Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

Our forest life was tough and rude
And dangers closed us round;
And here amid the green old trees
Freedom was sought and found.

None of the people of Northern Indiana, who now make this section of the state their abiding place save the very early pioneer, now past his seventieth year, can fully conceive what the first settlers had to pass through in the way of sickness, beginning with either the first or second year, and during the months of August and early September. If by any chance they escape the chills and fever the first year, they never failed to have an attack of "fever'n ager" the second year. This disease was as common to the first settler as was the itch at school, and it was only those who had become hardened to the country that this disease passed by. It is pretty safe to say that following the heavy spring rains one-third of the land in Kosciusko county would be under water, and as there was no drainage at that period save nature's rivers, brooks and rivulets, the water would like on the flat marshes for a very long time, for the added reason, too, that the leaves of the trees that had steadily fallen ____ in the forests gathered a moisture from which the country had never yet been free, and also impeded all natural surface drainage. The growth of grass was luxurious, and thus when the hot sun of July, August and September beat down day after day on the decaying vegetation, a malaria was formed that could almost be seen with the naked eye, or cut with the blade of a knife, if it had been recently "honed." Many of the pioneers of the earlier period came from a region already fairly cleared up and free from the blighting influences to which I have referred; consequently their systems were in a condition to be affect, and as we have said that if by any fortune they escaped "fever'n ager" the first year they were just as surely "marked and tabbed" for it the second.

A genuine shake of chills and fever was no child's play. I have seen great muscular men--men whose weight was 200 pounds and over--shake with the ague on the puncheon floor of a cabin till the whole of it would rattle, and the dishes on the improvised "corner cupboard" tremble on their shelves. In most cases a very high fever followed the chill or shake, during which I have known many to become "flighty" to such an extent that even as times rendered them dangerous during the height of the paroxysm. This feature was not general, but it prevailed much in accordance with the nature of the individual undergoing the attack, the nervous sufferer being much more apt to "go out of his head" than the slow-going and more phlegmatic patient.

There were two kinds of fever and ague--the every day kind, and the every other day sort, and it must be borne in mind by the reader that it began with the chill or shake, and ended with a fever more or less of a high order. After this subsided, however, the patient could go about attending to his duties or go on with his work, whatever it may have been. Quinine was but little known to the pioneer, but like calomel there was an antipathy against its use, not only wide-spread, but in most cases amounting to prohibition of its use entirely, consequently the old settlers, every one still living, can hint to you yet the gallons of "bone-set tea" he enveloped with his stomach for the first three or four years of his residence in Northern Indiana. Bone set was regarded as a cure for the ague, and as it grew plentifully in all the marshes there was never any lack for a cheap remedy.

I soon got it unto my head that it was not a remedy at all, and that it had won its reputation wholly because it was the bitterest and nastiest concoction ever prepared; you see an idea prevailed sixty or seventy years ago that medicine to be thoroughly good must be shockingly nasty, and the old pioneers religiously lived up to his beliefs. Speaking of quinine as a cure I can positively attest its value. As a boy I did not have more than one or two shakes of the ague during the first year after my family reached this country, but the coming winter I had an every other day chill, that was decidedly unpleasant, if nothing more. I would not take bone-set and suffered with the chills for a couple of months, and I remember that once being in Thralls & Pottenger's drug store I mentioned the fact of my third-day chill--Mr. Pottenger, by the way still living in Hiawatha, Kansas. "See here, Reub," said he, "I'll just cure you," and he gave me a dose of quinine, told me to call at the store in the morning and take another. This I did, and since then I have never had even a touch of the fever and ague, and here I'd suffered nearly all winter when the remedy was near at hand, although almost as bitter as the old-settler's "bone-set".

The prejudice against quinine was most remarkable; it was in fact hostile. This is illustrated in the fact that the newspaper published here, then, and which preceded THE NORTHERN INDIANIAN on one occasion contained this advertisement:
JUST RECEIVED --Three ounces of quinine THRALLS & POTTENGER
Three ounces supplied the public during the period that fever and ague was at its height and about the closing year of the Civil War, Pottenger sent in an order for two hundred and sixty ounces, and there were other drug stores here at the time!

Among my boyhood recollections of early times, the itinerant preacher becomes hat-high above the "red brush" along the road which he might be traveling. Without knowing him personally, very often, yet I formed a high estimate, even in those days, of one who for the merest pittance imaginable carried the gospel of his master to those who were in need of it. I am not sure, but think that sixty years ago the ministers of the Methodist church were permitted to stay only one year on the same circuit or station, and by the way, there were but few stations and the minister traveled his circuit in those days usually on horseback, and was at his "appointment" as promptly as the clock pointed to the hour designated for services, no matter what the weather might be stormy or pleasant, or how dangerous or numerous the streams to be forded, for bridges were few and decidedly scattering. If these unselfish men received but a small salary, they always met with a kindly welcome and received the best the pioneers possessed. Often this was confined to the mere substantials of life. The country was so new that farms had not yet been opened, and hence the supply for the table consisted of but few articles. Corn bread was at first the principal food staple, and there were seasons when there was a great scarcity of this substantial product; hence the minister had to stay at times where the larder was quite limited.

A story is told of an itinerant of this kind that is vouched for as a positive fact. It has already been stated that the south part of this county was the latest in being opened up by the pioneers owing to its immense forest of big trees and closely grown underbrush; the northern half being more open, with its prairies and "oak-openings," or "barrens," as the first settlers spoke of it, enabling the owner to clear up his ground quicker and with less labor. "Thick woods" prevailed in the south and about half way between Warsaw and what has since become Silver Lake, a pioneer had cut a road to the land he had purchased--"entered" from the government most probably--and had cleared up a few acres around his cabin. Like most of the early settlers the family were church people. Of course this was known to the itinerant, and he arranged the trip he was making so that it would be convenient for him, at least to arrive at about dinner time. It was in the spring-time, and as he rode up to the house and dismounted from his horse, he informed the lady that came to the door who he was and that he had been recommended to stop at her house, as it had been reported to him that she and her daughter were members of the church. Of course, he was invited in, but the old lady was much disconcerted. There was cornbread in the house, but very little else. A minister could not be turned away, so she determined to make the best of it.

Calling her fifteen-year-old boy, she told him to take his gun and go to the woods and kill not less than two squirrels--three would be better, however--to skin them and bring them to her just as quickly as possible. As it was no trouble to find the squirrels within a short distance of the cabin, the boy soon returned with the desired number, he having stopped in the woods and slipped the skins from the game, as directed. The day before the family had just completed the task of planting potatoes; but unfortunately for the occasion, every tuber on the place that had an eye left in it had been put into the ground in the hope that every eye would yield the scriptural measurement, and not be balked in a dinner for the minister, she directed her daughter to take a "basin" and go into the "tater-patch: and extract only one from each hill until she got enough for dinner.

Of course the itinerant was not aware of the means taken to procure him a dinner, and most thoroughly enjoyed the meal of potatoes and squirrel, with perhaps, a dash of "preserves," for this was before the days of canned goods, and fruit could only be had out of its season as preserves. The incident shows the unbounded hospitality that prevailed in the early days. The lady made no excuses; did not hint to the preacher that it would probably be best to go on to the next neighbor; but she went about preparing the very best meal possible under the circumstances that, while at first frustrated her, but which was overcome by her ready tact and genuine hospitality. Here was her minister; he must have complimented the lady over it, he himself being accustomed to the rough, coarse fare of the pioneers, but sure he would meet with the welcome that was accorded him. It is doubtful whether such an incident could occur in these days.

In the first place the surrounding circumstances could not happen now, as a farmer's larder of the present day is seldom as bare as was that of the family in question; there are no squirrels within a stone's throw of the house now, and it is very doubtful if any one would think of robbing their own potato patch in order to give them to a transient caller, and it is altogether doubtful whether there is the same measure of sincere, genuine hospitality prevalent in the country in these days that was a fixed attribute of the pioneer all over the West. This story has been told giving the names of two different ladies as the principal when the minister called; but not knowing which of the two to give credit to, I have refrained from giving the names of either, though the story is perfectly true as to one or the other.

The early settlers were a religious people, and when Sunday came all services were well attended, whether held at the home of some member of the church; in one of the rough cabin school-houses, that sprang up like mushrooms, as soon as the neighbors were in numbers sufficient to employ a teacher; or on the threshing-floor of some barn in the neighborhood; and distance seldom kept anyone away, a walk of five or six miles never preventing anyone from being present. As a lad the writer very distinctly remembers of seeing Mrs. Wilson Cook, who is still living in this city, in attendance upon preaching services on the barn-floor of the one owned by Jacob Rouch, five or six miles west of Warsaw. She was then the warm-hearted, sincere Christian woman she has been all through life, although now disabled by old age and its accompanying hindrances from being present in her pew in the M.E. church, as I know she would delight to be every Sunday.

Warsaw Daily Times September 28, 1901

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