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

by Reub Williams

It should not be understood that in penning these sketches that it is intended to make them at all consecutive, as some people who read the first one last week may have surmised. On the contrary, as they are suggested and written wholly from memory, they may be on one subject, or perhaps a number of them, just as the fancy strikes the writer at the time; hence, they will be more of a record of happenings and incidents that struck the author at the time as something out of the usual, and that seemed to have been more or less of interest to the people at the period. Having no record of the things written about, and as already stated, being made up entirely from memory, such sketches could be made up in no other way.

Kosciusko county had been organized ten years before the arrival of the author's family in 1845, and as already stated, the first settlements were in the northern half of the county. The late Peter Warner was the first one to settle in the county south of the Tippecanoe River, and as he erected a saw and flouring mill on that stream, a couple of miles west of Warsaw, his place soon became a general resort for the new settlers that were slowly arriving, and a sort of headquarters for all. The two nearest flouring mills--in early days they were called "grist" or "toll" mills--was known as Wylands' in Elkhart, and Comstocks' at Liberty Mills. As a consequence, the Warsaw mill supplied a large scope of country with flour, but most generally with corn-meal, the bread stuff more in general use among the pioneers. In those days there was a big, raw-boned German by the name of Michael Bigfort, who lived at the spring, about a mile and a half east of this place, which became the inspiring cause, along with its beautiful surroundings, for what is now known as Winona park, whom I remember as a lad, bringing two and a half bushels of corn to the mill, on his back, and waiting until it was ground into meal, so that he could return with it to his large brood of hungry children.

Horses were very scarce, and neighbors widely scattered at that time, so instead of trying to get some vehicle to take his corn to the mill, he made a horse out of himself, and seemed to think nothing of it when he started on his return to his home with his corn-meal. All persons were not as stalwart as Bigfort and instead of going to mill to get their corn ground, they did it themselves by pounding the grain in a wooden mortar, and most homes were provided with one of these useful, though terribly burdensome implements for macerating corn into meal. A more hardy race of people than the first settlers of the West could not be found; their manner of living coarse and hard, and I have sometimes wondered whether it was not for this reason that they were so stalwart, honest and hospitable, for if a new settler on his arrival needed help--and many of them did--he was sure to be accommodated from the limited store the neighbors had in whose locality he had cast his lot.

In fact it was a common thing for the pioneers to exchange work one with the other, and for a long period there was actually no money in circulation, everything of a commercial nature was done by barter and individual notes given by one neighbor to another for six, eight, ten or twenty-five dollars, under the general cognomen of "calamities," were used in place of currency. Of course the few merchants the town contained at that early period traded for everything the farmer produced, and in settling up the farmer would give his note and it would thus become negotiable paper. It was along in this period that George Moon, still living in Warsaw, and the late ex-Mayor William Cosgrove operated a dry goods and general store in a long frame building that occupied the ground on which Joe Thorn's saloon is now located. Goods were then bought in New York and Philadelphia and a long-time credit was given to country merchants by the wholesale houses of these two cities.

It was the custom then for one or the other of the firm to make at least one annual visit to the eastern cities to lay in a stock of goods for the coming year's trade, and sometimes this occurred twice in the same year, spring and fall. In order to secure the means to pay their indebtedness to the wholesale merchants, Moon & Cosgrove determined to take a drove of horses to the eastern markets and was engaged during the better part of one summer in getting the drove together--if we remember correctly about sixty in number, but this may be an over-estimate, in number, but the drove seemed even greater than that in the eyes of a boy--were taken across the country clear to Philadelphia. There were no railroads in the country then, and those horses went overland a distance of over a thousand miles. William T. Baker, still a resident of this city, but then a powerful, well-built and rugged young man, went along with this drove of horses as one of the helpers. These animals had been traded for, the farmers taking up their own "calamities," and then his account was more than the price of a horse, receiving a sufficient amount of "calamities" to balance.

In those days everything seemed to be called produce. In addition to the kind referred to in the first of these sketches, wherein the market prices were given, merchants and druggists bought ginseng, seneca snakeroot, both the perkuhns-red and yellow--yellowroot, Solomon's seal, etc., and skins and furs were in demand, for these articles were of the few that would command real money, and fur-buyers during the winter season were quite numerous, the late Samuel E. Loney and the late Benjamin Richhart engaging in the trade for a good many winters, making trips all over the country to secure them, as there was great rivalry in securing choice lots. These consisted among the coarser skins deer hides, muskrat and opossum skins, mink, coon and otter, and remembering the quantity that were shipped to the east, as we do, the country must have been remarkable as a fur-producing region, as I have known of a single hunter having one hundred and forty coon skins; perhaps fifty mink and a half-dozen others.

In early days I have even known the late George R. Thralls, the first druggist of the town, to purchase large lots of the inner side of slippery-elm bark, which was shipped to the east, and of course came back to this part of the country in the powdered form! Fort Wayne was at this period the wheat marketing point, the usual price being forty cents a bushel, and generally three and sometimes four days were consumed in going to and returning from market; but I have known wheat to sell at three bushels for a dollar here in Warsaw-- or 33½ cents a bushel! Before Fort Wayne became the wheat market this grain was taken to Michigan City, on the lake, where the owners have been know to trade a wagon load "even up" for a barrel of salt--the latter selling here in Warsaw two and three years ago for 90 cents a barrel! Things have changed somewhat, the reader can perceive.

Warsaw Daily Times August 10, 1901

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