Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"There are gains for all our losses,
There are joys for all our pain;
But when youth--the dream--departs,
It takes something from out hearts,
And it never comes again."

A lady residing in a Western State, and who writes me that thus far she has not missed perusing a single one of the pioneer sketches that have thus far appeared in these columns, takes occasion to state that I missed naming several of the cooking-implements of old times, some of which can scarcely now be remembered by the present generation. This is no doubt true, and I remember myself, that I have said nothing about that very substantial article of food that, combined with pork, came in time to be known as "hog and hominy." The preparation of corn for hominy was a slow and tedious labor as it required much manipulation; for after the corn had been shelled from the cob, it had to lay for a time in a pot of lye, leached from wood ashes, and then to get rid of the taste of the lye, required no small amount of tedious work and frequent rinsings through fresh, pure water. The lye took the outside husks from the grain of corn, and left it tender and palatable; and my memory goes back to hominy as an article of food that when well made, and with a boy's stomach that seemed to be never fully satisfied, reminds me that along with thousands of other boys of that day, none of us ever had quite enough at any one meal. Just now, the grocers are keeping a fairly good substitute for hominy, but to me, it is only a reminder of the old kind, and while it may satiate hunger to some extent, it never "goes to the spot" like the kind of hominy "that mother made."

Among the articles of kitchen tools we failed to mention were "pot-hooks'--I mean the kind that had a joint in the middle and with a hook at each end and a hinge in the middle furnishing the weapon--for in some families I knew in early days it was used sometimes in a final "knock-down" argument--to spread or contract the hooks to any sized "Dutch bake oven," or skillet, or to be used singly in the ear, or handle of the cast-iron lid of either oven or pot of any shape. It is not to be wondered at that I omitted to name several such articles, and it is only strange to know that I remembered so many for they have all passed out of use. The particular implement of which I entertain to this day a supreme horror is the old-time dash churn. Ah, how many weary hours I have put in to furnish the power to keep that wearisome contrivance, the dasher, on the move! Looking back to my boyhood days it still remains fixed in my memory as the one particular and especial dread of my life in those days, and I know this would be the verdict of all the boys of about my age of sixty years ago!

In mentioning the labor required for the manufacturing of hominy the big iron kettle, in which the corn was put through the lye process, must not be forgotten, for it was specially reserved for that particular purpose; and in looking back to a farm of the early forties, it seems to me that the array of large iron kettles form a special feature in my mind's eye; for besides the hominy kettle there was one reserved for soap-making, and although I guess they did not make soap every day, it could be surely proven that the hard-working mothers or the stalwart daughters of that day, had the soap kettle over the fire once every week, at least. In those days soap was an unknown article of commerce, and all of it "hard or soft" was a home product, and it took no small quantity for a family of a dozen, I can tell you. In addition there was the big array of kettles for maple sugar-making, six or seven in number, sometimes; and then again, on some farms was that more costly article, a brass kettle, that owing to its great price, was few and far between.

As all the cooking of those early days was done in and around the huge fire-place already described in a former article in this series of reminiscences, it seems to me to look back to that period that the women folk seemed insensible to heat. Though poring over a huge fire-place in which wood, as a fuel, was always plentiful, they seemed never to shield their faces from the flames nor their hands form the hot skillet handles, and it can be truthfully said that the gentler sex of that day did her full share of the heavy work of the farm, which was not all confined to indoor-work , by any means, and could be found outside the walls of the old home almost any day; and what is more, during harvest, when laborers were few and the sickle process of reaping was remarkably slow, it was no uncommon thing for several women to go to the fields and aid in the harvesting. Nobody had a "corner" on work in early days, and it can truthfully be said that the women aided in gaining and carving out a new farm and in bearing the burdens of doing so, almost up to just previous to the civil war, in a remarkable degree. The gray of the hair in every woman's head that now carries it in all this region was earned by the hardest of work along with their husbands, sons and daughters. This country owes much to the pioneers--a race that bore peculiar hardships, but whose steadily going industry and deep-seated honesty of purpose deserves to be imitated by all their ancestry.

These sketches have increased the correspondence of the editor of THE INDIANIAN to a remarkable degree. One lady, writing us from Kansas, says that "when she read the story of my meeting with the woman who had been absent form her old home in Kosciusko for fifteen years--leaving it as a bride--tears came into her eyes, her experience of the grasshopper raid being so similar to her own." Another says: "Every time I pick up THE INDIANIAN, and of course read your early-times sketches the first thing, I am reminded of, Reub Williams, as I knew him as a boy, and when I peruse them it seems almost like I remember your talk." Still another writes: "Your sketches alone are worth more than the price of THE INDIANIAN to all of us people who have been absent from the dear old State and have never yet revisited the scenes of our childhood." And again, a former resident of "The Hawpatch," now a resident of Nebraska, insists that they "should all b e gathered within the lids of a book for the benefit of all first settlers of Northern Indiana and their children.

This last one--received some time ago--reminds me that I have just returned from a short trip through what, even in my early days, was a well-known and much talked about region of the north part of the State-- "The Hawpatch." On last Sunday myself and wife, being on a visit with the family of one of our sons--George B. Williams, at Ligonier--he proposed a carriage ride through the section known by that name at the very beginning of the first settlement of Northern Indiana by the whites--the name "Hawpatch" being as familiar to the pioneer of this region as that of fort Wayne, Goshen or South Bend. I had never seen that particular section of the State, although the Leesburg prairie, lying just north of this city will favorably compare with it, the only exception being that the prairie referred to was entirely bereft of timber on the arrival of the whites and was just like the prairies of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, while "The Hawpatch" was a heavily timbered region, and now only resembles a prairie because it is wholly under cultivation, with the exception of the groves of timber that have been left standing by the owners of the land. I am not sufficiently posted as to what is the size of "The Hawpatch," but I should guess it to be fully ten miles square, at the very least; and it may be that it includes more than that in its general features.

Surely there is no handsomer bit of country lying out of doors than "The Hawpatch." Originally heavily timbered with an undergrowth of both red and black haws, it has so fully been brought under cultivation that it resembles in every particular--as one drives along its splendid highways--an "open prairie." It begins a short distance north of Ligonier and extends in all directions from the road leading out of that town to the north, and I very much doubt if there is a section of country anywhere that can show so many fine farm residences and so many large bank-barns. At one time its fields were all included by the first settlers; "stake-and-rider" fence; but, since the coming of wire, the latter has, to a very great extent, been substituted for the old-time "worm" fence, which frees it from the fence corners of early times and, at the same time, adds no small amount of acreage to farms generally

One of the most noticeable features of "The Hawpatch" lies in the fact that although cultivated for so many years--in fact, fine farms were no novelty in "The Hawpatch" fifty years ago--its fields still retain the black soil notwithstanding that they have been tilled for so many successive years. On this point it differs from the Leesburg prairie already referred to. "The Hawpatch" soil is a black sandy loam, and it is really curious why it retains that dark color after so many years of cultivation. I was reminded of the West all the time I was in "The Hawpatch," and the country was similar in very way to Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, or any region of the prairie states of the West. Another great beauty the farmers of that region possess, in good roads, kept clean on both sides, and but recently the grass had been mown from both sides of the traveled track, the scythe and mowing machine both having been used for the purpose of cutting the grass and weeds.

The allusion of one of my correspondents to "The Hawpatch" has led me to give the readers of this paper the above particulars of my recent visit to the well-known region, and I make this explanation for the reason that this description is not entirely appropriate under the distinct heading of these reminiscences. I may add, however, that there are so many of the early settlers of even this favored region who either of themselves or their children have sought homes in the West--and it seems that the desire to emigrate is so strongly implanted in the breast of so many people that even those who owned land in "The Hawpatch" could find it in their hearts to take up new homes on the prairies "beyond the Mississippi," although it is probably certain they could not find a more beautiful country, richer farm lands or anything else that is deemed desirable to the tiller of the soil, and I am confident that many people, formerly residents of Noble county and, it may be, from "The Hawpatch" region, may peruse this brief and off-hand description of one of the loveliest regions Indiana contains.

Warsaw Daily Times June 14, 1902

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