Its Disposition in Northern Indiana
By Daniel Miller
It will be seen, by a geographical observation, that the timber region of the United States, east of the Rocky mountains, extends from the Atlantic coast in an unbroken belt westward to the Mississippi river as far south as Cairo; from thece the line bends eastward following the Wabash to Lafayette; from thence northward to the lake. East of this line lies some of the most beautiful small prairies, varying in size from one to ten thousand acres, surpassing any of the grand prairies in fertility. With the exception of these small prairies, this belt continues unbroken to this line; Marshall, Fulton and St. Joseph counties border on this line; hence, west of these counties, there is no more timber found that is of much value except for fuel. All the fineness, durability and solidity in the timber that is found east of this line is lacking west of it. This might be called the timber-line, for the reason that the timber abruptly breaks off here; and the most remarkable thing is, that just along the border of this vast expanse of timber region, grew the most magnificent in variety and quality, as though the Architect of the universe designed to show the most notable contrast. East of this line towers up the lofty yellow popular, aspiring to surpass all others in height, as well as it does in its softness and loveliness in foliage. West of this line grows the stunted jack oak, with its limbs crumpled up as though they were forbidden to grow more than an inch in the same direction.
The forests of northern Indiana deserve a special notice, for the reason that here, were concentrated in one common family, those varieties most useful to mankind, that usually grow in what is known as heavy timber land. Like the railroads that must bend their trunks together to get around Lake Michigan, so likewise are these gigantic forest trees concentrated together around the lake on their march westward. It is said that timber produces rainfall; it is however, not certain whether timber produces rainfall or rainfall produces timber, but the two invariably exist together, luckily enough both theories are true. It is, at any rate, true that northern Indiana suffers more by excessive wet than dry weather, and its heavy forests may have something to do with it; philosophy will certainly bear this theory out. West of this lies an unbroken expanse of prairie, the clouds are rapidly carried by the boisterous winds across these, and find themselves, to some extent, suddenly obstructed by this timber, and causes the clouds to accumulate or double up. This doubling of the clouds is the law, in philosophy, that produces rain every where, though usually it is effected by counter winds, or obstructing mountains.
Soil has very much to do with growing timber. A deep soil that is easily penetrated by the roots, always inviting those finer varieties which grow on such soil in its most magnificant splendor. But the grandeur of these forests have already passed into history, and no record is left that will do justice to their unexemplified richness. While this country was isolated from the balance of the commercial world, on account of conveyances, having no navigable streams, and railroads not having yet been made, this timber was looked upon as being simply worthless; made only to be destroyed. But when railroads were built it suddenly revolutionized the country, for the reason that more money was brought here for lumber than formerly for the other products of the soil; and with it came an emigration so fast, that the country was suddenly converted from a wilderness into a thickly inhabited region.
A merciless destruction of timber commenced and its contents converted into freight for the railroads, which carried it to all the world. The European monarchs, their nobles and lords, owe a debt of gratitude to northern Indiana for their rich black walnut furniture and embellishments of their palaces. No other place on the known earth grew such an amount of the three leading varieties of timber that goes to make up furniture for mankind walnut, popular and cherry. There are many stumps yet standing, as memorials of huge trunks, that made from two to three thousand feet each. The quality of the land still shows the diversity of the timber, one quarter section contained black walnut so thick that the limbs interlocked, while another contained popular still more numerous. Cherry was not so plenty as the two former, but still so abundant that its like was not known to any one that ever visited these parts. Along the tributaries of Eel River there were many cherry trees three and four feet in diameter and sixty feet to the limbs.
On the land of Isaac Studebaker stood a popular seven feet in diameter and sixty feet to the limbs, but it outlived its usefulness, and when it was cut down it was so badly decayed that it was worth nothing. Within half a mile of the writer's home stood five walnut trees, so large, that it was only when the demand assured high prices, before any person could be found that would remove such huge logs to the mill. On the farm of Conrad Warner stood a popular six feet in diameter. Lumber was then worth so little that it was cut down and burned by piling smaller logs around it. Upon the land of Levi Smith stood a walnut tree nearly six feet in diameter. The Historical Atlas of Indiana says of Kosciusko county: "Old settlers may heave a sigh for the log heaps they have toggled to burn, when they reflect that in some cases the lumber burned in a single pile would not be worth the congress price of the eighty acres on which it grew and was consumed."
Other varieties of timber abounded here, such as oak, ash, and hickory, their quality fairly contrasting with the first named varieties, but on account of the superior variety, walnut, popular, and cherry were first disposed of. Many think that it was unwise to dispose of this valuable timber, for much of it was sold so cheap, at any early day, that it would barely pay the workmen decent wages, and if the timber would have been left until now, it would be worth more than the land on which it grew. This is true, but people then could see no further in the future than they can now, and if we had all this timber now, we would be very apt to use it up, and twenty-five years after this time the same thing would be said of us, that we were unwise in destroying timberworth probably ten times as much as now.
Men are not much inclined to live for the second and third generation. To leave this fertile country lay in a wilderness, would be still more unwise. Those that were prudent enough (in their own estimation) to leave their timber to the present time, are about in the same fix that certain pilgrims were, those that gathered much had no more than those who gathered little, it is spoiled for them. So did the timber for those that saved theirs to this time. This valuable timber it seemed was all matured and had to be used at the time it was. It is a lamentable fact that all the old timber is fast on the decay; hardly any individual tree in our forests is healthy, all show decay and died by inches. In twenty years hence there will be but comparatively little of the grand old timber left. It is young timber that must be taken care of. When an early history of this country is to be written, let the timber not be forgotten.
It would be quite interesting if a statement could be obtained from each of the railroad stations in northern Indiana, of the amount of lumber shipped up to this time. The magnitude of the lumber business can be conjectured from the fact that about one-half of the lawsuits, during many years, were either directly or indirectly from dealings in lumber. Many of these lumber buyers were not looked upon as the most upright, but on the contrary it was thought that about all the soul they had they wore on their boots. They carried a rule usually with them, by which they went through the farce of measuring, but it was only a blind to call the contents what they pleased, but always less that it contained. For a long time an effort was made to correct this abuse of measurement, but it was finally given up on as an incurable disease, and a pretty general sentiment was formed that no honest man could deal in lumber, and if a honest dealer would offer what he could pay for it and give good measure, one of those "boot-soled" dealers would invariably offer any amount more, it made no difference what the price was, they could make it all right in measurement.
A plank that contained twenty-five feet, they could call it any thing from twenty-four to ten feet, just owing to the amount that was to be paid per thousand. Many circumstances could be related which at this late day, look more amusing than creditable. Mr. M. had his own discretion to put his lumber in with another man's contract at $12 per thousand, but when he hauled it to the station the same purchaser thought it marketed, and offered $14. After it was measured Mr. M. positively declared that he would take no more that $12 for the next load as he got much less for this one than the other he had sold for $12. Mr. K. paid for his sawing at the rate of one-third what the buyer was to pay. The sawyer measured according to his understanding as he sawed it at the mill; but when the buyer measured it to himself, according to his understanding as he sawed it at the mill; but when the buyer measured it to himself, according to his understanding, the measurement differed so much that Mr. K. did not get as much for the lumber as he paid for sawing. There was no remedy for this, the sawyer said the buyer did not measure right and the buyer said the sawyer didn't measure right. Mr. Aultman of Huntington delivered $2500 worth of walnut lumber on the wharf; the dealer measured it and had it put into the boat as fast as measured, (this time the joker came in some where else, not in the measurement), when this was done the dealer said: "Now my money is not yet here:" but the boat was ready to start outboats are not made to lie still. Mr. A. had to enter suit immediately to retain the lumber, but security on the docket released the lumber, and the boat sailed for other climes. During the lawsuit a technical error was discovered and the bondsmen were also released, and the whole amount was lost. During this lumber panic it got quite debatable whether the law was made for the just or for the unjust.
Though the people of this county may regret the destruction of the noble timber, they have but little occasion to regret that some of these dealers have been driven to other business. They were rivals of the lightning-rod, wash-line and spectacle peddlers. But the glory of this timber has departed and if any man has forethought enough to provide timber for his posterity during the twentieth century, he can do so at his pleasure. Just clear off smooth, and clean some of your timber land where poplar, walnut, hickory, oak, ash, cherry and sugar grow around and in a few years your ground will be as thick with young timber of these varieties as it will bear; especially poplar, whose seeds are carried at a great distance by the wind. By cutting out the poor varieties you will have nothing but the best; but let no cattle on, for they will destroy all the finest trees. Timber, thus raised, will not died like that which has grown two hundred years ago, when man or beast never trod on its roots, but as soon as its roots were trodden and the ground became packed, the timber began to die. Young timber that is raised on trodden ground will grow more solid and tough, and more adapted to civilization.
Northern Indianian Mammoth Holiday Number Saturday, Dec. 28, 1878
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