Saturday, May 15, 2010

Of Interest Perhaps

The following was too long to include in the last post without overwhelming it, but I include it here as a footnote of sorts. This is titled "Recollections of Pioneer Days" and was written in the late 19th century by Rebecca (Huddle) Rhinehart's uncle, Elder Lewis Seitz, longtime pastor of the local Primitive Baptist Church. I'll save my own comments for the very end.

In October, 1825, at the age of twenty-three, with my wife and one child, I removed to my present home....I came from my native county, Fairfield, into an almost unbroken wilderness of forest trees, with less than a score of settlers in advance of me. Nearly all who were here before me had settled along the rich valley of Honey creek. For two or three years before mine was reared, cabins had begun to appear in our wilderness. J.C. Hampton (who came in 1822 with the Boyds and Donalds, from Ross County), informs me that he aided in erecting the first cabin put up in the township. This was for my brother, Noah, on Silver Creek. Hampton made his home for a time with his companions from Ross. Their shelter at first was in a log pen covered with logs split in twain, the under tier being with flat side up, and the top tier covering the cracks with the flat side down. The beds were for the women, on bedsteads, with one post. That is, in one corner of the "pen" two poles were entered in the logs with the other end in this "post". Basswood bark furnished the "cords." The men slept on the ground, with hickory bark spread down for sheets. Hampton says: "Our first supply of flour was brought by us on horseback...through the woods."

During these early days a wilderness of forest trees covered the earth, and the first need of the settler was to clear away space enough for a cabin, and then it was "root, hog, or die." While I brought from Fairfield County enough flour to last two years, very few of my contemporaries were thus provided. One season, however, usually sufficed the industrious prioneer to clear a small field and grow bread to do. As for meat, everyone had his gun to supply him with wild turkey or venison, which were abundant. Often, too, as we lay upon our pillow at night, were we saluted with the howl of wolves, apparently at our cabin door. Not only did they make night vocal with their cries, but woe to the sheep or young pigs not well guarded. An occassional bear passed through, but I think none made their home in our township. There were some otter...A wildcat was shot within one hundred rods of our cabin. Indians often visited us...Our red brother was uniformly friendly, and, as a rule, honest, but a tricky one appeared sometimes...

The pioneer who succeeded best in making a comfortable living, did not make a business of hunting, but chopping and logging and burning was the chief work. Much timber, which today would be valuable in the market, was burned on the ground. No where could finer poplar, walnut, blue ash and butternut trees be found...

The first saw mill was built by Roswell Munsel and the Donalds, on Honey Creek, near the present Kaler mill. Soon after John Davis built another mill, a mile further down, where my first lumber was made. A few years later Abraham Kagy put up a saw mill, and the Steeles a saw and grist mill on Silver Creek. It may be well to remind the reader that in those days our water courses furnished power much more steadily and for a greater part of the year. Through the clearing away of fallen timber and general drainage, our creeks gave short lived spirts of water....

In those days neighbors were neighbors, indeed. Was a cabin to be "raised," logs to be "rolled," or assistance of any kind needed, a simple notice was enough. A "neighbor" could be found at a much greater distance than now. The whisky of those days was not charged with "killing at forty rods" as now, but the "brown jug" or the "barrel" was found in nearly every home, and it was esteemed an indispensible "mechanical power" at "raisings" and "loggings", etc., etc.

On the 27th of May, 1827, the Baptist church, named "Honey Creek", was organized. The "council" was composed of Elders Thomas Snelson, of Highland County, and Benjamin Caves, of Pickaway, and Deacon John Hite, of Fairfield. In 1830 the undersigned was chosen pastor of this church and has sustained this relation ever since. As will be noticed, ministers in those days traveled a great way in the pursuit of the calling. But not as now, cosily and swiftly in a railway coach, but invariably on horseback, equipped with "saddle-bags", with Bible, hymn book, a few "dickeys" (a sort of shirt-front with collar attached), and some provisions, perhsaps. The messenger of "peace and good will," through the cross of Christ, traveled in all kinds of weather, over all sorts of roads (or no roads through the wilderness). Perhaps such experiences, if peresent to many of our clerical brethren today, as part of their labors, would lead to some more congenial calling. But it must be remembered that the privations and trials of pioneer life were shared by all classes, and hence borne more cheerfully. While we may freely admit that this generation is enjoying much that is good and desirable as the fruit of the labors and purposes of their pioneer fathers and mothers, it is a matter of profound regret that the rugged virtues and beautiful friendships could not have been transmitted with the improved culture, conveniences, comforts and luxuries enjoyed by our children. They are enjoying the material blessings for which their fathers and mothers toiled and dared and suffered. Modern improvements have obviated the necessity for much of the personal effort and deprivation of pioneer life, but when we cease to practice their manly and womanly virtues, all our boasted progress cannot save us from the penalties of violated moral law.

Of all my first neighbors, Abraham Kagy, J.C. Hampton, Mrs. Thomas West and John C. Martin alone remain. The rest have passed to that "bourne from whence no traveler returns." We, too, shall soon pass away, but may He who guides the destinies of men and of nations, bless our children and our country with civil and religious liberty, and every good resulting from the reign of truth and righteousness is the prayer of Yours truly Lewis Seitz.

Several items from this account drew my particular attention. First, Elder Seitz arrived here in late 1825 - three years after Jacob and Susannah Rhinehart came to this township. In fact, Seitz states that 1822 (the year the Rhineharts came) was the year the very first cabin in the township was built. Clearly, the Rhineharts arrived to an unbroken wilderness when they reached their new home. I also noted Seitz's praise of the neighborliness of the pioneer settlers. Although knowing that Jacob Rhinehart died at a neighbor's barn raising, I was struck by Seitz's admission that whisky "was esteemed an indispensable 'mechanical power' at 'raisings' and 'loggings,' etc., etc.".

Two other sections of Seitz's recollection drew my attention. Since our house is full of some amazing walnut woodwork, the line "No where could finer poplar, walnut, blue ash and butternut trees be found" definately made me smile.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, I was struck by Seitz's statement that "in those days our water courses funished power much more steadily and for a greater part of the year". Although our springhouse still stands (thanks to some amazing work by our masons) it would currently not be able to properly serve its original purpose again. The creek that provided the water necessary to keep the springhouse cool is now often barely more than a trickle. Much of last fall the creek bed was entirely dry. A neighbor who has farmed near us since the 1940s tells us that the flow of water in our creek has diminished noticably even in the last 60 years. He speculates that farmers tiling their fields is the primary cause for this change. It is very interesting (and a bit sad I think) to note that this phenomenon was noted as far back as the 1880s.

And with that I'm off to the house for another 48 hours of toil and labor. Something that I think Elder Seitz would approve of. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment