Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"Once more I stand beneath the tree
Where oft I've played in childhood's hour,
And watched the honey-laden bee
Collecting sweets from every flower.
Behold, the tree is larger grown--
It's branches reaching far and wide--
It seems forsaken and alone,
Since all the neighboring trees have died."

Oh, how often since I began writing these sketches have the friends of other days--friends who have passed to the thither shore--come to me on memory's wings, and I cannot but think that the one particular sad thing in growing old lies in the dropping by the way of the thousands of true friends that accompany one in the earlier, more active period of life. To me the loss of those old friends have been a continual and deep source of regret, and the idea frequently comes to me--ah, if we could all live. to me the loss of those old friends have been a continual and deep source of regret, and the idea frequently comes to me--ah, if we could all live to grow old together instead of being pushed into comradeship with those we have so lately known. They are not the friends that stood so steadfastly by us in the days when true friends were needed; and oh, how many, how very many, of such fiends are gone! However, I do not design to write a mournful homily and after saying that these thoughts come to me, it may be all too frequently, I will pass on to something else.

I have already stated that the coming of our first railroad induced a very large emigration to Kosciusko county, and quite a good many came to buy farms, and most of them had the money to pay for them, consequently for a number of years Kosciusko secured some of the very best of families whose children, many of them, still remain among us, and quite a number still occupy the old homestead purchased by their fathers. Kosciusko county, to all intents and purposes, is an agricultural rather than a manufacturing county, a point that is at once perceptible on the part of even a stranger visiting among us; and I am not sure but it is better--in fact, I know it would be so when the sturdy, honest, self-reliance, and the true hospitality of the early settler is handed down to their progeny. The year 1856, the latter end of it, saw the cars passing between Fort Wayne and Chicago. It was an exciting year, not only here in Indiana, but all over the northern states.

The struggle between freedom and slavery had already begun on the plains of Kansas. The uncalled-for repeal of the Missouri Compromise had excited the people to a wonderful degree. The struggle going on in Kansas drew the line between freedom and slavery for that new territory most sharply, and in every state in the Union the people espoused one side or the other. On the one hand, the southern states determined to inject a slavery plank into the Constitution, while the other side was just as fully determined that Kansas should be free. Missouri being a border state, lost no time in sending men into Kansas to work and vote for slavery. South Carolina organized what was known as "Blue Lodges," and sent representatives into the territory also to assist the Missourians. On the other hand, free-state men all over the North were just as active and fully as determined that Kansas should only come into the Union as a free state, and the contest waged hotly. The Civil War had its inception on the plains of Kansas, where, indeed, the first blood for the great question was spilled on both sides.

Massachusetts organized and armed a body of men and sent them to John Brown's assistance. this association laid out the town of Lawrence, in Kansas, and that place became in time the headquarters of the "free-state party." I happened to be in Kansas at the time as a journeyman printer, and having got too far west to secure employment at my trade, I readily took up with the offer to carry the chain of the surveyor who was laying off the site into town lots. The job did not last long, and I afterwards secured work on a pro-slavery journal published on the Missouri River and called "The "Squatter Sovereign," that term being Senator Douglass' shibboleth in securing the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Excitement continued throughout both the North and the South.

In 1856 the new Republican party, made up from what was left of the dead-and-gone Whig party; of men who were at heart opposed to slavery of both parties, and particularly of the young men of the North and the first voter. In a National Convention held in that year presided over by the late Senator Henry S. Lane, of Indiana, the party made its first race for the Presidency and nominated John C. Fremont. A most excited campaign followed and he was defeated by James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania. Defeat only served to arouse the North to a realization of the fact that there was danger of extending slavery even farther north than was ever contemplated by the South, and it certainly helped to pave the way for Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860; led on to the war and afterwards to the abolition of slavery throughout the entire domain of the Union, and now to a more strongly cemented Nation than this country ever could have ever known, half slave and half free.

An anecdote was told of Henry S Lane--indeed, it came out at the time--when he took his place as presiding officer of the first National Convention. Like Lincoln, Lane was an awkward, long-armed, ill-formed man, and, like the martyred President, was also born in Kentucky; but he was a peerless orator and never failed to sway his audience to either laughter or tears, just as he wished. When he doubled up his long, angular frame in the chair provided for him--closing up like the shutting of a jack-knife--there was visible disappointment especially among the eastern delegates who feared--greatly feared, too, judging from his looks--that a mistake had been made in electing Lane, of Indiana, to the chairmanship of the convention.

This continued until he arose to address the large convention as its president, when the growlers and grumblers and the fearful ones present began to listen to one of the most impassioned, eloquent speeches ever delivered east of the Alleghany mountains! Those who were the most disappointed were the loudest in their praise of the wonderfully touching eloquence to which they listened on that occasion, and this, too, within two minutes after commencing his address to the audience--and it was a great one, and representative, too, of the then young Republican party organizing for its first great victory of 1860. Afterwards while in the army of the Potomac, I met a Massachusetts man who inquired about Henry S. Lane, and who then went on to tell how disappointed he was when lane's tall, ungainly figure advanced to the rostrum of the Philadelphia convention, while the latter was being escorted as the presiding officer of that great body, very deliberately pulled a plug of tobacco from his pocket and bit off a good-sized chew! The Massachusetts man remarked, however, that as soon as Lane began his speech he forgot all about the tobacco, and the homely, angular figure actually became handsome as that vast audience listened to some of the most stirring words that had ever fallen from mortal lips. Among the pioneers of Indiana few men are more pleasantly and familiarly remembered than Henry S. Lane, who represented Indiana in congress at a period so early that the state was entitled to only two members.

Here in Warsaw and Kosciusko county the people were also stirred up to a more general extent than in any campaign that comes within my memory. The whole summer of 1860 was given over to the campaign, and when Cassius M. Clay spoke at Goshen as the principal orator of an immense Republican "barbecue," it seemed to me that every individual who could in any way find a conveyance was there from Kosciusko county. That year the late Nelson Baker had the contract for grading the town's streets, and of course had many teams in his employ. When the day of the rally arrived Mr. Baker "knocked off" work and told his teamsters to take everybody they could haul to Goshen, and that their wages should go on just as though they remained at work. As the ride with these teams was a free one, it is unnecessary to say that every wagon was loaded to its fullest capacity.

In 1860 "Wide-awake companies" were organized all over the country, and Warsaw had two such organizations--one commanded by the late Major Henry Hubler, and the other by the late James H. Carpenter. Those who were acquainted with the latter will remember that he had a particularly squeaky voice, accompanied also with stuttering on some words, and I remember that the late Sam Yohn told me that his voice always sounded to him like a fine tenant-saw, as he said the ordinary hand-saw was too coarse. However, the late P. G. Frary perpetrated the best joke on Judge Carpenter's voice by comparing it, when Carpenter was in command of his company of Wideawakes, to the squeaky handle of a pump in operation. Much sport was made of Carpenter's voice, but he did valiant work for the cause; was a most humane, liberal, kindly man, and there are people still residents of Warsaw who can and do remember him, for kindly favors.

The Wideawakes were the first organization to introduce the lamp as a torch for night meetings and parades, using a uniform cape for the protection of the clothes from the dripping oil that sometimes fell from the lamp, and this form has been more or less in use in every campaign since.

The election of Abraham Lincoln in the autumn of 1860 caused the South to secede, South Carolina leading off in passing the ordinance of secession at Columbia, the capital of that state--a city that four years later was destined to be destroyed for the mad act almost wholly, and there were many young fellows who were members of one or the other or both of these Wideawake companies to which I have alluded, who were present at that city's destruction. In fact, the company commanded by Major Hubler kept up its organization all through the winter of 1860-61, and when the call for troops came on the 15th of April, 1861, it went into the service precisely as organized so far as its officers were concerned--only those who could not leave their homes failing to put down their names as soldiers. Those were stirring days and this country will possibly never see their like again. Let us hope and pray it may not.

Warsaw Daily Times November 30, 1901

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