Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

See how the great old forest vies with all the glory of the skies,
In streaks without a name;
And leagues of scarlet spires, and temples lit with crimson fires,
And palaces of flame!
And domes on domes that gleam afar,
Through many a gold and crimson bar with azure overhead;
While forts, with towers on towers arise,
As if they meant to scale the skies with banner bloody red.

In selecting the following reprint, which in the main, is to take the place of our original sketch from the pen of the editor, I do not make the slightest apology, feeling assured that it will be perused with great delight by all the readers of this paper who are giving this department of THE INDIANIAN their attention long enough to glance over our sketches. Neither is there any apology due for the selection to follow, as it would apply to any section of our country at a period when the pioneer was beginning to surround himself with the comforts of life, and which might be called the second stage of life on the part of the early settler. Tilled fields, orchards full of fruits of many kinds were beginning to make their appearance on many places, and corn-fields had begun to appear on farms that had certainly seen fully earned by the industrious, hard working man and woman who had made a home in the West and carved out a noble farm from the serried ranks of black walnuts and poplars. The tenacity, too, in which the difference in religious beliefs were carried, too, was also a feature of the times, and of the story that is to follow, and is very expressive also of the time. The story reads;

It was a royal day in the royal month of October. The fodder was in the shock. The golden pumpkins still lay ungathered between the rows of corn-stubs. Lemon-colored straw-ricks were bleaching into softer tones in the autumn sun. Ripe apples weighed down the boughs in the orchard across the road--dark red winsaps, freckled rambos, great yellow bell-flowers. The sugar orchard across the clearing was a blaze of oriental yellow, purples and scarlets. Two old men were sitting on the top rail of the old "worm" fence along the roadside. Back of them stretched a belt of hickory timber that was to them a present source of discontent. They had driven out to Beecham's Woods, bringing with them their daughters, Lizy Jane and Nancy Ann, to spend the day in gathering nuts. The morning's search had been disappointing, and the two old men had climbed to the top rail to rest, while the women sat in the shade near the spring wagon, and discussed things which are of moment to housewives. Uncle Billy's disappointment gradually dissipated under the soothing influence of fair landscape and peaceful atmosphere.

"I would not live alway; I ask not to stay," softly quoted Uncle Billy. "Still Joe, ef there ever was a time I felt I would like to live straight ahead forever, it's when everything looks like that!" and he waved his cane toward the orchard, the straw-ricks, and the flaming sugar trees across the clearing. Uncle Joe nodded assent. He, too, loved the autumn time, but was less demonstrative than Uncle Billy. With great deliberation he cut off a chew of tobacco and passed knife and plug to Uncle Billy. That worthy cut off a generous chew and stowed it comfortably in his left cheek.

"Be keerful, Billy. that stuff swells!" cautioned Uncle Joe.

Uncle Billy's face creased into a wrinkled old smile. "You've said that same identical thing ev'ry time I've borrowed a chew of you fer the last sixty year, and it ain't never swelled yit!--leastways, never but once. You remember all about that time, Joe!"

"Pears like I do, but I clear forgit all the facts now. How was it, Billy?"

Uncle Billy spat and ruminated. " 'Twan't much to tell," he at length responded. "It was my first chaw, and --I swallered it!"

"Bless my life! Made you mighty sick?"

"Like to a died! I'd been havin' chills for more'n a year, but that chew broke'em up! Never had the ager sence."

They were silent for many moments. Uncle Billy jabbed with his cane at a knot on a rail. Uncle Joe whittled on a sliver. Over in the shade the horses stamped and rattled their harness noisily to rid themselves of persistent flies. The old men listened awhile to the sounds of the woods--to the querulous calling of the jays, the far-off shoutings of boys along the creek, the mingled jangle of cow-bell and tinkle of sheep-bell, and to the voices of their daughters.

"Joe, I never noticed afore how much Lizy Jane's voice soun's like her ma's used to. Fer half a minut' I almost thought it was her, and you and her and me and Mary all young ag'in." There was a plaintive tenderness in Uncle Joe's voice as he answered;

"I'm gettin' old, William, and at times I notice I'm a leetle mite fergitful. But my young days seem mighty near to me yit. And when I think of when we was all young together I feel like I'd trade off my chances in Eternal Glory to live them days over ag'in--to live -em over with her!" Uncle Billy rested his hand lightly on Uncle Joe's knee.

"She was as perfect a woman as the Lord ever made," continued Uncle Joe, "and as good. The best in sickness and most helpin' to them as needed help. And cook! No livin' woman cud beat her makin' pot-pie, not even Lizy Jane."

"My first wife was a mighty good cook," interposed Uncle Billy.

"She was so! But I was always perticular fond of pot-pie, and Lizy Jane's ma was nigh perfect at makin' one. And she was always purty busy when she was alive, and she wasn't much of a hand to gad 'round nohow. But shore's October come, jest that sure she'd take a notion in her head that we had to make a day of it in the timber. We'd git up early and she'd fry a chicken er two and fix a dishpanful of somethin' good to eat, and then I'd have to hook up a team and away to the woods we'd go. And we'd pick hazelnuts, walnuts and hick'ry-nuts. And we'd eat our dinner by the crick, and she'd be as lively and full of fun as a girl. Blame it, William, I can't nowise talk about it."

"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away," began Uncle Billy. "It was one of them dispensations of an all-wise Providence--her removal."

Uncle Joe sat a moment doubtfully. Then he replied: "She caught her death nursin' our little boy through his last sickness. It was spotted fever, and she took it and died. I don't b'lieve Providence takes any int'rest in us mortals. Leastways, not in that way."

This was assailing a doctrine peculiarly precious to Uncle Billy. So, to Uncle Joe's skepticism, he responded in trembling, indignant voice:

"W-y, J-o-seph Gr-a'-m! you're a gettin' wickeder ev'ry day you live! A man at your age--with growed-up grand-children and spells of rheumatiz bad as you hev sometimes--and talkin' like that!" Uncle Billy paused in impotent, righteous wrath.

"What's the use in gittin' riled up, Billy? You know I wasn't sayin' so to rile you. I said so 'cause I think that way."

"But you ortn't to think that way! It soun's like you was goin' to the bad--right at the end of your last days, too!'

"Billy, I tell you it's jest the way you look at it. As fer as bein' wicked, ef you know of anything right ra-el, downright mean I've done fer--fer the last ten years, say--w'y, don't be afeard o' hurin' my feelin's, but speak right up."

Uncle Billy fidgeted a little. Uncle Joe was known far and wide as a good man. Many a sack of flour, bushel of potatoes, or side of bacon which found its way to the needy was paid for with Uncle Joe's money, and though he openly flouted at the spending of money on the heathen, secretly he was a heavy contributor to the cause.

"It ain't that, Joe. You're one of them that thinks good works is what counts. You ain't got no realizin' sense of havin' been borned in a state of sin an' misery."

"Course I hain't, 'cause I don't b'lieve that way," cheerfully retorted Uncle Joe.

"And this here doctrine of Providence! You don't b'lieve in it!"

"Well, not adzacly. I don't b'lieve the Lord keeps track of our down-settin's and uprisin's. I don't b'lieve, when He sees a man goin' to destruction, He reaches out and grabs him back. I don't nowise believe that."

"But Providence does do that very thing, Joe. W'y, I know a story--"

But Uncle Joe broke in: "Say, Billy, what'd you think about the case of M's' Wilkins? You ricollect her?"

"Shorely, shorely. She was a faithful member fer nigh on to thirty year. She had a wonderful clear and refreshin' experience; and shout--it did my old soul good jest to hear her the night her man comes to the mourner's bench. She died a shoutin' praises to the Lord. Brother Bemis preached her funeral, and he said it was one of them dispensations of Providence past all findin' out."

"Adzacly," said Uncle Joe. "She waded a mile through the wet snow to meetin' and took her death o' cold. Providence didn't hev nothin' to do with it. It was her own keerlessness."

Further discussion was shut off by the clang of a distance dinner-bell, and the voice of Lizy Jane calling, "Pap, ain't it 'most dinner time?" and then the two old men climbed down from the fence and made their way leisurely to the spring wagon.

"Pap, if you'll go to the crick after some water, and Uncle Billy'll make a fire, I'll make you both a good cup of coffee."

Uncle Joe took a bucket and started toward the creek. Uncle Billy busied himself with the fire, which he soon had blazing.

The women selected a grassy plot in the shade and spread the dinner. Then they waited for the return of Uncle Joe. He was gone so long that Lizy Jane grew uneasy; but at last he was observed coming across the clearing with the bucket of water.

"What on earth kept you so long, Papa? I was goin' to hunt you up."

"I ain't as young as I used to be, Lizy Jane, and I s'pose I poked along more'n common. Didn't like the looks o' the crick water, so I went on up to Beecham's. Stopped to chat a bit with old man Beecham, too." There was a twinkle in his eye as he said it.

The coffee was soon boiling, and then they all sat down to dinner. After a moment's silence Nancy Ann looked at his father and nodded. Uncle Billy lifted one hand, bowed reverently, and, in a quavering voice, said grace.

With keen relish they fell to eating. The old man ate with almost boyish zest, and rallied each other about the way the victuals disappeared. The daughters smiled over their sallies, and Nancy Ann said: "I'd give a dollar, Lizy Jane, to of seen them two when they was forty years younger. They was a purty lively out-fit, I bet!" Then, to the two old men" "Us women got the dinner, and now you two men has to wash the dishes!"

When the horses had been watered at the creek and had been fed ten ears of corn apeace, Lizy Jane asked, "Well, papa, what we goin' to do now? Set 'round and act like we was at a picnic? Then it was Uncle Joe smote his thigh and exclaimed: "I vum! I mighty near forgot to tell you something'. There's a place over yander in Beechum's back pastur' where there's hick'ry-nuts on the ground thick as the hair on a dog's back! Big, nice shell barks, too."

"Beecham don't 'low no pickin' in his back pastur'," objected Uncle Billy.

"Yes he does, too! Leastways, he said we might. He said he'd kep' the boys chased out, and from the looks o' the ground I guess he has. Lizy Jane, you and Nancy Ann bring the sacks. "Billy, help carry the buckets, will you?"

Uncle Joe piloted the party to the nutting-ground. There were nuts in plenty, even as he had said, and with many exclamations of pleased surprise they fell to gathering them up.

At last the nuts were all gathered--almost three bushels of them. Then Uncle Billy found some vines of wild fox grapes along the creek bank. He and Uncle Joe pulled and tugged and tore at the tangled vines, and at last they had their buckets filled with grapes--ripe, black-juiced, musky odored--which the women declared made the finest of all grape jelly. And then drove home in the calm of the twilight hour, through peaceful lanes where the blue-grass still was green beneath the hedgerows, and where clusters of belated elderberries, ripe unto repletion, bowed their heavy heads in the wayside angles of the zigzag fence.

"It was a heavenly, perfect day," said Uncle Billy with a sigh of satisfaction, as he and Uncle Joe paused for a final word at the barn-lot gate. "And it looks to me, Joe, when I consider how your feet was led to the only identical spot in the woods where there was any nuts, w'y Joseph, it looks to me like a plain case of the hand of Providence. What on airth are you laughin' at, Joe? I don't see anything to laugh at!"

"Mebby you don't now, but mebby you will when I tell you somethin'. It's like this: When I went up to Beecham's after water and told him we was after nuts and not findin' any, he says, 'Of course not,' cause I've had them all picked up myself. I've got five "bar'ls over thar in the smokehouse and ev'ry bar'l has got three bushel in it!'

"I studied a minut', and then I wanted to know what he'd take fer a bar'l. 'A hull bar'l?' he said, and I said, 'Yes, a hull bar'l.' He studied some, and figgered a little with a nail on his boot'leg, and then he 'lowed he'd sell me a hull bar'l for three dollars.

"Done! I said' 'but you'll hev to he'p me do one thing.' And when I told him what, he jest laughed and laughed. So we rolled that bar'l o' nuts down under them hick'ry trees, and we jest sowed them nuts by the bucketful. 'I jinks, Uncle Joe,' he said when we got done, 'I've sowed wheat 'n' oats, and I've sowed flax and turnip-seed; but this is the fu'st time in all my born days that I ever he'ped put in a crop o' hick'ry-nuts!' Talk o' the hand o' Providence! Haw-haw-haw! Oh, Billy, Billy?"

Uncle Billy heard the denouement of the story with the keenest mortification; and then there came to him an inspiration, startling, brilliant convincing.

He had taken off his hat as he listened, and the light of the hunter's moon kissed the bald spot on his head into a halo as he responded, in tones of simple faith:

"Even so, Joseph; even so! Believin' all you say, which I nowise misdoubt, ef you hadn't been led to go to Beecham's instid o' the crick, you would'nt a seen them nuts; and ef you hadn't a seen 'em; and ef you hadn't a bought 'em we wouldn't a had any. It was the Lord that led your footsteps, Joe. It's as remarkable a case of Providence as I ever see!"

Uncle Joe chewed hard at the ends of his billy-goat beard for a moment. Then, as he caught the wrapt expression of triumphant faith on the other old man's face, he cast aside the argument he was about to offer in rebuttal and gently answered, "I vum, Billy! It does look like you had a leetle the best end of the argyment, after all!"

Warsaw Daily Times May 24, 1902

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