by Reub Williams
Oh, the pleasant days of old, which people
True, they want all the luxuries that grace our modern days,
Bare floors were strewn with rushes--the walls let in the cold;
O, how they must have shivered in those pleasant days of old!
Those who have been perusing these hastily written and entirely unstudied sketches, are aware that I have had something to say of the old log-cabin and also the more pretentious hewed-log dwellings of the time, which followed the round-log cabin, as the owner accumulated a sufficient amount of this world's goods to permit him to indulge in a more aristocratic home for himself and family; but thus far I have not had much to say--if indeed, I have as yet said anything--of the discomforts of pioneer life, even when that great desideratum was secured--the hewed-log house. The majority of the latter were what was known in early days as a double dwelling. In fact a double hewed log-house was really two houses under one roof--the space between them ranging from fourteen to twenty feet, being left open, only that it was floored below and roofed over above. The space between the two log structures was used for various purposes. Very often the harness for the horse-team was hung up in this department, tubs, barrels, wash-boards, etc., were also stored here. One of the dwellings was used by the whole family in the day-time; but when the hour for retiring came, all the family except the old people and the very youngest, remained in the one most in general use; but the older ones-male, female and guests, made their way across this open space to the other house, where the beds were sometimes in smaller rooms, but often two and sometimes three beds in the same room.
No matter how many degrees below zero the mercury
registered--thermometers were very few in my boyhood days, and
usually confined to the druggist or the physician--that wind-swept
open place had to be crossed, even though the snow may have drifted
ankle deep. Even when the bed-rooms were reached, those retiring
often had to pass through snow that had sifted in through open
spaces sometimes found in the old "lap-shingle" roof,
or through the cracks in the walls where a piece of "chinking"
may have fallen out. This, too, was waded through with bare-feet,
it must be remembered, for it was never the custom in those days
to take either boots or shoes to the sleeping apartments; and
I also remember of several occasions when the snow lay on the
bed clothes to the depth of an inch or more, the wind blowing
it in through every crack and crevice; so that I am certain that
the poet quoted above was a pioneer of her day, but the line which
"Oh, how they must have shivered in those pleasant days of old!"
Evidently she had slept in a log-cabin or a hewed-log house previous to writing that line. A very general opinion prevailed that this method had the effect to harden the individuals, and enable them to brave cold winter to a better advantage than when their sleeping apartments were warmed by a fire, which only tended on the other hand to soften both flesh and muscle, and unfit them for outdoor labor. Looking back at this feature of early days, I am convinced that the people of the pioneer period, could and did stand what would now be termed "roughing it," to a degree that the present generation could not bear at all. Whether it was a healthful way to live I am not prepared to say, for I remember that consumption was by no means an unknown disease; yet at the same time almost every neighborhood had its men and women away up into the eighties and nineties, just as we have them today. The ability to stand the rough weather of the winters with no apparent ill effects was certainly with the pioneers, rather than the people of today--though much of this can be ascribed to the pluck, the endurance, rather, than to give up to the rigors of weather that from infancy they were taught to bear without complaint.
Who among the readers of the writer's age can ever forget the old-fashioned farm-garden? It was a feature of early times and became a fixture just as soon as a sufficient "clearing" had been made--rather I should say after the home place had begun to take on some age. The old-time garden was always fenced in by itself-generally with palings, but sometimes with a board fence. Here was the place that "mother," sometimes "grandmother" also--held chief dominion, and woe to the boy or girl who on coming out of the garden-gate, left it open, thus permitting the free ingress of chickens--sometimes a motherly hen, ambitious to take her brood of chicks into the freshly turned soil, feeling sure that in a little while, she would be able to find at least one worm, a beetle or bug for each one of her little ones. The cry would go out as to which one of the children had left the garden-gate open and when the verdict as to which one came out last was found, the boy or girl was given a reprimand.
The men-folk gave over the garden to the female
portion of the place, and it was here--if anywhere--that mother
reigned supreme, if no place else; and here was the only place
in which she became a tyrant if anywhere. Today I fell sure that
there are people who do not know why palings were always preferred
by early settlers for the garden fence, and though some of them
may still live on a farm never knew that it was because chickens
never fly over a fence; they always light on the top rail, or
under board; this they could not do when the garden fence was
made of sharpened palings or pickets, for they could not, nor
would not light on them in the attempt to get into the garden;
hence the only danger of its invasion from fowls was in leaving
the gate open. All you boys of seventy years of age can remember
how cranky "mother" or "grandmother" became,
if, after a hard morning's work in the garden, some careless person
would let in the chickens by neglecting to fasten the gate! It
should not be forgotten that flowers--some of them rich and rare--were
a feature of the old-time garden; roses, pinks, hollyhocks,
"Marigolds rich as the crown of a king."
Tulips and a host of other blooming stalks, shrubs and vines, were sure to be found; and then there were chives, saffron, elecampane, pennyroyal and peppermint, all growing in small beds and all intended for the cure of some disease, and at the proper time were culled, bound into a bunch with a string and hung up to the ceiling in the loft of the house for future use, and frequently thyme and sage for use in making sausage with a flavor of the later sometimes put in the dressing for a stuffed turkey. I can remember that old-fashioned way with a longing mouth even at this late day! In the garden of those early days the different beds were surrounded with a close setting of boxwood--a shrub that seemed to have almost entirely disappeared--and yet in its day was extremely ornamental and frequent as its leaves grew very close--dense in fact--and it was susceptible of being formed into almost any style with the skillful use of shears or scissors, and I have seen them represent a solid wall around the bed, with imitation pillars at regular intervals, requiring, of course, a great amount of labor and no little skill in forming and trimming.
The old gardens of our fathers and mothers were certainly a great feature of farm life, and as the years went by, fruit became plentiful--apples, peaches, pears, etc., being most plentiful. It was a long time, however, before the cultivated grape of today came to the country, and strawberries, raspberries and blackberries were only known in their wild state, the idea of cultivating them and improving them in size and lusciousness never yet having entered the heads of the tillers of the soil in a new country. Even her in this county it was a long time before cultivated strawberries were given any thought. I remember when the summer season had fairly arrived it was no trick at all to go out and gather a large bucketful of wild strawberries in a short time. Around the edges of the wet marshes so common in those days when there was no drainage whatever; where the soil was rich and moist, they could be found of fairly good size, while wild blackberries and raspberries had already begun to appear in the clearings and corners of the old-time worm fence. This continued to be the case until the coming of berry and grape culture was taken up by the children of the first settlers of Kosciusko county and now forms a very important industry.
In the early days peach trees in this region bore plentifully and were as sure a crop in those days as the apple ever was. It was during the long winter of 1855-6 in which the trees received their first "back-set." That was a long, cold winter, and during the third week in January, 1856--just after THE INDIANIAN had been founded-- the mercury in the thermometer registered the lowest I have ever known it to be since. It sank to 31 degrees below, and for days preceding had been going down at the rate of one degree a day till 31 was reached when it began to grow warmer. Every peach tree in Northern Indiana had been killed during that winter, and while a hundred and more miles north of this latitude peaches have become a standard crop; and Michigan peaches are known far and wide, Chicago and all the nearest eastern markets, as well as all the far western towns, depend on Michigan for the supply of this fruit. Since the time referred to, farmers and fruit-growers of this county have persisted in the attempt to raise peaches, and often with success some years; yet it has never since the winter referred to been as reliable a crop as it was before. Whether it comes from the denuding of the country of its forests; from the drainage that now forms almost a network of tiles throughout this whole region; or whether the atmosphere of our winters is unsuitable, is a problem for fruit-growers and scientific men who have been giving their attention to the subject. That the former steady and reliable peach crop of this part of the state has become unreliable is an admitted fact.
I have often stated that many letters reach me concerning these sketches from former Indiana people now citizens of other western states, and it is not uncommon for the same mail to contain several notes from old friends now living "Out West." The reader will probably remember the incident given in these columns a short time since in reference to the meeting and dining with a former Kosciusko county lady away out in Kansas the year following the grasshopper raid that swept every green thing from an area covering three or four states. All the early residents of this county will pleasantly remember John B. Skinner, who came out from Pierceton to this city years ago and studied law, but who afterwards emigrated to the West finally settling down at Heron, Nebraska. In the sketch he refers to, I have especially alluded to the utter loneliness of a prairie country compared with the timbered region, in both of which settlers were few and far away. In the following letter from him it will be seen that he was touched by that portion of the recital of the incident of the time when he, too, was "tied up" "out west" from the effects of the grasshopper raid and speaks of it as follows:
HEBRON, Neb., May 5, 1902
My Dear General Williams:
Your last pioneer article touched pretty closely to the "tender chord" with one family at least. Thirty-one years ago next month, will have elapsed since my wife and I boarded a "prairie schooner" at Warsaw, and sailed away to Nebraska. We have never regretted the move; but many a time in the early days, we felt the oppressiveness of distance and heard the echo of silence on the broad acres of this great prairie state, to which you alluded in the article referred to. We passed through the grasshopper plague which you mentioned, and many other incidents of pioneer life here, and recall some of them with genuine pleasure; but with all of these experiences here, they do not in the least efface the memories of youthful joys and early life in the old Hoosier State and in recent contemplation of that period, the enclosed lines were addressed to the person named--George W. Kitson--the only boyhood acquaintance I have knowledge of in the State. He is now a well-to-do resident of this county and in visiting together, occasionally we "champ" over old times to an extent that is quite exhilarating. The scene of the "poetical missive" was Syracuse and vicinity, and it was published in one of our Hebron papers here--the Register--last week, and sent Mr. J. P. Prickett, of the Milford Mail, if he cares to use it, he having been one of the old neighborhood boys. It is not therefore sent you for publication, but as an expression of the sentiment, written about the same time, had similar thoughts of yours found expression. With kindest regards to all old friends with whom happy remembrance always remain fresh, I am yours truly
J. B. SKINNER
The poetical effusion will appear in our next issue and I doubt not it will interest many of Mr. Skinner's old friends in and about Warsaw, Pierceton and Syracuse.
Warsaw Daily Times May 10, 1902
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