Early Times in Kosciusko

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

by Reub Williams

"Oh the old house at home
Where my forefathers dwelt
Where a child at the feet,
Of my mother I knelt,
Where she taught me the prayer,
Where she read me the page.
Which if infancy lisps
Is the solace of age."

From 1854, for a good many years following, Kosciusko county acquired an enterprising population. I speak of 1854 particularly, for it was then that the gap in the railroad between Fort Wayne and Chicago was assured, and induced a large number of people from the east--mostly from Ohio--to take up their homes within its borders. the fertile lands had already attracted a great many people to settle within the limits of the county and when the family of the writer arrived the Big Prairie was under a state of excellent cultivation. Even as early as 1845, we doubt whether there was any unenclosed ground within the limits proper of what was known as the Big Prairie. All of it was enclosed with a rail fence known to the early settlers as "the stake and rider." There was no livestock law, and as a consequence cattle, sheep and hogs ran at large, and hence the farmer had to bar his crops from the trespass of livestock, and this could only be done with a substantial fence.

Among the early settlers on the prairie were the Halls, Wallaces, Smiths, Millers, Christians, etc. North of Leesburg were the Longs, and nearer the town the Chapmans, Rippeys, etc. Over towards North Webster were the Warners, Yohns, Muirheads, Powells and a number of others-- I am speaking only of very early settlers, and wholly from memory, making no effort to get the names of all of them, and of these because the northern part of the county was settled first, and the prairie was under a fair state of cultivation, even before any farms were opened up in the southern half, or the region south of Warsaw. After the cars began running in 1856, the whole county filled up rapidly with a class of most excellent farmers, and today there is no county in the state that will excel it for agricultural purposes. Many came to the county at that period to make farming their business, and I remember that some of them bought farms so well improved already that $10,000 in gold was paid for a farm. Of course, there were many instances that less sums were paid, the value of improvements generally governing the price. This influx of people had the effect to raise the price of land to a wonderful degree over that asked and obtained for it previous to the coming of the railroad. For many years on the Big Prairie land ranged in price from $80 to $100 per acre, and in some cases even a greater sum.

In speaking of farming, I am led to make the remark, that during my long residence in this city, and from observations I have made, I should say that it was unsafe for a farmer, after he has reached the age of forty years, to change his calling and move to town with the intention of entering business. I have noticed this thing so closely from my boyhood to the present time that I dread in many cases--especially if the individual is a friend and acquaintance--to see him dispose of his farm with that intention in view. I have known so many disasters to follow, that in a number of instances I have strongly urged the person not to dispose of his farm with such an object in view, and in some cases have succeeded in preventing such a course. Very often a wrong impression prevails, as to the easier way of living town people have over the farmers. This is not the case, and as a rule it is far more difficult, and requires more hours of labor per day to live in town than in the country, and the cost of living is almost double.

At any rate, I have always, when I had the opportunity, advised the man who owns a farm to stick to it rather than to sell it and enter some other business. I could name dozens of cases where the farmer has laid down his all in a remarkably short time, and these instances have been so numerous that, as I have said, a feeling of dread seizes upon me whenever I hear of an intended sale of the kind alluded to. In my time I presume I could name fifty instances where total failure followed; but one or two is enough.

What is known as the Shaffer farm, the second one south, is one of them. This was as fine of a body of land as lies near Warsaw--is yet for that matter--and was owned by a man by the name of Ben Neal. He sold the farm for the cash, and the sum was not a small one by any means, and within a short time thereafter, without the slightest experience in business matters, but elated with the idea that all he had to do was to hand out the goods and take in the cash, at a large profit, he bought a general stock of goods that had been sold or traded from one to another for a number of years past. It was located in the old Losure tavern--burned down several years ago, and--he took charge of it having paid out all the money he received for his farm. Within two years he had neither goods, money nor credit. He had handed out the goods to Tom, Dick and Harry on pledge of future payment, and the proceeds of his farm had been converted into small debts all over the county, he having trusted every one who asked for it. Of course he was broken up; but he did get enough money together to emigrate to Iowa, and to enter an eighty-acre piece of ground. That was the last I have heard of him. I only relate this one instance of this kind, but I could name them by the dozen, where the results were similar.

Another case with a very different ending comes to mind and this was one where the old gentleman, grown well up in years, decided that he would move to town, and he and his elderly wife would take things easily, live economically--there was no necessity for that, for he was well-off--but very wisely he refused to sell his farm, and did not intend to enter business at his advanced age. His town home was near the one occupied by the writer, and within a few days after he had got his home into good shape, I discovered the old gentleman haggling with the owner of a load of stove-wood. The price in those days was $2, and the loads for that price rather scant! "Two dollars," said the old gentleman; "I can't and I won't pay it," said he. "That's the usual price," said the owner, and as he had not yet got down town, he began clucking to his team to move up. "Why," said the old man, "it will take two loads of wood a week this cold weather," --it was even then a few degrees below zero--"and I can't afford it!" Still he pulled out his pocket-book and paid for the wood, directing the man where to take it. This was probably the first load of wood the elderly gentleman had ever bought in his life and paid cash for. He had been in the habit during all his life of taking a team and bringing a load of wood to his yard; or may have only hauled a whole tree up to his woodpile to be cut up on the ground; but never before ha he paid out so much money for so small an amount of wood. He was right, too, about it costing $4 a week for fuel, to say nothing whatever about the many other expenses; and lo, and behold, in about ten days thereafter the old man moved back on the old homestead where he spent the remainder of his life.

Without experience it is unsafe for any man to enter upon a business career after middle life is reached, and while I am neither reading a lecture nor proffering advice, yet form observation I have gown into the firm conviction that after an individual reaches forty year of age, as already stated, he would find it very difficult to engage in business where every crook and corner has to be watched with eagle eyes, and many will be the heartaches if the old home has been sold to secure the means to engage in a business in which the individual has no experience whatever, and I feel sure that nine out of very ten persons would agree with this proposition were I to call attention to the many instances in which the selling of the farm and the engaging in other business was the turning point, just before financial disaster; consequently it is no wonder, when I hear of a man accustomed to his own calling, changing it at middle life to engage in trade, without a shadow of experience, it brings with it feelings of genuine sorrow, if the man is an acquaintance or an old friend.

I made the remark in one of these sketches that the mention of some fact was almost sure to lead up to more on the same subject, and gave proof of the statement in the case of the Bashford family, who were in the Quantrell Raid at Lawrence, Kansas. The reader will remember that I alluded to the great temperance apostle, the Rev. Augustus Littlejohn, in my last sketch. On seeing it the editor of the Rochester Republican adds the following particulars of his later life, which I feel sure will be perused with peculiar interest by all the readers of THE INDIANIAN, and especially by those who were citizens of Warsaw during the winter that he carried on his great temperance revival in this then very small village. His end was, indeed, a sad one, and will perhaps be as new to the reader as it was to me. The Republican says:

"General Reub Williams, the editor of THE INDIANIAN, is writing a series of reminiscences of Warsaw and Kosciusko county and devotes one chapter to Rev. August Littlejohn, who was a prominent character in Northern Indiana a half century ago. He was a temperance fanatic, but he was constantly engaged going from place to place in preaching temperance and in the main he accomplished much good. Notwithstanding the old man had 'wheels in his head' that sometimes wobbled to a degree of lunacy, he frequently said some very good and true things, and the masses were always pleased to hear him. His last visit to Rochester was in the fall of 1884 and he was then a physical and financial wreck. Newton Rannells, a man who was always good to the poor, gave him food and lodging without charge, and being quite thinly clad the poor old man almost constantly shivered with cold. In addition to all this he had become remarkably feeble and needed stimulants every day to prevent a separation of soul and body, and notwithstanding he had preached 'Christ and him crucified' and the 'pure gospel of temperance' for a life-time, he found it necessary to partake of that which 'biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder,' and in order to secure the necessary stimulants he would occasionally go into the saloons and beg for a glass of wine or whiskey.

The writer had not the honor of a personal acquaintance with the noted temperance evangelist and he followed him into a saloon kept by Joseph Earlich in the building now occupied by Kistler's grocery and meat market. He found him at the bar pleading for a glass of wine, but the saloon man, supposing him to be a common tramp, was deaf to his appeals. After giving the poor old fellow a critical observation, and realized his condition we laid down a dime and directed Mr. Earlich to give him a glass of wine. He poured out a tumbler of Catawba and drank it down in one gulp, and tanking us very kindly for the favor he departed on foot in the direction of Logansport. A year or two later he attempted suicide at Michigan City and finally succeeded in 'shuffling off.'"

Warsaw Daily Times December 14, 1901

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