[pen-name of Isaiah J. Morris]
In 1840, Lower Sandusky was considered the western verge of civilization. Sunday as a day of rest and religious meditation and instruction had not as a permanent fixture yet crossed the rolling waters of Sandusky. Every man did that which seemeth right in his own eyes, and spent the day in hunting, sporting or in such manner as seemed best to him. Here in company with three others I entered the famous black swamp lying between Sandusky and Perrysburg a distance of thirty miles. This swamp was at that time one of the most dismal and forbidding looking regions known to the West, and was a real terror to emigrants. A soft, spongy, loose, black soil, covered during most of the year with water, a wagon, with a moderate load, would sink to the axle for miles and miles at a stretch.swamp extends from near Muncie in this State, running in a southeast direction, terminating on the shore of Lake Erie. Movers dreaded the great barrier, and well they might, for often they were compelled to leave their wagons and go a few miles ahead, stay all night, return in the morning, and by hard labor, bring the wagon up to the tavern, or to the camping ground, during the day, stay a second night, move forward the next day a mile or two, return, stay a third night, and then all move forward and repeat the dose. It usually took from six to ten days to pass this wilderness of sin, according to the weather and ability of the team. It required an unusual amount of patience, endurance and an abundance of hard work to pass this formidable barrier at any season of the year between 1836 and 1842, when a stone pike was commenced and finished in 1844. Today a trip to Colorado could be performed with less labor and much more pleasure, than a trip from Sandusky to Warsaw could at the time referred to.
Arriving at Perrysburg, curiosity led us to take a view of old Fort Meigs, the breast-works of which remained ranging from three to five feet high, and was built by General Harrison, in 1813. On the opposite side of the river stood Maumee City, at the lower extremity of which stood the remains of the British garrison commanded by the insolent Col. Campbell at the time Gen.defeated the Indians in 1794, at the battle of The Fallen Timbers, in the neighborhood, and re-built and occupied by the British Col. Proctor, in 1813. The site with its decayed works was plainly visible, and a spot easy of defence and well selected. These historic locations have lost much of their prestige, importance, and sacredness, and have been permitted to pass from memory since the great campaigns of the rebellion. Yet, to the older inhabitants of the west, and especially of the Ohio frontier, whose annoyance and suffering from the merciless savage was anything but pleasant, they have a deep significance, and call to mind the names and memory of more than one friend or relative, who fell a victim to the tomahawk and scalping-knife of the savages. An uncle of the writer's father-in-law, in the person of Col. Crawford, was burned near Bucyrus, Ohio, in 1782, and I have often seen uncle Samuel Waugh, from whose skull an Indian stole a full-sized scalp. Waugh afterwards avenged the insult, by lifting seven Indian scalps from their warm and bony locations, sending their former wearers to the happy hunting grounds.
Perrysburg and Maumee City were rival towns. Situated at the head of steamboat navigation on Maumee bay, and each striving to vanquish the other. The opening of the Wabash and Erie canal, with an outlet into the bay, was the advantage of Maumee, and from which she expected to reap a large commercial harvest, while Perrysburg was working for the new turnpike, and a railroad of a peculiar pattern to Sandusky; and being the county-seat of Wood county, she struggled for the ascendancy. Maumee City, in connection with Miami, extended along the river for a distance of over two miles. The engineers or stock-jobbers of this rising metropolis of the west, designed not only to eclipse Perrysburg, but to annihilate the city of Toledo itself. Expectation was on tip-toe, and in a few years large fortunes were swallowed up in the experiment, which proved a disastrous failure. One young man in particular, from Buffalo, was unusually unfortunate. He invested largely in lots, built hotels and storehouses, and in three years lost over three hundred thousand dollars. Both towns, since Toledo has become the railroad center for that region, have dwindled into comparative insignificance, the county-seat being removed from Perrysburg, leaving it on an equal footing with its rival.
Taking leave of the rival cities, we moved up the Maumee towards Fort Wayne, which was our next objective point. The soil was entirely different from any we had as yet seen, being remarkable for its great adhesive qualities and great susceptibility of being reduced to the toughest and most detestable and annoying mortar, clinging with the denacity of soft wax to our clothes, boots, and whatever it may come in contact. A footman was compelled to carry enough mud on each boot to make an ordinary brick. The weather was damp and rainy, hence our progress was not so rapid as under other circumstances. After traveling half a day we came to "The Fallen Timbers," or Wayne's old battle ground. Nothing extraordinary remained to mark the spot, save an old rock beneath which an old Indian Chief by the name of Turkey was buried. He sought refuge behind this rock during the battle, and was shot by one of the Federal soldiers. His Indian friends cut the likeness of an eagle or turkey foot upon the rock, placing upon it an offering of tobacco to appease the wrath of the Great Spirit, and lighten the punishment of the defunct Chief. Next came Fort Defiance, at the confluence of the Auglaze with the Maumee, with its hight breastwork and big appletree. It is no mystery as to how the fort came there, but at what period that appletree was planted, or by whom, was then, and is to this day, a profound mystery. It was near, if not altogether, twenty inches in diameter, with a very wide spreading top, and gave evidence of great age. The grounds of the old fort are preserved by a neat substantial fence, and is under the care of the town authorities.
The roads from Defiance to Fort Wayne were but little better than those of the Black Swamp. It did seem as though the great dead level from near Defiance to within six miles of Fort Wayne was about as sorry a piece of property as a man could own. What remains a sealed mystery to this day, was the fact that narrow-leafed spatterdock grew luxuriantly, not only on the lower grounds, but equally so around and directly between the spur roots of the oak timber. The wonder is not so much at the spatterdock, for it certainly was rioting in its native element; but that large thrifty oaks, straight as a pikestaff, should live and have its being in such a cold, clammy, wet, clay soil, is the mystery. Henry Breckbill, an old acquaintance from Pennsylvania, located within a few miles of Defiance, in 1835. In clearing up his farm he would chop off a given tract and burn the brush during the summer and fall, then let it lay over until spring, when the water would rise; he would then go in the clearing with a skiff, or "dug-out", and float the timber all together in one corner. When the water asuaged and the ground dried, he fired the mass and burned it up. The same thing has been successfully practiced in the dutch flats, near Huntington, as late as 1850. The Breckbill farm is now one of the best in Defiance county, and has for years produced heavy crops where he caught fine fish during the first years of his citizenship.
After five days hard work we reached Fort Wayne, which contained, at that time, about two thousand inhabitants, and was the centre of trade for a district of fifty or sixty miles in diameter, and carried on a large trade by means of keel and flat boats with Maumee, Perrysburg and Toledo; the Wabash and Erie canal being then in course of construction. The Indian name of the city originally was Kekionga. The old fort was yet standing. It consisted of a two-story hewed log house, with a hewed log partition through the centre, and in size did not appear to be more than twenty-six or twenty-eight feet by forty, and was by no means an attractive structure. The old appletree on the opposite side of the river, under which the Indian Chief Lafountain, or Russiaville, (I think the first) was born, and from whose branches an Indian was shot by a white soldier from the fort, was pointed out. The distance of this tree from the fort appeared to be about twelve or fourteen hundred yards, and was considered to be a crack shot, as it was done with an old-fashioned flint lock U. S. musket or yaugher. The appletree still stands as a sentinel at his post, but is not cared for with that tenderness and respect bestowed upon the old Charter Oak, of Hartford. A few years ago, Peter Kiser, the representative from Allen county in the State Legislature, introduced a bill into the House, asking an appropriation of six thousand dollars for the erection of a monument in honor of Gen. Wayne, and in his speech urging the passage of the bill, he said that "Mad Anthony," as Wayne was called, fought a desperate battle with the Indians upon the ground occupied by the old fort, and such was the terrible slaughter that human blood flowed down the Maumee three miles deep, and declared it a fact that could be proved by history. Peter failed to prove the fact, or make the members believe it, and the bill failed to pass.
It was in the month of October that we came to Fort Wayne. Work was plenty, and wages good. Mechanics, such as carpenters, masons, plasterers, and painters, were scarce. I was offered two lots on the west side of Calhoun street, directly opposite where the Aveline House now stands, for one month's work, (plastering) but we all supposed the town about as large and full of dutchmen as it ever would get, and lots would not advance in price, or could not be converted into cash at any reasonable figure, consequently they did not swindle me into the purchase of any of their worthless real estate. Circumstances, and the present condition of that city, proves most conclusively the wisdom of the decision, and our great foresight.
We left Fort Wayne and struck northwest for Warsaw, by the old Yellow River road. Towards evening of the second day we passed through Columbia City, a fact of which we were profoundly ignorant until we had passed it four or five miles. The only mark or indication of a city at the time was a guide-board, with letters burned upon it with a hot iron, and nailed to an oak tree. Universal stillness, rendered oppressive by a heavy humid atmosphere, reigned in, over, and around the embryo city, which, during the late unpleasantness, became famous on the account of the terrible battle of Shenaman's Hill, wherein Brig. Gen. Lamb immortalized himself by deeds of noble daring. Somewhere to the northwest of the guide-board city, we passed what was known as Bond's Mill, which at that period, and for some time afterwards, was noted as a neighborhood in which dwelt a lot of counterfeiters. These individuals produced an excellent imitation of American half, and quarter eagles in gold, and Mexican dollars, and American half dollars in silver, many of which, especially the latter, found their way undetected into the treasury of the different land offices. There were numerous gangs of thieves and counterfeiters all through the country. The Haw Patch was a rendezvous, and many other places, and they had a regular underground railroad from Central Indiana to Michigan for the transportation of stolen horses. Forthport, situated on the north side of the Fort Wayne and Michigan canal feeder, and near the present site of Rome City, was the headquarters of these lovers of horse flesh, and by the way, they did a lively business. They had a depot and resting place on what was called Bogus Island, situated in the tamarack swamp immediately east of Warsaw. This rendezvous was on that small plat of dry ground northeast of the graveyard, and south of the P.Ft.W.& C. R.R. They made a bridge of short tamarack sticks, covered with whortleberry bushes and grass, from the main land to the island, over which they passed the horses. The island was difficult of access, even on foot, and the existence of the bridge was not known for some years after, only to the initiated. The fact of the existence of this island camp was a profound secret at the time, and the discovery of the bridge revealed the whole matter. Feeding places for horses, and a low brush booth for the thieves, were found, and gave unmistakable proof of having been extensively used. In 1846 the island gave fresh evidence of being used for concealing horses, and a suspicion that some persons in Warsaw were engaged in an illicit traffic in horse flesh, led to a close watch being kept over the island, but nothing was discovered. This practice of counterfeiting and stealing horses, was kept up for ten or twelve years. A man by the name of Vancamp appeared to be the head-centre of the band during the later years of their existence; but the arrest and imprisionment of some of his accomplices, and some narrow escapes of his own, caused him to leave the country. People were very particular in those days when they received silver or gold, for fear it was bogus, as all counterfeits were called.
Northern Indianian Feb. 26, 1874
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