Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"The hunt, the shot, the glorious chase,
The captured bear or deer;
The camp, the big bright fire and then the rich and wholesome cheer."

All of Northern Indiana was a great region for the hunter of the first-settler period. Deer and smaller game were even quite numerous as late as 1846, when the family of the writer arrived in this county, and continued so for several years afterwards. The raccoon, opossum, the entire variety of squirrels, red and black; the fox-squirrel, the "pine" or red squirrel, the sauciest and loudest of the squirrel family, and the chipmunk were all plentiful, while there were still a good many fur-bearing animals that were caught and their pelts would always bring the cash. Among these were the raccoon, the otter, then quite numerous along the streams; the mink, the opossum and the muskrat, the last two more plentiful than all of the others, their hides being used mostly for the manufacture of gloves and mittens, I presume, as their fur was rather of a coarse order as compared with the others.

The year that my father and family arrived here several hunting parties were organized and on one occasionn I was permitted to go along. the family then lived in a cabin that was located in the bend of the river above the Warner mill-dam, and it was from that point the party started. Among the few settlers south of Warsaw a few miles, deer were reported to be quite plentiful and the party concluded to locate on the ground where the deer were so numerous the night before, so that the deer could be found while at their early morning feed. Several hunters were in the wagon that was taken along, as was also a homemade tent constructed from ordinary drilled muslin by the handiwork of the Warner women folk.

After arriving on the grounds, not far from the home of the late John Ford, and perhaps six miles south of Warsaw, the party consisting of Peter Warner, his sons Joseph and Zephariah, one or two of Mr. Warner's hired men and myself, then a boy of 13 years of age. On arriving some green marsh hay was cut on which to spread blankets and quilts for bedding, upper was eaten and every preparation was made for an early start in the morning. Judge of my surpriser when the sun rose the next morning and waked me up to find myself the only occupant of the tent and camp. The party had started at such an early hour that they determined not to arouse me, and so they let me sleep on. I discovered another thing on awakening and that was that by sleeping on the freshly mown green grass I had been seized with a "crick" in the neck so severe that I could scarcely turn my head. I was, however, greatly provoked at being left there alone, but fortunately I did not have long to wait, so the party returned about 7 or 8 o'clock with the carcasses of three deer and a fawn "still in the spot," as the hunter of that day would speak of the fawn's handsomely dotted pied skin.

If I am not mistaken Marion Warner, whom the party had left at home to take care of the mill and attend to the "chores"--another pioneer term still in use to some extent in this part of the country--had this fawn-skin tanned and a vest made out of it that he wore for a number of years afterwards; indeed fawn-skin vests were quite common in those days, and when well-made they looked quite handsome and the lady of today may set it down as a fact that the fawn-skin as an article of apparel was the first introduction of the "polka-dot!"

Slowly but steadily the country was gradually filling up with people who in time became so numerous that all wild animals, especially the deer, became scarce, though as late as the spring of 1856--the year the writer and George W. Fairbrother, recently deceased, founded THE INDIANIAN while in the vicinity of the Maish furniture store, I saw five deer standing on the knoll, then a bare knob, just behind where the late John McClure erected a cottage, the rear of which covered ground a portion of which had to be excavated into this knoll. The five deer stood quite still, seeming to be taking an observation of the settled portion of the town.

At that time the late Judge James S. Frazer lived in a dwelling on the corner of what is now covered by the furniture store, and I was walking in a path that led around his lot and up on to the knoll. On seeing the deer I stood still and watched them closely. The formed a beautiful picture indeed, standing as they did at gaze, and it is very questionable whether if I had possessed a gun that I would have despoiled the beautiful sight by shooting at them. It was not long however, until they suspected something out of the usual order, the old buck gave some sort of a signal, and off went the five deer, taking a course over the hill to the south of the old Pittsburgh depot and disappearing in the direction of Walnut Creek and it was then I took my last look at this breed of animals in their wild, unhampered, unfettered state.

The picture of that Sunday morning and that bunch of deer still comes to me in a vivid picture of early days. The Frazer residence was at that time the only dwelling i that section of the town now covered over with handsome, comfortable homes. There was no small profit in the killing of wild animals in early days and the successful hunter realized quite a sum annually by his sale of fur-bearing skins as well as deer-hides, the latter being manufactured into buckskin and had a ready sale for this purpose. This was especially so, for the furs and hides always commanded the cash--a thing that few articles did, as the whole country was hopelessly, it seemed, turned over to barter and trading, there being no money in the country only that brought in to buy hides and furs. These purchases were always made by strangers--that is, non-residents--and they, of course, could use only the cash!

The northern part of Indiana seemed to be a neglected portion of the state for a long time. As already stated immigration was slow, and the taking up of government land by entry except in such cases as the "big Prairie," which lies three miles north of Warsaw and regarded as choice lands, owing to the fact that the ground was already cleared and a farm could be quickly carved in the wilderness, requiring only as it did, fencing and breaking-up--was decidedly backward. A good many families would arrive here in the spring-time only to return in the late fall, having been frightened against becoming permanent settlers by their experience of the fever and ague, the biggest crop of any kind known to this section of Indiana in the early days, and the one crop that could always be relied upon. Many of the newcomers arrived with only sufficient funds to enter an eighty, or a hundred-and-sixty-acre piece of land, leaving them but little to live upon.

This fact had a depressing influence upon many of those who came, and quite often, if they had kept their teams and wagons, they used these to return to their former homes "back in yander," so that the frosts that came in early October and they had recovered from the sickly period of later July, all of August and September, had put an end to the malaria, so prevalent in the hot months and accentuated by the decaying, rotting vegetation, almost as many covered wagons could be seen in the late autumn going east ward as could be discovered coming to the west to settle the country. For many reasons that particular period was a trying time for Northern Indiana, as one of the greatest hopes of those who had permanently located here was that the country would fill up rapidly and bring about a situation that would raise the price of their own land, as well as to clear it up and make the region, one fit to live in.

I remember a family by the name of Henderson that arrived early in the spring of 1847. The family was a large one, consisting of six children, and equally divided as to sex. the old gentleman and her wife were very tall people, Mr. Henderson being over six feet in height and his wife but a few inches less. Another queer thing was that the three boys were fully six feet and the girls almost the same; so that the sobriquet of "The Big Family," was soon attached to them, and they were known by that name by people who did not know what their real names were. The family moved into the old tavern just across the street on the corner west of Hitzler's furniture store, originally built by Jacob Losure, but which was burned down several years ago, and the ground, though a valuable corner, has never since been occupied by anybody or anything except jimson weeds of a most healthy and vigorous growth.

Mr. Henderson himself was a blacksmith by trade, and on arriving here at once--set up a shop nearby where he lived. He was fearfully discontented right at the start. It was difficult for his boys--the youngest fully grown--to find anything to do, and it was no wonder that the old man was discouraged. Right from the start he announced that he would remain in such a God-forsaken country only long enough to earn more money sufficient to take him and his people back among the mountains and purling streams and brooks of the "Old Keystone State!" He was working hard with that end in view when the bilious fever, with chills accompaniment, seized upon the whole family. Having nothing to do, the children, both boys and girls, had put in most of their time in gathering and drying huckleberries that grew so plentifully in the tamarack swamp that almost connected the waters of Eagle with those of Center Lake at this place, and doubtless did so at an earlier period than the white man was acquainted with. The wading about and gathering berries in a swamp that at almost any time was over ankle depth, beaten down upon by the hot summer sun, no doubt had much to do in prostrating the whole family and it is not out of place to say that it was a case that needed assistance, for the entire eight persons were down upon their backs, not one among them able to wait upon the other.

Of course, neighbors readily extended every possible favor; women went daily to see them, and took turns in doing the housework, while the men furnished food supplies, and boys chopped and carried in all the fuel necessary. Of course this state of affairs did nothing towards changing the mind of Mr. Henderson about going back to Pennsylvania. Not any! Indeed, he was more determined than ever, and on the arrival of cooler weather the whole family became able to be about, and by saving every penny of the earnings of all of them, and borrowing $25 in money, late in November I remember shaking hands with one and all, as they began their journey to the East--sorry that they had ever set their faces Indianawards; but glad in their hearts that all of them were headed for their old home, the only place on earth for them!

This is only one instance, but I could relate quite a number of similar cases with which I, as a boy, became conversant, but all going to show the discouragements that surrounded those who remained in this, then new country, which at this moment is unexcelled for all purposes, anywhere in the world.

Warsaw Daily Times October 12, 1901

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