Early Times in Kosciusko
Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

Of course all of the early settlers of Kosciusko county are aware that the northern portion was settled first, as what was then known as the "Big Prairie" with its counterpart of "Little Prairie," would give to those who succeeded in entering eighty or a hundred and sixty acres of land from the government an opportunity of a fairly well opened farm within two or three years from the date of entering. The land was thrown open to settlement by entry in 1835, and it is a well-known fact to the older citizens that whole families camped all along the northern border of the Big Prairie in advance of the day of government sales, and most of them lived in their covered wagons anxiously awaiting the "opening."

The principal object of those who intended to enter land was to secure a portion of timber along with the open prairie. This was a very important feature in the settlement of all the prairies the country then contained, as rail-timber was a prime necessity for enclosing the fields already cleared. As a consequence, when the family of the writer arrived here ten years later (1845) the Big Prairie was already under complete cultivation and presented as handsome a farming region as could be found in the West, stretching as it did from Leesburg to what is now Clunette, or a distance of about seven miles east and west with a width north and south of from four to five miles.

This was the first prairie land that the writer had ever gazed upon, and although only a lad at the time, its beauty and its well-tilled, well-fenced fields are still impressed upon his memory as the handsomest bit of country he had up to that time ever beheld. There was not stock law in those days, the cattle, and even hogs, running at large, only to be cared for, to a greater or less extent, in the winter season. As a consequence, and to prevent the destruction of crops, all farms were enclosed with the old-fashioned "stake and rider" fence, a form that probably does not exist anywhere in the county today, but a style of fencing that always added to the value of the farm.

At that period the log-cabin predominated, to be followed soon after by the more aristocratic hewed log-house, and if it were a double hewed log-dwelling place, it became only the more aristocratic. Today the log-cabin is hard to find, but there are still some of the hewed-log farm residences though they are few, all of them that have disappeared only to make room for a handsome frame or brick farm residence. The county was an exceedingly wet one in the springtime after the "high water" of that period, and "marsh" land could be found in every section of it. The timber of the northern portion was what was known as "barrens" or "oak-openings," while the more southern portion was given over to thick woods, and some of them were "thick," indeed. There were a few regularly laid out roads, but the custom was to drive a team wherever hard ground could be found, and the teamster would hunt for a neck in the frequent marshes to cross over to the next drive through the woods. These winding roads, which, in the dry season, were fairly good, and --unlike the Big Prairies, where the eye could take in all that was in sight at a singly glance--there were frequent surprises in store for the traveler, as the timber and undergrowth came close up to the driveway.

The first settlers of Kosciusko originally came from Ohio, and from nearly every section of the "Buckeye State." Wayne county of that state probably sent the largest delegation to this part of the county, at least; but Preble, Darke, Seneca, Knox and others contributed their quota. These were followed by what might have been considered a large immigration from Champaign county, whose descendants are now quite numerous. That portion of the county lying south of the Tippecanoe was the last to be settled, and although for many years the Big Prairies was the popular farming region, that portion that was heavily timbered then is now fully as productive of all kinds of crops, and I have sometimes thought a more certain region for crops than the northern portion. This may arise from the fact that the ease with which it could be made into farms, and the start it had of ten or twenty years has had a tendency to wear out the soil in a shorter time than the timbered country.

The first settlers, as a rule, were poor, many of them after getting hold of a piece of land, expending every dollar in doing so; but having moved to this region with a team of his own it would not be long until he had a sufficient amount of ground cleared to raise a sufficient crop to subsist his family, and hunting and fishing aided to a great extent in supplying the larder, and as a luxury maple sugar must not be forgotten.

The writer has known the pioneer farmer to trade his products to the merchant for goods, getting 6¼ cents a pound for his butter, two cents a dozen for eggs, five cents a pound for country cured hams, etc. The first regular meat market in Warsaw was opened by Jacob Boraman. It was in a small frame building, just south of what was known as the first "tavern," and afterwards the Wright House, and he only asked four cents a pound for round steak. He supplied his market by buying an occasional quarter--sometimes a whole half of a beef--from the farmers who brought it to town for sale and occasionally the old gentleman was short on his supply, although the demand then was never so great as it afterwards became when Perry Brown was at the head of it along with E. O. and William Millice, and customers in order to get a piece of round or sirloin steak would have to be at the market in the summer time as early as 3 o'clock a.m. and, like they still do at a barber shop, await their turn.

The above is only a preliminary opening of a series of sketches the writer has so often been solicited to prepare by the older residents of the county and which he has deferred from time to time. They will appear in Saturday's edition of THE TIMES and in THE INDIANIAN. I shall esteem it as a great favor for those who are in possession of the particulars of old-time incidents to furnish them to us. Only the special points need be given--facts, figures, dates--and they will be put in form for this series of articles which it is hoped will grow interesting as they appear from week to week.

Warsaw Daily Times August 3, 1901

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