James W. (James Wiley) Edwards.

History of Mitchell and Marion Township, Indiana online

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Online LibraryJames W. (James Wiley) EdwardsHistory of Mitchell and Marion Township, Indiana → online text (page 1 of 7)
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Reprinted From The Mitchell Tribune


I Marion Township !!|


By James W. Edwards ifi


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COULD one have witnessed all the
changes which have taken place in this
community since its first settlement a little
over one hundred years ago, its former ap-
pearance would seem as a dream or
romance. We find it difficult to realize the
features of the dense wilderness which was
the abode of our parents and grandparents.
One hundred years ago my grandparents
on my father's side left their mountain
home in North Carolina to make their fut-
ure home in what was then the territory of
Indiana. They brought with them my
father who was then but a small child.

It is not from personal recollection
that I shall write these items of local
history, but from facts and incidents as I
gathered them from old settlers in years
long since gone by. Often in my boyhood
days have I listened to the old pioneers,
my father and grandfather in particular,
relate their early experiences and describe
the condition of the country as they found
it a century ago; so often that I sometimes
imagine that I can see conditions as they
were and the country as it was then.

Oldest person in Lawrence county and
perhaps the oldest continuous resident of
the state. She is nearing her 103th birth-
day and at this time (June 1916) is quite
active in both mind and body.

It should be remembered that at the be-
ginning of the last century there was not a
single white inhabitant in what is now Law-
rence County, and for several years after,
none in that part of the county embracing
what is now Marion Township and while
this part of the county had always belong-
ed to, or at least claimed, so far as we have
history to guide us, by various Indian
tribes, the first settlers found but little ev-
idence of any of them having lived here.
This part of the country it seems had been
claimed by several tribes but permanently
occupied by none. The early settler found
no remains of Indian villages, nor was any
land cleared to indicate that the red man
had ever lived here. Occasionally the re-
mains of a wigwam was found and the
abundance of Indian arrow-heads and In-
dian axes found would indicate, however,
that roving bands of Indians had been here
perhaps, during the hunting seat^ons. And
while we have but little evidence from
which to conclude that this community was
ever permanently occupied by the red man,
we have still less evidence that it was ever

inhabited by that prehistoric race called
Mound builders. So we can but conclude
that the first settlers were those people
who came here in the early part of the last
century to make this their permanent home.
Previous to the year 1813 there was not a
permanent settler, so far as I have ever
heard, in what is now Marion Township.

The first settler was a man by the name
of Phillips, who built a cabin in the year
1813 on the hill above and a few hundred
yards west of the spring which is the head-
water of Rock Lick creek. Phillips after-
ward entered the land where he built his
cabin and made his home for many years.
It should be noted that until the year 1813
all the land, comprising what is now
Marion 7 ownship, belonged to the govern-
ment. So the first settler could choose his
own location.


Beginning with the year 1815 and for
several years after, quite a number of home
seekers arrived in this locality to make
their home in this unbroken wilderness; a
country covered with a primeval forest of

the finest timber; everywhere a heav>
growth of poplar, oak, ash, walnut, hickory,
in fact, all kinds of deciduous trees; a
country in its pristine glory. To destroy
this fine forest was the first work of the
pioneer after building his rude cabin. To
build the cabin I speak of, was the work of
but very few days. Usually a shack, or as
they called it those days, a "make shift
cabin" was built. As your readers have
perhaps never seen a cabin of this kind I
shall give a short description of one as I
remember the way it was described to me.
A place having been selected which was al-
ways near a spring of water, a large tree
was chopped down and a log cut from it to
make the back part of the cabin. At a
distance of eight or ten feet from the log
or back of the cabin two stakes were set in
the ground a few inches apart and at a dis-
tance of eight or ten feet from these, two
more stakes were placed to receive the
poles which were to form the sides of the
cabin. The whole slope of the roof was
from the front to the back. The roof was
made of rude slabs, or if the building was




Pioneer citizens of Marion township. They
were twins and the fathers of Dr. Isom
Burton and Martin A. Burton, who have
been two of Mitchells prominent citizens
and business men. In the above portrait
Eli wears the white trousers (tow linen) the
cloth probably woven by his mother. He
is the father of Dr. Isom Burton.

done in the Spring, bark peeled from hick
ory trees was used. The front was left en-
tirely open. If the weather was cold, a fire
was built directly in front of the opening;
the cracks between the poles were filled
with clay; dry leaves were secured for a
bed and the cabin was ready to occupy.
This kind of a domicile was as a rule, re-
placed by a better one in a short time,
though some families spent at least one
winter in this kind of a shack before a bet-
ter one was built in regular log cabin style.
As I stated previously a fire was made
in front of the cabin, or shack in winter to
keep out the cold. I should have added
that a fire near the cabin at night was al-
ways necessary to frighten the wild beast
away. All species of wild animals are eas-
ily frightened by fire. If the early pioneer
had occasion to go very far from his cabin
at night he always carried a torch for fear
he would meet one of the wild beasts that
were then plentiful in this community.

After building the temporary cabin that
I have described and having rested a few

days from the fatigue of his long journey
from his Virginia or North CaroHna home
the settler looked around for a location for
a better cabin where he expected to make
his permanent home. If the spring and
surroundings where he built his shack suit-
ed him, he located there, if not he selected
a more desirable place in the near neighbor-
hood. As I have previously said he prac-
tically had his choice of location; I am
speaking now of the time when but little of
the land in this community had bsen enter-
ed. Having decided upon a place to build
the house which was perhaps to be his home
for many years, he proceeded to cut the
timber and clear the underbrush from a
spot a few feet in circumference. He also
cut down any tree that leaned over the
place where he had decided to build. He
then cut the logs that formed the walls of
his cabin and selected a tree four or five
feet in diameter from which he made boards
for the roof. The boards were usually four
feet long and rived with a frow. These
boards were used without planing or shav-
ing. Next, puncheons for the floor were

prepared. This was done by splitting logs
from trees about twenty inches in diameter
and hewing the faces of them with a broad-
ax. After preparing the building material
described and hauling it on a sled to the
place he selected, he is now ready for the
house raising. He invited the few scatter-
ing neighbors who lived within a radius of
several miles. When the neighbors assem-
bled two of them were selected for end men
whose business it was to notch and saddle
the logs and put them in their proper place.
The roof was formed by making the end
logs shorter until a single log formed the
comb of the roof. On these logs the boards
were placed and instead of being nailed,
they were held in place by long poles as
weights. The walls were built solid, that
is they had no openings for a fireplace or
windows. The doorway, the cabin seldom
had but one, was made by cutting the logs
on one side so as to make an opening about
three feet wide A similar opening, but
wider, was cut at the end for the chimney
which was built of logs to the height
of about five feet and made large so as to

admit of a back and jambs of stone. The
remainder of the chimney was built of
sticks and clay. The door was made of
slabs that had been split from a tree and
smoothed with a drawing knife. The only
nails in the entire building were used in
making the door. For a window a section
of a log, four or five feet long, was cut out
and a piece of greased paper pasted over
the opening.

As the early settler brought no furniture
with him, it was necessary to make it from
such material as he could find. A table
was made of a split slab and supported by
four round legs set in auger holes. Three
legged stools were made in the same man-
ner. Bedsteads were made by setting up
a stout post in a corner of the cabin about
four and one-half feet from one wall and
six and one- half feet from the other with
two large holes bored into the post about
two feet from the floor; then holes were
bored into the logs of the walls and poles
were inserted. On these poles, lengthwise,
rails were laid and across the rails split

boards were laid and the bedstead was com-
plete. On the boards a rough tick, filled
with dry leaves or corn husks completed
the bed.

Cooking utensils consisted of a skillet, a
baking pot or Dutch oven, as it was called,
one or two iron pots and a large iron ket-
tle, gourds being used as cups and dippers.
Stoves were unknown and all cooking was
done about the fire of logs in the fireplace.

The cabin being completed and furnished
the family moves in. The excitement of
the long journey from their former home
and the novelty of plunging into an un-
known forest being over, what a feeling of
lonesomeness must have come over these
pioneers I imagine that the most promi-
nent feature of these wilderness homes was
its solitude.


The solitude of the night was interrupted
by the hoot of the ill-boding owl, the howl-
ing of wolves or the frightful scream of the
murderous panther. Often the growl of
the bear was heard at the cabin door, or the
blood -shot eye of the catamount was seen

peering through the openings of the cabin.
The days if possible, were more soHtary than
the nights. The gobbhng of the wild turkey,
the cawing of the crow, the woodpecker
tapping the hollow tree, or the drumming
of the pheasant did not enliven the scene,
nor was the situation without its dangers.
The settler as he was going about his work,
or, while engaged in the hunt, did not know
at what tread he might be bitten by the
poisonous copper-head, or rattlesnake; nor
at what moment he might meet the hungry
bear. If out at night, he knew not on what
limb of a tree over his head the blood-
thirsty panther might be perched ready to
spring upon him. Exiled as they were from
society and the comforts of life the situation
of the settler and his family was perilous.
The bite of a serpent, a broken limb, or a
siege of sickness in the wilderness without
medical skill was not pleasant to contem-
plate. Such was the situation which con-
fronted those brave people who built the
first cabins in this community.

I deem it proper just here to say that
there is but one living witness to the early

conditions that I have described and that
is Aunt Thursey Way who has lived in this
community more than one hundred years.
This aged veteran is plodding feebly by the
last milestone of life. Eternity will soon
close around her and then the only know-
ledge of early times and deeds will be from
fragmentary sketches of history. Mrs, Way
is past 103 years. There may be others
living in Indiana who are as old but per-
haps not one who has lived as long in the
place he now lives and who has seen as
much Hoosier history made as has Mrs.

The settlement of a new country in the
immediate vicinity of an old one is not at-
tended with many difficulties because sup-
plies can be obtained from the older settled
community, but the task of making new
homes in a wilderness, as remote from civil-
ization as this, was quite different, because
food, clothing and other necessities were
obtained with great difficulty, and while
these pilgrims of the forest could feast their
imagination with the romantic beauty of
their new surroundmgs, they had difficulties
before them which required the bravest
heart to overcome.

They were exiles from society, schools and
church. The clothing they brought with
them soon became old and ragged. The
scant supply of meal they had provided un-
til a field could be cleared and a crop of
corn raised, was soon exhausted. It was
not uncommon for a family to be without
bread for weeks or even months. The lean
meat of the deer and the white meat of the
wild turkey were used as a substitute for
bread. 1 he flesh of the bear and the
squirrel was the only meat, and that often
had to be eaten without salt. At the time
I mention, salt could not be obtained near-
er than Louisville, Ky. It was sold by the
bushel and the price was sometimes seven
dollars for a bushel weighing eighty-four
pounds. To provide food for the few do-
mestic animals they brought was also quite
: problem. Many of these died of actual
starvation during the first winter. I am
speaking now of the winter of 1816 and
181/. We have neither record nor tradi-
tion of any families having spent the winter
in this ccmmunity previous to that time.
Two cabins had been built here before the

dates mentioned, but it is said the owners
did not spend the winter here The two
settlers I refer to were Lewis PhiUips, of
whom previous mention has been made, and
Samuel G. Hoskins. who built a cabin in
1815, on Rock Lick creek near the old
Crawford homestead. It should be noted
that Phillips and Hoskins, with their fam-
ilies, were the only settlers in the territory
of Marion township at the close of the year

During the year of 1816 as many as
twenty five or thirty families arrived here
and most of them built cabins and made
this their permanent home. I cannot name
them all but will give the names of a few
and tell where they located: Jacob Piles
built a cabin on the south-west corner of
the farm now owned by Oscar Gaines.
George Sheeks located on Rock Lick creek,
near the Finger cemetery. John Sutton
and his father-in-law Thomas Rowark, set-
tled on what is known as the Denton Sheeks
farm. William Erwin built a cabin on what
is known as the Widow Dodd farm. My
grandfather, William Edwards, settled a

short distance south of what is now tht-
Edwards cemetery. Neddy Edwards built
a cabin about one-half mile south of this
on the farm now o ned by Noble L. Moore.
Charles Toliver, the father of Aunt Thursey
Way, located on the south-west corner of
the farm now owned bv Isom L. Burton,
near the residence of John Isom. Aunt
Thursey has lived for nearly a century
within about a mile of the place where her
childhood days were spent. John McClean
a school teacher, located near the residence
of the late John Murray. About one-half
mile south of the last named place James
Fulton built a cabin and a few years later
a distillery. Zach Spurling built a shack,
in which he lived for several years, about
two miles west of where Mitchell now stands.
Thompson Conley built a cabin not far
from the Bryantsville and Hamer's Mill
road and near the Elkin spring. This was
afterward the home of the Rev. David El-
kin, who preached Lincoln's mother's fun-
eral. Joel Conley located on the old Con-
ley homestead, near the Conley cemetery.
William Maxwell and William Baldwin lo-

cated on what is now the Reuben Miller
farm. There were a number of other fam-
iUes located here during the year 1816 and
whose names I cannot give.

A majority of the settlers entered the
land where they located within a year or
two after their arrival, but some of them
occupied the land for years before acquir-
ing a title to their homes. Perhaps this
question is asked. Where were these pion-
eers from and why did they leave homes of
plenty to build new homes in the wilder-
ness? It was the voice of opportunity, the
lure of land and the ambition to do some-
thing for their children, were the leading in-
centives that prompted these hardy people
to leave their former homes and endure the
hardships and privations in a new country.
So strong is the tie of property, especially
in land, that men will endure almost any
kind of hardships to secure it. Nearly all
the families who came here to find homes
during the years 18 16 and 1817 were from
Ashe county. North Carolina, or Grayson
county, Virginia. Tlese two counties,
although in diffeient states, are separated

only by an imaginary line. Thus it will be
seen they were people who had lived under
the same environments before emigrating
here where all were necessarily surrounded
by the same conditions

What I shall say of the civilization of
the pioneers will also apply to those who
followed them for several years afterward.
It is a prevalent opinion that people who
are the first inhabitants of a wilderness
country, such as this community was dur-
ing the first few decades of its settlement,
were of the ignorant and lower class. This
is far from being true. In this electric
light, automobile and railroad age, the
early pioneers living or dead, receive but
little credit for the actual intelligence
possessed. History must do justice to the
noble men and women who braved the
hardships that our foreparents endured.
In spite of their rude surroundings these
people were given to hospitality and as
freely divided their rough fare with a
stranger as with their neighbor, and would
have been offended had they been offered
pay. Other characteristics were industry,


honesty, candor and steadiness of deport-
nrient For quite a period of time they
knew nothing of courts, lawyers, magis-
trates, sheriffs or constables. They were a
law unto themselves. Every one was at
liberty to do whatsoever he thought was
right in his own eyes. It is the history of all
sparsely settled communities where all are
well known to each other, public opinion
has its full effect, and to some extent,
answers the purpose of legal government.
That was especially true of this community.
The turpitude of vice and the majesty of
morality were then more apparent than
now. The crime of theft was almost un-
known. Our fore-fathers, so far as I have
ever heard, had a kind of hereditary de-
testation of a thief. Gambling with cards,
and such games as progressive euchre and
five hundred were then unknown. They
are some of the blessed gifts of modern


The early settlers usually arrived here

either in the summer or early fall. Nothing

could be done in the way of planting a crop


the first year on account of the lateness of
the season and also on account of the
country being covered with timber. The
pioneer selected and marked off a piece of
ground that would make a suitable field;
this selection was usually near his cabin.
Any of the older men now living will tell
you that to go into a primeval forest and
cle&r a field even with the improved tools
in use at the present day is no small task.
Our grandparents knew of but two tools to
use in clearing, the axe and grubbing hoe;
cross cut saws were not in use then The
first step in clearing the ground was to cut
away the under growth. Then a few of the
straight grained trees were cut down and
made into rails to make a worm fence
around the field before planting a crop of
corn. The remainder of the timber was
either chopped down or deadened by
girdling or burnmg. To clear a field of ten
or twelve acres was the work of the first

By the next spring the settler was ready
for his first log-rolling. A day was set for

the rolling and the neighbors for quite a
distance were invited On such occasions
as house- raising and log-roHings, each
neighbor was expected to do his duty faith-
fully. If he failed to do so without an
excuse, when it came his turn to need like
help from his neighbors he felt the punish-
ment in their refusal to respond to his call.
As some of the young people who read this
perhaps have but little idea of what a log-
rolling consisted of, I will describe one.
First, the logs were cut or burned off so
they were not more than twelve or fourteen
feet in length. This was done previous to
the day fixed for the rolling. Each man
who was to take part in the work armed
himself with a hand spike made of dog
wood or sassafras. One of their number
was selected as captain whose duty it was
to direct the work. If the logs were very
thick on the ground the captain would
direct that four logs be placed side by side,
then three smaller ones on top of these,
then two more on top of the last three. A
single log on the top of these would com-
plete the pyramid, Usually all the logs in

an ordinary clearing, as the first fields were
called, could be piled reaoy for burning in
a single day, but if more time was required
it was freely given. Men would go miles
to help and often worked three or four
weeks in this kind of work. After the logs
were piled it required several da\ s to burn
the log heaps and brush and get the ground
ready, as we would say, for the plow. But
the kind of plow then in use. which con-
sisted of a small piece of steel fastened to a
wooden mould board, could be but little
used in a new field. So the preparation of
the ground for the first crop of corn, as
well as the cultivation, had to be done
mostly with the hoe. This was a slow and
laborious method, but necessity knows no

When the corn was nearing the roasting
ear stage a battle royal would begin be-
tween the farmer and the varmints, as the
squirrels and raccoons were called, as to
which was entitled to the corn. These
animals were very plentiful and both were
very destructive to growing corn. The

children, as well as the men and women,
every day in the week would march around
tYe field making all the noise possible with
cow-bells, horns, clap-traps and dogs to
scare away the squirrels. At night fires were
built all around the field to frighten the
raccoons and other animals away. In spite
of all this much of the corn was destroyed
before it was ripe enough to gather. As
has been previously noted, many families
had been living for some time without
bread and had become sickly and, as they
expressed it, tormented with a sense of
hunger How eagerly these people must
have watched the growth of the corn. Hew
delicious must the roasting ears have tasted.
What a jubilee they must have had when
the corn had acquired a sufficient hardness
to be made into Johnny cakes by the aid
of a tin grater. The question will be asked.
"What is a grater and how could meal be
made with it?" A grater is a circular piece
of tin perforated with a nail or punch from
the concave side and nailed by its edges
to a block of wood. The ears of corn were
rubbed on the rough edges of the holes

while the meal fell through them on the
block to which the grater was nailed. This
was indeed a slow way of making meal,
but it was the best they could do. When
the corn was too hard to be ground with
the grater, the hominy block was used.
This was made of a large block of wood
about two feat long with an excavation cut
or burned in one end, wide at the top and
narrow at the bottom so that the action of
the pestle on the bottom threw the corn up
the sides toward the top of the excavation
from whence it continually fell down into
the center. Thus the whole mass of grain
was equally subjected to the strokes of the
pestle. In the fall of the > ear while the
corn was soft the block and pestle did fairly
well, but this method was very slow when
the corn became hard. As the mills for
grinding grain, which were built in this
part of the country after a few years of its
early settlement were usually located on
small streams which, in dry or very cold
weather, could not run on account of the

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Online LibraryJames W. (James Wiley) EdwardsHistory of Mitchell and Marion Township, Indiana → online text (page 1 of 7)