Home Memoir Part 1
In presenting to the public, the slight contribution to our indigenous history comprised in the following pages, some introductory remarks may be deemed not inappropriate.
There is much to interest a generous and inquiring mind in the contemplation of the first settlement of the West, -- the germs of mighty States, populous and prosperous communities of freemen, which, within the memory of persons yet living, have emerged from the wilderness. How little do the present generation – the men of these degenerate days, as Homer has it – consider the toils and privations of their forefathers! Those who now cast their eyes over this beautiful valley of the Whitewater, can scarcely realize the change which has taken place since the first pioneers pitched their tents beside its refreshing streams, - when there was “not a stick amiss,” of all the umbrageous, dense, primeval forest, and the wild deer and the Indian, were among the most familiar animated things. As represented by the early settlers, the wild luxuriance of vegetable life then displayed, was in broad contrast with the present aspect of the country. It shrouded the bottom-lands and encroached upon the streams, causing their channels to appear much narrower than they do at the present day. Gradually the woods began to recede before the axe of the settler, and the smoke, at more and more frequent intervals, to curl from his cabin roof above the boughs. Then by the low banks of many a winding, romantic stream, might have been heard the drumming of the pheasant, the chatter of the playful squirrel, and the wild birds’ concerts; while many a tinkling bell, from herds hidden by clustering vines, and the tall, purple-blooming iron-weed, resounded far and wide, swelling fitfully on the breeze, and mingling sweetly with the murmuring of the waters. Forth fled the Indian before the white man’s daring; wider, and still wider blazed the clearings, spread the corn-fields, as the years passed over; till peace and plenty made the land their home, and industry adorned it, as we now behold it.
Such was the first appearance of that New England of the West – but of more luxuriant charms and softer grace – the Whitewater country. It is a unique portion of the West. The blue limestone formation, so common here, I believe the geologists say, is unknown north-west of this. The soil is not so vastly fertile as in some other sections; but this fact is more than counterbalanced by the elevated and finely diversified character of the country; the unparalleled number of its beautiful machinery – propelling creeks, tell-tale brooks, and gushing, crystal springs, for the unsought refreshment of man and beast; but far above all other things, by the fact that the rosy goddess of Health – Heaven’s best minister to man – with all earth’s joys and graces in her train, sits enthroned and sheds abroad her beatitudes, by all these rocky-bottomed, swiftly-flowing, silvery streams.
Nor is this admirable region wanting in historical importance, or traditional interest. Its pioneer history, in particular, demands attention, ere the actors in it, and sources of it, shall have sunk into the tomb.
How prone are good people to disregard what is familiar or common, and to fix their gaze upon things at a distance, though often intrinsically less interesting than those at their very doors! Thus they are frequently to be found better acquainted with the history of remote regions, than with that of their own country or vicinage. Thus we peruse the sketches of manner and localities drawn by the pens of Irving and others, with admiration, without considering that every nook of ground in our vicinity has, perhaps, its tradition of equal, if not superior interest. Would that some latent genius might arise among ourselves, and, fired by generous emulation,
--“gar our streams and burnies shine up wi’ the best!”
Such an achievement would be alike honorable to the deeds of our ancestors and the gratitude of their sons.
But for the materials of our native history and romance, we must rely upon the old settlers themselves, -- too many of whom are passing away, leaving no record of their experience. The fathers and founders of our Western Israel, are daily sinking into the tomb, carrying with them what priceless memories of the past! The former fact, though melancholy, is inevitable; the latter is at once melancholy and shameful to us, because we might prevent it. Surely we have not considered as we ought, that such recollections, if committed to writing, would constitute the choicest materials, the treasures of our country’s history. Our pioneers are naturally, from their past mode of life, not accustomed to the use of the pen; but they delight to narrate their experiences, and it should be an equal pleasure to their descendants to record them. Says the late Judge Walker, [discourse in Transactions of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, Vol. 1st, 1837], of Cincinnati, on this subject: “The time has arrived when we ought to take shame to ourselves, if we do not rescue from oblivion those precious but fleeting recollections. We should regard this not merely as a matter of laudable pride, but of imperious duty. We owe it to the world, as well as ourselves, to contribute our proportion to the great aggregate of written history.”
It is gratifying, therefore, to notice the new interest which is springing up in regard to this subject, and manifesting itself extensively in the way of Old Settler’s Societies, etc. Among others, Hon. O. H. Smith, of Indianapolis, is doing good service, by publishing his personal reminiscences of the past of our State.
Among the surviving earliest settlers of Indiana, few, if any, are better qualified to contribute materials toward our early annals, than the subject of the following Memoir. He has been an eye-witness of the birth and progress, not only of our own State, but of all the various opulent and populous commonwealths of the North-west. For half a century he has mingled personally with the leading public men, and been cognizant of the public measures of Indiana. He is one, to whom Western pioneers might point with pride as a “representative man” of their class. By his own efforts, he has acquired a range of general knowledge, and he possesses a literary taste, quite exceptional among those who have enjoyed no greater early opportunities. Always a man of the people, he has always retained a strong hold on the popular heart. Although, unhappily, he has not for several months past enjoyed his accustomed excellent health and spirits, his friends will cherish the hope that he may yet find opportunity and disposition to put on record, more completely, his recollections of our early history and popular life.
The Memoir was written several years since, and is transcribed from the author’s latest copy, furnished to a friend, at his request. It was intended, as the author states, not for the public eye, but for the use of his descendants. The interest lately manifested in memorials of the “olden time,” suggested to me the idea of its publication, which, I felt confident, would be gratifying, not merely to the large circle of relatives and personal friends of the venerable writer, but also to the public generally. The result was, that the manuscript was submitted to my disposal. In transcribing it for the press, no material alteration has been made, either in the language or the sentiments; and it will be recognized as a faithful memento of the mind and heart of the writer.
Between the time when the resolution to publish the Memoir was taken, and that at which it was deemed most expedient it should make its public appearance, only a few days could be commanded for preparing it, and the matter accompanying, for the press. Had time permitted, a large addition of interesting materials relating to the early history of this region might have been made, and the work in other respects rendered more complete. As it is, I trust something has in this way been done toward enhancing the interest of the publication.
The Pioneer History of Indiana yet remains a fertile, almost untrodden field. Should it not in the meantime be better occupied by abler pens, the public may meet me again in that department at a future day.
I. H. J.
CENTREVILLE, IND., September 7, 1857.
Home Memoir Part 1