AT THE FEET OF HISTORY
Rev. Lucian V. Rule
From a series of Articles Written in 1929
So in all my pastoral work there has been sought the touch of local color and character in recovering and
recreating the past to teach the Present and to inspire the Future. Grandmother Henninger was the venerable and beloved figure in
Old Vernon church when I came there. And Mrs. Mary Little is now the oldest charter member of the Oak Grove Presbyterian church
in Jennings county, Indiana. She is one of the few survivors of real pioneer times. She was born August 16, 1838, in Butler county,
Ohio, and came with her parents in a covered wagon to Jackson county, Indiana near Reddington, when she was about 7 years old, which
would be in 1845. On the way from Ohio ascending and descending a steep river hill, one of the horses fell and barely avoiding
precipitating the entire family to their death. Little Mary was badly frightened of course although she has always been a woman of
rare courage and self control. It required some days to come from the Buckeye state, although Butler county adjoins Hamilton and
is not a great distance.
The dear old lady, without glasses, tall and erect, with a calm and searching blue eye, showed me pictures
of long gone loved ones. Her memory was accurate and decided. She sat at the bountiful family board with the rest of us that happy
Sunday noon of my visit and talked over the scenes and incidents of her childhood in the Jennings county wilderness.
"After we had been in Jackson county, near Reddington, for a while the chills and fever became so bad that
the Wilkins and Wimples came over and moved us to a house on Mutton Creek, below where Oak Grove church now stands. My mother and
father were Presbyterians in Ohio, and here is an old Presbyterian hymn book that was printed far more than a hundred years ago. I
think there was French blood in our family.
"I think it was Paul Keiber's great grandfather and mother who walked all the way from Philidelphia to this
county and lived in hollow sycamore tree till they got their cabin built. The Ritz home first stood on the banks of Mutton Creek
above the old church, and the old road ran along the bed of the creek. This creek got its name, you know by the early drovers who
took their sheep to market and here met with wolves who tore into the flocks and the blood stained waters suggested the name that
has ever since been given to it. This old Ritz homestead where I live was removed from the banks of the creek to its present
location by my son in law, John Ritz. The log house across the creek now occupied by the Deans was built by John Ritz's step-grandfather
Harsman(?). The Ritzs were among the pioneers of the Oak Grove community.
"Grandfather Ritz was once pursued by wolves and had to climb a tree with his violin. He had been playing at
some social gathering or dance, and he fiddled all night to keep the wolves away. The wolves never came near fire and it was a custom
to build fires to scare them off; and the story is told of old times that Simon Wimple's father went hunting with his dogs and was never heard
of again. The dogs came home without him, and some said he must have fallen in a hollow tree, or have met his death in some other
manner as he was never found."
"Who was the first preacher in this neighborhood" I asked her.
"A Baptist preacher whose name was Joseph Snowden, from Kentucky" she said. "He had a son, Joshua and another
Joseph. He preached funerals and married the young folks. He lived in the Mutton Creek bottom above the church, opposite Charles
Stigdon's. The old house is gone now, but the well is still there. Pastor Snowden had no church around here to preach in. He held
meetings in the cabin homes of the people. He had a dark complectioned man with snow-white hair."
"Did any of your family live to be as old as you are?" Was my next question.
"Yes," she said. "My grandmother Williver had a brother who lived to be 112 years old. She was a little blue
eyed old lady. My father's name was name was James Little. My mother was Charlotte Williver. Grandfather Williver owned a section
of land in Jackson county, Indiana. One of our people Hiram Williver, the spring that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, went out with
his gun to drive dogs away from his sheep. The gun would not go off, so he put his foot on the trigger by some accident, as he blew
into the muzzle. The gun went off and blew his head to pieces".
"Where did you first go to school grandmother?"
In a little log house on the hill, near my uncle, Hiram Williver's near Reddington, in Jackson county. The
first church there was a log building. It was a United Brethern church. The people had to put logs down in the mud road to leave the
building. My uncle, Hiram Williver was a member of the Christian church."
"Did you ever see any Indians, grandmother?"
"Yes, but not the redmen who attacked the early settlers. They were all gone from around here when we came.
But the Indians still passed through occasionally, in companies. One time when I was at my uncle Hiram Willivers near Reddington, it
was a cold February day with a heavy snow on the ground. A knock at the door was heard and someone saw an Indian squaw and her babe
standing outside. We were afraid to open the door for we knew she must belong to a party of them. She went round to the window and
stood outside looking in, and made a sign of hunger by pointing down her throat with the index finger. We_____________________
window and she went on her way.
"Was game plentiful when your family came to Jennings county?"
"Abundant everywhere. The woods were full of deer. Wild hogs filled the forest. There was a deer lick half
a mile below Oak Grove and to this came droves of deer and other animals wanting salt."
"What is that story about the little child of the emigrant people who died near old Oak Grove church and was
"It was in the early settlement of the community. These people were passing through. They were trappers.
The child became sick and died at their camp. It was buried near the creek and a log pen was put abound its grave. It was still
in the deep woods, but it became a sacred spot, hallowed by the little one's death. People always respected is memory and in due
time, when the church was built, the cemetery was given also by the godly pioneer, James George, who was the first to be buried
My grandfather Williver was a soldier in the war of 1812. Charles Barker was an old soldier also and is
buried at Oak Grove. A brother of Joseph Little, was a veteran of the Civil War. Here is his soldiers prayer book, dated October
13, 1863. He lived in Illinois and became crippled in one foot by a bad sprain that was neglected; but he went to Cripple Creek,
Colorado, in the gold rush out there".
"You can remember long before there was a church in the Oak Grove community?"
"Yes". Answered grandmother, "John Green was a teacher of the old school at Oak Grove years before the Civil
War. He read a chapter of the bible and had sang and had prayer at the opening of school each morning. He went away to the West but
about 35 or 40 years ago he wrote back to see if the old trees were still standing and if the church was there. He was a Godly man
and a devout member of the Christian church, I think."
Sunday afternoon August 5, 1928, was Home Coming day at the Oak Grove church. Mrs. Mary Little, 90 years old,
Mrs. Hannah Sutton, 74, Mrs. Jennie Jolly, 75, Mrs. R.P. Miller 84, and Mrs. Jennie Bannister 80, Mrs. Lydia Jolly and Mr. J.T. Dean,
much younger but all recalling the tender memories of the old days of church and school, enjoyed a fellowship that was like a foretaste
of heaven. The younger generation sang and shared their happy companionship also; and thus was inaugurated a restoration of the old
time community festival that will become a permanent memorial and reunion at the dear old neighborhood.
Mrs. Miller told how she and Grandmother Little went to the type of school house with long side windows, slab
benches, and greased paper for glass. Mrs. Miller said when they first came to the Oak Grove community the Littles were the first to
welcome them, and a very tender friendship sprang up that years have only rendered stronger. She said that Mrs. Little was a truly
"She was a heroic and devoted woman in trouble or sickness. I remember once when she heard of the illness of
of a child in the home of an old neighbor at Reddington. She started walking there to nurse, miles away taking her chance to catch
a ride on some passing team. She was the best nurse in the country round, too. And that was her mission throughout a long and faithful
life. She knew better what to do in serious illness than anyone else except the doctor."
It was even so, for she still goes to the homes of sickness and trouble in reach of her. She has walked to
Scipio and back without serious fatigue even in her 90th year. And Clara Barton herself at 90 was not so vigorous as this stalwart,
heroic woman. Her yearning heart longs to see the old church restored and the younger generation growing up around it again in Sunday
school as long ago. She recited a verse or two that she learned in Sunday school when she was a child:
Far out upon the prarie
How many children dwell.
Who never heard the Bible.
Nor hear the Sabbath bell.
I wish that I could tell them
How Jesus came to die.
And how for little children.
He left his home on high.
There was a dreamy mist in the sweet blue eyes and a tremor in the clear old voice repeating these simple stanzas
of the old old story of Jesus and his love. Across the fields and woods came the deep musical call of the Oak Grove bell to service and
Sunday school. The winter sun light glorified her venerable form as we stood there with her hand in our own. The gleam of humor and a
a smile of memory brightened the parting as she said.
I will never regret
That it ever was my rule
Never to be late
At Sabbath School
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