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Excerpts from History of St. Joseph County, Indiana"

Published by Chas. C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, 1880.



One of the most interesting phases of national or local history is that of the settlement of a new country. What was the original state in which the pioneer found this country? and, How was it made to blossom as the rose? are questions propounded by almost every individual of the country in which he makes his home, or sojourns in for a time. Pioneer life in St. Joseph county finds its parallel in almost every county in the State, and throughout the entire West. In addition to what is given in the State history, in this volume, we add the following items.

When Pierre Navarre, Alexis Coquillard, L. M. Taylor and others of that noble band of pioneers settled here, they found an unbroken wilderness. Wild beasts, and but little less wild savages, roamed at will over the prairies, through the forests, and along the waters of the Kankakee or the beautiful "River St. Joseph of the Lakes." Forests were to be felled, cabins erected, mills built and the rivers and creeks made to labor for the benefit of mankind; the beautiful prairies were to be robbed of their natural ornaments, and the hand of art was to assist in their decoration. Who was to undertake this work? Are they qualified for the task? What will be the effect of their labors upon future generations?

The St. Joseph county pioneers had many difficulties to contend with, not the least of which was the journey from civilization to their forest homes. The route lay for the most part through a rough country; swamps and marshes were crossed with great exertion and fatigue; rivers were forded with difficulty and danger; nights were passed on open prairies, with the sod for a couch and the heavens for a shelter; long, weary days and weeks of travel were endured, but finally "the promised land" was reached.

For several years the early settlers of the St. Joseph valley were compelled to go to Logansport or Fort Wayne for their flour or meal, requiring almost a week's time to make the journey.

The fever and ague, or "chills and fever," was a disease of which every pioneer was required to have a taste. For a racy description of this miserable malady see pages 159 and 160 {Transcriber's note: Included at the bottom of this page.}.

The first thing upon arrival was to set about building the cabin. While this was being done, the family slept in their wagons or upon the grass; while the horses or mules, hobbled to prevent escape, grazed the prairie around them. Trees of a suitable and uniform size were selected, felled and prepared for their places. The day for the raising is announced, and from far and near come other pioneers to assist in this labor. The structure goes up, a log at a time, those engaged stopping now and then to "wet their whistles", and soon it is ready for the clapboard roof, which was held on by huge weight poles. A door and a window is cut where the "good wife" directs, a chimney built and the building is ready for the occupants. It is not a model home, but it is the beginning of a great prosperity, and as such is worthy of preservation in history, on account of its obscurity and its severe economy. The window was very small, sometimes glass being inserted, but often covered with greased paper. The door was made of spliced clapboards and hung with wooden hinges. It was opened by pulling a leather latch-string which raised a wooden latch inside the door. For security at night this latch-string was pulled in, but for friends and neighbors, and even strangers, it always hung out as a sign of welcome.

These simple cabins were inhabited by a kind and true-hearted people. They were strangers to mock modesty, and the traveler seeking lodgings for the night, or desirous of spending a few days in the community, if willing to accept the rude offering, was always welcome, although how they were disposed of at night the reader may not easily imagine; for, as described, a single room was made to serve the purpose of kitchen, dining room, sitting room and parlor, and many families consisted of six or eight members.

Next came the work of preparing the soil for agricultural purposes. Spring comes and the ground is prepared for the seed. The father takes his post at the plow, and the daughter takes possession of the reins. This is a grand scene - one full of grace and beauty. The pioneer girl thinks but little of fine dress; knows less of the fashions; has probably heard of the opera, but does not understand its meaning; has been told of the piano, but has never seen one; wears a dress "buttoned up behind"; has on leather boots, and "drives plow" for father.

The character of the pioneers of St. Joseph county falls properly within the range of the historian. They lived in a region of exuberant fertility, where nature had scattered her blessings with a liberal hand. The beautiful St. Joseph river winding its serpentine way to the lake, the inexhaustible forest supply, the fertile prairie, and the many improvements constantly going forward, and the bright prospect for a glorious future in everything that renders life pleasant, combined to deeply impress their character, to give them a spirit of enterprise, an independence of feeling, and a joyousness of hope. They were a thorough admixture of many nations, characters, languages, conditions and opinions. There was scarcely a State in the Union that was not represented among the early settlers. All the various religious sects had their advocates. All now form one society. Says an early writer: "Men must cleave to their kind, and must be dependent upon each other. Pride and jealousy give way to the natural yearnings of the human heart for society. They begin to rub off mutual prejudices; one takes a step, and then the other; they meet halfway and embrace; and the society thus newly organized and constituted is more liberal, enlarged, unprejudiced, and of course more affectionate, than a society of people of like birth and character, who bring all their early prejudices as a common stock, to be transmitted as an inheritance to posterity."

The wedding was an attractive feature of pioneer life. There was no distinction of life and very little of fortune. On these accounts, the first impressions of love generally resulted in marriage. The family establishment cost but little labor - nothing more. The marriage was always celebrated at the house of the bride, and she was generally left to choose the officiating clergyman. A wedding, however, engaged the attention of the whole neighborhood. It was anticipated by both old and young with eager expectation. In the morning of the wedding day, the groom and his intimate friends assembled at the house of his father, and after due preparation, departed, en masse, for the "mansion" of his bride. The journey was sometimes made on horseback, sometimes on foot, and sometimes in farm wagons and carts. It was always a merry journey; and, to insure merriment, the bottle was taken along. On reaching the house of the bride, the marriage ceremony took place, and then dinner or supper was served. After the meal, the dancing commenced, and generally lasted until the following morning. The figures of the dances were three and four-handed reels, or square sets and jigs. The commencement was always a square four, which was followed by what pioneers called "jigging"; that is, two of the four would single out for a jig, and were followed by the remaining couple. The jigs were often accompanied with what was called "cutting out", that is, when either of the parties became tired of the dance, on intimation, the place was supplied by some one of the company, without interruption of the dance. In this way the reel was often continued until the musician was exhausted. About nine or ten o'clock in the evening, a deputation of young ladies stole off the bride and put her to bed. In doing this, they had to ascend a ladder from the kitchen to the upper floor, which was composed of loose boards. Here, in this pioneer bridal chamber, the young simple-hearted girl was put to bed by her enthusiastic friends. This done, a deputation of young men escorted the groom to the same department, and placed him snugly by the side of his bride. The dance still continued, and if seats were scarce, which was generally the case, says a local writer, every young man when not engaged in the dance, was obliged to offer his lap as a seat for one of the girls; and the offer was sure to be accepted. During the night's festivities spirits were freely used, but seldom to great excess. The infair was held on the following evening, when the same order of exercises was observed.

Election days were observed as holidays. The men went to town, voted, drank whisky, smoked, swore, wrestled and fought, all for a little fun.

The "little brown jug" was often brought into requisition as affording a means of enjoyment that nothing else could supply. No caller was permitted to leave the house without an invitation to partake of its contents; not to so invite was a breach of hospitality not to be thought of for a moment. It was brought out upon all conceivable occasions, and freely dispensed to old and young alike, with no thought of danger. It was a thing of prime importance in all the assemblages of men - at log-rollings, house-raisings, huskings and elections. It was essential at all births, and even at funerals.

Excerpt from pages 159-160 of this book, as referred to above.


One of the greatest obstacles to the early settlement and prosperity of this State was the "chills and fever", "fever and ague", or "shakes", as it was variously called. It was a terror to newcomers; in the fall of the year almost everybody was afflicted with it. It was no respecter of persons; everybody looked pale and sallow as though he were frost-bitten. It was not contagious, but derived from impure water and air, which are always developed in the opening up of a new country of rank soil like that of the Northwest. The impurities continue to be absorbed from day to day, and from week to week, until the whole body corporate became saturated with it as with electricity, and then the shock came; and the shock was a regular shake, with a fixed beginning and ending, coming on in some cases each day but generally on alternate days, with a regularity that was surprising. After the shake came the fever, and this "last estate was worse than the first". It was a burning-hot fever, and lasted for hours. When you had the chill you couldn't get warm, and when you had the fever you couldn't get cool. It was exceedingly awkward in this respect; indeed it was. Nor would it stop for any sort of contingency; not even a wedding in the family would stop it. It was imperative and tyrannical. When the appointed time came around, everything else had to be stopped to attend to its demands. It didn't even have any Sundays or holidays; after the fever went down you still didn't feel much better. You felt as though you had gone through some sort of collision, thrashing-machine or jarring-machine, and came out not killed, but next thing to it. You felt weak, as though you had run too far after something, and then didn't catch it. You felt languid, stupid and sore, and was down in the mouth and heel and partially raveled out. Your back was out of fix, your head ached and your appetite crazy. Your eyes had too much white in them, your ears, especially after taking quinine, had too much roar in them, and your whole body and soul were entirely woe-begone, disconsolate, sad, poor and good for nothing. You didn't think much of yourself, and didn't believe that other people did, either; and you didn't care. You didn't quite make up your mind to commit suicide, but sometimes wished some accident would happen to knock either the malady or yourself out of existence. You imagined that even the dogs looked at you with a kind of self-complacency. You thought the sun had a kind of sickly shine about it.

About this time you came to the conclusion that you would not accept the whole State of Indiana as a gift; and if you had the strength and means, you picked up Hannah and the baby, and your traps, and went back "yander" to "Old Virginny", the "Jarseys", Maryland or "Pennsylvany".

"And to-day the swallows flitting
Round my cabin see me sitting
Moodily within the sunshine,
Just inside my silent door,
Waiting for the "Ager", seeming
Like a man forever dreaming;
And the sunlight on me streaming
Throws no shadow on the floor;
For I am too thin and sallow
To make shadows on the floor -
Nary shadow any more!"

The above is not a mere picture of the imagination. It is simply recounting in quaint phrase what actually occurred in thousands of cases. Whole families would sometimes be sick at one time and not one member scarcely able to wait upon another. Labor or exercise always aggravated the malady, and it took General Laziness a long time to thrash the enemy out. And those were the days for swallowing all sorts of roots and "yarbs", and whisky, etc., with some faint hope of relief. And finally, when the case wore out, the last remedy taken got the credit of the cure.

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Copyright ©, 2001 T.C. Wyman, All Rights Reserved.