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

by Reub Williams

"There are no times like the old times--
They shall never be forgot!
There is no place like the old place--
Keep green the dear old spot!
There are no friends like the old friends;
May heaven protect their lives;
there are no loves like the old loves--
God bless our loving wives."

Since the beginning of these sketches many old friends and acquaintances have dropped remarks concerning them and the times of which I have been writing, that have furnished the data for some mention of early times that would have escaped me, but for their mentioning them. This was the case but a brief hour before I sat down to write this particular sketch. Mr. M. Winebrenner, of Merriam, Noble county, has been visiting his son, W. A Winebrenner, during the present holidays, and as the latter has been sending him THE INDIANIAN, he informed us that he had been perusing the sketches with a great deal of interest.

The old gentlemen is very nearly of the same age of the writer, and he particularly referred to a former sketch in which I had mentioned the big Republican barbecue held at Goshen in which Cassius M. Clay was the principal speaker, and as he had participated in the great gathering as a young man, he referred to the great joke the Democrats of that period speedily manufactured out of the barbecue, but which alas, had a foundation in fact. There were several beeves roasted whole for that occasion, and this was done by digging a deep hole of sufficient length to permit the body of a good-sized steer to be placed therein and of sufficient depth to permit the body of the animal to be somewhat lower than the level ground. Previous to placing the carcass in the excavation, it had been filled and refilled many times with fuel, all of which had been burned to coals, and of course, gave forth an intense heat. The animal, neatly and cleanly dressed, was hung to a strong pole and lowered into the excavation, and then covered as well as it could be done. The weather at the time was quite warm, and one of the animals became tainted--whether before or after the roasting, I cannot say--but it is fact that this particular carcass gave forth an odor that was readily perceptible to those carrying a nose susceptible to taints, all over the grove, where the meeting and the dinner was held.

The supply of food of all kinds, including huge cauldrons of coffee, bread, butter, cheese and all the condiments that could be had; but the odor proceeding from that carcass seemed to cast a spell over the grounds, and I am satisfied in my own mind that this one beef caused a great many people to forego that kind of meat to a considerable extent, although all the rest was just as delicious beef and as finely roasted, too, as was ever placed before hungry men.

In those days the people were almost viciously divided on the political questions of the day--in fact, were becoming so divided that the quarrel was finally left to the arbitration of the sword. The Goshen Democrat seized upon the tainted beef for a pretext to poke fun at a wonderfully successful meeting, and it kept it up for a long time after the meeting was over and the scent of the spoiled beef had been wafted by a kindly wind clear out of Elkhart county, and even of the state. Several fist fights--precursors of the sterner blows of the future--were engaged in, and all through the remainder of that campaign the ill-feeling that grew up between the two parties at that particular time continued.

Mr. Winebrenner also referred me to the first Republican Congressional convention held after that political organization was effected. It was held at Albion, the county seat of Noble county, and called forth a larger assemblage, I verily believe, than has ever since been present at a Congressional convention. The new part was growing in numbers to an astonishing extent, and so many former Democrats were leaving that party, and announcing fealty to the young and vigorous organization, that old-time Democratic leaders were greatly alarmed. The attendance at Albion from this county was simply immense, far out of proportion in number that might be expected at a nominating convention. As there were no railroads in Northern Indiana at that time-the lake Shore probably not yet having been thought of, although the Michigan Southern was in running order--the only means of getting to Albion was by private conveyance, and as the distance had to be counted on, especially when it is remembered that every vehicle that could be pressed into service was on the road, and big four-horse teams were also numerous, it was determined to start a portion of the crowd from Warsaw the day before the date of the convention and _________ the caravan and vehicles going as far as Wolf Lake expecting to reach Albion early the next morning.

I was with the latter crowd, and of course as there were no conveniences in the village of Wolf lake for accommodating such a large crowd, wagons, buggies and vehicles of all kinds were used for sleeping purposes. Of course, in such a crowd, there would be many who would not and did not go to sleep at all, making no effort to do so. Big fires were built along the highways, and I very much fear that several farmers contributed chickens, it may be even additional edibles for the very early breakfast that was prepared by and for a portion of the youngsters along with the big procession.

The meeting at Albion was a huge one indeed. Mr. Winebrenner, himself, as a young man assisted in bringing to town from not a distant a wagon that contained an even hundred of voters drawn by twenty-six yoke of cattle--the horse of that period. He also drew my attention to the fact that during the convention, nearly all the top buggies on the ground were ruined by the opposition party cutting the tops into shreds, as well as many sets of harness had to be repaired before the occupants of the wagons could start on their return. These proceedings showed very plainly the vindictiveness that began to prevail between the parties here at home and was only a foreshadowing of the terrible war of a later period. The old gentleman, to whom I have been referring, is full of reminiscences of his younger days, and the writer spent a short time with him while paying us a brief visit very pleasantly.

How many people of the present day are aware of the fact that a station of the "Under-ground Railway" was located near this place in ante-bellum days? None, I infer, except those who were early settlers and are still alive; yet such is the fact. Indeed, stations for the "Under-ground" became quite numerous, especially following the fugitive slave law. This law was especially and particularly obnoxious to many people, and its passage had the effect to increase the anti-slavery feeling to a very great extent. The particular objections to the fugitive slave law was to that special feature that compelled every man called upon by a United States marshal to assist in the running down and capture of a fugitive slave. I sometimes think that but for the passage of that law the civil war would at least have been postponed for a decade, perhaps; though it had to come, and it was only a question of time as to when the appeal to arms would finally have been made. Thousands of men in the North who did not believe in interfering with slavery where it already existed openly and above board declared that no power on earth could ever make them slave hunters and as this body increased in numbers the more the question was discussed.

Then, too, the United States Marshals themselves, helped by their want of tact in enforcing an obnoxious law, would order out as aid in capturing runaway slaves the most prominent men in the place. Several riots took place in Boston, one of the most law-abiding cities in the Union. United States Marshals from the south, in close pursuit of runaway negroes, were insolent about it to a remarkable degree. Knowing and feeling, perhaps that the law was on their side, they lacked in judgment as to the manner in going about enforcing a law that was exceedingly unpopular north of the Ohio River, and I feel confident that the law, and the way it was attempted to be enforced, brought on the war sooner than would otherwise have been the case.

About three miles southeast of Warsaw on the North Manchester road, lived a man by the name of Phrenoy Willis. He was a man of fair education, honest, upright and honorable, and a good neighbor. In politics he was an out-and-out abolitionist, although a very quiet one. It was a long time before his neighbors knew that he was an active assistant in the escape of slaves who were attempting to make their way to Canada and freedom. His plan was to hide the escaping slaves in his barn during the daytime, or until further arrangements could be made to get them to Cass county, Michigan, which joins this state on its northern border, where they were regarded as pretty safe, public sentiment against slavery being in those days so strong there that it would have been unsafe for anyone to undertake to interfere with their escape.

I was a lad about fourteen years old then, living with my father's family, and on two or three occasions I became somewhat suspicious on seeing Willis and my father in close, confidential conversation. Willis was known as an abolitionist by everybody, and my father was a Democrat, although an opponent of slavery. One one occasion, at about 9 o'clock at night, Willis drove up in front of our house, and judge of my surprise when I discovered that there were three colored men in the wagon. Just at that moment, the late S. R. Gordon, who died about two months before the war, broke out, came up, jumped into the wagon and drove away to the north. I had seen so much of the transition that my father thought it was best to take me into his confidence, and told me that Gordon was to take the colored people to Goshen; that they were escaping slaves, and at that place Willis had already made arrangements with the keeper of the "Under-ground" station there to transfer them into Cass county, Michigan the next night.

I afterwards learned that all three of them got to their destination in safety, and eventually to Canada, where even a United States Marshal, though he were from South Carolina, would not care to follow. I afterwards knew of several expeditions of the kind, the number of slaves being usually from four to six. The receiving of the colored people always took place in the nighttime, and as a consequence, arrangements, full and complete, had to precede their removal from one place to another, or detection would have been sure to follow. They could not be removed in the daytime on account of their color, which at night did not interfere in the least.

John W. Gordon--an old man, a justice-of-the-peace, and father of S. R. Gordon, whom I have just mentioned--was also an assistant on the "Underground Railroad," but his age prevented him from taking an active part in the removing of any of the slaves. After I had discovered that my father was engaged in these affairs, I remember another occasion when Willis brought a wagon-loaded with fourteen colored men in the same way. He had already kept them several days, and had discovered that owners and officers were in pursuit. The reason why he had so many at that time was because two different gangs of escaping slaves had reached his place only one day apart, thus doubling their number. On that occasion my father accompanied S. R. Gordon to Goshen, and they were all safely got over into Cass county on the following night, so I learned afterwards.

I was on nettles on that occasion, fearing that my father might fall into the hands of the law, for I had seen the statement in the newspapers that a United States Marshal from the south had arrived in Indianapolis in search of runaways; but there were no railroads in those days; hence Indianapolis was a good way off! It can be readily perceived that the law was being broken on both sides, and everything drifting towards the inevitable war that was sure to follow the passage of the most obnoxious of laws, and their open violation.

This last delivery of colored men on their way to freedom was ten years before the war broke out. Willis died, and in 1852, my father also, the load of fourteen being the last squad of which I have personal knowledge. There was a time when it would not have been best to publish the names in a newspaper, as I have just now done.

Warsaw Daily Times December 28, 1901

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