Recollections of the Early Settlement of the Wabash Valley
 By Sandford C. Cox

The Formation of the City of Lafayette and Its Early Settlers

Lafayette Daily Courier, Tuesday, October 25, 1859


"Mr. Editor: A few old settlers remain among us who, perhaps, would like to see some Pen  Sketches of Early Times on the Wabash.

The admirable paintings of our townsman, Winters, graphically portrays many scenes and incidents connected with the early history of the Wabash Valley; but the production of the artist can be owned and admired by few--while a few pen sketches published in your widely circulated paper can be read by thousands.
In a few more fleeting years all the old settlers will have passed to that "bourne from whence no traveller returns."
Shall their names and deeds, their toils and privations, which laid the foundation of our present happiness and prosperity, be so soon forgotten?  Shall those hardy pioneers who first penetrated our deep forests and broke soil on our wide beautiful prairies be forgotten, while the log cabins  and corduroy bridges, constructed by their hands still remain among us?
"Despise not the day of small things," is a scriptural injunction--our beautiful Wabash Valley, which now teems with a thrifty and happy population, but a few years ago was a haunt for wild beasts, and a home for the wandering Indian.
I have lately been permitted to examine and make some extracts from the Journal of the Black Creek School Master, beginning as far back as the year 1824,--giving an account of the first settle- ment of Crawfordsville, and the surrounding country--the laying off of the towns of Lafayette and Attica on the Wabash, with several other things, besides the manner of "keeping school" number of scholars &c., in those early days.  If you will allow a few of these 'extracts' room in your columns, they are at your service."    INCOG.

Lafayette Daily Courier, Monday, October 31, 1859

Crawfordsville, Ind., Dec. 24, 1824

"The land sales commenced here today, and the town is full of strangers. The eastern and Southern portions of the State are strangely represented, as well as Ohio, Kentucky, Tennesse and Pennsylvania.

There is but little bidding against each other.  The settlers, or "Squatters," as they are called by speculators, have arranged matters among themselves to their general satisfaction.  If upon comparing numbers it appears that two are after the same tract of land, one asks the other what he will take not to bid against him?  If neither will consent to be bought off, they then retire, and cast lots, and the lucky one enters the tract at Congress price--$1.25 per acre--and the other enters the second choice on his list.

If a speculator makes a bid, or shows a disposition to take a settler's claim from him, he soon sees the white of a score of eyes snapping at him, and the first opportunity he crawfishes out of the crowd.

The settlers tell foreign capitalists to hold on till they enter the tracts of land they have settled upon, and that they may then pitch in-that there will be land enough-more than enough for them all. (There is Squatter Sovereignty before it was christened and adopted by Stephen A. Douglas).

The land is sold in tiers of Townships, beginning at the southern part of the district and continuing north until all has been offered at public sale.  Then private entries can be made at $1.25 per acre of any that has been thus publicly offered.  This rule, adapted by the officers, insures great regularity in the sale, but it will keep many here for several days, who desire to purchase land in the southern portion of the district.

A few days of public sale has sufficed to relieve hundreds of their cash, but they secured their land, which will serve as a basis for their future wealth and prosperity, if they and their families use proper industry and economy, sure as "time's gentle progress makes a calf an ox."

PETER WEAVER, ISAAC SHELBY, and JEHU STANLEY stopped with us two or three nights during the sale.  We were glad to see and entertain these old white water neighbors, altho' we live in a cabin twelve by sixteen, and there are seven of us in family, yet we made room for them by covering the floor with beds--no uncommon occurrence in backwoods life. They all succeeded in getting the land they wanted without opposition. WEAVER purchased at the lower end of the Wea prairie, SHELBY west of the Wabash river opposite, STANLEY on the north side of the Wabash, above the mouth of Indian Creek, and my father, on the north side of the Wea prairie.
It is a stirring, crowding time here, truly, and men are busy hunting up cousins and old acquaintances whom they have not seen for many long years.  If men have ever been to the same mill, or voted at the same election precinct, though at different times, it is sufficient for them to scrape an acquaintance upon.  But after all, there is a genuine backwoods, log cabin hospitality, which is free from the affected cant, and polished deception of conventional life. Society here at present seems almost entirely free from the taint of aristocracy--the only premonatory symptom of that disease, most prevalent generally in old settled communities, were manifested last week, when JOHN I. FOSTER bought a new pair of silver plated spurs, and T.N. CATTERLIN was seen walking up street with a pair of curiously embroidered gloves on his hands."      INCOG.

Lafayette Daily Courier, Tuesday, November 1, 1859

"After the public land sales, the accessions to the population of Crawfordsville and the surrounding country were constant and rapid.

Fresh arrivals of movers were the current topics of conversation.  New log cabins widened the limits of the town, and spread over the circumjacent country.

The reader may be curious to know how the people spent their time, and what they followed for  a livelihood in those early times, in the dense forest that surrounded Crawfordsville.

I will answer for the School Master, for I was there myself.  We cleared land, rolled logs, and burnt brush, blazed out paths from one neighbors cabin to another--made and used hand mills and hominy mortars--hunted deer, turkies [sic], otter, and raccoons--caught fish, dug ginseng--hunted bees, and the like, and lived on the fat of the land.

We read of a land of "corn and wine," and another "flowing with milk and honey," but I rather think, in a temporal point of view, taking into the account the richness of the soil, timber, stone, wild game and other advantages, that the Sugar Creek country would come up to, if not surpass any of them.
I once cut cord wood at 31 1/4 cents per cord, (and walked a mile and a half--night and morning) where the first frame College was built, near NATHANIEL DUNN's northwest of town.
PROF. CURRY, the lawyer, would sometimes come down and help for a few hours at a time, by way of amusement, as there was but little or not law business in the town or country at that time.

Reader what would you think of going six to eight miles to help roll logs or raise a cabin?  Or from ten to thirty miles to mill, and wait three or four days and nights for your grist?--as many had to do in the first settlement of this country.
Such things  were of frequent occurrence then, and there was but little grumbling about it.  It was a grand sight to see the log heaps and brush piles burning in the night on a clearing of ten or fifteen acres--a Democratic torch, light procession, or a midnight march of the Sons of Malta, with their Grand Isacusus in the center, bearing the Grand Jewel of the Order, would be nowhere in comparison with the log heaps and brush piles in a blaze!

But it may be asked, "had you any social amusements, or manly past-times to recreate andenliven the dwellers in the wilderness?"  We had.  In the social line we had our meetings and singing schools, sugar boilings and weddings, which were as good as ever came off in any country, new or old; and if our youngsters did not "trip the light fantastic toe" under a professor of the terpsichorean art, or expert French dancing master, they had many a good hoe-down on puncheon floors, and were not annoyed by bad whisky.  And as for manly sport, requiring mettle and muscle, there were lots of wild hogs running in the cat-tail swamps on Lie Creek and Mill Creek, and raccoon and amongst them many large boars that Ossian's heroes and Homer's model soldiers, such as Achilles, Hector and Ajax would have delighted to have given chase to.

The boys and men of those days had quite as much sport, and made more money and health by their  hunting excursions, than our city gents do now-a-days, playing Chess by telegraph, where the players are more than seventy miles apart.

In my next number I will call attention of the reader to the laying off of the Town of Lafayette, the organization of Tippecanoe County, the establishment of the Seat of Justice of said County, &c.


Lafayette Daily Courier, Wednesday, November 2, 1859


Crawfordsville, May 27, 1825

"ROBERT JOHNSON, Esq., our new tavern keeper, has just returned from surveying a new town on the east bank of the Wabash River, about two miles below the trading house at Longlois, and three or four miles below the mouth of Wild Cat creek.  MR. WILLIAM DIGBY, the proprietor, calls it Lafayette, in honor of the patriotic Frenchman who periled his life and fortune for the success of the American arms during the Revolution.
Those desirous of purchasing corner lots, can see a plat of the new town, by calling our recorder's office.  MR. COWLEY, recorder, or JOHN WILSON, his deputy, will take pleasure in showing the map, and telling how near it lies to a settlement.  The proprietor thinks when a new county is laid off north of Montgomery, his town will stand a good chance of becoming the county seat. MR. JOHNSON says the site is eligible for a fine town, although the ground is very thickly set with hazel and plum brush, grape vines and large forest trees, which made it difficult to survey.
Three days after laying off his town, DIGBY sold it to SAMUEL SARGEANT for the sum of $240 --reserving, however, a small fraction, the ferry privelege, and twenty acres north-east, adjoining the town plat--which twenty acres he subsequently sold to said SARGEANT, for the sum of sixty dollars.  SARGEANT, who was an enterprising down-easter, and understanding well the ways of the world for a young man, soon hit upon a successful plan to bring out his young town. As Crawfordsville was the all-absorbing centre of business, civilization and every kind of enterprise for the whole country for one hundred miles around, he thought if he could get a few of prominent citizens of that town interested in Lafayette, it would be more likely to come to something.  He therefore soon struck a bargain with ISAAC C. ELSTON, JOHN WILSON, and JONATHAN W. POWERS, to whom he sold five-eights of all the odd-numbered lots, for the sum of $130.  These new lot holders lived at Crawfordsville, and had daily intercourse with travelers, fortune hunters, and fortune makers, as well as with JOHN BEARD, the people's able and popular representative, who would of course have much to do with the laying off of the contemplated new county north of Montgomery, and the appointment of commissioners to locate the seat of justice.  But with all these apparent advantages, Lafayette was quite languid in its infancy, and it often became a serious question with those most interested, whether it would live or die.   INCOG

Lafayette Daily Courier, Thursday, November 3, 1859  


"If I was called upon by a lithographer for an original sketch of the town of Lafayette and  its suburbs, as it was when I first saw it, I would in the first place draw the Wabash river, on a proper scale, according to GUNTER, give its exact curve and meanderings, with a ferry flat, skiff, canoe, two perogues, and a keel boat, moored along its eastern bank, near the foot of Main street.  I next would sketch three or four rude cabins, scattered along on the bank of the river, from Main street to the foot of Ferry street, where the canal packet landing now is.
One of the cabins would contain Smith's store and the post office, WILLIAM SMITH, the store keeper, being the first postmaster in Lafayette; MR. SMITH was quite an enterprising, public spirited citizen, and on the arrival of the first steamboats at the Lafayette landing, was in the habit of saluting them with a "big gun," by boring a stump, charging it heavily with powder, and touching it off with a slow match, about the time the steamer was "rounding-to" to land at the foot of Main street.  And often, when trade became a little dull, he would charge a stump and fire it off in order to bring in the country people to tradeat his store.  One morning the reportof a heavy cannon was heard near the landing.  The citizens of the village ran down to see the steamer.  On passing SMITH's store, they saw the proprietor lying upon his back on the floor, and several shelves of broken crockery and a shivered door-facing were lying smashed up around him.  They picked up the prostrate merchant, who, after he partially came to himself, enquired: "Is Mouser safe? I thought I would give them a blizzard, but I guess I've got the worse of it. Is Mouser safe?"  He then explained matters by pointing to the fragments of a large stump that stood not far from his store, which he said he charged with about a half pound of Dupont's best powder, and touched off by a slow match--that he had made a sad mistake in putting the peg that served to plug up the auger-hole on the side of the stump facing his store, and while he was peeping round the door-cheek to witness the explosion, the powder ignited, sent the plug againstthe door-facing in front of him, shivering it to pieces, knocking out a log of the house, smashing his crockery, and well nigh using up the proprietor.  By noon the country people for many miles around flocked in to see the steamer that carried such heavy ordnance, and on learning that MR. SMITH was convalescent, and his cat Mouser safe, returned to their homes in the evening, satisfied that they were hoaxed again! 

Another of these cabins would be DIGBY's grocery; another KELSEY and BISHOP's justice office; the other, RICHARD M. JOHNSON's hotel.  Near the bank ofthe river, back of  ROGERS & REYNOLDS' present warehouse, I would draw a few large sugar trees, growing on a beautiful blue grass plat; on which I would place a large house, larger than anyof those above depicted, which I would mark "SOLOMON HAMER's Grocery," the most public and most frequented place in the village.  I would next draw "OLD SOL" (not the sun, but the jolly old grocery keeper,) whom I would have standing behind the counter, handing out Monoga-Durkee whisky by the half-pint to his numerous customers.  On the blue grass before the grocery door, between the sugar trees and the ferry, I would draw a group of men--some pitching quoits, some hopping three hops, others wrestling, while others would be trying to get up a foot race. The hindmostman in all these sports had to pay for the liquor or take a sound drubbing, which was frequently administered in those days for the most trivial provocation.  There were more black eyes, bruisednoses and bit fingers in those early times, than a few.  We had our TOM HYERS, MORISSEYS and BENICIA Boys of those days, who, frequently at our musters and general elections, would give some bloody demonstrations of their strength and pluck.
And if my lithographer would cry "more copy," I would draw BENBRIDGE & FOSTER's store at the foot of Main street, where McCORMICK's brick warehouse is located; then I would sketch JOHN McCORMICK's little one story frame store, on the corner of Main and Wabash streets, where McCORMICK's large three story brick block now stands, with the old veteran and his two sons, PERRY and JAMES, selling goods.  Next, I would give a sketch of JOSEPH S. HANNA's new two story frame store house across the street south of McCORMICK's store (which stood where HANNA's large block now stands, on the corner occupied by J.C. BANSEMER & Bro., JAY MIX and others, as wholesale grocery stores), which presented a fine appearance, being painted white, with green stripes running up and down, and across it, in excellent taste for those early times.  TAYLOR & LINTON's store stood on the south side of Main street, where the TAYLOR House and Artesian bathing buildings now stand.  East of McCORMICK's store, on the north side of Main street, I would sketch AYRE's grocery, in a little log house, situated about where TAYLOR & COLLIER's stove store now stands; WILLIAM HEATON's store, in a small frame which stood about where O.W. PEIRCE's wholesale grocery house is now situated; and SENECA & CYRUS BALL's store, in a small frame on the corner of Main and Ohio streets, lately occupied by FOWLER & PENN.  HILL & HOLLOWAY's store was kept in a little house which stood on the ground now occupied by ROSS HENDERSON's wholesale grocery establishment.  Across Main street, on the corner of Main and Ohio, ROBERT JOHNSON, formerly of Crawfordsvile, and who surveyed the original plat of Lafayette--kept tavern in a story and a half log house, where TAYLOR's large four story brick block now stands.  He was a popular landlord, had a careful and amiable wife, and an interesting family, mostly daughters.  I would then exhibit  DANIEL BUGHER's residence and office, a hewed log house on the corner of Columbia and Wabash streets, where J. EWRY & Co. now keep store, and ask for further time to complete my picture, which I expect to do in my next chapter."   INCOG

Lafayette Daily Courier, Friday, November 4, 1859

"In my last I left off after describing the residence and office of Recorder BUGHER, on the corner of Columbia and Wabash streets.  Next, I will draw JOHN McCORMICK's small but neat residence, at the foot of Columbia street, near the river where the large three story  brick warehouse stands occupied by J.M. SPENCER.  From thence I will take a
southeast direction, drawing a cow-path through the underbrush towards SAMPLE's tanyard, situated over the branch in the country, which is surrounded by a dense forest of large trees.  Half way between McCORMICK's residence and SAMPLE's tan yard, near a point on Wabash street where TEMPLE's foundry now stands, I would draw a daguerreotype likeness of MARIAM (Granny) NEFF's log cabin, with the old lady seated at the window, and POLLY standing in the door.  The streets were then opened in patches, between houses only, and the roads and paths were cut through the brushwood and timber that covered the most of the town plat to suit the taste of those who opened these original avenues through the brush.

My pen shall next sketch SAMUEL HOOVER's one-story frame dwelling, in which he also held the Clerk's office, on Main street, north of the centre of the public square, where he afterwards erected his two-story brick block, now occupied with stores and offices.

Next, I would draw the first-story of the old brick Court House, which stood where the present Court House now stands, surrounded by a cluster of large stumps--for the public square was originally covered with large trees.  I would draw the scaffolding still standing, and Major FERGUSON and his workmen laying brick while in the background I would draw TOMMY COLLINS, a jovial old Irishman, grubbing up a large stump on the public square, where the first jail stood, near the spot occupied by the old Market House.

South of the Square, near the spot where the Courier and American Express offices now stand, I would draw WILLIAM S. TRIMBLE's tan-yard, with the proprietor drawing hides out of a vat with a long pole, with a crooked horn on the end of it.

On the southwest corner of the Square, on the corner of Columbia and Ohio streets, generally called "FORD & WALKER's corner," I would place JOSEPH H. MARTIN's little frame store-house, with JACOB WALKER and ANDREW KENNEDY standing behind the counter as clerks.
On the south side of Main street, a few rods east of the Square, where the Odd Fellow's new and splendid hall has been recently erected, I would place Dr. JAMES DAVIS' residence and office.  Next door east was JOHN and ALBERT BARTHOLOMEW's store in a little one-story frame house.  Further up Main street, MATTHIAS S. SCUDDER lived in a low one-story frame house, and carried on the cabinet making business on the same lot where his large brick block now stands, opposite LAHR's Hotel.  About a hundred yards north of SCUDDER's, almost hid amidst the hazel and plum brush, stood JESSE STANSBURY's log cabin on the lot where THOMAS S. COX's dwelling is situated.  Near this cabin, on the east and south, was a large pond, covering, in a wet season, several acres of ground.  Upon this pond, which bore the uphonious name of "Lake Stansbury," I would draw a squad of juveniles skating upon the ice, as I have often seen the, some with skates, some with shoes, and some bare-footed.
ISAAC EDWARDS and family resided in a cabin on the hill, on the ground where the "white house" now stands, on the corner of Columbia and Missouri streets; and his brick-yard lay east, over the bog, where JOHN L. REYNOLDS has since built his beautiful frame palace, with its exquisite arbors and surroundings.
And, to complete the diagram, I would draw MATTHIAS PETERSON's tan-yard, which lay back under the hill, about where WILLIAM PORTER's and B. HART's residences stand, south and adjoining the property on which JAMES H. SPEARS' splendid residence is situated.
Old settlers! those of you who lived here as far back as 1826 - unroll the map of your memories - see things as they were here then - and say whether my picture is not in the main correct.  I believe it will compare with the diagram imprinted on your memories long time ago.
 I must now leave Lafayette, and give brief description of the surrounding country and its nhabitants.  I then will attend to events which transpired in the first settlement of Fountain county, then return through Warren county, giving a daguerreotype of old settlers and old times in Warren, and from thence to Lafayette again, and take a second view of Lafayette, in which will appear a brief allusion to the first Methodist Quarterly Meeting held at Lafayette, at which the renowned and eloquent JOHN STRANGE officiated as Presiding Elder, the Black Hawk War; with a notice of the stores, business houses, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, &c, who were here at that time.   INCOG

Lafayette Daily Courier, Saturday, November 5, 1859  


"Mr. Editor--In my last number I promised to notice the rural, or country, population of  Tippecanoe county at the time of its organization.  As it will take some time to look over the notes and memorandums of the Journalist, and arrange the names of the settlers in their proper neighborhoods, according to priority of settlement, &c., I propose to furnish the reader, by way of episode, the following extract from the journal of the Black Creek school master, which reads as follows:

BLACK CREEK, October 18, 1831

No school today, so I will go to the militia election, and support WILLIAM S---- for captain and GABRIEL B---- for lieutenant.  Election organized at 10 o'clock A.M. under a shed adjoining EDWARD BARKLEY's house--about 15 voters present at the time of the organization.  About 10 1/2 o'clock four more voters arrived, and a tin cup of whiskey was passed around.  Being some- what chilling sitting under the shed, I took a tolerable deep nip of it.  Eleven o'clock the tin cup was passed around a second time.  I touched it lightly, lest I might make blunders in clerking.  Felt valiant--sorry I had peremptorily declined running for Captain.  Noon--about 30 voters present. A two gallon jug and a bucket of water passed around with the tin cup.
A warm discussion now sprang up through the crowd.  Question--Ought the State of Indiana to accept the grant of land donated by Congress, for the construction of the Wabash and Erie Canal, from Lake Erie to the mouth of the Tippecanoe river?  DOCTOR STONE was the most noisy against accepting the grant; his friends called him out in a speech of about twenty minutes; he spoke vehemently against the measure, and challenged opposition.  The friends of the canal looked about for some one to reply.  The "young school master" was chosen for that purpose.  The election adjourned to give me a chance to speak.  Sorry they called upon me, for I felt about "half seas over" from the free and frequent use of the tin cup.
I was puzzled to know what to do.  To decline would injure me in the estimation of the neighbor- hood, who were generally strongly in favor of the grant and, on the other hand, if I attempted to speak, and failed from intoxication, it would ruin me with my patrons.  Soon a fence rail was slipped into the worm fence which stood nearby, and a wash-tub turned bottom upwards, was placed upon it and the neighboring rails, about five feet from the ground as a rostrum for me to speak from.  Two or three men seized hold of me and placed me upon the stand, amidst the vociferous shouts of the friends of the canal, which was none the less loud on account of the frequent circulation of the tin and jug.
I could scarcely preserve my equilibrium, but there I was on the stand (tub) for the purpose of answering and exposing the doctor's sophistries, and an anxious auditory waiting for me to exterminate him.
 But, strange to say, my lips refused utterance.  I saw "men as it were trees walking," and after a long and to me a painful pause, I smote my hand upon my breast, and said, "I feel too full for utterance." (I meant of whiskey--they thought I meant righteous indignation at the Doctor's effrontery in opposing the measure under consideration.)  The ruse worked like a charm--the crowd shouted, "let him have it."  I raised my finger and pointed a moment steadily at the Doctor; the audience shouted "hit him again."  Thus encouraged I commenced the first stump speech I ever attempted to make; and after I got my mouth to go off, (and a part of the whiskey, in perspiration) I had no trouble whatever, and the liquor dispelled a native timidity that otherwise, perhaps, might have embarrassed me.  I occupied the tub about twenty-five minutes.  The doctor, boiling over with indignation and a speech, mounted the tub and harangued us for at least thirty minutes.  The "young school master" was again called for and another speech from him, of about twenty minutes, closed the debate.

A 'viva voce' vote of the company was taken, which resulted in 26 for accepting the canal grant, and four against.
My two friends were elected captain and lieutenant, and I am back at my boarding house, ready for supper, with a slight headache.  Strange none of them discovered I was intoxicated.  Lucky for me they did not or I would doubtless lose my school.  I now here promise myself, on this leaf of my day-book, that I will not drink liquor again, except given as a medical prescription.
Tradition says the young Black Creek school master stuck to his pledge and that many years after he made that entry in his daybook, he was often seen passing up and down on the packets that ran upon the Wabash and Erie canal, lecturing upon temperance, and cordially shaking hands with the old settlers, whom he found sprinkled along from Vincennes to Fort Wayne."   INCOG

Contents of Old Settlers

Tippecanoe County INGenWeb Project