Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"Oft through our dwellings wintry blasts
Would rush with shriek and moan;
We cared not--though they were but frail,
We felt they were our own."

While there are probably few official documents to show what took place, I can only relate what I heard the earlier pioneers tell of an excitement in this county that prevailed several years before the arrival of my family, as I leaned it from the still earlier settlers concerning the location of the county seat, and the turmoil, wire-pulling, the public speaking, etc., of the period preceding the announcement of the commissioners and their final decision. Leesburg, Oswego and Monoquet (at that period quite a thriving village, with a fairly good water-power, located on the Tippecanoe River, three miles north of Warsaw) were the three rival applicants for the honor of being the capital of Kosciusko county. Leesburg was the oldest town in the county, and for several years the only voting place within its borders. Handsomely located on the eastern border of what the pioneers called "The Big Prairie," probably more to distinguish it from a smaller cone than for its own great size, Leesburg certainly possessed many advantages in its favor. It unfortunately lay six miles north of the geographical center of the county, and this fact probably militated more against its selection than any other one cause.

At the time the town and its immediate vicinity possessed a greater population than all the remainder of the county. Its people of that period struggled hard to secure the coveted county seat and rang the changes of its beautiful location and its handsome, fertile surroundings into the ears of the public clear up to the time the final location was made. Metcalfe Beck and Wm. C. Graves, the latter for many years connected with the First National Bank of this city, both of them young men, and both possessing, perhaps, more than an average education for that period of no schools, and when whatever education a young man secured was mostly self-taught, labored hard in the interests of Leesburg.

Mr. Graves became an early resident of Warsaw, while Mr. Beck remained true to his locale and did not come over to the county seat until after the war. The story is told and has been often repeated that as a young man Mr. Beck on a good many occasions was known to close his store and go to Cincinnati or Toledo, and even to Cleveland, to purchase a new supply. He was always known as an upright, honest, clear-headed, business man and always stood high in the estimation of all who knew him. Mr. Graves came to the county seat at an earlier date, but he bore the same reputation as a man in all the walks of life, as well as for a far-seeing business man. Oswego, a thriving village at that period, located on the banks of the Tippecanoe, three miles southeast of Leesburg, and higher up the stream than Monoquet, through its prominent citizens, Ezekiel French, Judge Horton and Dr. Willard had instituted a plan to make the village a manufacturing point, and to aid in such a project they dug a three mile race from one of the lakes to the river quite near the village. The remains of this race can be seen to this day, though if I am not mistaken, water was never turned into it, and on losing the location, the original idea was abandoned, though a flouring mill was operated for a good many years. These men strove hard to secure the county seat and they could claim that their location was handsome for such a purpose and the surrounding country excellent.

Monoquet, the village three miles north of Warsaw was perhaps, the most active of the three places mentioned. The lands all around it were owned by Fred Harris and his brother, who came here from South Bend. The water-power was made much of by these brothers, the town was only three miles out of the center of the county, and to cap the climax the Harris Brothers brought the first printing office to the county for the sole purpose of advocating the advantages of Monoquet for the county seat. The late Charles Murray of Elkhart county, was installed as editor and publisher, but all to no purpose, for the people were so rent and divided upon the subject between rival claims, and the acrimony that had been engendered, that in order to shirk the responsibilities of the struggle the commissioners passed a resolution deciding that the county seat should be located in the center of the county and as the center lies in the lake that abuts the corporation limits on the north, northeast and northwest, the name of "Center" was given to the lake and the county seat located on land owned by Mr. Lansdale, who I think at that time lived in Peru, Miami county.

All of this was done before the writer's family came to Kosciusko county, and is related wholly from memory and the facts gleaned from the settlers who participated in the quite active fight for the county seat. Of course the final settlement of the question was a severe blow to each of these other towns mentioned above. The Harrises had invested quite largely for that early period in improving the water-power, that they continued their efforts to make Monoquet a manufacturing place, even after all hopes for the location of the county seat were dispelled, and when I as a boy first saw the little place in 1846, it was as busy a spot for its size as could be found anywhere in the west at that period. The same was true of Oswego. That town was originally settled by eastern people, all of them reaching Indiana with some means, all of which was expended, and I might say lost, as an investment. At Leesburg, the late John B. Chapman--the individual who is supposed to be responsible for naming the county of Kosciusko and the county seat Warsaw; the late Metcalfe Beck, and other men prominent in the early history of the county, did all in their power to secure the location, but the decision was adverse to them. Mr. Beck continued to live in the place and conduct a general store for many years. In fact it was since the Civil War that he removed to Warsaw and became a very highly respected citizen of the town that had beaten he and his friends in the earlier days.

John B. Chapman, soon after the Mexican war, removed to Oregon, at about the period of the gold excitement in 1849--though I think it may have been 1850 or 1851 that he crossed the plains. Oregon was yet a territory. Chapman became a personal friend of the late Joseph Lane, then Territorial Governor of Oregon, and held an appointment of some kind with him. His idea for calling the county after Kosciusko, I have heard him say, came from reading Gen. Washington's record of the young Pole, who during the Revolutionary War, although only 28 years of age, served on Washington's staff, and was very highly respected by the Father of His Country. Kosciusko afterwards led in the Polish revolt against Russia, and fought the battle of Poland, where he lost his life, and hence after naming the county after the gallant Pole, it was thought to be very appropriate to name the county seat Warsaw, where Kosciusko had fought so bravely.

Speaking of wars, it should not be forgotten that Kosciusko county was quite largely represented in the Mexican War. Very near, if not quite the half of a company enlisted from this county, and I remember the names of a good many of them, though not all, by any means. Among them were Lieutenant Allard, Asa Nye, James Spinks, Henry P. and William Kelley, A tailor by the name of Shearer, Evans and Elmer Burgan, George W. Fairbrother, who died in Brownsville, Nebr., about a year ago, and for the first few months was connected with the present editor in founding THE NORTHERN INDIANIAN, Jacob S. Baker and many more, who, living in distant parts of the country, their names are forgotten, if indeed, I ever knew them. They served under Gen. Taylor after arriving in Mexico, and were engaged in several skirmishes and battles, the most important of which was Huamantia. I very distinctly recollect the day they left Warsaw for the seat of war. Laporte county had raised about a half company, and it was finally determined to consolidate these two half companies, and thus form a whole one.

As there were no railroads in the state at that time the place of meeting was fixed at Rochester, both detachments going to that point in wagons. After the day of departure for the men from this county had been settled upon, the citizens of Warsaw determined to give them a farewell dinner, and it was held in the house now owned by Charles F. Morris, which was then a tavern, so tall that he had been nicknamed the "shot-tower." It was a three story frame at that period, the addition of a dormer roof adding much to its height, for the amount of ground it covered, and it thus acquired its name. It has been "reduced to the ranks" since those days and is now only a two-story. A dinner was given the departing soldiers at this tavern, then kept by an early pioneer by the name of Ben VanCamp, and the affair was not only a very pleasant one, but was largely attend by the early citizens of Warsaw and a good many of the friends of the soldiers from the surrounding country. They left in wagons for Rochester, where the consolidation was to be made, and then proceeded in the same way to Indianapolis, the conveyance from Rochester being furnished by the government, after the company was mustered into the service.

Quite a number of these soldiers had so encouraged the writer of these sketches to go along as a drummer-boy, that I had determined to do so. I knew, however, that I could never get the consent of my father to do so, consequently I slipped out into the country a few miles, on the road the soldiers would pass, and pick me up. Everything seemed to be all right until when at Bloomingsburg, a few miles this side of Rochester, my father, accompanied by a constable, overtook the part, and it is pretty safe to say that I came back with them, thus nipping in the bud my aspiration to assist in subduing the Mexicans.

Referring again to the final settlement of the county seat matter, one of the questions that very generally disturbed the early settlers was a proposition, emanating from residents of North Manchester, I presume, to clip off a portion of this county, some of Wabash, and perhaps both Huntington and Whitley, in order to make a new county with North Manchester as the county seat. The anti-clippers, if I remember correctly, elected the late P. L. Runyan to the Legislature, and I am of the opinion there was never much, if anything, done by that body on the subject. Every voter in Kosciusko county, I understood at the time, opposed any clipping, and parties went into the fight as "clippers" and "anti-clippers," and even after arriving here, I heard the contest referred to as a very bitter one, some family feuds still existing for years after the question was settled. Such is often the case; the bitterness and ill-will engendered during such struggles very often leave their trail behind them, and this was probably true fifty, sixty and seventy years ago.

Warsaw Daily Times October 5, 1901

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