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by A. F. Shirts -1824 - 1905 (transcribed as it appears in Primitive History Of Hamilton County, Ind - 1901)
**Note: The history recorded by Mr. Shirts was done so in a time before political correctness. We transcribed portions of his work so that the reader may experience it as it was described from 1st and 2nd hand accounts, in authenticity of mood and reflections of its time in history. We honor all those who wove the fabric of this nation's greatness and hope you will celebrate with us by respecting all groups and their contributions to bring us to who we are today through their sacrifice and endurance.
In October 1901, Augustus Finch Shirts who resided on Logan Street, wrote: Primeval nature left upon rock and mountain and earth a trail so broad that it may be easily followed by the scientists of this day. Even so, the original forests of this country distinctively imprinted the soil that, looking out over the broad acres we may readily know where the walnut, the poplar, the burr oak and the beech grew and flourished.
But in the rising tide of civilization the trail of the pioneer is obliterated; his stick-chimneyed cabin has vanished, and the plow has gone over his farm yard grave. While the deeds of these ancestors were great, their trails wore and their achievements many, yet necessarily they were recorded mainly in the hearts of those who now slumber in the tomb.
As one of the few remaining ones who shared the vicissitudes of early life in this county I have written this book in hope at least that the materials I have gathered, and my own personal recollections, aided by many letters of the times now in my possession may afford some basis for works greater scope which the future may produce.
Chapter 1, The First Settlers
The lands within the bounds of Hamilton Co. together with other lands, were purchased by the Government from the Indians in 1818. At that time there was but one white man permanently located within the present bounds of Hamilton County. This man was William Conner. He was at that time living in a double log cabin with his Indian wife. This cabin was situated four miles south of the present site of Noblesville, on the east bank of the White River. His place was called a trading post. In one room his cabin he kept beads, lead, flints, steel knives, hatchets and such other goods and trinkets as were usually necessary in such a place. These articles he exchanged for pelts taken by Indians and brought to him for trade.
Mr. Conner had a brother named John, then living on or near the present site of Connersville. This brother was a proprietor of a trading post at that point. Both of these men were taken by the Indians when young and detained. This explains their presence among the Indians and also the fact they had Indian wives. John Conner received his supplies from points along the Ohio River, and William Conner received his supplies from his brother John.
The furs purchased by William Conner from the Indians were dressed, stretched, and then packed in proper form and sent by him by means of pack horses to his brother, and in a like manner the goods furnished William by his brother John were transported from John Conner's post to William Conner's post. At that time there was no road leading from his point in any direction. There was an Indian trail leading from John Conner trading post to William Conner's place by way of the present site of New Castle and Anderson to the mouth of Stony Creek, thence down the river to William Conner's place. This was the route over which the supplies mentioned were transported. The distance from one post to the other was sixty miles over this trail and no settlement between the points; all were forests, Indians and wild beasts. Soon after the purchase of these lands by the Government the people began preparations for the moving to the lands called "new purchase" for the purpose of selecting suitable homes to be purchased by them when the lands could be bought.
A White man, one Marshal, lived with William Conner a short time before the Conner Indians left. When John Conner's Indian children left, this man Marshal went with them in the late fall of 1818. My father, George Shirts, moved his family from or near the present site of Connersville, on pack horses, to the William Conner place, in the month of March, 1819. My father made a trip from the William Conner place on horseback to the John Conner trading post at Connersville. On his return trip to this county he was joined by Charles Lacy, who came with my father and camped upon an old Indian field, now known as the Tunis Gerard farm. Mr. Lacy did not bring his family with him. He came for the purpose of building a cabin and putting out a small field of corn. The implements brought with him were carried on his horses, pack-saddled fashion.
On the first day of April, 1819, Solomon Finch, his wife Sarah, his daughters Rebeccah, Mary and Alma and his sons James and Augustus, then living near the present site of Connersville, left their home for the horse-shoe, two miles southwest of Noblesville (Beaver Gravel is located now)Their route was over the Indian trail, spoken of above. With them came Israel Finch, Amasa Chapman, James Willason, William Bush and two sons hardly grown. William Bush and Israel Finch were married men, but left their families at their home until cabins could be built for them. Solomon Finch was the only one among them who was accompanied by his family. Wagons and teams were used; to these wagons two yoke of oxen were attached. But very little household goods were bought. A few tools and implements, a few sacks of mean, and the children, too small to walk, were all the wagons contained. Some cattle, two horses, a few sheep and one or two brood sows comprised the stock outfit. Aaron Finch drove the team. Solomon Finch and one or two of the men with him were constantly, when moving, in front of the team, axes in hand, cutting out a road and moving logs and brush.
James Finch, son of Solomon Finch, rode one of the horses. I don't know who rode the other. Those on foot looked after the stock. The weather during their journey was very inclement - raining or snowing almost every day. When they came to Blue River, that stream was so badly swollen from the recent rains that it could not be forded, and they were compelled to bridge the stream. This required two days. This trip to the mouth of Stony Creek occupied nineteen days. When they came to White River they found it could not be forded, so they hunted up a canoe or two and ferried their goods, including their wagons, over to the west side of the river; and then there the settlers went into camp.
On the next mourning the pioneers gathered up their stock, put their wagons together, yoked their cattle and harnessed their horses and started in a north westerly course across the horseshoe prairie for the timber, when they came to the first rise in the land above high water mark. They went into camp and decided that in that vicinity they would build their cabins and there make their future homes. Before they had had time to build a cabin a severe storm of wind and rain came upon them. A large limb from a tree near by twas broken off and fell upon a tub of dishes belonging to Mrs. Solomon Finch, breaking most of them. This was a great loss, as they were all the dishes they had in the camp, and non could be had nearer than Connersville, sixty miles from this point.
After the storm had passed all hands began preparations for the erection of a cabin for the family of Solomon Finch, a location having been determined upon. Some of the men began clearing the ground; others began cutting logs, and others began making the boards for the roof, loft and doors. The following is a list of the tools used: One mattock, one cross cut saw, one hand saw, two augers, one maul, one iron and several wooden wedges, one broad axe, one chopping ace for each man and one hatchet. The first thing done was to make what was called a saddle at each end of each sill. These sills were twenty feet long. The next thing was to notch each end of the short log to fit the saddle on the sills and place them in position; then another saddle for the next log, and so on up until the main body of the building was up. The two last logs were on the narrow part or end of the building, and were about three feet longer than the others and were called eaves bearers. These logs projected over the wall, and a hole was bored in the end of each of them and a stout wooden pin driven into each. Just inside of these pins the piece of timber called the eave log was placed. The log for this place was split, the split side being next to the building and against this the first tier of boards rested. From the eave to the comb, ribs, as they were called, were placed at proper distance, upon which the boards rested. These ribs rested upon logs placed under them that constituted the gable. This done, the first tier of boards was laid. Three pieces called knees were laid on the boards one at each end and one in the middle, the lower ends resting against the eave log. Above the knee a pole called a weight pole was laid to hold the boards down and so on the to the top. Joists inside were placed about three feet apart and boards for the loft placed on them. The door was of boards riven out and fastened with wooden pins to cross pieces and hung on wooden hinges. Wooden latch sleepers, from eight to ten feet apart, were placed to hold the puncheons for the floor. A log was cut for a window, some small sticks arranged across the space; white paper, well oiled, was fastened to these sticks. A space in one end of the house was cut out for a fire place and a frame of wood was placed outside of this space. Against this frame the mud jams and back wall were in placed and a hearth was made of the same material. This was topped out with a stick chimney laid in clay. A suitable place in one corner of the cabin was found for a bed. Holes were bored in the walls, one post set on the floor with holes bored in it. connected with the walls by poles sharpened at each end; boards were laid across the top for a cord and all were covered with grass. Two or three benches, a half dozen stools and a dresser for dishes were made by boring holes in the wall, driving pins into them and laying boards across them, with the chinking between the logs daubed with mud, the cabin was complete and the Finch family ready to move in.
The attention of all was next directed to getting in a crop. Some went to clearing, some to making rails and building fences, others to plowing and planting. After the planting was done cabins were built for those who had left their families behind, including Mr. Lacy. The pioneers brought meal enough with them to last until their crops would mature. Some time in June or July they found their meal had all spoiled. Connersville was the nearest place where meal could be got; so they purchased a few bushels of corn from William Conner. They secured a log about three feet long and about two feet across. They set this block on end, cut a hole in the end, burned it out smooth and cleaned it, shelled a part of their corn, placed it in the hole in the log and procured a piece of timber about three feet long and shaped it into a pestle. They then pounded the corn until it became as fine as it could be made, and then run it through a sieve, using the finest of it for bread and the balance or coarser part they cooked and ate with mild. They soon became tired of the mortar and pestle, so one of the pioneers, Mr. Bush, secured two good sized stones, faced them, drilled the holes through them and rigged them up in such a manner to make a meal out of their corn. This corn, wild onions, greens, milk and butter, and such wild game as came in their way, constituted their bill of fare. In this way, however, they lived until some time in the fall of the year, when John Finch, a brother of Solomon, came bringing with him the families of those who had come early and left their families behind, and also some other pioneers whose names I do not now recollect. After the new arrivals had been domiciled, John Finch, who was a fine mechanic, and a good blacksmith, with the help of Israel Finch, built a horse mill. This mill was a small affair, but it answered the purpose for all the new settlements, including those who settled at Indianapolis in 1820. This mill was run by horse power, and all persons wanting to grind corn had to furnish their own horses and pay six cents per bushel toll. But, the settlers were all glad to do this, for the reason that it was their only chance to get meal.
Some time in August, 1819, probably the last of it, these pioneers were attacked with chills and fever. This resulted in mainly from the stagnant water in the ponds. The water could not get away then as now. Men, women and children were all attacked. There were not enough well persons to wait on the sick whilst the chills and the fever which followed lasted. When we consider that it was sixty miles to a place where medicine could be procured, and no one able to go for them, we must admit the situation was serious; but there were roots and barks with some medical properties that were well known to the settlers. These were utilized for far as possible.
Another difficulty was a lack of delicacies, such as our sick of the present may have. True, their garden products were now ready for use, but they were hardly palatable to the sick. However, they got along until cold weather, when the sickness subsided. The settlers raised a fair crop of corn, but there were not able to gather it. So it stood out all winter, except what they and their neighbors used. For What they sold they received fifty cents per bushel in the field.
Indians were plenty all around them, but they were friendly and came with baskets, moccasins, dressed deer skins and venison to sell. As the settlers had some money, they bought a sufficient quantity of the dressed deer skins to make moccasins for all, both great and small and to make leather breeches for such of them as did not own sheep. The hand cord, the spinning wheel and loom, which by this time had been provided, furnished woolen clothes for those who had brought sheep, the most of them, however, wearing the buckskin breeches and jackets of the same material.
My father was expert in dressing deer skins, and he taught the settlers the art. The process is as follows: The deer skin with hair on, after all flesh has been removed, was placed in a weak lye at intervals until the hair would slip, then the hair was removed. A sufficient amount of brains of animals was then secured and soaked in water until a liquid was formed similar to the liquid extracted from oak bark. This liquid was then placed in a trough and the skins placed in it. From time to time the skins were drawn out and rubbed dry, or nearly so, and this process was repeated until the skin became perfectly pliable, and was considered finished.
After this the settlers bought no more dressed deer skins from the Indians.
A man by the name of Baxter came to this settlement in 1820; he built his cabin south of the road running east and west from the old mill, in the fall of 1821. This man Baxter sowed the first wheat ever sowed by white people in this county.
The first graveyard, used exclusively by white people, is situated on a little north and west of the point where Solomon Finch's cabin was built. Two of the Curtis Mallory's children were buried there, two Finches, one Chapman and one Willason - this is all I can recall. Coffins were made from walnut timber, split as fine as could well be done. The broad-axe was used to dress the timbers, and they were pinned together with wooden pins. Some small trees indicated the location of this graveyard, south of this settlement.
A spring branch came from the west, through the land now owned by Peter Paulsell and Mr. Voss, and flowed into the river. North of this branch, on the river bank, was an Indian graveyard, and south, near the Gerard farm, was an Indian village. At one time, it was said, this village was destroyed by General Harrison and his men in one of his raids against the Indians.
**When the Government bought this land, in 1818, the contract to survey it was let to a man by the name of Wallace. Wallace sub-let the work to McLaughlin, and the Government gave notice that as soon as they survey was completed the land would be put upon the market. There was no homestead law then, but here was an understanding among pioneers that where a bona fide settler elected a piece of land and improved it he would have the right to enter it. This was the idea and intent of the pioneers of whom we have been writing. These lands were placed on the market in 1822. The land office was at Brookville, Ind. John Conner lived at Connersville and was wealthy. He secured the numbers of all the lands selected and improved by these pioneers, except Lacy and Willason, and entered all of it. The first the settlers knew of this was notice by Conner for them to vacate. They cleared, fenced and broken about 300 acres of land, and it is said that John Conner refused to pay for any improvements.
Three incidents connected with the trip of the pioneers from near Connersville to the mouth of Stony Creek are worth relating. Before stating out one of the men was selected, whose duty it was to see that fire would be on hand at the time of going into camp each day. Israel Finch was selected and directed to attend to the matter. It is recorded that he carried fire from day to day in a kettle.
When the pioneers arrived at the present site of Anderson they found the great Indian chief, Anderson, encamped there with a part of his tribe, but as they were friendly the pioneers had no fear. Amos Chapman, one of the pioneers, was the owner of a fife and could play well. So, after supper, Chapman proceeded to furnish music. This pleased the Indians so well that they proposed a dance. Anderson's wife was present with her baby boy, and she decided that her boy should do the dancing. Prior to this time some person had cut a large tree, leaving the stump smooth. The Indian boy was placed upon this stump. Chapman furnished the music and the Indian boy did the dancing.
One morning James G. Finch, son of Solomon Finch, was placed upon a gray pony and told to ride it that day. Soon after starting a snow storm came upon him. The boy was only ten years old and but thinly clad. He was soon suffering severely and when discovered was in bad condition. He was taken into a wagon and cared for and soon recovered. This same boy, now a man past ninety years of age, lives in Kansas and is the only survivor of that pioneer band. **READER- remember this written in 1901.
I have related the manner in which the pioneers secured their winter wear, but not their summer clothing. It was soon discovered that nettles grew in great abundance in the river and creek bottoms and that the lint on them was equal to flax or hemp. So they cut and cured the nettles just as they would flax. They hackled, broke and cleaned it in the same way. The spinning and weaving followed in the usual way, so that they did not lack for summer wear until flax could be raised.
Early in 1820 Mr. Audrick came to the settlement and built a cabin. James Wilson came about the same time, but he built his cabin on the east side of the river just below the mouth of Stony Creek. About the fourth of May, 1820, Curtis Mallory came to the settlement. In the spring of 1820 John and Israel Finch started a blacksmith shop. The settlement had now assumed a considerable proportions and they proposed raising corn on the prairie, and improvements generally bean to be made. By this time iron and steel had been brought from Connersville. They made plow shares, fluke shovels, shovel plows, steel hoes, knives, hatchets, axes and many other things. Evidences of this industry can be found there today. (in 1901-not 2017)
The first school taught in Hamilton county to white children was taught this year by Sarah Finch in a small cabin, built for that purpose near the settlement, and in this house Curtis Mallory organized the first Sunday school. The first sermon preached to white settlers was preached this year at the house of John Finch, and the services were afterwards had long intervals as long as the settlement remained in this condition. The Fourth of July was celebrated this year by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, making speeches and the singing of patriotic songs. When this was over a dance was proposed. So all hands went to work with a will, building a bower of bushes and clearing the ground, under the bower, of all the obstructions, and there upon the dance was enjoyed by all.
The settlers raised a fine crop this year. One or two persons settled at Strawtown in 1820 and a great many at Indianapolis, so they found sale for their crop at fair prices. When the Indians sold their land, they reserved the right to occupy it for three years. Many of them including the wife an children of William Conner left in 1820 and in December of that year William Conner and Eliza Chapman were married. This was the first marriage of white people in this settlement.
Soon after the purchase by John Conner, from the Government, of the lands described above, he let the contract for the digging of a mill race, and the construction of a dam across White River and employed all of the men in the neighborhood who were willing to work for him, in getting out timber for a large grist mill and saw mill. He also moved his family into one of the cabins heretofore mentioned. He also brought from the East skilled workmen, such as millwrights and carpenters, and put them to work on this mill.
The settlement up to this time had not been increasing in number very fast. People had been waiting for the land to come upon the market. The pioneers were moving along the old routes - some of them wearing their moccasins and some their buckskin breeches. A few of them had begun to tan cow hides and hog skins by the oak bark process. This was done by securing a large trough, skins soaked, hair taken off and the skins then laid in the water, with a layer of bark pounded as fine as it could be between each piece of hide. This bark was replaced by fresh bark at intervals of about four weeks until the hides were tanned. This changing process, however, never occurred in the winter season. In this way the first leather ever made by actual settlers in Hamilton County was made in this first settlement.
The living of the pioneers at this time was somewhat improved. They relied upon corn for bread, wild game and fish for meat and on butter, milk and vegetables.
About this time Josiah F. Polk, a lawyer from the East, came to this settlement, or rather o the trading post, kept by William Conner. He and Mr. Conner concluded that the county seat would be located at or near the present site of the city of Noblesville. So they entered all the land necessary for such location, in order that they would be in a condition to offer inducements by way of donations for public buildings and the like. Subsequent events proved the correctness of their views.
At this time the nearest cabin to the present site of Noblesville was the cabin of James Willason, situated at the mouth of Stony Creek, one mile south. During the latter part of this year many persons from the East came here for the purpose of examining into the condition of the country, quality of the land, and future prospects, with the view of entering the land, if conditions were favorable.
Chapter Two - The Second Settlement
William Conner, George Shirts and Charles Lacy settled in what is now Delaware Township, but they were in the settlement known as the Horseshoe prairie settlement. In 1822 Josiah Brooks, Michael Wise, Peter Wise, Silas Moffitt, William Wilkinson, John S. Heaton, Aquilla Cross, Joseph Eller and John Deer entered land below the William Conner place near the river and on both sides of it. Ben-Hur Park is situated upon the land entered by Joseph Eller. In 1823 these persons, and probably some others, formed a settlement on both sides of the river, extending from the Eller and Moffitt land almost to the south one of the county.
Moffitt's land was immediately oposite the Eller land, but was on the west side of the river. The river cut this settlement in halves, but the settlers overcame this by the use of the old-fashioned canoe. When the river was too high to ford communication was kept up by using the several canoes owned in the settlement. The men forming the settlement were all farmers, and they gave their entire attention to erecting building for their own protection and the protection of their stock, and in clearing and fencing their ground. Their manner of living was about the same a other pioneers who came before and after them. They depended upon the corn crib for bread and on the forest and streams for meat, their cows for milk and butter and their gardens for vegetables. From this time on until 1825 the following list of names was added: Thomas Barrow 1823; Colonel Daniel Heaton, 1824; Thomas Morris and Abraham Williams in 1825.
A notable incident in connection with this township was the business relation and its dissolution between William Conner and his Indian wife. Mr. Conner had been married to his Indian wife at the time the Government bought the lands of her tribe. It was said that she was a daughter of an Indian chief and Conner had dealt with them and made a great deal of money. When the tribe to which Conner's wife belonged removed to the West, Conner's wife went with them. It has been said that she was attired the nicest of any of the Indians and that she owned and took with her sixty ponies. It was also said that these ponies constituted a part at least of the division of the property between them, but there must have been other considerations. Two sons had been born to them during their married life. The platbook of land entries for Hamilton County shows that over 600 acres of land were entered in the name of William Conner and his heirs by an Indian wife. This would indicate a business arrangement between them at the time of their separation.
I here note that George Ketcham, an Indian chief, remained in Delaware Township. For some years after the removal of most of the other Indians a part of his tribe remained with him. Of him I will have more to say hereafter.
A Frenchman by the name of Brennett settled near what is now known as the south line of Hamilton County. Before the Indians sold their land he was an Indian trader, and made a great deal of money. He remained at the post until Ketcham and his Indians removed, but he was never considered in connection with the white people, who came fore permanent occupancy. His purpose was to make money and to get away with it.
Other notable events happened within the period of which I have written in connection with this township, viz: The opening of the Winchester State Road from Fort Wayne to William Conner's where it is intersected a road running from William Conner's house to Indianapolis; the starting of a horse mill and distillery by William Conner and the killing of one of the pioneers of this settlement, he being thrown off his horse during a race.
No schools were taught or churches held in this township until 1829 and no mills were built within this period. These will be noticed in their order as to time.
This settlement was formed with a view to benefits. Each settlement put their forces together in the erection of buildings, rolling logs, and any and all work that required more force than belonged to the pioneer owning the land where the work was done. They were also banded together as a rule for mutual protection and for school and church purposes. This settlement, however, did not differ in these respects from other settlements in the county. Of this township and the people who settled there in I will have more to say later on.
Chapter 3 - Clearing The Forest
The east line of Hamilton County is crossed by White River near the town of Perkinsville, and the river runs west on the north side of Strawtown and continues to flow to the west for some distance after passing Strawtown, then its course is a little west of south to the south line of Hamilton County, passing into Marion County at the north line of what was once known as the Stipp farm.
The first settlers in this county found numerous small prairies on either side of White River. They also found a few old Indian fields not far from the river. Prior to the year 1822 these places were fenced in, improved and cultivated by the pioneers and others. Cabins were built near by and when the land came into the market this land was the first land entered and if the pioneers were not in a position to enter them, others more fortunate did so.
Up to this time no organized effort had been made to attack the forest, but the time was at hand for this attack to be made. So, soon after the land came into market the pioneer who had failed to enter the lands upon which they had at first settled, and others who came in for permanent settlement, entered lands farther from the river, covered with a heavy growth of timber. A site for the cabin was selected and the cabin built. These cabins were built the same as the cabins heretofore described. Then the work of conquering the forest began. This was done by selecting the portion or part of the land to be afterwards cultivated. The timber upon such portion of the land was intended to be cleared, expect to much as it was proper to reserve as rail timber or building timber, was deadended or girdled. The settlers as a rule had no money to spend upon improvements, so that the work in building houses and stables was done by the settler and his family. The heavy work, such as erecting buildings and rolling logs, was done by the pioneers joining forces and helping each other. It was frequently the case the pioneers in this exchange of work wold be required to travel from three to four miles from home.After the timbers that had been deadened began to die and decay, the pioneer and his sons cut this timber smooth. Then fires were built upon the bodies of the fallen trees about eight feet apart. These fires were kept up until the logs were burned through, rolling lengths. Then the work of rolling the logs into heaps began. This was a heavy job. The pioneers were known to put in from ten to thirty days each in this kind of work in one season. After the logs had been rolled into heaps the business of picking the brush and trash left on the ground began. This was, the rule, and tedious and laborious job. Such work frequently extended until late into the night, and it was not uncommon or unusual to see pioneers' wives assisting their husbands in this work. When we reflect that these pioneer cabins were built upon forty, eighty or one hundred and sixty acres of heavily timbered land, with not a stick amiss, except what had been taken for the buildings, it would seem to be a hopeless task to convert it into farming lands. Yet by perseverance and patience in time it was done. These early settlers also had to contend with the wild animals found in the forests. Bears, wolves and panthers were plenty and were a constant menace to the fowls and young stock, and even small children where liable to attacks from some of them. Hundreds of acts of heroism could be recorded in behalf of the pioneer men,women, boys and girls in repelling the attacks of these wild beasts, some of which will be noticed in this work as they occurred.
Chapter 4 - Hunting
In the early days of which I am writing there was plenty of hard work for all to do. There was however, but a little immediate reward, and there was but little money in the country to be had. Beeswax, ginseng, deer hams, deer and coon skins being the only articles of trade. The children of the pioneers large enough to go from home were found in the woods with their sang hoes, looking into every corner for the plant at the proper season in the year. The ginseng was carried home, washed clean and dried. It was then ready for market. The ginseng root was then and now, quite valuable, but we did not then know its full value. A very valuable medicine is now (remember readers now is 1901) manufactured from it.
Bees were very plentiful in the woods in those early days. Many of them had not been disturbed in the trees where they had made their home for years, and when found they were very rich. The honey was taken in the comb. The hone was pressed out and the comb made into wax. This was quite an industry. Bees were sometimes found by means of bear scratches made by the bears in climbing the trees in search of honey. The most unusual way was to put out bait, and then when the bees came to the bait their course, when they left, was taken and experienced bee hunter had but little difficulty in finding their tree.
The raccoon was taken as a rule at the proper season (that is, when the fur was good) by means of a pole trap. These traps were made by securing two poles from twelve to fifteen feet long and trimmed to near the top. A log was found leading into a pond where frogs were usually found and the poles were then laid across the top of the log, one on top of the other. Two stakes were then driven into the ground near the log and near the poles. The stakes were then tied together at the top so as to prevent the top pole from slipping from its position. A sufficient weight was placed upon the busy tops of the poles to keep them from turning. Then a set of triggers were prepared and a string tied to one of the stakes. The other end of the string was attached to the trigger holding up the top pole. The a weight was placed on the top pole sufficient to hold a coon if one should be caught. The string attached to the trigger, when the trap was set, would cover the entire log. So the 'coon, when undertaking to get to the frogs in the pond by using the log, would be compelled to cross over this string, and in so doing be caught between the poles and thus fall into the hands of the trapper.
The process of capturing the deer was much more laborious and difficult. In the pioneer days the woods were full of deer. They had their haunts, their feeding ground and their trails. They usually passed from point to point in large droves and when pursued ran in a circle, coming back into the same point. The hunter had more than one mode of taking or capturing the deer. One mode was by fire hunting on the water at night; one method was by salt lick; still another was by the use of trained ponies, and other by running them down with men and dogs.
My father had a pony named Dick trained to assist in taking the deer. A bell was buckled fr fastened around Dick's neck before starting for the woods. The bowl of this bell was stuffed with dry grass to keep the bell from rattling until the proper time came. my father would then mount the pony, with gun, shot-pouch, powder-horn, tomahawk and hunting knife. Then they would pass into the woods and my father knowing the haunts of the deer, would ride directly toward them. He would then dismount, pull the grass from the bowl of the bell, and Dick, as he had been trained to do, would commence shaking his head and thereby ring the bell. The deer on hearing the bell would invariably stop and stare at the pony, and whilst this was going on my father was seeking a point from which he could make a sure shot. When this was found he would shoot. If his shot proved fatal the dead deer would be hung upon a limb of a sapling and the chase after the drove would continued. When the deer were overtaken or headed off the pony was there to ring the bell and thus enable the hunter to get another shot. This process was continued during the day and it frequently happened that at the end of the day's work the hunter would have as many as five deer hanging up to be brought home the next day.
The deer lick process was as follows: The hunter deposited salt in a suitable spot where the deer would be sure to find it. The hunter continued this deposit of salt until the deer became accustomed to visiting the spot, which they usually did after night. Then the hunter would build a scaffold and platform in a tree near by, so that when he wished to 'stalk' the deer, as it was called, he would build a fire so as to put the lick between the fire and the platform in the near by tree. Then the hunter would seat himself on the platform in the tree and await the coming of the deer. When the deer came to the lick it would be directly in line with the fire, so the hunter would be able to shoot with as much accuracy as though it wad been daylight, and the usually brought down his game. Unlike the panther, the deer was not afraid of the fire, and was not disturbed by it.
The fire hunt was as follows: The hunter secured a large-sized canoe made from a tree, with solid front and rear. In the front a large hole was bored and a stout upright about two feet long inserted, upon which a frame or network of iron ribs was fastened and upon this frame a bright fire was kept burning during the hunt. Thus prepared, and with plenty of fuel in the canoe, a good pole and paddle, a trusty rifle and two trained dogs, the hunter was ready for a start. Usually the canoe was paddled or poled up the stream far as the hunter wished to go, then the dogs were sent into the woods and the canoe was turned so that the light would be in advance and the canoe was then allowed to drift with the current. The business of the dogs was to scare up the deer. The deer when scared up in the night almost invariably made for the river, there to be shot down by the hunter. The hunter was very quiet after his canoe was turned, listening intently for the barking of the dogs. Finally he would hear the welcome sound and would prepare himself for the onset. When the deer drew near enough to the river to see the light it would almost always proceed directly toward it and this was the hunter's opportunity. These hunts occurred in the fall of the year. Deer were sometimes found in the river at night eating moss. As a rule this kind of hunting was a success.
The next and last usual way of hunting deer was as follows: The hunter, with one or two trained dogs made his way into the forest in the direction of the haunts of the deer. When a deer or drove of deer was found, the first opportunity was taken to shoot. When a gun was fired the dogs, although excited and eager for the chase, remained at the heels of the hunter. If the shot was a success the deer was hung up and heretoforward stated. If the shot was only a partial success and the deer only wounded, then the dogs were told to go and the hunter followed the dogs. It was the business of the dogs to over take the wounded deer and hold it at bay until the hunter could overtake them, when a second shot was fired.
In the pioneer days success in deer hunting was important for many reasons. Before hog culture became a success the meat was necessary to supply the table. The hams were hung in the rude smoke-house, after being salted and then smoked just as our hams are smoked now. Sometimes these hams were sold to tavern keepers for a good price. The skins were used and utilized in many ways. Moccasins, leather breeches, vests and hunting shirts were made from them, as well as mats of different kinds. Properly dressed and stretched, they were always ready sale to the traders. I have seen in early spring, on many occasions, the smoke-houses of the pioneers filled with hams. 'Coon skins, as a rule, were dressed, stretched and properly cured and then sold to the traders. Caps for men and boys were sometimes made from 'coon skins. It was said in those days that 'coon and deer skins were a legal tender for all debts. The mink and muskrat came in for their share, but the muskrat was not so valuable as the mink. Mink were taken in steel traps and what was called deadfalls. These traps were baited with some kind of fresh meat, birds being the best.
The rule governing the ownership of wild hogs was this: The pioneer, fortunate enough to own hogs, marked his hogs and turned them into the woods. It was not safe for anyone who purposely killed a hog that did not bear his mark without the consent of the owner. A man by the name of Smith, in this early day, claimed to be the owner of hogs running at large in the woods. A good snow had fallen in the winter and Smith approached a man by the name of Brook, who was a good hunter, and proposed hiring him to hunt and kill Smith's hogs. A prices was agreed upon, but Brooks had no provision in the contract, which was the Smith was to give Brooks his mark. The preliminaries being arranged, these parties made their way into the timber in search of hogs. They had passed tow or three droves when they came to one that Smith claimed was his. Brooks mad an earnest effort to find Smith's mark, but failed to find it and refused to shoot. So they passed on. They came across several droves during the day, but Brook could not discover the proper mark, he refused to shoot , and at about dark they ran across another drove with the same results. Smith, by this time was thoroughly out of humor, and with an oath told Brook if he was going to be so particular as all that they would get no hogs. Brook then said to Smith: "I don't believe you have any hogs in the woods, and you will pay me now for my day's work or take a thrashing." They money for the day's work was paid over and Brook refused to hunt for Smith thereafter.
As a rule the pioneers were honest. Their smoke-houses were left unlocked, and if a bee hunter found a bee tree and cut his initials on the tree it was, as a rule, safe. If a 'coon hunter treed a 'coon in the night time and would take a precaution of tying his hunting shirt, and a handkerchief or any other token around it and leave his dogs at the foot of the tree, he was almost certain to find the tree and 'coon undisturbed in the morning. If a hunter killed a deer and hung it up in the woods he would find it there when the went after it. In a few instances, of course, these rules were violated, but if the violator were found out it was not safe for him to remain in the the community. Sometimes a sound thrashing was considered and proper punishment for the offender.
CHAPTER 5 - Early Industries
About the year 1825 Francis B. Cogswell came to Noblesville. He was a tanner by trade. He built a cabin on the corner of Sixth and Logan Streets. This cabin was on the east side of Sixth Street. On the west side of the street, opposite this cabin, the lot extended to the river bank. On this last named lot Cogswell established a tanyard. A wooden wheel was made to turn in a circle. A sweep was attached to this wheel to which a horse was hitched to turn the wheel. A floor was laid in a circle. Upon this floor tanbark well cured was laid. Then the wheel was started over the bark and kept going until the bark was sufficiently pulverized to use in the vats prepared for that purpose. This wheel was used for some time, but was discontinued and cast mill used in its stead. The process of tanning was heretorfore been stated except that the vat has not been described. This vat was constructed as follows: A hole was dug in the ground about three and half feet deep, six feet long and four feet wide, with square ends. Then a bottom was laid of two-inch oak planks, closely fit, then the vat was sided up in the same manner and with the same material. One of these vats was called the lime vat. In this vat the hair was loosened by the use of lime. The lime was then all worked out of the hide by scouring in clear water. Water was then placed in the vats where the hides were to be tanned then one-half of the hide was laid in the vat and covered with the ground bark, and so on until the vat was full.
In the year of 1826 the great emigration of squirrels occurred. The squirrels passed through this county from west to east. The number could not be estimated. The time occupied in passing was about two weeks. They destroyed all the corn in the fields they passed over. They could not be turned in their course, but kept straight on in the route taken. When they came to White River the entered the water at once and swam across. Hundreds of them were shot. Others were killed with clubs and stones. It was never known from whence they came nor where they went.
About this time James Casler started a distillery two miles below Noblesville. Pure whisky was sold there at twenty cents per gallon or ten cents per quart. The sporting part of the community gathered at this still house on Saturday of each week. Turkeys, deer hams, deer and 'coon skins were usually brought there and sold to men who attended shooting matches. Tickets were sold at certain price for each shot until the price of the turkey was made up, then the best shot won the turkey. The shots were at a mark usually forty yards distant. The day was usually passed in shooting, drinking, foot racing, wrestling and a fist fight. this distillery was the nearest one to Noblesville.
In the year 1829 Robert L. Hannaman taught the first school in Noblesville. This school was in a cabin located on the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Maple Avenue. The lot is now owned by Mrs. James Haverstick. This was a subscription school. The children attending this school were small, ranging from nine to twelve years. It was the fall season of the year. This teacher opened the first drug store in Noblesville. William Davis procured the first license to sell intoxicating liquors in Noblesville.
In 1830 the population of Hamilton County was 1,705. The nearest house to Noblesville on a direct line west was fifteen miles; in a northwest direction about twenty miles. The settlements up to this time had been made on both sides of White River, Fall Creek and Stony Creek, but few had ventured far into the forests. The first cabin built was west of Noblesville on what is now called the Noblesville & Eagletown Road, was built by Garret Wall, father-in-law to George Bowman. I stayed all night in his cabin in February, 1832. The cabin was eighteen feet square. Eleven persons stayed there that night. The cooking, eating, and sleeping were all done in the same room.
At the time the Foster mill was built on Stony Creek, an account of which has been given, there was no wheat in the county to grind, and no provision was made by Foster to bolt flour made from wheat. Foster sold this mill to man named Betts. Betts attached a bolting chest to the machinery and thereafter ground wheat. The bolt was turned by hand. There was but little wheat raised while Betts owned the mill./ There were no fanning mills in the county, and the thrashing and cleaning of wheat was a hard job. Prior to the year 18230 there were but few barns in the county, and they did not all have threshing floors. A large majority of the farmers having wheat, cleared off all the weeds and soft earth from a piece of ground, in a circle large enough for a thrashing floor. The wheat, when ready to thresh, was placed in a row on the outside of the cleared place, leaving room in the center for a man direct the threshing. Sometimes the wheat would be pounded from the head with a flail; sometimes a boy would be placed on a horse and a second horse would be given him to lead, and by riding over the grain, a man standing in the middle to keep the straw turned, the wheat would be threshed. The next thing to be done was to clean the wheat. Some men selected a windy day for this work. Standing on a bench with a measure of some kind filled with grain, a man would pour out some contents of the vessel in such a way that the wind would blow the chaff and dirt away, while the wheat would drop to the ground.
Another way was for two men to take hold of a sheet, one at each end. Then the sheet was shaken in such manner that a wind was created. Immediately above the draft stood a man with wheat in a sack or vessel, pouring it out so that the chaff and dirt would be blown away and the wheat cleaned. Then the grain was ready for the mill.
There was no market for wheat then, and but a little was raised. Betts died and the mill was sold to one Hare. The old log mill was torn down and a large mill built lower down the stream. This mill ground both wheat and corn. A saw mill was added, which did considerable business.
John Conner died in 1825. The mill built by him on the river near Horseshoe Prairie, an account of which has been given, passed under the control of Sennet Fallis. The dam across White River, from whence came the power to run the mill, was made of brush, stone and earth. We then had two freshets each year; on January and one in June. By one or the other of these freshets this dam was sure to be broken. All the brush, rock and earth near the dam was soon used for repairing, and it became necessary to build a boat. This boat was taken up the river to any point where brush and each could be procured. It was then loaded and poled down to the dam and unloaded. In the course of time it became necessary to maintain a crew of boatmen to man this boat. They were jolly lot, but some of them contracted rheumatism and other diseases they never recovered. Fallis operated this mill but a short time. It then passed to the hands of W. W. Conner, only heir to the vast estate of John Conner. It did little good. He died a poor man.
After Foster sold his mill on Stony Creek he built a mill on White River in Noblesville Township, at the point where Clare is situated.
The first jail building in the county was built by Josiah F. Polk. This building was of logs and built on ground donated to the county by Conner and Polk, just north of the old graveyard. It was to be built on the fraction of land donated by Conner and Polk to the county, situated on the east bank of the White River. The jail was to be twenty one feet long and two apartments, to be built of logs closely rotched down. The price for completing this jail building was $300. The contractor was to accept the labor and materials donated to the county for the purpose of assisting in the erection of the county buildings, as part payment for building the same.
The first license to vend foreign merchandise on the payment of $10 was issued to William Conner. Under this license Mr. Conner opened the first store ever opened in Noblesville. John Hare showed to the board that he had paid tax in Ohio the year 1824 upon property listed against him in this county and was released the taxes assessed against him here. At the January session of the board for the year 1825 it was ordered an election for Delaware Township be held for the year 1825.In Noblesville, and Curtis Malory was appointed inspector. It was also ordered that the election in White River Township be held in Strawtown, and William Dyer was appointed inspector. It has frequently been said that the contest between Strawtown and Noblesville was, on the county seat question, very close. This is a mistake. The report of the commissioners appointed by the Legislature to locate and lay out the county seat for Hamilton County says that the Strawtown site was not considered at all because it was too far from the center of the county. The report says that after examining all of the sites offered Noblesville was considered most eligible.
November 1827, George Shirts was granted a license to keep a tavern in Noblesville. The fee was $3.50. In 1829, Robert L. Hanamon was also granted a license to keep a tavern in Noblesville.
In 1830, August 10th the board ordered that a one-story court house be built on lot No. 1, block No. 11 in the town of Noblesville. It was 32 feet by 18 feet wide.
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