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

by Reub Williams

"There is no place like the old place
Where you and I were born.
Where we lifted first our eyelids
On the splendors of the morn,
From the milk-white breast that warmed us
From the clinging arms that bore,
Where the dear eyes glistened o'er us
That will look on us no more"

On reaching maturer years, there are few men, and probably no women, who do not as the memory of earlier days sweep over them, recall the dear old home of childhood. No matter how humble it may have been, the place where one was born becomes the dearest spot on earth, and the mind wanders back to the old home, even though it may have been a cabin built of round logs, with stick chimney and a clapboard roof. How often since I begun writing these reminiscences has the truthfulness of these remarks been proven true, and I never sit down to write one of these sketches that my mind has not wandered back to the happy days of childhood--days that come only once in a man's brief life.

In some of the earliest of these sketches, I alluded to several of the amusements that were fashionable in the early days, if, indeed, such a word would apply to anything the pioneers did at all. Whatever amusement they enjoyed was always of home manufacture, or invention, for the reason that, unlike the present day, nothing came to them to lighten the ceaseless round of hard labor, although the young people of earlier times were just as intent on extracting amusement from any and every source, and as a rule they were such vigorous healthful young folks that whatever the amusement may have been, it was most thoroughly enjoyed.

In enumerating some of them a few weeks ago, I omitted to mention the charivari, or the celebrating of a newly wedded pair by "belling" --a feature that has almost ceased, only sporadic cases coming to light in these times now and then. Usually "bellings" were participated in to a great extent by the uninvited to the wedding proper, and while in early days there was an occasional groom, or a father of the bride who resented the oft times too rough and too hilarious proceedings, yet there were many principals in the wedding of sixty years ago who would have felt slighted did not a "belling" follow. In fact, "bellings" in early days were participated in, not only because it was the custom of the pioneers, but in order to work off the surplus of good spirits common to the young people of the period, and I remember a good many charivaris that myself and Marion Warner--still a resident near this city--participated in. In fact young Warner of that period had a special propensity to attend a "belling" when he was from about 14 to 16 years of age and somehow he had the faculty of ascertaining in advance the day or night on which the ceremony was to take place.

I went with him on many occasions, but he would go even though the parties lived ten miles away, and even though he had to "hook" a favorite horse from his father's stable to take him to the place. I have known a number of these bellings to end in a racket; a fight or two; some black eyes, and even on one occasion an enraged bride's father went so far as to send a bullet from his squirrel rifle into the crowd, very fortunately only slightly wounding one of the belling party in the arm. There was considerable talk of arrests being made, and for a time there was no doubt some fear of the belling being aired in the courts; but in those days the majority of the people favored the practice of the belling and discouraged to the calling in of the law to suppress a practice that had been in vogue amongst pioneers and along the border for many years.

I remember when one of the Fawley boys was married --David, if I remember correctly, and now a man considerably older than the writer--and of course the party had to be belled. I accompanied as a lad the detachment that represented the then village of Warsaw to the place of the wedding--a log house about five miles west of this city--where we were to be joined by all of the country boys for miles around. The late Elijah Tusing--a whole-souled, jolly young man of that period--was selected as "captain" of the combined forces, and as this was one of the first bellings I had ever participated in, it was a novelty to me. Anything that would make a noise--the louder and the most dismal, the better--was used, and I remember cow bells of all sizes; home-made triangles, sleigh bells, horns of all sizes, and even to "mother's" six-foot dinner horn; (I wonder if there are any of my readers who can remember how some women could make that old dinner horn sound the signal for meals so melodiously and so loud--that it could be heard on all the adjoining farms?) horse-fiddles, shot-guns, single-barreled pistols--it was before the revolver had appeared--but of all the inventions for making a noise so loud and so hideous that even its memory still grates on my nerves at this late day!

To me, it was a new instrument and one calculated to make itself heard for miles around. It was nothing more than the largest size store-box with the top taken off and an ash rail smoothed on one side with a drawing-knife. The edge of the boards composing the box were resined, as was the rail also and to such an extent had this been done that the resin had been melted and poured in that condition on rail and box. The method of using it was similar to that of a cross-cut saw. The box sat on its bottom and a man at each end of the rail would pull and push backward and forward, the resined edge of the rail coming in contact with the edges of the box, similarly treated, and as the two box edges gave out a different tone as the rail was drawn back and forth, the screeching was not only heard miles away in the night time, but it certainly was the most discordant, dismal, hideous sound conceivable.

Wherever the "bellers" had a resined box along with them--as they often did after its invention--both bride and groom, father and mother, would capitulate at once and invite the whole company into the house or treat them to apples, cakes, cider, etc. When this belling first began that night, I remember that Capt. Tusing marched the party round and round the house. At the southwest corner a grape vine had been planted, and one of its principal boughs crossed the path that led around the house, and I know I am within bounds when I state that every one who made that march stumbled and fell over that grapevine from one to five times! Everyone present resolved to remember and avoid it the next time, but the noise of the resined box, the din of the dinner-horns, and the ringing of the discordant jangle of the big cow-bell, whose clapper would weigh a pound, down to the more delicate sheep-bell, and the silvery tinkle of the sleigh bells, would make him forget the grape-vine until he was again sprawling on the ground. The bellers had a great deal of fun that night, and got back to Warsaw at about 4 o'clock in the morning--tired, of course, but willing to repeat just such a performance the next night, were there a wedding within a half-dozen miles of the place.

Since my allusion in a former sketch to the dramatic association that was formed here in Warsaw in 1854, many people have spoken to me on the subject; some of them like my old friend, Thomas Woods, even at this distant day, being able to recall some of the incidents of the plays given by the association, and called "The Warsaw Thespians." The association well formed to fill the "long-felt want" for amusements, and to say that it succeeded remarkably well is not saying too much. The entertainments given were extraordinarily good, when the facilities are taken into consideration and it is a fact that some of them were placed on the stage remarkably well, when the entire absence of scenery is remembered. At any rate, "The Thespians" became exceedingly popular, and gave a series of entertainments every winter from 1854 to that of 1861, the breaking out of the war compelling it to cease as a dramatic company, owing to the fact that so many of its members got ready to act on a wider and more realistic stage than the one in the old court house!

"The Thespians," however, fulfilled their mission. They supplied the people of Warsaw with the much-needed amusements for which they so long had prayed, and as they presented only highly moral plays, that taught good lessons, they did no harm, certainly, and it was thought by many that they did much good. I remember that "Ten Nights in a Bar Room" was first presented by "The Thespians" long before the play came around in the repertoire of dramatic troupes on the road. That particular play received high encomiums from the public for its splendid temperance features, and the remark was frequently made by those present that it excelled any temperance lecture ever heard in the place. The attendance at the productions of this company of home talent was always very large, many people coming in from the country, especially when the sleighing was good, notwithstanding the fact that a pretty heavy charge for that period, was made at the door. Those were happy times, and I was surprised when Mr. Woods still remembered parts and features of those entertainments of so long ago.

Warsaw Daily Times December 21, 1901

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