Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

But now our course of life is short;
And as from day to day
We're walking with a halting step,
And fainting by the way,
Another land more bright than this
To our dimmed sight appears,
And on our way to it we'll soon
Again be pioneers

After Warsaw was fixed upon for the county-seat, like all towns in the West, under similar circumstances, a peculiar lot of people were attracted to the place, and amongst the first ones there seemed to have been several wags who took up their abode in the town. I judge so, for the reason that the witty sayings and doings of some of them were frequently repeated in my presence after my people arrived. Among these peculiar people was a lawyer by the name of Harman, who was among the very first of the legal profession to locate in the new county-seat. Evidently he must have been a natural jester, judging from the many stories, the origin of which was attributed to him. Of course, he was impecunious--all such characters would arrive at a new town "dead broke," and depending upon their wits to make a stake. Numberless stories in vogue at the time drew their inspiration from Harman, but I remember just now only one of his acts that was told for a truth.

It was all the fashion in the early days to grease boots or shoes instead of blacking them as is now the style, and it is very doubtful if there was even a box of blacking in early days to be found in the whole neighborhood, and the argument for using grease was that it made a pair of boots or shoes wear longer. Harman determined to test the truthfulness of this very generally received opinion, and on buying a new pair of shoes, he greased one and let the other go without any at all! His discoveries at the end of a year was to explode the virtue of grease, as the shoe of which he took so much care lasted only fourteen minutes longer than the other, and consequently did not pay for the time consumed in spreading on the grease!

Newton Nye--father of our present citizen--Thomas J. Nye--generally called "Newt," for short, was another wag, and the day would have been a gloomy one, indeed, if Newt did not perpetrate a joke on somebody, or manufacture one to be told for the amusement of the crowd sure to assemble at some given point in the evening--generally a store. Joe Davis was another ready-witted wag and as reported was certainly in his day pretty hard to beat. I remember an occasion that there was to be a big political rally in Warsaw and it was understood that the leading politicians of the various townships should be aroused to the importance of the occasion, as some big orators were to be present. Joe Davis is selected to go out into the country and carry the intelligence to members of the party at other points. He invited the writer to accompany him, and his request was accepted, and together in a buggy we journeyed to Pierceton first, and then north to Webster. It was late in the fall of the year, and as we pursued our northward way and a few miles out of Pierceton, I discovered a grapevine at the side of the road in the edge of a wood fairly groaning with ripe grapes.

Of course, we stopped to get some of the tempting fruit, and I climbed the tree and bent it down so that Davis could reach the outer branches. I was just about to drop to the ground when Joe let loose of the vine, when the bent tree flew up in the air, carrying me fully fifteen feet from the ground, and leaving me hanging there. Joe threw himself on the ground, making no attempt to come to my assistance, although I was dangling in the air, and every moment growing less and less able to keep from falling. He rolled over and over on the ground; declaring it to be the finest acrobatic feat he had ever witnessed; that a circus couldn't hold a candle to my performance. Finally when I was so exhausted that I was about to drop to the ground, he came to my assistance; pulled down a bough of the tree, and permitted me to free myself from my rather precarious condition.

Joe Davis afterwards went into the war as a lieutenant and served, I believe on General Wilcox's staff during the siege of Knoxville, and many officers with whom I have conversed with since, told me that he was the wit of the staff, if not, indeed, all of Burnside's troops. He, after the war, decided that Warsaw was a too sickly place, and himself and family removed to Monticello, where an old lawyer friend of his was already located, who had also left Warsaw for the same reason, and the strange part of the proceeding was that Judge Matlock died there, and when the disease known as cerebro spinal meningitis, swept over that region Davis, his wife and two or three children were all carried off with it, while it never appeared here at all except in individual cases--never as an epidemic, a practical illustration of the fact that Warsaw was as healthy a place as others, despite its reputation to the contrary.

I have already referred to the absence of all public amusements and the necessity that arose for that of home production, and hence the general assembling of the younger people especially, on almost every evening at "the store," was an outgrowth of the lack of other kinds of amusement, and looking back at those days now, I am forced to the conclusion that the young people enjoyed life fully as much in those days as they do now, although amusements come to the place--some kinds, at least--nearly every week. However, it was the lack of visiting amusements that led to the organization in 1853-4 of a dramatic company of young folks, called "The Warsaw Thespians," of which I may have something to say in a future sketch, as I often meet with people even yet, who speak of these entertainments given during the winter months in the old court house, without even the vestige of scenery, and using on the stage home-made curtains, pulled sideways from the center with a string, with a boy to pull it on each side!

Among some of the old settlers of the town, and even of the surrounding villages, there are people who speaks of these entertainments with the highest praise, caused, no doubt, by the fact that they were the first of the kind they had ever seen except the ordinary school-house dialogues, common at exhibitions held on the closing days of a school term.

Since these sketches have been appearing in THE INDIANIAN I have received many letters referring to them as deeply interesting and urging the writer to continue them. Some of these letters refer to incidents that may find a place in some future article, but for the present I content myself with the following note from Ritchey P. Thralls-- "Nip," the former "Piney Woods" correspondent of THE INDIANIAN from Michigan, written to the junior publisher, as follows:

WALTON, MICH., Oct. 21, 1901
Dear Mell:
I enclose you a photograph of a pioneer's first encroachment on the pin forests of Michigan and you will perceive by the picture that the surroundings are somewhat crude. We enjoy Reub's pioneer sketches so much that after perusing them we send the paper to Howard Rogers. Howard was up to see us while brother George was here. I recollect a small boy at Wars in 1845-46 who had not seen much of the world, and their ideas were as small as their experience. I recollect when a very small boy coming with my grandfather's in Ohio. We had to take a canal boat from Dayton, Ohio, to Fort Wayne, Ind. There were two negroes on the boat--cook and waiter. I never had seen a negro before and asked my mother if they were black under their clothes like their hands and face! These were fine, high-toned negroes, all perfumed, and that day for dinner we had lemon pie, and somehow I got those perfumed negroes and that lemon pie mixed up, and I have not touched a lemon pie from that day until this without think of a Negro.

In early days a man by the name of Wm. Bashford, owned what is now Winona--a portion of the park, at least--the part composing its northern extremity, and include the spring at that place, which was strongly impregnated with sulfur, and it has since been discovered to contain other medical properties. Mr. Bashford was quite a prominent man and a brother-in-law of the late Alfred Wilcox. At a very early date, say 1850 or '52, in some way the family had to undergo a siege of the small-pox, and if I remember correctly both of the parents died. It went through the entire family, and George Bashford, a boy comrade of the writer, and his sister, Angeline, a very beautiful girl and a great favorite of the late Mrs. E. S. Blackford, a sister of the author of these sketches, were sadly marked from the disease.

The brother and sister removed to Kansas previous to the civil war, and in a number of the Kansas Chief, published at Troy in that state four or five years ago--perhaps longer--I read an account of her death. Since these sketches began, Auditor M. A. Wilcox, of this city wrote for information on the subject, he being a cousin, and from a friend of the family he obtained such interesting particulars that they will be incorporated in the next one of the series, as I feel sure they will be of great interest to every one of the pioneers of the county who can remember the Bashford family.

Warsaw Daily Times November 9, 1901

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