occupied the entire width of one end of the room that contained it--the hearth-- "harth" it was generally called-- usually consisted of flat stones, if these were procurable; but sometimes were made from clay "tamped" down into a solid mass, and afterwards hardened by the heat. Many of them--not all, however--had jambs to the chimney--and on one of these was hinged the old-fashioned "crane"--an instrument, or convenience, rather, that has so entirely disappeared that it is doubtful if any but the older readers of these sketches know what is meant by the term, as applied to a fire-place.

On the crane were hung hooks--sometimes small chains with hooks at either end--and when it was to be used it was swung outward, clear of the fire, and pots that were used for boiling purposes, only, were attached by the bail to the hooks, and the crane swung back in its place bringing the pots--from one to four--over the fire. For baking purposes, there was the "Dutch oven" nothing more than a deep skillet. But in this "Dutch oven" the "corn-pone" of the early settler was baked, the oven set over a bed of hot, live coals and the lid similarly covered, so that its contents would bake from both above and below at the same time. Corn-bread of any kind was seldom baked in the old "out-door oven," that seemingly being wholly reserved for wheat-bread, pies, and for roasting a turkey, or a young pig, a not infrequent thing at the homes of those who had begun to surround themselves with the comforts of life--that is, the luxuries of a new country.

In addition to the crane and the adjuncts referred to, there was always the long-handled frying pan for frying purposes, such as fresh port; venison quite often, and spring chicken! Never were these latter so well served in "fries" as when the process took place over a coal fire in the old long-handled skillet. This statement can readily be proven by any old boy who may read it of sixty, seventy or seventy-five years of age.

Then there was another way of cooking the corn-dodger. Nearly every log-cabin possessed a board for the purpose of baking corn-dodgers in front of the kitchen fire. The corn dough was properly mixed and then placed upon this board, smoothed for the purpose, and it was then set up on edge before the fire, and when thoroughly baked all the cook had to do was to obey the scriptural injunction --"turn the other side" --and let it bake as well. The results was a very delicious bit of corn-bread--superior, I always thought, to the corn-pone of the "Dutch-oven."

There was still another system of baking wheaten biscuits as well as small corn-dodgers; but this was a more aristocratic form, and came out previous to the introduction of "The Franklin Stove." It was built of tin with an open front, and called a "reflector," because of reflecting the heat from its open face and thus baked the top of its contents while the coals under it did the same thing for the bottom of whatever was intended to be baked. It, too, came as an improvement over the "johnny-cake board," yet it never became really popular in the country in which my father resided--although my step-mother--who was a first-class Maryland cook--purchased one at once. I am fully aware that these details may seem trifling to the reader of today, but in my boyhood days they were all stern realities, the growth of dire necessity, and a firm reliance upon and a determination to make the means at hand suit the ends in view and bear with them, if they could not be accomplished.

In a former article I incidentally referred to many changes that have taken place in many things, and just at this moment it seems to me that the manner of disposing of the pork product of the country has witnessed almost as radical a change as any other one thing. Can the boy of fifty or sixty years ago ever forget the day set for "butchering" on a farm where a good many hogs were raised that long ago? I could not, were I to live fifty years longer than I expect to do.

On a productive farm, pork not only furnished a staple article of food supply for the family of the farmer himself, but all of his employees; and in early days when most farms had a smaller or greater clearing under way at all times, it was not at all uncommon to give employment to quite a number of wood-choppers, as well as others engaged in tilling the soil. Consequently "butchering day" was an annual event on almost every farm; for everybody put up enough meat in the fall to last them clear through the winter whether they were farmers or not. If there were a large number of porkers to kill, great preparations were made for the occasion. Every person on "the place" was up often as early as four o'clock in the morning--for it was important to get through with the killing and cleaning in a single day, were it possible to do so.

Consequently hot water in large quantities was provided over outdoor fires, large iron kettles being used for the purpose of heating it. Due preparations were made to have tight barrels to hold the supply of hot water into which two men soused the hog after he was dead in order to make the bristles and hair let loose easily, when two other men pulled the animal out and laid it on a board or plan table provided for the purpose, when with knives--not too sharp--the entire animal was soon denuded of his hair and back-bone bristles, and this was repeated just as fast as the cleaners could get through with their part of the work, the scalding barrel being supplied with hot water from the boiling kettles, as fast as an increased temperature was demanded. This was quite frequently, too, as my recollection of "butchering day" was that it always came on a cold day no matter what particular one in the week was selected.

Some farmers shot their hogs in the pen with a rifle, others pursued the plan of knocking them in the head as they were forced out through a small opening made in the enclosure, and I also remember that my feelings were terribly wrought up by seeing so many lives taken. Previous to the day fixed upon, "gambrel" sticks were provided, and a pole fixed upon props on which to hang the hogs after the were cleaned and their intestines removed. The gambrel was used for spreading the two hind-legs of the hog, so that the disemboweling could be more readily performed after they were hung up. Everything went with a rush on "butchering day," and even the women-folks, up as early as any of the men in the morning were kept on the run the whole day through, and if it were a big lot of hogs to be slaughtered, well into the night time.

How different is "butchering-day" at the present time. The farmer only kills enough now for his own use, disposing of all his surplus supply on foot, the animal being shipped alive to Buffalo, Pittsburgh or New York City by the railroad. In early days here in Warsaw, the late Wm. Cosgrove established a pork-packing establishment and all the hogs the farmers had to dispose of were driven to this city, killed and packed into tight barrels ready for shipping to the eastern markets. As that was the day before packers had learned to utilize every portion of the animal; its bristles; its entrails and their contents; its hair and hide; its feet; its spare-ribs--in short, everything but its breath, and the late Philip Armour declared on one occasion, that they "expected in time to do something with that!"

Those days just fitted a poor man; for here in Warsaw the feet, the backbone and the spare-ribs were given away as the old saying used to be, "free gratis, for nothing at all!" As a consequence a town that had a packing establishment in it was a god-send to those who were "shy" on this world's goods, and they lived at the top of the heap in the winter time. Ere long, however, the railroad came this way and dressed hogs were shipped to the markets i immense train-loads, the town being known as a great pork market as well as of wheat. It was of the greatest moment that it should be cold weather during the shipment of dressed hogs as a couple of warm days coming together--one following the other, rather--would spoil an entire train-load--a thing that occurred several times to my personal knowledge and the entire lot had to be disposed of for what it would bring, no matter what the market quotations were; but what was ill-luck to one person was often a blessing to some one else, as soap manufacturers rejoiced at such a calamity, for whole train-loads of soap-grease could be had at exceedingly low rates.

Now, the manner of shipping hogs, sheep and cattle, is on foot and the loss in consequence of the change of methods is comparatively small. The hog product in this country just now is simply immense, and the use in some way of every portion of the animal has served to keep down the price of meat used for food purposes that places it within the reach of all; except that within a week or more past, the price has risen considerably in the larger cities--a portion of the people declaring that the packers have combined to exact a greater sum per pound, while the latter assert that the scarcity of western cattle on the hoof is the real cause. However this may be, I think I have proven the statement made in this article that in no other thing has there been a much more important change made than in the handling of the pork product of this country.

Warsaw Daily Times May 3, 1902

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