Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

And airs of love were kindled then
That burn on warmly yet;
Oh, pleasantly the stream of life
Pursued its constant flow
In the days when we were pioneers,
Seventy years ago!

I have already--although very briefly--referred to the passion for horse-trading that seemed to prevail to an extent that was quite noticeable to the people in general, as well as to the manufacture of and the passing of bogus money. I should be understood that this last feature was in the hands of strangers, few if any of the pioneers lending themselves to the unlawful scheme. The same thing can be said of a gang of horse-thieves that kept the country in something of a commotion in early days. These, too, were strangers, and the fact that the real, genuine pioneer was wholly an honest individual, noted for hospitality to strangers and wholly unsuspecting, made them in a number of cases, easy victims to the wiles of horse thieves engaged in conveying their stolen animals through the country.

That there was a gang who made horse stealing their business and ranging form some point north from Toledo, Ohio, in a southwesterly direction, through Noble and Kosciusko counties and on towards Winamac and thence through to Illinois, cannot be gain said. The writer was a mere lad in those early days, and became the pet to such an extent of a hearty whole-souled, bluff, good-natured fellow who lived in Warsaw in those days--say back in the "middle forties"--that he followed him around continually like a favorite dog. This man was at least suspected of being connected with this gang to the extent of caring for stolen animals on their way from the northeast to the southwest as they passed through Warsaw.

Of course, this suspicion came to my ears, and although a boy, he ad a constant, persistent and ever-ready champion in the writer of these sketches even though a lad and looking back to that period, I am convinced that my defense of the man--the general public knowing that I was with him at all times--convinced many that I was correct in my defense, as were it otherwise I could not but know something about the caring for strange horses reaching Warsaw. He always kept several horses of his own; and as a sort of errand boy for all work, I was with these horses a great deal, and on account of my light weight he frequently selected me to ride his racers on the track already described as then existing in what is now East Warsaw. That I firmly believed him guiltless of wrong-doing in this particular at that time, goes without saying; for in those days I never had a better friend.

After the California gold fever carried him and a number of others from this town and county to the far-away Pacific shores, along in 1850 or'51, and I had advanced a few years towards young manhood and consequently begun to reason for myself, I then began to fear for my idol and my inward reasoning--for I never talked with other people on the subject after his departure to the far west--led me to remember a number of strange incidents connected with the period in which he and myself had been so familiar. His explanation of these incidents at the time was perfectly satisfactory to one who possessed the most unbounded faith in honesty and integrity and then I would have believed him innocent of any wrong-doing had the contrary been declared against him in this particular by every citizen of the town, so strong was my faith in him, but now that he was absent, I began to think over many queer things that occurred from time to time, but which during their occurrence did not particularly attract my attention, or if they did, he so readily explained them that I never gave them a second thought.

After he had departed to the West, however, and I had grown somewhat older, I tried to count up the frequency of these sudden visits of strange horses--for on one occasion I found five animals and two men lying asleep on some straw in an empty stall and only two extra saddles in the barn, showing that the riders were riding two and leading three. While in his company, in his lovable way and always gentle treatment, I believed him in preference to anyone else. Now that he was absent, I was his only defender in the town on this tender subject, and even I became firmly convinced that while he may never have had anything to do with their capture, he certainly did assist the gang in concealing stolen horses while on their way to further concealment.

Of course the frequent capture of a horse-thief, and the final breaking up of the gang by the hinging of McDougal, in Noble county, not far from the Kosciusko county line-- I think in 1858 put an end to horse-stealing as a business in this region. that the gang was a strong one was developed on this occasion, for it transpired at the trial held by a large number of citizens--the number was reported at a thousand, and the trial was held out of doors--that the organization was so strong that it frequently had men belonging to it on the fury at the time some other member was being tried for horse-stealing; that there was even a number who were members who stood high in the community in which they resided; that there were even lawyers, and one judge of a court who were charged with being members of this organization, that carried on its depredations for more than a quarter of a century, and only ended by the hanging of its principal leader, McDougal.

The late Wm. Kirtley was present at the trial, and frequently during his life talked with the writer about it. He said that it was conducted with the utmost good order; that the prisoner was given every possible opportunity to procure witnesses, and that although the citizens of Noble, with some people from the northeast part of this county, had determined to put an end to the frequent loss of horses by theft, there was nothing whatever of a disorderly nature present at the trial. Indeed, it was conducted with the utmost solemnity, and the jury consisted of a thousand men all of them being of the very best men in their respective neighborhoods in both counties. The verdict was unanimously for death, and McDougal was hung, and with his end the gang broke up. The country was just then approaching the Civil War, and after the latter broke out a captain of one of the Fort Wayne companies informed us that two of his men were members of the gang--both being quite young--and who determined, if possible, to wipe out the stigma that rested upon them by leading an upright life thereafter. As they were in the Twelfth Indiana Infantry, I afterwards kept a "mental tab" on them, and they were, so far as I could see, determined to recover the ground lost while they were members of the gang. One of them was wounded very seriously at the battle of Resaca, Ga., at the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign and was discharged. The other served his term of enlistment, since which he has passed from under my view.

The principal personage in this sketch returned to Warsaw just preceding the Civil War, revisited old friends and apparently enjoyed a jolly time at his old home. He had been a gold-seeker, had his "ups and downs," and had drifted out of California and came here from Texas. My idol was broken and the cordiality that had existed between us in my boyhood days was shattered. It is said that he returned to Texas; became the commanding officer of a Confederate regiment of cavalry. So thus the man and the boy went each their separate way.

Warsaw Daily Times September 21, 1901

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