Early Settlement of Kosciusko County

[pen-name of Isaiah J. Morris]

Chapter 4

A trader by the name of McCarthy, or McCarty, was, as far as can be ascertained, the first white settler in the county who remained and became one of its citizens. He came here for the purpose of trading with the Indians in 1819 or 1820, and remained as a trader until the Indians were moved west. Dominique Rousseau, before referred to, was also a trader, and came from Canada, and was the second settler. Thomas Hall was the first regular emigrant who came to the county for the purpose of making it his permanent home as a farmer. Anthony Woods, the Felkners, Harlans, Longs, Stookeys, and others, located on Little Turkey Creek Prairie, two or three years before the land became subject to entry, or as it was usually termed, "before the land sales." The Felkners, Woods, and others, upon their first arrival, immediately set about staking out pre-emption claims. The Indians, who did not relish the movement, would follow at a respectable distance and pull up the stakes, causing considerable trouble and annoyance.

The first settlers, who were not of German descent, choose the prairie and barrens as best suited to his taste, while those of German descent took kindly to the "thick woods," where heavy work and hard knocks were required to open up a farm. You never could fill a Dutchman's eye, or satisfy his idea of what land ought to be, unless you could point out a good crop of black walnut, sugar, red elm, and wild cherry. In those days of the prairie, oak openings and barren were viewed by our Dutch friends as being too poor and thin to make a living on, but the heavy timbered land, with its deep, rich soil, and giant walnut, sugar and oak timber, had attractions and a beauty not found in the prairie or barrens; on the contrary, the Yankee and semi-Yankee choose the barrens and openings; the Dutchman preferred spending the long winter evenings cracking walnuts and hickorynuts, while the Yankee, true to his nature, chose strawberries in summer, cranberries in the fall, and hazelnuts in the winter. Both classes instinctively gravitated into their "normal sphere," each satisfying his taste, and securing such land as his idea or genius pointed as the best, by which means the population has been pretty evenly distributed over the county.

Emigrants soon began to arrive in large numbers. John Knowles, Peter Warner, and William Kelley, were the first to settle south of the Tippecanoe. Turkey Creek, Bone, and Little Prairies were soon all taken up and occupied. Bone Prairie derived its name from the immense quantity of human bones found upon it, both on the surface and beneath the soil. When first plowed, human skulls, arm and leg bones, in fact all the larger bones of the body, were plowed up, and lay scattered over a large number of acres. The cause of this extensive deposits of human bones never was positively ascertained. One explanation comes through an Indian tradition or history, to the effect that many years ago a large and populous Indian village was situated near where Oswego now stands, which was capable of mustering over three thousand warriors. This would give the village a population of at least ten thousand souls. When their village was the most populous and powerful, pale-face visitors and traders came among them from Canada, from whom they caught the small-pox, and from which nearly all the inhabitants died, and died so rapidly that burial was impossible they were hurriedly taken to the opposite side of the prairie and simply laid side by side upon the ground. This was the explanation given by an aged medicine man to several of the early settlers. Whether it be true or not, the situation of the bones, their shallow covering, and general surroundings, gives the story the coloring of truth.

Crosson's Mill, at Syracuse, was built in 1835, being a little round log building, set squarely across the stream, and was known as "Crosson's tub mill," or corn-cracker. This tub mill was superceded in 1838, by a better structure, containing all the requisite machinery of a regular custom mill. Up to this period the citizens from all parts of the county, and from the north part of Wabash, Huntington, and west part of Whitley counties, of necessity had to go to Wyland's or Hawks' mills, on the Elkhart, or to Logansport or Lafayette. Frequently two, three, or four neighbors would go to mill in company, each riding one horse, and leading a second, the first carrying the rider and about two bushels, and the second about three and a half bushels of corn or wheat. Such a jolly time as these mill boys would have, they will never witness or enjoy again. Sometimes they would take three or four yoke of oxen, put in their joint load, or go to the prairie and buy a load, get it ground, and return the journey from Eel river occupying from five to seven days. In 1836, the writer's brother, with a friend named Zellers, started from near Claysville, in Huntington County, for Wyland's mill with three horses, intending to buy wheat and corn on the prairie. The first night they camped on the west bank of Eel river. A terrible rain fell during the night, which raised the river and creeks far over their banks. In going forward, near where John Fisher now lives, they came to a creek forty or fifty rods in width. They pushed boldly forward, my brother taking the lead. When the water was well up the saddle skirts, the horse, with a sudden plunge, disappeared under the water, nearly unseating his rider. After some sharp plunging and floundering, he gained the other shore. Zellers followed safely at a point higher up, but not without a regular immersion. The creek, from the plunging affair, received and still bears the name of Plunge Creek.

In 1836 the wheat crop was a serious drawback on the settlers. It was not exactly a failure that would have been a blessing compared to what it was. The crop of 1837 was not so bad as that of 1836, yet it was bad enough. The crops of both years yielded well in the bushel, but it was that much to be dreaded kind, known in that day as "sick wheat." It made splendid looking flour, and under the manipulations of a good housekeeper, as good bread was produced as you would desire to see; but to eat of it was the first movement, the second was to go for your boots or moccasins. The result of eating bread made from sick wheat is immediate pains in the stomach, followed by continual hard vomiting, faintness, a deathlike sickness, and not unfrequently convulsions. The cause of this poisonous element in the wheat, and the form of its presence, or its exact constituent, has never been satisfactorily determined. Many of the settlers, during the two years mentioned, were brought near unto death from eating bread from the sick wheat. Nothing was left but johnny-cake, and johnny-cake it was for two years, except when wheat flour was brought from a great distance, which was seldom done. If our kid-gloved, cigar-puffing, tobacco-grinding young men, or gate-supporting, bustle-wearing, gum-chewing young misses were put upon a corn bread diet, with spice-wood or wild ginger tea, or parched acorn coffee for a change, for two years, and a pioneer life, how many would survive the ordeal? One thing is certain, all who did survive would need no white-wash or rouge to give them a beautiful color, for nature would do it much more perfect, and render them far more loveable.

During these two years, the pioneers often had rather slim living, but a pioneer's heart, hand, purse, crib, and potatoe bin were always open to the necessities of his less fortunate neighbor, and as long as a potatoe or grist of corn remained, they were ready to divide. The world has grown a mite more selfish since the people have become less dependent upon one another. Want and hunger, like famished wolves, stood in front of many a cabin, and had it not been for the abundance of wild game, many persons would have gone to bed supperless. In 1837 Philip Lash, who run a blacksmith shop on the Boydston farm, made a trip to Wyland's mill, which took him seven days. Before he returned, his family were forced to dig up the potatoes they had planted two weeks before to preserve their lives until Lash returned. In 1836 Jacob Losure, with four yoke of oxen and wagon, went to Lafayette for corn. The trip consumed some twelve or fourteen days, and his return was hailed with universal satisfaction; indeed so great were the necessities of the people, that quite a number of the men went to meet him and were rejoiced to get meal at $1.75 per bushel. Daniel Webb, and John Pittenger made a trip the same season to Logansport for corn. The primitive corn cake was nothing like the present light and highly seasoned corn bread. Eggs, sour milk, butter, salaratus and "sich", did not enter into its composition, but corn meal, water, and salt this, and nothing else. Could you go it? If you feel as though it would be poor living, shoulder your rifle, go hunting in a strip of woods bounded by the Wabash on the south, Eel river on the north, Aboite on the east, and the old Michigan road on the west; run all day, get most woefully lost, camp out in this wilderness, get frightened half to death a dozen or twenty times during the night, come near freezing, wend your way next you know not whither, accidently strike a trail, follow it to a cabin, humbly ask for a morsel, closely watch the good hostess stirring, patting, and baking a dodger or two for you, sit down, and for the first time in forty hours partake of corn dodger, venison and coffee, and if you have a soul even if it is dead to the sweet sounds of music it will flow out and gush with thankfulness to the person who invented the corn cake. You will be fully prepared, as the writer hereof knows by practical experience, to judge of its intrinsic virtues, and unrivaled excellencies. Maybe you never hunted, or aspired to capture anything larger than a quail or rabbit; if so you are not competent to appreciate the keen appetite and powerful digestive capacities of old hunters, or the beauties of jerk, or lusciousness of venison broiled in true hunter's style. Many a hearty meal was eaten with a relish and thankfulness by the early settlers, consisting of nothing but corn dodger and jerk, or potatoes and venison, and sometimes nothing but potatoes alone. Sometimes, in the proper season, crab-apple or wild gooseberry dumplings (if the flour was good) was indulged in as a rarity; but it may be parenthetically remarked in this connection that but few, if any, of the old settlers have any particular hankering after the corn dodger, crab-apple dumplings, slapjacks, spice-wood tea, etc., and would vote against their introduction into the family, preferring the improved method of cookery, even if they can't endorse all the whims and foolishness of custom, dress, and fashion.

Northern Indianian March 12, 1874

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