Clark Gable honeymooned on Big Barbee Lake

by Mary Lee Willman

A visit with Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kuhn who own Kuhn's Bug House (bait shop) at Barbee lake provided a delightful look into the history and folklore of the Barbee area.

The reporter asked about the truth of an often repeated story that movie stars Carol Lombard and Clark Gable spent their honeymoon in a log cabin on Big Barbee Lake. "It sure is true," replied Ed. "I used to play with her. She was very pretty even as a little girl only seven or eight years old. Her real name was Carol Peters. Her father, Art Peters, was from Fort Wayne and he owned the log cabin. It's still there, down behind the Barbee Hotel on the lake front. It's been remodeled and is covered with siding."

Ed can remember when "there were only about two dozen cottages on the Barbee lakes and very few people. This has always been a nice peaceful place to live."

The Kuhn family roots go deep in the Barbee area. Ed was born in a 100-year-old frame house that stood on the site of the present cement block home in which Ed and Lillian live. The frame house burned and Ed can recall moving into the present structure when he was about 12 years old. He will be 75 years old in February.

The land on which the house sits belonged to Ed's father, John Kuhn and before that, to his grandfather, Isiah Kuhn. It was part of a land grant originally belonging to a man named Barber, in the early 1800s.

Through the generations members of the Kuhn family have earned their living by hunting, fishing, trapping, selling bait, renting boats and cottages.

Ed laughed, "My father used to get three cents a pound for fish. He earned enough to build a house for his wife and eight children. I did better, I got 10 cents a pound. Sometimes I'd fish all day for a dollar or less or maybe nothing."

Lillian grew up at Robinson Lake about 15 miles southeast of Barbee where her parents owned a resort. She and Ed were married in 1930 and will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary August 23.

Ed attended school, along with about 29 other youngsters, at the old one room brick Dunham school across from present day Staleys Grocery south of Barbee. The school has been a private residence in recent years but is now vacant after a series of fires destroyed the interior.

Ed recalled, "We had a teacher named Alfred Wolf who lived on the east side of present day State Road 13. He walked back and forth to school every day no matter what the weather and carried his lunch in a metal dinner bucket. The school had eight grades and after you completed the eighth grade you were considered graduated."

"I can remember my grandfather telling about the Indians," said Ed, "He told me that the year he moved here the government decided to relocate some of the Indians. He could remember a large group of them walking right past the house. He never did know for sure what tribe they were from or where they went."

Capone Here Too
Asked about the many stories of gangsters hiding out around Barbee during prohibition Ed said, "Oh, yes! Everytime there was a gang war in Chicago Al Capone would move into the Barbee Hotel for awhile. I saw him many times. I never talked to him personally but I did talk to some of his body guards once in a while. I was about 15 or 16 years old at the time."

And Nelson
One day I was at the Jot Em Down Store and a very nervous fella was pacing up and down as though he was waiting for someone. He came up to me and said he would pay me to take him to Webster. I told him I didn't have a car but my cousin Charlie Kuhn did. In those days you were glad to earn a dollar any way you could. The man asked Charlie to take him to Weimer's Park on Lake Webster. At that time Weimer's Park was in a rather isolated area with few people around. Before they reached Weimer's Park the man insisted Charlie let him out of the car and go back home exactly the same way they had come. Charlie thought it was all rather strange but he did as the man asked. The next day we saw the man's picture in the newspaper. It was the notorious gangster Baby Face Nelson. I heard that Dillinger was around the area every now and again, but I never saw him."

The original Barbee Hotel was built by a man named Davidson from Muncie. "That must have been at least 100 years ago or more," said Ed. "The original building burned and was rebuilt. I got my first ride in a Stanley Steamer automobile from a guest at the hotel. Wealthy folks would spend their vacation here. Some of them would move into the hotel for the entire summer. My Dad used to send me there to buy him a bucket of beer. I think the Jot Em Down Store has been around about as long as the hotel."

Ed noted that bootlegging did go on around the Barbees during prohibition but most of it wasn't made locally. It was transported in from other places.

Across from the present day Barbee Conservation Club building there was a large hill. "People used to put up tents there and stay all summer," said Ed. "On the hill behind the club house folks were always finding arrowheads. They also found bird stones and a few ax heads. I know of one business deal that took place about 70 years ago when one man paid another $50 dollars for a bird stone. What do you suppose it would bring today?"

Halls Barber Shop in North Webster had one wall covered with Indian artifacts that people found and brought in to display.

Asked why so many of the very old cottages and homes sat back away from the lake shore, Ed replied, "In the early days there was swamp and marsh land between solid ground and open water. There were a lot of sand and gravel hills along the lakes that were later pushed down over the marsh to make solid ground out to the open water. Then people started building right on the water's edge. Most of the early places were just shells and you couldn't stay in them when the weather was chilly."

People started coming to Barbee in large numbers after World War II to live year around and to spend the summer season.

Mr. and Mrs. Kuhn have resided on the family property all of their married lives except for a 15-year period when they lived at the Robinson Lake resort and managed it for Lillian's parents and also for their own income.

"We used to depend on rabbits for fresh meat and also for income," said Ed. "Back then you could hunt rabbits 12 months out of the year. I used to sell them to the meat market at Goshen by the barrel full. For a couple of years during the depression we used to catch and sell turtles. We could get about 10 cents a pound and they averaged 10 to 20 pounds each. We just took snappers and got about 100 a week. Used to gather and sell ginseng and goldenseal to earn money. Goldenseal is good for a sore mouth and its used in all kinds of medicine. I dried ginseng on racks for a month or so and got about $15 a pound."

"It worked a real hardship on folks around here when the state came in with all the conservation rules. It took food right out of their kid's mouths and money right out of their pockets. There was a lot of well justified resentment. The conservation laws were pretty strictly enforced. More than once a game warden was led a merry chase by an angry citizen who didn't appreciate the government taking away his source of livelihood."

The Kuhn's bait business used to be housed in a cement block structure a few yards north of their present home. The old bait house has been renovated and is now a private home owned by the Hawn family.

"Probably nobody would guess how much hard work is involved in getting bait" said Ed. "We raised our own worms. I used to leave before daylight to seine for minnows in creeks and ditches toward the south. There seemed to be more minnows there. I would try to get home by noon and Lillian would have everything sold in short order. I would start off again after dinner and she would sell everything I could bring home. By the next morning we would be out of minnows again. It used to be a fair living. Nowadays you can't make much because you have to buy everything from someone else."

At the present time the Kuhn's small bait shop is attached to the back of their house. Ed told about a bad wind storm that he and Lillian witnessed about 25 years ago. It tore off roofs and cut a 20 to 30 mile swath through the country doing a lot of damage. "Lillian called me to the window and there were several water spouts going up out of Sechrist Lake and stuff blowing everywhere. The power was off for about a week. That was about the worst storm of that kind I can remember."

"People used to come from everywhere to get water form the flowing well beside Road 13 at the Flowing Well Park. They struck water when they were putting in the road. It was a real gusher and put out thousands of gallons of pure cold water. I've seen trucks loaded with five gallon jugs parked there filling the jugs. The well used to flow out of a large pipe, but not any more. It's been nearly ruined by vandalism.

"Some of us fellas used to go rattlesnake hunting over around Herron Lake. They are still thick over there. I killed 14 in one day. They would burn off the swamp in the spring and that's when you could get plenty. The snakes would winter in crawdad holes and you could see them sticking their head out. Sometimes they would be a good three feet underground. One fella I knew claimed he killed over 1,000 one spring. I don't doubt it. Rattlesnakes and garter snakes would get in the same hole. The rattlesnakes around here are short, not much more than two or three feet long. They can still give you plenty of trouble if you aren't careful. In the early days there were a few timber rattlers around that would get to be five or six feet long. They've been gone for years.

Ed and Lillian have redone the inside of the old homestead to make a comfortable modern home. Lillian raises cactus and has several interesting varieties of the desert plant on display. They both like to fish and Lillian especially enjoys ice fishing.

Asked about the largest fish he ever caught in the Barbee Lakes, Ed replied, "A 25 pound carp. When it comes to bass fishing, Lillian catches the big ones." He also assured this reporter that the mosquitoes are just as plentiful now as they were, "back in the good old days."

Unknown source and date of source. Copy of this news article is on display at the Old Jail Museum, Warsaw Indiana.

Marge's Notes: I recently read Gable and Lombard, A Biography by Warren G. Harris, c1974, Simon and Schuster, NY. and various articles on web sites in an attempt to either confirm or dispute Mr. Kuhn's claim that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned in our Indiana county.

Lombard's real name was Jane Alice Peters, born Jan. 16, 1942, the daughter of Frederic C. Peters and Elizabeth Knight Peters. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old. That year (1916) Elizabeth Peters took her three children to visit Los Angeles and then decided to settle there. Jane Alice was twelve years old when she received her first role in a silent film titled A Perfect Crime (1921). When she returned to the screen in 1925 she had taken on her new name.(website info)

Gable was married when he and Lombard started seeing each other. December 14, 1938, Gable made a public announcement that he was ready to seek divorce from his wife; however within twenty-four hours Gable's wife announced that she was getting the divorce. It was during this time that Gable was chosen for the leading male role in Gone with the Wind. Lombard had tried out, but was beaten out by Vivian Leigh. The divorce was granted in a four-minute hearing on March 8, 1939. Lombard was quick to offer Louella Parsons a quote, "When Clark gets a few days off, perhaps we'll sneak away and have the ceremony performed," Lombard said. Her hint of an elopement set reporters to establishing a day-and-night watch on Lombard's house in Bel-Air. ... ... Otto Winkler, the press agent who handled most of Gable's personal publicity at MGM, was sent out on a reconnaissance mission to find some remote spot for the marriage. The place finally settled on was Kingman, Arizona, a small town of only a couple of thousand people, located about 400 miles from Los Angeles.

On March 28, Gable discovered that he would have the next two days off, due to sudden changes in the shooting schedule of "Gone With the Wind." ... ... The Gable-Lombard elopement was one of the most unglamorous on record. ... ... Gable and Lombard returned to her house in Bel-Air at three in the morning, almost twenty-four hours from the time they had left.

The Gables took time off after Gone With the Wind was filmed, but at no point in Harris' book is there any indication that they honeymooned or even vacationed in Kosciusko county Indiana.