Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

There may be those among the readers of these sketches, which are only the personal recollections thus far of boyhood days on the part of the writer, who may think that the Warner mill occupies too prominent a place in them. This, at least may be the surmise of those who came to Warsaw and to Kosciusko county at a later period, but I am confident that the very early pioneers will not think so, for the old mill--then comparatively a new one-- was for a good many years the most prominent, as well as the busiest spot in the south half of the county, and even when the family of the writer arrived it was the one point visited by all newcomers. Uncle Peter Warner, as everybody was a very enterprising, public-spirited man in every sense of the word, and turned his hand to many things too. During his career in this county I very much doubt whether a Sunday passed by that he did not hold services at his home, or at some school house, some private residence, or in some barn, within a radius of ten miles of his own home on the Tippecanoe river. He was one of the old-fashioned kind of Methodist preachers, although I never learned whether he was ever on a regular circuit; but as a local preacher and exhorter he was in great demand, and many old settlers will remember the church building erected by him wholly at his own expense, located only about forty rods south of his home and the mill.

Himself, Kelly and Knowles were the first settlers in the county south of the Tippecanoe river, their families removing from, I believe Wayne county, Ohio, together, and at the latter end of the route they had to cut roadways, lay temporary bridges for crossings at difficult points, and at times double-team with one another to get up a particularly steep hill, or to pull the wagon through some especially deep morass. Uncle Peter arrived here with a considerable amount of money for an early pioneer. I remember hearing some of his neighbors say that he had in a strong box in one of his wagons three thousand silver dollars, but I never heard either Uncle Peter or anyone of his family make such a claim, although it may easily have been the fact. The old mill erected by him was a half mile above the one best known to the first comers of this region, located in the first bend of the Tippecanoe river, below what our people no call the "second" Tippecanoe bridge. Deciding that he could get more fall and ___ before better power, the mill was ___ to the point at which most of the pioneers found it.

In the absence of church buildings and convenient places for worship it can readily be surmised and understood that a camp-meeting was the one particularly popular way of assembling the people at a given point; hence this sort of a gathering was not only numerous during the summer seasons, but migratory, being held at many different and desirable points. What was denominated in early days as a "two-days' meeting" was also quite common. These were presumably held at the regular quarterly meeting designated by the conference. At any rate, I have known Uncle Peter to hold several two-days' meetings at his place and near the mill, at which he fed at his own expense every person in attendance, big or little, and besides fed very horse, and as wagons and horse-back riding was the only known medium of getting about-- there were no buggies or carriages in those days--it can readily be perceived that there were a good many horses to feed as well as people.

Usually two long tables were constructed at some shady point, side by side, and these were filled with vast quantities of the substantials. These tables were perhaps seventy-five feet long and on one occasion, presumably his one-of-a-kind, Uncle Peter killed three peeves at first, yet another one was required for this great gathering. Splendid outdoor-oven bread was provided with oceans of butter; plentiful supplies of whatever vegetables were in vogue at the time, all the sauces made from either green or ripe fruits--and wild plums and grapes were plentiful in those days--and, indeed, a good, a really splendid dinner was provided for all present, and as I have never heard of an early settler without an appetite, it can b e truthfully stated that it required numberless loaves of bread and good-sized mountains of beef!

Quite a joke occurred in the building of the church to which I have alluded. It was a frame church and had stood for several years in an unfinished state, have been roofed and weather-boarded only. In this shape it remained for several years. The joists had been put in place, but as they were constructed of small hewed logs every one of them had sagged to such an extent that when Uncle Peter, the ____ year of the arrival of ____ family, determined to complete the building in time for the two-days meeting in the fall. The sagging joists were greatly in the way. The crook in them was not quite of the same circle and it was at first proposed to replace them with new ones throughout when some one suggested the idea to turn them over and make an arched ceiling, and this was done; the joists turned and ceiled with narrow boards, and no visitor ever knew till now, that the arched ceiling of the old church was wholly an accident.

How little we know of what simple things bring forth! That old church edifice after the Warners left his county and settled in Iowa became the frame-work for the first brewery and the only one that Warsaw ever had. It was purchased, torn down and the material removed to a point on Center lake in the rear of the fine brick residence owned by Marcus Phillipson. How such a thing must have galled Uncle Peter in his Iowa home, if he ever learned of it!

I have already had my say about the wholesale sickness of early days. How every year almost the entire population succumbed to the fever and ague and bilious fever, and it was to this cause that the destruction of the old mill and afterwards of the church can be indirectly traced. Those who suffered from this annual illness, failing to attribute it to the real cause--that of the heavy falls of rain, the lack of drainage and the malaria that arose from the decaying vegetable growths in a region often overflowed with water after the heavy rains of the season--got it into their heads that here in Warsaw it was caused by "backwater" from the Warner mill-dam. This idea was advocated by some citizens for several years, and it finally induced enough of the people to take action, and it was determined that the mill-dam should go. those engaged in this wrong-headed business failed to see that fever and ague and sickness of many kinds prevailed in every part of the country regardless of the fact whether there was backwater or not. This fact seemed to be overlooked.

They forgot that the mill had been a godsend to the early pioneers for many years The nearest two flouring mills to it at the time was Wyland's in Elkhart county and Comstock's at Liberty Mills. They seemed to forget or did not care that Peter Warner was the "friend in need" of almost every early settler that reached the county, and that in many ways they were indebted to him more than anyone else for it was his way to see that no one suffered in any conceivable way, if it was in his power to render aid. It was reported that $600 had been raised to pay the old man for tearing out his mill-dam and thus render useless an investment that from first to last never cost him a penny less than $10,000! The old gentleman was deeply grieved, and the day that a gang of men went from Warsaw to tear out a dam that never backed an inch of water into Center Lake here at the town, the whole family, except Marion Warner, who still lives near the old spot, absented themselves rather than look on at the destruction of the work of many hands for a whole life.

Peter Warner was so broken in spirit over this transaction that he determined to get as far away as possible from those who had wronged him, many of whom were indebted to him at the time. He determined to emigrate to Iowa, root and branch, and the writer than a young man, accompanied him and the families of his sons to the "Hawkeye State," and on the way, I became fully acquainted with all the facts herein set forth. He did not even sell the land on which he lived until after he had moved to "beyond the Mississippi," and out of the $600 said to be raised he never received but about $250. The whole thing was a burning shame, and was in part worked up by spite-work, so the old gentleman informed us while on the way to Iowa, of which one man was the particular author. I remember that I refused to accompany the crowd of men and hooting boys that made a holiday out of the incident of tearing out a dam that meant financial ruin to one that there was probably scarcely one engaged in the work that was not, in some way, even if only in kindness, indebted to the old man for favors, and many of them even for bread, remained here in town on that day.

Peter Warner was over sixty years of age when this outrage was perpetrated upon him. The tearing out of the dam did not make a single case less of fever and ague, but it did render an old man practically penniless during the remainder of his life, and he lived for about twenty-five years longer. In 1874, his son Marion--who had returned from Iowa soon after his father emigrated to that state--and the writer went out to his western home to induce him to take up his future abode here in rooms provided for him. He lived a few miles north of Newton, Iowa, and it took several days of coaxing to induce him to comply with the request of his son to make his home again among the scenes of his laborious life, near the old mill, but he finally consented. It was regular winter weather for Iowa, during the week that we two were engaged in persuading him to come back to his old home--27 degrees below zero and the "wind-a-blowin'." I remember the morning that we faced the keen air in coming from his home to Newton to take the cars [train] for his old pioneer home--he was quite a pioneer in Iowa, it must be remembered--that he said to us as he was bout to get onto the cars: "Boys, if it was to go a thousand miles farther west, I would do it much more willingly." You see the pioneer blood was still in him, and, besides after leaving this county as he did, he felt as though he could never live here happily again.

This was true, too, for although his son had provided a pleasant place for the old man--then well into his eighth decade--where he could be either by himself, or receive visitors just as he chose, and near the spot where his life's work had been performed, he became discontented; longed for the free, wide prairies of the Hawkeye state, and after re-visiting his old boyhood home in Wayne county, Ohio, he went back to Iowa, where he died not long afterwards in the 85th year of his age.

That a great wrong was done Peter Warner was shown at an "Old Settlers Meeting" held in the fair grounds at this city, probably fifteen or twenty years ago, when the late Woolson Cook, from the speakers' stand, referred to pioneer days, and of course could not well help but speak of Uncle Peter Warner, about whom he related a number of anecdotes and incidents of early days, and ending with the proposition that a recognition of the old man be made then and there, and at his instance quite a generous donation was made. Now that this feature of these sketches is disposed of, there will be less of that locality in whatever may follow, and more attention given to a later period than has thus far appeared in the series.

Warsaw Daily Times October 19, 1901

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