Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"We shunned not labor--when 'twas due"
We wrought with right good will;
And for the homes we won for them.
Our children bless us still."

Even yet I have not got through with the amusements of pioneer days; for it would not do to omit that of horse-racing. In early times every village--I was about to say almost every neighborhood--had at least one man who was a professional horse trader, and it was not at all uncommon for some of them to trade horses two and three times in the same day, the object with him being to get the "boot" that is the difference between the supposed value estimated of the two horses. Really there was scarcely any money in circulation, and individual notes were common commodity in a horse trade, as they were for barter of every kind. These individual notes finally received the nickname of "calamites" and the merchant of those days would trade goods for them, of course, keeping a lookout for the signature and security, if the note contained the name of an endorser. The horse trader made his living by securing "the boot," generally a note on some man wholly unknown to the "dicker," or by taking the other trader's own note for the difference, and thus when traded the animal added to the extent of the circulating medium known as "calamites."

Looking back at this period of no money, it is positively remarkable what a small amount was really in circulation in this part of Indiana. Many of the bank bills that were in use were really not genuine, while that issue were often quoted at a discount, so that the derided "calamities" were just about as good as the bank note of those times. What little silver there was in circulation, too, had to be carefully scanned, and the opinion of some money expert secured before it would be taken, for the reason that bogus dollars and half dollars were quite common.

Indeed, the higher piece of ground in what was known as the great huckleberry marsh lying between Eagle and Center Lakes at that time--and some years ago owned and fenced in by Odell Oldfather, of this city, as a poultry yard--was called "Bogus Island" for the reason that some counterfeiters had taken possession of the island, then entirely surrounded by a dense undergrowth of huckleberry brushes, and before drainage came, water generally stood several inches deep in the swamp, and a very secluded place for their purpose--and had there manufactured bogus silver money. Long after Warsaw became the live town it was just preceding the arrival of the Pittsburgh R.R., a press, some dies and other implements that had been used by these counterfeiters were dug up, and for a time were on exhibition in this place. Whatever became of them, we cannot say, though they should have been, and may have, in fact, been preserved.

Owing to the number of horse-traders referred to, it was only natural that horse-racing followed and there were a number of farmers who delighted to own the fastest quarter or half-mile horse in his neighborhood. Even out in the country there were race tracks and the older settlers will remember the one on the farm of two brothers by the name of Gregg in the James Wooden neighborhood west of Warsaw a few miles.

The tracks of those days were two straightaway paths about thirty feet apart and one existed in what is now East Warsaw, but then wholly unenclosed and starting from a point not far from the East Ward school house, ran southward in parallel lines for either a quarter or a half-mile, I am not certain as to the distance. Here in Warsaw Allen P. Tibbitts was always ready for a "hoss race". At Leesburg the Sloan brothers would accommodate anyone who came along; at North Webster was the late Ephraim Muirhead, a very gentlemanly and pleasant gentleman who had a hankering to beat the speed of some favorite animal at any time and he raised a good many fine horses.

In the same neighborhood was Tom O'Brien, a blacksmith by trade, and the only one in all the country, perhaps, that could make cow-bells, which he could do to perfection. What is more he d a fine business in making bells, for all farmers used them in the early days for both cattle and sheep, as they were an actual necessity for all cattle pastured at large in these days, as did sheep also. He was an exceedingly industrious man, but if he heard of a "hoss race" anywhere within decent distance, he was sure to be there, and as he possessed a very fast "quarter-hoss," Tom would back his racer to the extent of every dollar he had for a quarter of a mile. Beyond that he was a little careful.

Then there was Bill Holman, who died a few years ago at Argos in Marshall county, but who was then in the heyday of life and almost at the beginning of a most adventurous career--a career that at times he could raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars, 'tis said--and then down so low as not to have the means to buy a single meal. In one of the races in East Warsaw he had his collar-bone broken and a shoulder dislocated, caused by his horse bolting the track, and suddenly passing a tree on one side when Holman was intending him to go on the other. The writer, owing to his very light weight was riding the opposing animal when the accident occurred, and even yet remembers the shudder that passed over him when Holman struck the tree and the horse passed on out into the woods riderless. He was picked up and taken to his home--he was then "mine-host" of the only tavern in the town, the one that afterwards became the Wright House--where he lay for four months before he got out on the street. If ever a man led a checkered life it was Billings O. Holman. In those days he had been but recently married and came here along with his father-in-law, a man by the name of Adams, and was then, an upright, genial young man with a promising future before him. He, too, went out with the early gold-seekers to California.

Trotting horses were unknown in those days and the only contests were running races. Marshall, Mich., seemed to be a great point from whence fast horses were trained and groomed for the track, and scarcely a summer passed but some one or more from that town came over here to get up a race on the Warsaw track, and they never left the town disappointed, and for some reason generally losers. Those were days before Flora Temple made her mile in 2:40, and by so doing was the means of causing the expression of "two-forty on the plank" --the old plank road for a time so popular and so prevalent having a "vogue" at the same time. In very early days horses were quite scarce.

In a new country all team work is of the heaviest character, and it was the ox on which the farmer depended most, for helping him to clear up the land and in breaking the ground after it was cleared. In glancing back to that period I cannot but think that the farmer could not have succeeded in his clearing and breaking but for his ox-teams, and that these could not have been done with the horse alone. And what loads a well-broken yoke could pull! I feel sure that an actual statement of absolute facts on this point would not be believed by those readers who have never witnessed what a well-broken, heavy-weighted yoke of oxen could do when they laid out their strength! just what Northern Indiana would have been just now, without the ox and the Mishawaka axe, is an uncertainty.

In very early days there was a factory at Mishawaka for the manufacture of axes and this make of that implement was on every farm in Northern Indiana, and it might not be far wrong to include all Western Ohio and Southern Michigan. Nearly every one of the gigantic poplars; the large and over grown black walnuts that had from sheer necessity to be destroyed were felled by a Mishawaka axe, and afterwards burned up, when, if there had only been means of transportation to get the lumber from such trees as grew in every section of this county, big fortunes could have been secured from the products of many a single acre that could have been picked out. There is no use in "crying over spilled milk," but it is a fact that millions upon millions of dollars' worth of the forest timbers were converted into ashes instead of cash!

There was no way to avoid this terrible loss, for the stately poplars and black walnuts were just as much in the way when they stood upon ground that was needed for corn or wheat, oats or potatoes, as the water-beech with its quarter of an acre of roots under ever tree lying upon the top of the ground, so pleasantly arranged for the old farmer of sixty years ago to thrust the point of his breaking plow into, after the ground had been cleared, and behind a double yoke of the kind of cattle I have referred to, and lucky indeed, if he had not been crushed by a "back-stroke" from a root cut off by the engine-like strength of old "buck and berry," as it flew back to its place after its fearful strain! There is no use in repining over the loss of this splendid timber; it had to go in the great general make-up of the cost of carving out the handsome farms once so entirely covered with as dense a forest as the timber wilderness of "the dark continent." One cannot but wish, however, that the over-worked, weather-worn, gnarled and knotty old pioneer had preserved at least a ten-acre lot of the magnificent timber that so densely covered his old homestead; so that he--who most deserved to do so--could have been benefited by the fabulous price that black walnut reached at the climax of the market.

During and after the closing of the civil war black walnut was all the fashion, and even our own present court-house is finished throughout with that wood. When it was at the top-notch Robert Hitzler of this city paid as much as $152 for a thousand feet! It must be remembered, too, that this was here at the home of black walnut timber. How much was paid for it per thousand in the eastern cities, with the addition of freight, we have no means of stating; but it would not be far from $200 per thousand. At such figures one can readily perceive that the man who might have saved even a ten-acre lot of such trees as I have alluded to, would have been almost a millionaire in his old days.

Warsaw Daily Times September 7, 1901

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