Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

When at eve I sit alone,
Thinking of the past and gone--
While the clock with drowsy finger,
Marks how slow the minutes linger--
Then my lonely chair around,
With a solemn, mournful sound,
With a murmur soft and slow
Come the ghosts of long ago,
One by one I county them o'er,
Voices that are heard no more,
Tears that loving cheeks have wet,
Words whose music lingers yet
Holy faces, pale and fair,
Shadowy locks and waiving hair--
Gentle sighs and whispers dear--
Songs forgotten many a year--
Lips of dewy fragrance--eyes,
Brighter, bluer than the skies--
Odors brought from Paradise;
And the gentle shadows glide,
Softly murmuring at my side,
Till the long and gloomy day,
All forgotten fades away.

How deeply lines such as these touch the heart of those who have arrived at and passed the sixtieth milestone of life's journey. In taking a retrospective glance at the past what an army of relations and friends who have been known and loved, have dropped by the wayside, and it seems to me that they may seem more numerous to one who like ourself have chronicled the departure of one after another, that it scarcely seems out of place to speak of them as an "army." I am reminded of this by the valedictory of Dan McDonald--its long time editor--in his last number of the Plymouth Democrat, wherein he referred to the many obituaries he had written of relatives, friends and neighbors during his long years of connection with that journal, I cannot name the precise number, but if my memory serves me right it was over a thousand. At any rate it reminded me of a fact that I had seldom, if ever thought of before, and that was after perusing his reference to bygone days that it must be that I have written fully as many, for it is very generally known in this section of the State that THE INDIANIAN has pre-eminently been the "obituary journal" of Northern Indiana, and noted as such. Many obituary notices have been sent it and have appeared in its columns from people its editors and publishers have never known. I am, however, referring to the many hundreds I have written in the almost half century of the continuous life of this paper; many of whom were relatives and hosts of them dear friends; and it is of those one thinks, and which are referred to in the lines at the head of this reminiscence. How vividly do they bring to the mind of the one who peruses them and take him or her back to the happy days of boy and girl hood! We are once more at the old paternal home, as in the days of yore. Again we see the patterning feet of childish innocence in their youthful gambols over the green on the old school house playground. We hear once more the rap, rap of the teacher's ruler on the window sash--there were few jangling bells for school houses, sixty and more years ago--and again we see and perhaps feel those cushionless, backless seats, facing the antique desk of the long-to-be-remembered teacher, who has long since gone to his reward; and while thinking of his cheerful face, and the ever-willing efforts he put forth in our behalf, our eyes becomes blinded with the tears of recollection of those joyous days now forever flown and we turn aside and look about us hoping to see some familiar face that would relieve the dull monotony of the scene.

But, alas, none are visible. They are gone forever! Some have taken their turn in the great onward tide of advancement and events and have been called to higher positions in a nation's honor and trust; while oh, so many of old schoolmates
"Who played with us upon the green."
Laid down their young lives upon a "stricken field" to aid in preserving the life of the Nation for the enjoyment of those who were to come into the great inheritance. We enter the old church-yard and pause awhile before the graves of our sires and there read upon each moss-grown slab, simple epitaphs of those who also had struggled valiantly in the Revolutionary War and that of 1812--the first one for independence, and the other to compel justice, and both followed by the civil war to preserve what they had won; with a feeling akin to awe and surely of sadness, we leave the city of the dead, and while we are all to again mingle in the busy throng of life's cares and its multiplied duties, we are forced to exclaim, "Adieu relics of a once happy past, hereafter only to be engraved on memory's tablets!"

Men and women of the age of the writer will certainly remember the old-fashion bureau, very often--most generally, perhaps, in some pioneer neighborhoods--called a "chest of drawers." I distinctly remember it, a fine piece of furniture in my childhood home, along with a clock that reached from the floor almost to the ceiling. In the homes of the early settlers, who were beginning to accumulate some property, even though little money, there was a drawer in most bureaus belonging exclusively to the unmarried daughter and in that drawer very quietly and slyly mother and daughter were, in many homes, storing away sheets and pillow-cases, napkins and towels, all of their own pains-taking and laborious handiwork, and this store of house-keeping articles was to in part make up the daughter's dower when the "marriage rubicon" was crossed by the daughter. All of this class of articles were home-made from the growing flax of the field to the by no means coarse linen stored in the bureau drawer for the occasion referred to, and what is more unlike that of today the linen thus constructed on the "old place"--was of the enduring kind and would last a life-time after it came into use in the daughter's household.

This reference to the old-time bureau reminds me of an incident I read in one of our own country journals a few years since, but was copied from a Paris newspaper about the Empress Josephine. Having referred to the bureau drawer, I ought to remark that I never knew one of them to be opened from which the odor of lavender and rosemary did not exhale to an extent sufficient to scent the whole room within a few moments. The Empress Josephine was a great lover of perfumes and her favorite "scent" was "musk" --an odor not in fashion at the present time, but which is really the basis or foundation, on account of its lasting qualities--for many of the popular handkerchief extracts of today; and the incident I have referred to, is as follows:
About fifteen years ago, the French government was engaged in making some changes and reconstructions at Fontainbleau--Napoleon's favorite seat during the period he was ruling all Europe. Of course, the Empress had a room exclusively her own, and in it the odor of "musk" prevailed to such an extent as to be very perceptible to the workmen engaged in making the changes referred to and yet this was the case 85 years after the room had been abandoned by Josephine, and never again occupied by a woman or any one who would have used perfume! This shows the lasting qualities of the particular odor, and this, too, was the case with lavender, for I remember very plainly that for many years after my mother died, that the "old chest of drawers" gave forth as though it was present in the green leaf, the delightful perfume of lavender mingled with a trace of rosemary; and I feel that this reference to the perfumes of the mothers, grand-mothers and great-grand-mothers of today, that many a memory of childhood is laid away in the old-time bureau in the lavender of remembrance in a corner never to be forgotten while life shall last!

In covering the years of more than half a century through the medium of memory, many people will be surprised to perceive how many things, so essential in those days and so helpful in the life of which they were a part, have become so entirely obsolete--instruments and helpful implements that have been referred to in this series of personal sketches, as they have appeared from week to week. At the same time the present generation being continually surprised at the hundreds of new inventions that are almost daily appearing. Hundreds of people will scarcely remember--even if they ever knew--that canned goods of fruits of every kind were unknown to the early pioneers; yet such is a fact.

As a boy I remember many discussions about the new methods of canning fruits and vegetables. The older ones of those whose parents were pioneers, either in Ohio or in this section of Indiana, can readily remember that the only way the housewife of sixty years ago had to extend fruit beyond the ripening period was to either dry or preserve it with sugar; and I can assure the reader of the present day that in the days when it was fashionable to make preserves out of almost every kind of fruit, there were plenty of women who could do this to perfection, and for the old person of today who remembers how delicious some kinds of fruit were when well preserved almost makes one's mouth water even yet! In the fruit season the subject of making preserves was a general topic of conversation "in the forties" among the women folk, and up, indeed, until preserves were superseded by the present system of canning. I have no doubt that many people may read this statement who will be surprised to learn that canned fruits were an unknown quantity until the "early fifties," and it was a long time after--before the system became general.

In addition to preserving fruits with sugar, the drying process was in general use, and the early settler who was beginning to have a plentiful supply of peaches, apples, cherries, etc., dried them. The process of paring and quartering the apple and the peach and drying them in the sun, spread out on a platform built of boards--a very slow method, as no one had as yet thought of a drying kiln, with fruit spread in trays and placed over the heated air--was the general way. The sun-dried fruit, however, was really the best, but it required time and patience, and it was the half-grown boys and girls who attended the fruit while on the platform in the sun; turned it over when necessary, and were prepared to rush it into baskets and carry the fruit under cover should a shower of rain threaten to fall upon it. There was no idleness on a farm of sixty years and over again, and even the little ones helped to earn their living and assist in making the "old home," back to which their memory will touchingly swing when they peruse this paragraph.

There was another way for drying apples, and that was to pare the fruit, cut it into quarters, core it and then with a darning needle, make great strands by stringing them like a string of beads. After being strung the strands were hung upon the overhead joists on nails placed for them, for the purpose, and with the assistance of the house-fly, which immediately began the process of specking them to such a degree that there were sometimes great strands of dried apples so well covered that it was difficult to disconcert the fruit itself!

During the early period of the civil war it was not at all uncommon for hucksters in some towns to meet the incoming troops with pies to sell, and these were so inferior and the contents between the crusts were so stiff and leathery that it was not long until the wag of the regiment grew to making the inquiry on sight of one of these pie-peddlers, "sewed or pegged?" Thus it was with me, when my step-mother would have dried apple pie for dinner, I would come back at her with the connumdrum--"specked or straight!" It was some time, before she caught the point, and then, as my hat was always near at hand, I escaped through the back door, and by supper-time all was once more serene.

What a change I discern when I now go out into the beautiful country regions hereabouts. When I first came here along with my people, every one of whom has since "crossed over the river," there were few roads that were actually passable. Even on the main highway from here to Fort Wayne, over which nearly all of the wheat that was taken to market passed, it was not at all uncommon for teams to be on the road five days. There was a great deal of corduroying on the route and after a heavy rain, the poles of which the corduroy was made would be afloat and, in that condition, of course dangerous for the horses. Other roads ran in a winding way through the woods, as if they were searching for the narrowest and safest point to cross around what was then known as a "wet prairie." But how wonderfully have our highways been straightened, improved and bettered! Of course, more graveled highways are needed but they are coming, and the time is not far distant when all our highways will be graded and graveled.

In early days the saddle-horse was generally in use, and the man of today, who was a boy as early as the beginning of the half century just closed will remember how common it was to witness a horse-trade. It seems to me now, looking back to that period, that certainly every village and cross-road possessed at least one man who earned a living by horse-trading along, and I am also sure that in remembering this it will also be borne in mind, too, that it was a common occurrence to see horses with the poll-evil on the streets of this place. It is only a short time since I asked a man considerably older than myself why the disease that then disfigured so many horses in the early days had so wholly and entirely disappeared. For many years I have not seen a single case, and yet fifty years ago there was a poll-eviled horse on almost every farm in the county, and for the benefit of those who have probably never seen a horse thus diseased, it may be well to say that on the softer part of the head of the animal, just behind the ears, it could be discovered by the formation of a lump, or sometimes two, one on each side of the neck-bone. The lumps referred to grow in size; superated, and finally the poor horse grew into a condition most loathsome to behold. And what, thinks the reader, who has never seen poll-evil, created the disease? It was caused by the low ceilings to the log barns, where the horse continually bruised the part of the head referred to behind the ears; the disease grew chronic and the horse utterly ruined, as many of them with their necks stretched as far as possible became a sight to look at, as all old-timers can well remember The coming of improved stabling has caused the almost entire disappearance of the shocking disease, for we doubt if there is a single case in the county today. This shows what intelligent car for dumb animals will do; for the disease was exceedingly common sixty years ago, and rendered the horse utterly unsalable.

Warsaw Daily Times June 21, 1902

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