Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

And thou my village! as again I tread
Amidst thy living and above thy dead;
Though some playmates guard with chasten'd fears
Their cheeks grown holy with the lapse of years--
Though with the dust some locks may blend,
Where life's last mile-stone mark the journey's end;
On every bud the changing year recalls
The lightning glance of morning memory falls;
Still following onward as the month's enclose
The balmy lilac or the bridal rose;
And still shall follow, till they sink no more
Beneath the snow-drifts of the frozen shore,
As when my bark, long tossing in the gale,
Furls in her port, her tempest-rended sail
----Oliver Wendell Holmes.

How often, oh, how often, since I began writing these reminiscences, and recollections, have my thoughts wandered back to happy boyhood days--that period in a man's life that will ever be referred to in after life, no matter how many years may come and go in his allotted journey, as the brightest and best years he has known. As this is so in my own case, I feel that it must be also in almost all others, for on this one point there seems to be but little difference of opinion, no matter how much there may have been between men in many others. While it is altogether probable that from my boyhood days up till I had crossed the magic line--that long awaited period, when I would pass over and become twenty-one years of age--I can with most others of my readers say the years must have passed rather pleasantly, for it is the one time in which all men turn as they begin to travel the down-hill of life, and the one that calls to mind the most pleasant memories. Looking back at that time now, I can truthfully assert that while it seemed a long time to wait then, that now, the period from twelve to twenty-one was only all too short, and I am convinced that on this point the great majority of men and women who may be reading these sketches,
"Trifles light as air,"
as they appear from week to week will coincide with the assertion. At any rate I have always found it a pleasant pastime, when I meet a friend of my boyhood days, and his own as well, to talk over those happy times; times now gone, never to return. It is very strange too, sometimes, when we are in a reminiscent mood, to count up how few there are still left, who were boys with us at the period referred to. They can be counted almost on the fingers of one hand; I mean, of course, the boys of my own age, at the period referred to. Nearly all of them who
"Played with us upon the green,"
are absent--taken away by removal to other regions, or by the call of the grim monster. Here in this city among those with whom I played "I spy" around and in the halls of the old court house--then a comparatively new structure--there is not a half-dozen, and in my own family, I alone am left of one that consisted of father, mother and twelve brothers and sisters; so that the reader can readily perceive that while memories of early boyhood bring many pleasant recollections, it does the same thing for sad ones, as well.

But enough of moralizing. All of us have these pleasing and sad recollections. They belong to the life of mankind and are all much alike--pleasing and sad at times. Only the other day a reader of these articles met me and said he was particularly pleased with my description of the old-time fireplace described in this series a short time since. It seemed to fit the one with which he, as a boy, seemed conversant, and before we ceased conversing he handed me the following lines on "The Old Fashioned Fire Place," that seem to fit the subject to a "gnat's heel." They are as follows:

How dear to my heart are the days of my childhood,
When there were no coal gas stoves to raise a man's ire;
When the hickory backlog, brought in from the wildwood,
Gave out the bright heat of the old-fashioned fire!
How it crackled and sparked and fluttered and brightened!
How nice it all seems when it's put into rhyme!
Yet, to tell the plain truth to our youth unenlightened,
You couldn't warm more than one side at a time.
Ah, the old-fashioned fire-place, the roaring old fire-place!
How brightly it glowed with its sparkle and shine!
How it warmed up your shins to point of real torture,
While the cold winter breezes played tag on your spine!

While the individual who handed me these lines is a younger man than the writer, he has been reading of "old times" with no little zest, and besides he came from the same county "back in yander," that I did, and of course finds something in some of the sketches that have already appeared concerning the regions from which both of us hailed in the "Old Buckeye State," and as T. O. Stuart taught school back in old "Seneca," he knew something about the old pedagogue Nolin and his "cat-o-nine tails," by tradition at least, and also of the "Old Portland Road," of Spicer Creek Hill, where the teamsters in hauling wheat to market were compelled to tie a rope to the hind axle-tree of each wagon and all of them help to let them down hill, the declivity being so steep that the simple locking of one wheel of the wagon, being insufficient to hold it back. Dr. Lefever, still living here, who was a teamster in those days, remembers Spicer Creek Hill, I feel sure, and no doubt also this very hill with a vivid memory as he was a young man in those days. Well, enough for the "old fire-place." It was a great institution in the days that it was the best of its kind that had yet been invented.

In early days water-powers were much sought after by enterprising men who wanted to make money faster than it could be done by the slow process of felling the great trees of dense forests and carving out a farm from their midst. If a man owned a water-power on a stream that was even quite small, it was considered a valuable possession, and either an old-time saw-mill , or a "grist-mill" --as everybody called the flouring-mill of early days--would soon be erected. Speaking of water-powers, I remember that forty-five or fifty years ago, there was much talk of damming the Tippecanoe river at Oswego, seven miles north east of this city, and bringing the stream bodily through the chain of lakes and low grounds that lie between the two towns, and conducting it past what was in early days called "Chapman's Saw-mill," turn the entire stream into Pike Lake, that touches the city corporation of Warsaw on the northeast part of the town. Indeed, if I remember correctly a preliminary survey was made and if my recollections serves me right it was stated that it would have more than twenty feet of "fall" by the time it reached Pike Lake, and it was said that the last mile or more would require embankments on both sides; so it was reasoned that factories on both sides of this embankment could be erected as closely as they could conveniently stand without interfering with one another. Nothing ever came of the proposition, but a capitalist did come form Dayton, Ohio, just before THE INDIANIAN was projected, and looked over the field. The older settlers of this region will doubtless remember the subject, although it has been so long ago, that it may have passed out of the mind of many of them. The cost of the enterprise was estimated at $100,000.

Previous to the coming of the steam engine to the west, as I have said, very small water-powers were utilized for running saw-mills and "corn-crackers" as the grinding mills were called with one set of "burrs" --or stones--to grind the corn of the pioneers. These "corn-crackers" really did little more than "crack" the corn, and left the sifting of the bran from the corn to the industrious house-wife of those times. Every cabin and hewed-log house owned a "sifter," and as soon as the "grist" came home from the mill, either herself or the eldest girl of the family was put to work at once in separating the meal from the bran. The corn-meal of those days was quite coarse, and it is not at all strange that elderly people of the present day are firm in the conviction that it is now ground entirely too fine. This idea has been handed down from the days of the corn-cracker mill without a doubt, and it simply resolves itself into the saying that the corn-bread of today is "not the kind that mother made." The late Charles Sleeper--father of Nate Sleeper, still a resident of this city--who first settled on the farm on the rise of the hill a couple of miles out on the North Manchester road from this place, just after crossing a very small stream--operated a corn-cracker mill just where the road now crosses the stream that one would no have to look twice to catch even the glimpse of water.

The dam for this corn-cracker was south of the road, and if I remember correctly it had only one "run" of stone, but nevertheless it was a great accommodation to the pioneers, as it enabled them to get corn ground into meal--coarse, most certainly still better than to have to grate it from the ear, or pound it in a wooden hopper, dug out of the end of a log, using a stone pestle and sometimes an iron wedge in place of it! There were a good many such corn-crackers in various parts of the county of which this one may be taken as a fair sample. Small water-power saw-mills, too were scattered about this region, and when one remembers the small streams on which some of them were placed this would astound any one knowing nothing about the steam and electric power of the present day. All of these mills of both kinds we're of the crudest kind. I have referred to the "corn-cracker mill," but the saw-mill of that early day was even behind the "cracker!" All of them used the old-time upright saw, rigged in a gate, and it always seemed to me that the principal business of the owner of a pioneer saw-mill was to file the saw. At least, I never saw one of them save once, when the head sawyer was not engaged in filing the saw, and on that one occasion the saw had made its upward stroke in the forenoon and there he sat waiting for it to come down, and it was then three o'clock in the day! He had his file in his hand and was evidently intending to file the saw before he sent it on its second upward journey for the day!

To speak more seriously, however, these little saw-mills filled the era in which they existed, and that was between the hewed-out puncheon and the coming of the sawed, board flooring for the home. It took a long time to saw enough boards for a cabin or a hewed-log floor, but it took longer to hew out puncheons for the same place, and the latter were never quite as smooth. The old Pittenger saw-mill located two miles south of town on Walnut Creek, was one of the better class of saw-mills of that day and always turned out good lumber. All of the latter used in the erection of the first frame-houses in Warsaw, including the old court house, was furnished by this mill, and before the coming of steam the Pittenger mill endeavored to keep up with the times, in small additions and improvements. For instance, the first sawed lath known to our people were gotten out at this mill, a buzz saw being used--a small one, bear in mind--for no one had as yet conceived the idea of sawing great big black-walnut and poplar logs into lumber at that day with a circular saw--and even after sawed lath could be had, many people preferred the old-fashioned rived out oak lath, sometimes requiring mortar an inch and a quarter in thickness to work out their crookedness!

When one begins to take a backward look, he is more and more surprised why a meritorious invention--one that anybody could perceive was a great improvement, both in doing it better and far quicker--met with so much opposition. It was because it was an innovation. It wasn't the way the people had been accustomed to, and like Democrats of today they would stick to the old way because "pap was a Democrat." This new article finally won its way, and the crooked split lath and a Democrat of other days are both "back numbers" now!

The first steam engine ever set up in Warsaw was brought here from Mount Vernon, Ohio by Gordon & Pottenger, the late S. R. Gordon, and the late Lewis Pottenger--the first named dying just before the civil war broke out and the other in the army. It was used to operate a steam saw-mill that was located on the banks of Center Lake where the small ravine that crosses Lake street, about three squares north of the court house, and not far from the present residence of Marcus Phillipson. Of course at that early day, it too, was a crude affair. It was operated there for several years; but it soon grew to be advisable to take the mills to the timber instead of hauling logs a long distance to get them to the mill. This mill was known as a "muley," that is, only the saw moved up and down and was not hung in a gate--the whole of it, saw and all, having to be moved. This form of mill finally gave way to the "buzz" or "circular" saw--a wonderful improvement enabling the sawyer to get out thousands of feet more every day than the old plan permitted. Now, we have the "band saw" --an invention that cuts all the time doing right through a log without any backward motion as the first ones had, and it can be seen that while there has been vast strides in almost everything that enters into the wants of the people, the getting out of lumber has not been behind; the old "corn-cracker" is now unknown for today flour is made by the roller process by crushing the wheat into flour instead of grinding it as of old. The expense must be lessened greatly, too. A pair of old-time French burrs were imported from France, and by the time they would reach Cincinnati via New Orleans--the nearest route in early days--and were hauled overland with oxen to Northern Indiana, the freight bill alone from a French port to destination must have been of frightful size. So, all in all, the advance seems to have been made all along the line since pioneer days.

Warsaw Daily Times May 17, 1902

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