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100 Years Ago

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Recollections of an Old Man

This article was printed in "The Sidney Journal" on Friday, November 13, 1896. Entitled RECOLLECTIONS OF AN OLD MAN, the writer is identified only as ‘J.M.’ The author takes us back to what life was like in Shelby County, Ohio for its early pioneers.

"As we look back down the path of life it seems impossible that we should have come so far. Those old landmarks and familiar places which we knew in our boyhood days are almost covered by the mist of three-quarters of a century.

In 1808 my father came from Virginia to Fairfield County, Ohio. He moved all of his possessions, including a wife and two little children, on a two wheeled cart. The roads were bad, and there were many streams to ford. Many times tangled thickets and woods covered with a dense growth of underbrush impeded their progress. In many places the old primeval forests had not echoed the sound of the woodsman's ax, and the wild bird’s song had not been disturbed for centuries. The wolf, bear and deer still roamed over the hills and valleys undisturbed, except by the Indian hunter. Father hitched two horses to the cart, one ahead of the other, and after many weary days and nights reached his new home, then in the Far West, Fairfield county. Soon afterward he moved to Pickaway county." 

"In 1823, when I was 10 years old, we moved to Shelby county, and, with seven other families, located four miles north of Sidney. We came from Pickaway county in wagons; we were eight days on the road. I remember my first impression of Sidney. It was made up of a few cabins just south of the Monumental Building. We ate dinner on the day we arrived at Sidney at a log cabin standing where the JOURNAL office now stands.

journalgazette.gif (71896 bytes)The first log houses had been built five or six years before we came. There were a few standing across the river, which they called Dingmansburg. Upon reaching the land which father and the neighbors who had come with us had bought, we began clearing, and in a day or so had up our first log cabin, 18 x 20 feet. One man, who was the Vanderbilt of our number, put up a large hewed log cabin, with a hewed log kitchen. This was the ‘brown stone front’ of our settlement.

The only towns near us were Sidney and Hardin. St. Johns and Wapakoneta were two Indian villages. St. Johns was called Blackhoof. It was named for their old Chief. Soon after we were located in our new home in the woods several squaws came to our house to trade. My mother was very much frightened, but before long we found that they were peaceable and only wanted to exchange skins and wampum for dishes, groceries or almost anything we had to trade."

"Sometimes the hunters would stop to see father. They set their guns outside, and indianonhorseback.gif (29772 bytes)made signs that they were at peace. One night, I remember, 19 Indian warriors encamped near our house. We had two large dogs which kept watch all night. The Indians came over to borrow a large kettle in which to boil mush for supper. They were drunk, and the next morning, when sober, they had forgotten where they had borrowed the kettle, and took it to our neighbor.

The forests seemed to be full of Indians. They hunted and trapped along the streams and around the ponds and lakes. There was but one room with a garret in our cabin. There were 12 in the family. The eight boys slept in the garret, and we thought we had plenty of room. We thought it might be somewhat crowded if much company should come.

The next year after we came to Shelby county father hired Bill Richardson to clear 15 acres of woods, 18 inches and under. I do not know whether the boys know what that means or not. It means they were to cut down every tree 18 inches in diameter and under.

Well, Richardson brought eight hands along, and we all ate and slept in that cabin. Mother said if there had been many more she could hardly have taken care of them. We raised flax and made our own clothing. Father often joined teams with a neighbor, and putting on 10 or 12 bushels of grain, they drove to Cincinnati and exchanged the grain for salt and sole leather."

"Our first school house was erected one mile and a quarter northeast of the Plum creek church edifice. We split puncheons and hewed them for the floor, and the roof was made of clapboards. We cut poles, split them, cut off the splinters and bored holes in the end, in which to drive legs. These were our benches. A log was cut out of the north side and one out of the east for windows. The man who lived in the ‘brown stone front’ cabin was the only one who took a newspaper; it was the Cincinnati "Gazette." We greased one of these newspapers and pasted it over the hole in the sides to let in light and to keep out the wind and rain.

Old Billy Wilson was our first teacher. We had few books and little ‘larnin’ in those days. The woods were full of deer, wolves, bears, wild turkeys and squirrel. Every year we let our hogs run out in the woods. There were no fences, so in the late fall we had to go west for miles and drive our hogs home. Many times they would be lost, and became wild hogs.

The warwhoop of the Indian has died away. Most of them have gone to their happy hunting ground. The crooked paths over the hills and down through the valleys are replaced by great highways...The scream of the Indian hunter is replaced by the shrill whistle of the locomotive and the hum of machinery. The quiet, unbroken "old woods" of three-quarters of a century ago has become a busy, densely populated commonwealth." 

'Pioneer' segment written in October, 1997 by Sherrie Casad-Lodge


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