Northwestern Indiana from 1800 to 1900A regional history written by Timothy H. Ball . . . .

Source Citation:
Ball, Timothy H. 1900. Northwestern Indiana from 1800 to 1900 or A View of Our Region Through the Nineteenth Century. Chicago, Illinois: Donohue and Henneberry. 570 p.






From the year 1830, or rather as early as 1829, when the first families of early settlers came in among Indian residents and Indian owners of the prairies and woodlands, down to the year 1840, when but few of the children of the wilds remained, the white families that here made homes were true pioneers. They led the true American pioneer life; but different in one respect from the pioneers of the Atlantic sea coast colonies, and of the South, and of some in the farther West in later times, inasmuch as the Indians, among whom for a time they were, remained on friendly terms, and there were no massacres of families no wakeful nights when on the still air came the Indian warwhoop, no need for building barricades or resorting to forts or stockades for the preservation of life. A few, it is true, there were, in the neighborhood that became Door Village, who had settled as early as 1832, who thought it needful to build a stockade fort when the Black Hawk War in Illinois broke out; but they soon found that there was no need. The days of peril from Indians east of the Mississippi, and of perilous excitements had passed, before much settlement was made in North-Western Indiana. Some settlement had been made in White County, and some alarmed families left their homes when the rumors


reached them in regard to Black Hawk. More settlement had been made in La Porte County before the Black Hawk War of 1832, and the opening events of that war did cause some alarm and some preparations for defense. In May, 1832, information was sent to Arba Heald, near Door Village,
from whom in 1831 Sac Indians had stolen some horses, that hostilities had commenced at Hickory Creek, in Illinois, and immediately the inhabitants of that settlement, forty-two men among them, erected earthworks, dug a ditch, and planted palisades around an enclosure one hundred and twenty-five feet square, located half a mile east of Door Village. About three miles further east a block house was built. General Joseph Orr, a noted La Porte pioneer, who had received a commission as Brigadier General, from Governor Ray in 1827, reported the building of this fort to the Governor of Indiana and was by him appointed to raise a company of mounted rangers for service, if needed. This company he raised, reporting to the commandant at Fort Dearborn and also to General Winfield Scott. Mrs. Arba Heald refused to repair to the stockade, but obtaining two rifles, two axes, and two pitchforks, determined to barricade and defend her own home.

For the rangers, although they did some marching or scouting, there proved to be no need. The chief, Black Hawk, was soon captured and the alarm in La Porte County was over.

The alarm could not extend over those then unpurchased and unsurveyed lands where there were no white families, and in La Porte and White counties it caused but a little break in the quiet of pioneer life.

Although the pioneer period has, to quite an extent, been placed between 1830 and 1840, during


which time some of the Indians remained and some settlers were still "squatters," yet the real pioneer life in its general aspects continued, and will thus in this chapter be viewed, until the first half of this Nineteenth Century was closing; and as the second half of the century opened, the era of railroads in Northern Indiana commenced, when modes of life rapidly changed. This gives us pioneer or frontier life till 1850, or for a period of twenty years.

What was this life? In all our land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, there is not much to be found that is like it now. It is difficult to picture it vividly before the minds of the young people of the present.

Hon. Bartlett Woods, of Crown Point, in an article on "The Pioneer Settlers, Their Homes and Habits, Their Descendants and Influence," prepared for the Lake County Semi-Centennial of 1884, gave some fine pen-pictures of this variety of life.

In a history of Indiana forty pages of a large volume are devoted to a description of it. A more brief view will be given here.

There were then, it should be recalled to mind, no railroads leading out from the Eastern cities, from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, across all the great Valley of the Mississippi. The mountain ranges and the dense forests were great barriers then between New England and New York and the new Indiana and Michigan Territory. Until 1837 Michigan was not a state. There was in that year a canal from Troy to Buffalo. Some steamboats were running on Lake Erie. There was a short horse-car railroad extending out from Toledo. Some vessels passed around, it was said "through the great lakes," and took freight to the young Chicago. Some


schooners sailed on Lake Michigan. Here, in this northwest corner of
Indiana, there were in 1830 no roads, except Indian trails, no bridges, no mills, no stores, except, perhaps, some Indian trading posts, no workshops of any kind. All the necessities and conveniences of our modern civilization were then to be made. The families came in strong covered wagons drawn sometimes by horses, but often by oxen. The men brought a few tools, especially axes and iron wedges, hammers, saws, augurs, gimblets, frows, and some planes. The women brought their needles, scissors, thimbles, pins, thread, yarn, spinning wheels, and some looms. Especially the men and boys brought their guns and bullet-molds, for on the grand Indian hunting grounds they were, entering, and that game, which had been so abundant for the Indians, was as free and as abundant now for them. Game laws then were not.

A few cooking utensils these pioneers brought with them, tea-kettles, bake-kettles, skillets, frying-pans; also a few plates, cups and saucers, knives, forks, and spoons. Their household furniture, tables, chairs, bedding, were very simple outfits for housekeeping in the wilderness.

After a location was chosen, and that must be near water, the erection of a log cabin was the first work, and then a little clearing was made, for these first settlers staid by the trees. They built few cabins in the open prairie. In the heavy timber of our eastern border and in the groves or woodlands skirting the prairies, along the Tippecanoe and Iroquois, and near to Lake Michigan, and on the borders of the little lakes, here and there cabins were erected, and what was called "squatter life" commenced. It was a wild,


a free, in some respects a rich, a delightful life. The land like the game was free to all. Each one could go when he wished, locate wherever he chose, take whatever he could find on the prairie or in the woods, provided he interfered with no Indian and with no other settler's rights. He could cut down trees, pasture his few cattle, cut grass for his winter's hay, plow and plant the soil anywhere, careful only not to infringe on any other who was a squatter like himself. Largely was each man a law unto himself. It was a large freedom. And well was it that these squatters brought with them the power of self-restraint acquired in their eastern homes. Well was it that they kept in practice where scarcely any law but that of God was over them, their moral and religious principles, and so formed virtuous and religious communities.

From at first a dozen and then a score of pioneer families, there gathered in several hundred families scattered over this region before 1840 came, and for ten years there were some Indians left among them.

But now we may, to some extent, look at their modes of life and see them in their homes, in their schools, at their social and religious gatherings, and at their work.

After the cabin was erected, the main tool used in its construction having been "the woodman's axe," the few articles of furniture from the wagons were placed within upon the "puncheon" floor, and the rude bedstead was constructed by boring, if one was fortunate enough to have that very needful frontier tool, an augur, a hole in one of the logs, about six feet from one corner, the proper height from the floor for a bedstead, and then another four or five feet from the corner, in a corresponding log that formed a right


angle with the other; then cutting two saplings and making from them the one sideboard and the footboard for the bedstead frame, and cutting a good solid post for the upright and boring two holes in that, and inserting in these the prepared ends of the two pieces of saplings, the other ends also prepared being placed in the holes in the walls, and see! the frame of the bedstead was all up. It had one post. The head board was the log wall, one side was the log wall, one side and the foot-board were held up by the sapling post, and only a little more ingenuity was then needful to enable one to stretch a bed cord for the support of the hay-filled tick or mattress. But if the family had not been so thoughtful as to bring bed cords, which were in such general use in those days, then poles were cut and fastened to the side sapling and to the opposite log. This might require additional use of the augur, a tool next to the axe and saw in its usefulness. But the luxury of one of these primitive bedsteads, on one of which the writer of this slept on his first visit to Lake County, was not always enjoyed. What the pioneers called the "soft" or smooth side, the hewed side, of a puncheon answered quite well in those days for resting weary limbs.

The ample fire-place, the chimney made of clay and sticks, the sticks split out with that other needful frontier instrument, a frow, and laid up as children make cob-houses, the clay between the layers and on the inside spread over thick and well to keep the wood from taking fire, -- this fire-place furnished a place for cooking, and the blazing logs with hickory bark furnished some light at night. But more light was often needed. The most primitive method of obtaining this was, to take an iron tablespoon, fill the bowl nearly


full with some of the fat from the fried meat, insert the handle of the spoon between the log's among "the chinks" of the wall, lay a piece of cotton cloth in the fat, and light the end, and thus light was obtained by means of which, when visitors were present, some families took supper. But others used candles, having brought the molds with them, by means of which with candle wicking they made first-class tallow candles. But a more rapid way of making candles, and affording a pretty sight in a winter evening, was the quite common way of dipping. Small wooden rods were easily made, and on these the wicks were placed cut the right length for a candle, having about six on each rod. The tallow, melted and quite hot, was in a large, deep vessel, and into this the women and girls dipped the wicks that were on the rods. At each dip the wick took on a coating of tallow and time was allowed for it to cool between the dips. When the melted tallow became too shallow to cover all the wick hot water was poured in to fill up the vessel, the melted tallow rising to the surface. Thus the process was continued till the full sized candle was formed. In this way, before the oil wells were dug or kerosene known our pioneer women made candles. And a good many dozen could thus be made in one evening. An American home needs fire by day and light at night, and with these were the pioneer homes provided. There was much sewing and knitting to be done in the long winter evenings. No machines to work with then. There were books to be read, and sometimes papers, for many of these families were far from being ignorant; and it seems remarkable now, looking back from our bright kerosene and electric lights, into those homes of sixty-five and sixty years


ago, how much was accomplished by what would now be called the dim light of those "tallow-dips." The writer of this, a pioneer child once, remembers well when giving in his youth, to a small but cultivated audience, one of his earliest public addresses, and being then closely confined to his manuscript, how on one side of him stood "Deacon Luce" and on the other "Deacon Cushing," each holding in his hand a candlestick with a tallow candle to shed light upon the written page. (It was a different kind of light that went forth that night
from that written page.) A picture of that room, the young reader, the audience, and the candle bearers, would be amusing now. There was no humor about the reality then. Those two noble, Christian men have gone, and the pioneer days have gone; but to a few gray-haired men and women now, Ossian's words may be true, that the memory of days that have passed is like the music of Caryl, pleasant but mournful to the soul.

Home life is an important part of true life, and so we have looked into those early homes to see that warmth and light and industry and thrift were there. The light of love was surely there. The cards and spinning wheels and the scissors and needles in expert hands, are doing their proper work, and the boys have bullets to mold and whip lashes to braid and axe handles to make. There is employment for all.

It is now 1837; and wild as is all this region still, there are families scattered over it who are to build up civilized institutions and civil and religious life. The smoke that now goes up into the sky, curling above the tree tops on a clear, frosty morning, is no longer from Indian wigwams and hunting parties


alone, but
from the cabins of white men, mainly, who with their women and children have come "to possess the land." Social life has commenced. With social life, the families becoming acquainted and neighborhoods forming, school life also begins. Some of the earliest schools were held in the homes; but log school houses were soon erected, having the stick and clay chimneys, large fire-places, and windows without glass. The public school system of Indiana was quite in its infancy then, but persons were appointed by the State to examine teachers. These examinations were private or might be so. There was no law to the contrary. One could be examined alone whenever or wherever he could find the examiner. Each examiner asked his own questions and these were not generally many or difficult. The examinations were short. One half hour was time enough. The public money paid to the teachers was correspondingly small in amount. Sometimes one dollar, sometimes two for each week, the teachers boarding in the different families free from expense. This feature of the teacher's life had its advantages and pleasures, and also its inconveniences. It insured an acquaintanceship between the teacher and the parents of the pupils, and was probably some help in the matter of school government. The inconveniences need not be named.*
*One young teacher had an experience of more than inconvenience. Perhaps it was her first school. The time came to board a few days with a certain family. She went home with the children to the house. The dog was cross, but the children kept him off. When bed-time came the woman of the house, a widow, the mother of the children, showed the teacher to a little room well enough furnished and not specially lacking in neatness; but before leaving she very unwisely said to the teacher that no one had slept in that room since her husband died there with the smallpox. It did not matter, so far as the imagination of that young girl was concerned, that months had passed since then, or that the room, which was somewhat probable, had been fumigated, washed, cleansed. She begged to be allowed to stay somewhere else, to lodge with the children, anywhere other than there. But no. There she must lodge. The door was closed upon her. That teacher said she prayed all night. Prayer kept reason on its throne. But it was a night of terror. She did not return to that house again. She has daughters now teachers in our schools. They have no such experiences.


There were in these earliest schools some well educated and accomplished teachers. There are no more thoroughly educated teachers now than were some of them. Yet many of them, probably, had not received much special training. Those thoroughly educated did not teach long. They were required in other lines of activity.

Connected with the early schools was a part of the social life of those pioneer years. The young people felt the need of society of some kind, and those of some intellectual and literary aspirations sought this in the spelling schools held evenings at their school houses, other exercises besides spelling being introduced. And then literary societies were formed, the exercises helping to educate the ambitious; the going to and from these gatherings, sometimes on horseback, sometimes in sleighs, giving to all the influences of social intercourse, leading to the forming of acquaintances and of friendships, some of them proving to be life-long.

In these early days there were two varieties of people among the comparatively few inhabitants, as


nearly always in every community there will be, those of strong, abiding religious principles, and those caring more for pleasure and for the enjoyments of the present. Of this latter some, from the very first, so soon as social life may be said to have commenced, sought their social enjoyments in little dancing parties, whenever there were homes in which they could meet. For literary exercises and intellectual enjoyments they had not much relish.

The families of the other variety of settlers, who came from eastern homes of culture and of church life, whose children did not attend these little dancing parties, commenced religious meetings, organized Sunday schools, and gave opportunities to all for attending to the higher and grander interests of humanity. Thus among the earliest of the pioneers the foundations were laid for the schools, the literary life, the intelligence, and the church life of the present.

Those early religious gatherings were quite different from most of the staid church life of the present. An appointment was made for preaching at some dwelling house or school house, and at the time appointed a true pioneer community gathered. Some came on foot, some on horseback, some with ox teams, their styles of dress various, and if in the summer time not only the children but some of the men barefooted, their dogs coming with them, yet, all, the dogs excepted, giving an earnest attention to the services. There was no organ and no choir, but some one would lead in the singing, and, as books of the same kind were scarce, the hymns were often "lined," and a variety of voices would join in the singing. If there was not so much harmony or melody in the singing then as now, there was probably quite as


much real devotion. There were, too, among these pioneers some accomplished singers, and when a few of these met, as occasionally they did, there was rich music, harmony, melody, devotion.

The pioneer preachers, as a rule, were well instructed men, men who were not brought up in the "back-woods." And they were devoted to their duties and to the interests of the people. The names of some of them will be found in other chapters.

The singing schools were another interesting and characteristic feature of those early days. As social gatherings they were very enjoyable, and some of the teachers of vocal music in Porter and Lake counties, as Mr. Beach, of Beebe's Grove, and W. H. McNutt, of Yellow Head, and Professor Tyson, of Boston, were accomplished masters of their art.

Among the social gatherings were conspicuous also the Fourth of July celebrations, quite different from the observances of these days.

Let us look now, for a few moments, more minutely at the everyday life of these settlers. After erecting their cabins the first great work was, to make rails. They needed to become rail-splitters so as to build fences. It took no little work and hard work to open up a farm, even on the prairies, much more in the woodlands and in the heavy timber. It required more than ten thousand rails to put a good fence around a quarter of a section of land, one hundred and sixty acres. All the early fences were what is called the Virginia or worm fence, two lengths for each rod. The cost of splitting rails in 1840 was fifty cents for a hundred.

The first plowing, called "breaking," which was turning over the prairie sod, required a large plow


and a heavy team. Six or even eight yoke of oxen were used, and such a team was called in the language of the pioneers, a breaking team, and the large plow with its wooden mold-board and sharp coulter was a breaking plow, used only for "breaking up" prairie. The furrows were wide -- eighteen or twenty inches -- and the green sward of the prairie turned over smoothly and beautifully. When the time came for the second and third plowings of this fertile land, it was found that the soil would stick to the moldboards of all their plows, which rendered the next turning over of the furrow difficult. The earth was crowded out from its place the width of the plow, but was not fairly turned over. The farmers longed for a plow that, in their language, would "scour."

The following reminiscence was given by a writer in a secular paper soon after the death of David Bradley, founder of the great agricultural manufacturing company located somewhat recently near Kankakee, Illinois. The writer says: "While visiting Jack Spitler's famous farm in Newton County, Indiana, he witnessed the trial of a Bradley plow. It was represented that the new fangled implement would scour, and the trial drew a crowd from miles around. Much to the delight of the farmers present the plow did the work as represented, and they imagined that the zenith of agricultural implement invention had been reached. "Up to this time," the writer adds, "no manufacturer had succeeded in making a plow that would scour in heavy black or clay soil." The year of this trial is not given, but it was not far, probably, from 1848. The farmers then had no idea of the improvements that would be made in agricultural implements in the coming fifty years. In those early


days, before 1850, the plowmen largely were obliged to stop every little while and clean off the earth sticking on the mold-board, either with the heel or, better, with a little paddle which they carried along with them. And when they began to hold plows that would throw all the black soil off and remain bright and clean it is no wonder they were delighted.

While this home work of fence building and breaking was going on, some of the men were busy building dams, and erecting saw mills and then grist mills. They imitated the already extinct beaver in making dams, but from them they had not learned skill, for many times these man-made dams would give way. But the mills were very useful, very needful. Each man took his grain to the mill, waiting sometimes many hours for his turn to come, and receiving at length, if he took wheat, flour and shorts and bran. Every farmer could then eat bread from grain of his own raising.

After provision was thus made for the first physical wants, carding mills also having been erected, blacksmith shops built and furnished with tools and iron, shoemakers and a few tailors commencing their work, stores having been opened for both dry goods and groceries, in a few years, for all this pioneer work took time, attention began to be given to the erection of frame houses, the burning of brick, and then the erection of church buildings. In Lake County brick kilns date from 1840, six years after the first few families built their stick chimneys.

The first church building in La Porte County commenced about 1836; in Porter about 1842; and in Lake in 1843.

A few words ought to be given to the earliest shel-


ters for domestic animals erected by the pioneers. The axe was the great tool before the saw mill could be built, and for the first stables posts were cut, set upright in the ground, poles were laid upon these, posts with natural crotches having been selected, and then cross poles or rails laid over all, and these were covered with green grass or hay. Grass was one thing which the pioneers had in abundance. For the sides, slanting poles or rails were set up and covered with hay. These stables were sufficiently warm, but they were dark, and so not good for the horses' eyes when the sun shone on the snow without. Before grain was raised to furnish straw the hogs provided their own beds by gathering leaves in their mouths and placing these in some sheltered nook.

From 1830 to 1835, except in La Porte County and to some extent in White County, not many families settled in among the Indians. But from 1835 to 1840 settlements, here and there, were made over all the region north of the Kankakee River, hundreds of families coming in and taking up claims before the land sale of 1839. Yet the population was not large when the census of 1840 was taken.

Steadily along, yet not rapidly, improvements took place from 1840 to 1845, many German families coming in and some of other nationalities, seeking homes on new, unbroken land, or buying the improvements of the true frontier families who were ready to penetrate into the wilds of the more distant West. Along in these years some private schools were commenced and several churches were built and frame houses were erected with brick chimneys. And then the closing portion of pioneer life, from 1845 to 1850 rapidly passed. The railroads were coming; and from frontier to railroad life the change was very great.


On the whole, notwithstanding some privations, this early life was pleasant. Such freedom from conventionalities, such hospitality, such equality, such freedom from the tyranny of fashion, from corruption in civil government, from millionaire influence, such an aspect everywhere of true American citizenship, such an abundance of wild game and of wild fruits free for all, although there was even then some wrong-doing, it is no wonder that some look almost regretfully back to those good old days.

Pleasant and some thrilling recollections of the wild animals of the early years belong to those who were pioneer children then. It took these wild animals, especially the quails and grouse and wolves and deer, so abundant in those days, some little time to learn that some new occupants were taking possession of their haunts, and when the wolves would come suddenly, in the day time, into a field of corn, and the deer would come suddenly upon a settler's cabin, while the children were delighted, these animals were certainly surprised.

It was for the children a thrilling experience of this rich life, when in the evening, returning home from some spelling school or literary society, they heard the sudden, quick, sharp barking of the wolves. While the pioneer children were not generally timid, two or three wolves could do enough howling to quicken the flow of their blood and hasten their foot-steps. Yet it was a sound which some of the New England born children loved well to hear.

The pioneers sometimes had large "drive" hunts. A good example of these was one in White County in 1840, in Big Creek Township. The boundaries of the hunting ground were, on the north, Monon Creek;


on the east, the Tippecanoe River; on the south, the Wabash; on the west, the county line. At eight o'clock in the morning the men and boys started along the outskirts of this large area, with no guns in their hands, as they were only to scare up the game and send the deer and the wolves, from grove and prairie, inward to the center. They were to meet at two o'clock at Reynold's Grove. There scaffolds had been erected, and on those were the sharp shooters with rifles and ammunition. As that afternoon hour approached, from each direction the startled deer and frightened wolves began to appear, and soon the sharp reports of the rifles reached the ears of the distant boys and men. On every side of those elevated stands the deer fell, and when the riders and footmen reached this central place they collected fifty deer as the result of that day's chase, and found many dead wolves stretched upon the ground. How many broke the ranks and escaped no one could accurately tell.

In some of these hunts, when not carefully conducted, most of the enclosed game would escape.*

The common mode of hunting deer was not what is called driving, but what hunters called "still hunting" or sometimes called "stalking." No noise was made, no dogs were used to track them up. But some
*Deer will rush quickly by the excited hunter. I came near being run over, in my youth, by a large drove of startled deer, as I chanced to be, one day, in their runway in the West Creek woods. There was no time to count their number, but had they been crowded together like buffalo they would have trampled the young hunter under their feet. It was a beautiful and a thrilling sight, as, one after another, they bounded by, almost within reach of one's very hands.     T. H. B.


times a man would mount a horse from the back of which he could shoot, and having on the neck of the horse a bell, would start up a herd of deer and follow them up with his horse and bell as best he could. The theory was, and a fact it proved to be, that the deer would in a few hours become so accustomed to the sound of the bell and the sight of the horse that the hunter could approach near enough to make a sure shot. Then he could strap the deer on his horse behind him and return to his home.

The time may come, in another generation or two, when no eye-witnesses are living, that the large numbers of deer which traditions will say were often seen together, will be counted only as hunter's tales, and not entitled to belief; but that those beautiful creatures that added so much life to the woodlands and the prairies were here in large numbers, is now beyond any question. There are some living who have seen them.

It is a well attested fact that when men were putting on the roof of what for many years was known as the "Rockwell House," in Crown Point, they saw coming out from Brown's Point, two miles northward, and passing across the open prairie to School Grove, one mile southeastward, a herd of deer, numbering, as well as they could count them, one hundred and eleven.

In 1843 and in 1844 as many as seventy deer, it is claimed, could be seen at one time on the prairies in Newton and Jasper counties; and Mr. David Nowels, one of the substantial citizens of Rensselaer, says that he has seen as many as seventy-five at one time. While not a noted hunter, as his father was, he has


killed as many as five deer in one day. He is authority also for the statement that, in those earlier years of pioneer life, good raccoon skins, black, would bring from two to three dollars each, and a good, large mink skin would sell for seven dollars, and a large otter skin would sometimes bring ten dollars. Muskrat skins were not in so great demand.*

The facts are well attested that others have seen, some of whom are yet living, from twenty to forty and fifty deer in a single herd or drove, either quietiy feeding, or in that beautiful and rapid motion which has given to us the comparison, one "runs like a deer."

Some few noted hunters were among the pioneers, equal, probably, in their success, to Ossian's "hunters of the deer." One of these was V. Morgan, of Pulaski County, Jefferson Township. The number of deer that he killed is not exactly known, but it was estimated at four hundred. The last deer killed in that township, according to the traditions, were shot in the winter of 1880 and 1881. Of these there were only three or four.

There can be no exaggeration in asserting that some sixty and seventy years ago there were deer here not only by the hundreds but by the thousands; as there were the prairie chickens or pinnated grouse here thousands upon thousands, and wild ducks and wild geese and wild pigeons, surely by the millions.
*Conversation in a visit October 16, 1899.



Transcribed by Steven R. Shook, April 2012


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