Early Times in Kosciusko
Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

Politics in early days in Kosciusko county--in fact throughout all the entire Union--was divided between Whigs and Democrats, the Republican part having not yet come into existence; what is more this county was considered a close one on a test vote, the Whigs having a majority of one hundred and fifty votes. It was so close, at any rate that the Democrats quite often succeeded in electing an officer or two. Jerry Burns, of what was then Franklin and a larger township than it now is, was elected for two terms as auditor, following the later Alfred Wilcox, who was filling that office when the writer's family arrived within the limits of Kosciusko. He, too, was a Democrat at that time. Benjamin Blue was elected as a member to the constitutional convention held in 1852, and it was of him the story was told that he arrived at Indianapolis on horseback; hitched his animal to the state house fence, and taking his saddle-bags in hand went into the assembly room and tried to induce the president of the convention to take care of it and also to inform him where he should find a good place to board. As this same story has been told of several other individuals, it may have been a "stock joke" kept on hand to apply to every one more than ordinarily verdant; so I cannot vouch for its truthfulness as applied to Benjamin Blue

There were other Democrats elected at times, but as a rule the Whigs were generally successful, and it should be remembered that elections were then held annually. party lines were thus divided until after the inglorious defeat of Gen. Winfield Scott in 1852, the latter carrying only four states in the entire Union. This wholesale defeat caused the disruption of the Whig party, which fell to pieces over this disaster to the party, and in an attempt to organize another one in opposition to the Democracy--one of the strangest political freaks was the result. In the east there had been much antagonism against foreigners holding office, and before the Whig party broke up there were signs that another party designated as "Native Americans," was forming.

It was particularly strong in Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia where a very vindictive feeling was worked up against the Catholic church; so vindictive did the feeling grow that several of their churches were burned to the ground in the Quaker City, and an ungovernable mob raided the town for several days. The new party seemed to take hold of many former Whigs, and all over the country newspapers were projected to advocate the new doctrine that none but Americans should hold office, at least so far as national affairs controlled. I very well remember that the sentence--originated I believe by Gen. Mad Anthony Wayne on the eve of his attack on Stony Point-- "put none but Americans on guard tonight," became the motto of many of the newly projected partisan journals.

The new party either assumed the name of "Know-Nothings," or else adopted it from a sneering term applied to it by the Democrats, and under that name went into the campaign in Indiana in 1854, and all over the country for that matter. The new party was a secret organization, and met at any point designated by the officers of the organization. Here in Warsaw it frequently--most generally, perhaps--met in Richhart's tanyard, then located a few rods north of where Peter Conrad now resides and owned by the late Benjamin Richhart, but which was afterwards removed to a point north of the present county jail. The place was well fitted for the meetings of a secret organization; meetings that its members knew were closely watched by the opposing party--the Democracy. It was a loosely built arrangement under roof, the bark-mill and the vats furnishing excellent places to hide in case prying eyes discovered signs, and in this place, this part was the most generally used for meeting and business purposes, out-meetings were often held at some point downtown, or in private residences.

Looking back at this organization, the manner in which it was organized, its mode of meeting, the fact that it held no big public meetings, and carried on its campaign sub rosa, it is astounding to think that in 1854, two years after the great defeat of Gen. Winfield Scott, it swept the state by a large majority, and it is just as strange that this was its last and only victory, not only here in Indiana, but elsewhere; but the Know-Nothings carried many Eastern and I believe some of the Southern States. Although victorious, the party at once went to pieces. It was a freak of a party; did not possess enduring principles, and was followed in 1855 by the organization, of what became known all over the county in 1856 as the Republican party.

In this county the first meeting of the latter organization was a year later, in 1856, the same year THE NORTHERN INDIANIAN was founded to advocate its principles. The fact that such an organization as was the Know-Nothings with no special platform or principles could succeed at a general election in a state that was decidedly Democratic, remains a mystery to this day--a mystery that cannot be accounted for on any known cause or sound reasoning, and I can only adhere to the term I have given it--"a freak." The agitation of the slavery question, both North and South had been going on for a good many years. There were from the foundation of the government men who called themselves abolitionists. The new Republican party in its membership was anything else than abolitionists. In fact, the great majority of its membership would have regarded the term as applied to themselves an insult. The principles the party advocated, as first announced on the one absorbing topic was "no interference with slavery where it already existed, but that there should be no more slave territory; that freedom was national and slavery sectional."

The whole agitation of the question was the consuming desire of Stephen A. Douglass to be President of the United States, and who in order to curry favor with the South, introduced a bill abrogating the Missouri Compromise--a measure that prevented slavery from going north of a certain line, but which Douglass' bill vacated and let down the bars so that slavery could go far north of where the South itself had agreed it should not go. The disruption of the Missouri compromise was followed by the border war in Kansas between free state advocates and slave holding Missourians and was in reality the real beginning of the civil war. To show the position of voters in this county, it is only necessary to point to the first election held after the Republican party was formed.

I have already stated that the Whig majority was about 150 in the county on a party test; but the very first election held after the death of the Whig party and the organization of the Republican party the majority for the latter was nearly 400, showing very clearly that many Democrats had taken a stand with the new party. Indeed, I remember many prominent Democrats of that period who joined the ranks of the vigorous young party at once, and from principle. Among those I need only mention a few -- Alfred Wilcox, A. Bierce, father of the Bierce family, and well known to the people of the county, Judge Elijah Horton of Oswego, Wm O'Brien, Sylvester Clark-- so many, indeed, that I need not take up space in enumerating them, and I only allude to the point to show that many Democrats refused to follow Douglass in laying violent hands on a compromise measure with which both North and South were satisfied, and was only done as a measure to help him to a seat in the Presidential chair.

It was in 1854, too, that Warsaw began to feel that there was a future before it, and its people began to predict that in time it would become a thriving county seat. It was then a neat little village; a pleasant place to make a home, but with no special prospect for becoming of much more importance than was then the case. No attempt had as yet been made to grade the streets. Every family owned its own cow, and some of them two or three. These pastured in the region all around, and at night took up their quarters in the public square. Dog-fennel abounded, and a fine crop could have been harvested several times a year in every street of the place, and whatever improvements were made were wholly without authority, and were voluntary on the part of the owner of town-lots and private residences. As a consequence sidewalks were few and far between. The town was a pleasant, but a sleepy place; but it was soon to put on some airs.

The Pittsburgh and Ohio railroad had, or was about to be completed to Fort Wayne, and this led to a new railroad organiztionm and a company known as the Fort Wayne and Chicago was organized to carry the line clear through. This line passed through Warsaw, and--although the company had a hard and a slow time to raise the money for its construction--it finally succeeded, and the work of grading the line west of Fort Wayne began. The prospect of railroad connection with the outer world aroused all the people of Warsaw from their former lethargy. The road was graded clear through to Chicago, and in some way and somehow the track was completed; furnished with rails, so that late in the fall of 1856 the first train of cars passed over the road and into Chicago. From that time until after the close of the civil war few towns along the line did a larger business than Warsaw, and for a number of years it was the biggest wheat market between Chicago and Pittsburgh. The two roads were soon consolidated under one management and became known as the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago, and is now known as the Pennsylvania, the latter company having leased the entire line.

The railroad company built an old-fashioned elevator at the station in this place, which consisted of a two-story frame building, with a wagon-way built of dirt on its north side to the top, so that a wagon load of wheat could be driven up the steep incline, dumped into the upper-story of the warehouse, and forced its own way through wooden spouts to the bin in which it was designed to fill. Of course, the number of wagons arriving in town became very numerous, and it became a fixed rule that the wagon should take its place in the line on the way to the elevator, and I have seen teams as close as they could stand together reaching from the top of the incline at the elevator clear back to what is now known as Odd Fellows' Corner, and north to some extent on Buffalo street, all slowly winding their way to the weighing-in process at the elevator. This was a slow, but a sure way, and it is a fact that for a number of years farmers from every surrounding county touching Kosciusko-Elkhart, Marshall, Fulton, Wabash, Whitley and Noble--marketed at least some of their wheat here. Pork, too, was shipped from this county in immense quantities.

The plan then differed greatly from the one now adopted, that of shipping live hogs to the great packing towns. In those days hogs were shipped dressed, generally to Pittsburgh and Buffalo, and it was of vast importance that this should be done in cold weather; for if a thaw occurred during the transit, to the East the meat would spoil, and a heavy loss await the buyer. Whole train loads of spoiled port have arrived at their destination and could only be disposed of to the manufacturers of fertilizers and soap dealers, and as a consequence the pork-buying business was a very risky one, indeed; breaking up as it did, many wealthy men in the manner indicated. The present method of shipping beef, calves, sheep and hogs alive is far superior and the attendant great loss lessened a hundred fold, although shipping animals alive is still accompanied by a no small loss, from hogs dying on the way, and cattle being gored so badly at times that killing them enroute becomes a necessity.

Warsaw Daily Times November 2, 1901

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