REMINSCENSES By JOHN KING
North Vernon Plain Dealer - May 5,1879
I presume that your numerous readers would be pleased to have a variety of subjects to read, especially those who
are not acquainted with the early history of Jennings county. Therefore we have concluded to give you some items pertaining to your county
as we found it in 1824.
But before proceeding with the subject, I wish to say that my father, George King, resided in the town of Levanna,
situated on the banks of the Ohio River, in Brown county, State of Ohio, fifty miles above Cincinnati.
In the fall of 1824, my father having disposed of his house and lot determined to move to Indiana, to the neighborhood
of Phanuel Davis, he being an old acquaintance of ours. My father, being a carpenter by trade, built a family boat of suitable dimensions to
hold his family - consisting of eleven persons - and household goods.
All being safely on board we set sail for Madison, Jefferson county, Indiana. We had a very pleasant voyage in passing
down the beautiful Ohio. Its varied scenery on either bank was calculated to cheer the traveler after leaving his home.
Arriving at Madison, my father and I concluded to leave the balance of the family and travel on the State Road in a
northwesterly direction to Jennings county in search of the aforesaid Davis' whereabouts.
During the first day's travel we crossed several water courses and finally arrived at the forks of the Muscatatuck, which
we waded without any serious accident. We were now in the suburbs of the village of Vernon. Scattered here and there were a few dwellings. Some
of the occupants were Col. John Vawter, Achilles Vawter, Dr. E.F. Pabody, Wm. A. Bullock, Jas. Stott, (Clerk), W,. Sanford, Wm. C. Bramwell, county
surveyor, Samuel Wagner and others.
Leaving Vernon, we took the route by Andrews' mill. At this point Messers. Andrews and Newton had just began to build
an abutment for a mill. There being a log cabin on the opposite shore from the site of the mill, we concluded to move there and occupy the cabin.
We returned to Madison, moved the family and household goods in an ox wagon to the house heretofore mentioned. We were now about four miles
southwest of P. Davis'.
My earliest acquaintance was in and contiguous to Vernon, my statistics must necessarily be restricted to that locality.
Some of the pioneer settlers were - Alex. Lewis, who lived in a log cabin on the farm now occupied by W.G. Rall; Wm. Padgett,
who lived in a cabin on the farm now owned by Bartholomew Rearidan; Ed. Dwyer then lived in a cabin on the Sattler farm.
At that time farmers had but little land improved; then deadening were made and lands were cleared in the green timber.
Log-rollings, cabin-raisings, and corn-huskings were the order of the day. We have in our youth, been at a number of these frolics, and it was
common to have a jug of liquor as to prepare a repast for those present.
So much for custom. But times have changed materially since. "In the course of human events." having spiritous liquors at
gatherings is abolished with but few exceptions by those who had the well-being of society in view.
I have vivid recollection of the kind of plows in use then. The wooden moldboard was the only kind in use in our locality.
Land was broken with the "bull plow," and corn was cultivated with the "bar share" and "single shovel" plows. The "bar share" with a coulter
attached was used for breaking sward ground or meadow land. Wheat was then harvested with sickles. The ground was laid off by running furrows the
proper width for two men to reap between them. Harvesting began at sunrise and ended at sunset. Wages were about forty cents per day and mostly
paid in wheat. The price of pork ranged from $1.50 to $2.00 per hundred weight.
At the time we came into the neighborhood, and for some time afterward, where North Vernon is now situated (rather the
central part) was then know as, "Ellis' deadening" and the land now owned by James Tates heirs and also the Rendey farm were owned by a Mr. Skillinger,
and was then known as "Skillinger's deadening." Twelve acres of this, on the eastern side, was cleared and in cultivation.
I have often traveled through "Ellis' deadening" following a cow path from Andrews' mill to the State road. I recollect
on one occasion, my oldest brother and I in returning home from the State road late in the evening, missed the path and wandered through the woods
for some time but finally found out our whereabouts.
The manner of threshing wheat was with the flail, and the chaff was separated from the wheat by means of a stout linen
sheet, one man at each end holding it, and by a laborious effort made sufficient wind to separate the wheat from the chaff. It also required
another person who filled a half-bushel measure with wheat and chaff and held it over his head and let it fall in such quantity that the breeze
made by the sheet would drive the chaff away, the wheat falling perpendicularly to the earth. In time the flail was superceded by tramping of wheat
and other small grains with horses, the surface of a floor being cleared off and a circle was made some thirty feet in diameter.
As to wild game-there were deer and turkeys in abundance. The former, when killed and dressed served the double purpose of
furnishing delicious meat and the hide when tanned made splendid pants, moccasins and shoestrings. I have seen buckskin pants worn by men and boys
in winter-by wealthy farmers and their sons. The cloth mostly used then for men and boys was blue and mixed jeans, manufactured by the wives and
daughters of the farmers. The materials used by females was linsey, flannels (crosbarred) and calico. The latter was worn on special occasions. It
required but six yards for a woman's dress at that time.
Continued in the May 15, 1879 North Vernon Plain Dealer
We had also domestic animals running wild in the woods. Farms in those times were scarce of feed for hogs, hence they
would call them into the woods and leave them to roam at large to find sustenance the year round. Most of these were young. After remaining free
for a few years they became as wild as deer. The different problem was-how to capture the once domestic but now wild and ferocious animals when
needed for use. It would not be safe to approach a gang of them un-afraid; if you did the better part of valor would be to look out for a suitable
tree to climb in case of an emergency. When the owner wanted one or more for use, he had to approach them very cautiously until he arrived within
gunshot of them and select the fattest and then fire. If you were successful in killing one, the next thing in order was to blaze trees in the firection
home, returning with horse and sled to take the animal home.
When there was not sufficient water to run the few mills then erected, (we only recollect three-Kellar's, Branham's and
Sullivan's,) it was indispensably necessary to have meal for making bread in a dry time as well as when the water courses were flush. It is a
truism the "necessity is the mother of invention;" hence, "handmills" were invented and used by the pioneers of your county for the special purpose
of grinding corn to make meal for bread.
We can only give a partial description of this kind of mill. The run of stone was about two feet in diameter. When these
were properly prepared, as those used in water mills, the bed-stone was fixed in a part of a tree some five feet in length, hollowed out one foot
in debth at the upper end. The top stone revolved upon a pointed piece of steel firmly fixed in the center of the bed-stone. An upright of round
timber, of suitable size to hold in the hand, and some minor fixtures completed the outfit. Two ablebodied men were necessary to turn the mill; one
of them fed the mill with his left hand by putting in a half handful of corn at a time. In this way bushels of corn were ground, making coarse,
The labor performed by females, over and above what is now done, consisted of spinning and weaving, flax and wool for the
use of the family. Most of the farmers raised flax out of which was manufactured linen for pants, table cloths, sheeting, etc. It was spun with
little wheels. The wool, after being properly prepared, was carded by hand with wool cards, spun upon big wheels and woven into cloth, and then was
made into garments by the mothers.
Farmers were generally their own shoemakers. One pair per year for each child, and worn in cold weather, with the exception
of Sundays, in warm weather or on some notable occasion. Shoes were then made with "waxed end," as pegging was then unknown in our locality. As for
boots-we were not advised.
Our diet was a healthy one. Homemade teas and coffee-the former made of rage, sassafras bark, spicewood, etc; the latter
was made of browned corn meal, rye, etc. Corn bread in the shape of "dodgers" and "johnny cake." The latter was baked before a fire on a board
that was dressed by planing, two feet in length and six inches in width. This variety was truly delicious. These two types of corn bread were used
by many six-sevenths of the time. On Sunday came the wheat cake, nicely shortened and baked in a pan with a long handle and reared before a hot
fire at an angle of about 70 degrees. Stoves were not in use in our region of the county.
In the year 1825, we were visited by a pest called the "army worm." We were then living on the farm now owned by Col. Andrews,
and formerly owned by McClure Elliott. We had sown a piece of wheat on the west side of the land then in cultivation, and planted a field of corn on
the east side adjoining the former. Before we were aware of the approach of this army, it had passed through the piece of wheat and had eaten the entire
blades, apparently, from each stalk. This was the latter part of the month of June. They were traveling eastwardly and appeared to be determined to
keep toward that point of the compass. After taking advice of the neighbors as to how to keep these marauders from destroying the field of corn, we
were advised to plow a furrow on the east side of it with a plow of sufficient depth, to be made as nearly perpendicular as possible. In this ditch
the enemy was routed, as they could not ascend the perpendicular side of the ditch. As to the piece of wheat-it yielded an average crop. The wheat
matured although it was minus the blades.
We wish now to speak of our educational facilities. Our school houses were built of round logs, some eighteen or twenty feet
in length, clapboard roof and puncheon floors. These puncheons were generally split out of ash timber two inches in thickness, the top part hewed
smooth with a broad-ax, the ends dressed level on the under side; the sides were also dressed straight and laid down for flooring for the urchins.
Fire places were built of wood; were some five feet in height, and on this oak splits four feet by two were laid to a proper height, then plastered
inside and out with mud mixed with chopped straw to make it adhere. Flat stones of large size were put in the back and sides of the fire place, and
a few square feet of earth constituted the hearth. Windows were made by sawing a log out of one side and end of the building and the opening was
covered with paper well greased to make it transparent. Seats were made of puncheons furnished with legs. Writing desks were made of broad boards,
two or three feet in width, which were laid upon wooden pins that were driven into the walls at a proper angle to suit the convenience of those studying
penmanship. As to the wages received by teachers. I taught several terms, of three months each, at eight dollars per month.
What notable improvements have been made in your county in the last fifty years as well as all over the United States'. In
Jennings county there was then but one town (Vernon); now there are at least ten. Railroads were unthought of, but through the determined efforts
made by Col. John Vawter, in the Legislature, the Madison & Indianapols road was constructed. Since then the O.& M. and the Branch roads were made
and are now in successful operation.
Improvements in every direction have been made. Farms have been opened on land that was considered almost valueless then.
Comfortable dwellings and barns have superceded the log cabin. Fruits of all kind, suitable to the climate are now cultivated-grafted and budded
trees are planted instead of those raised from the seed as were the first orchards.
School houses and churches have been erected for enduational, moral and religious instruction.
But I must close. It may be that I have been too lengthy in my description of some items.
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