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Chicago F.A. Battey and Company Publishers 1882


By: Weston A. Goodspeed

Greenfield Township- The First Settlement on Pretty and English Prairies-The Gage and Langdon War-Appearance of Industries-Villagers of Vistula and Lexington-The First School and Teacher-Educational Growth-Revival of 1840-Religious Societies-The Spiritualists 

     The lands in Southern Michigan were in market some years before those of Northern Indiana, and were, of course, purchased and occupied by sturdy pioneers who had come from the East. Many of these men soon became dissatisfied with their new homes, as the land was covered with an almost unbroken forest, which must 
be removed before the soil could be cultivated. This promised many years of unremitting toil, and the outlook for 
those who had just come from Europe, or who were unused to to the ways of the woods, was cheerless and discouraging. During the year 1829 there came to near White Pigeon, Mich., the following men and their families: Amos Barr (who arrived in the spring), John Anderson, Samuel Anderson, William Miller, Benjamin Jones, John and Felix Miller (brothers), Jesse Huntsman, Ephraim Seeley, Jacob Croy, and perhaps others. Some of these families came from Ohio- a number from the same neighborhood- while others were 
directly from Europe, or from the Eastern or Middle States. They were not all in the same vicinity in Michigan, 
but, during the year, they all became aware of the fact that, in what is now northern LaGrange County, several 
rich, extensive and beautiful prairies were to be found where the soil needed no preparation for grain save the action of the plow. But at that period these prairies were not yet marketable, and, in order to secure a right to the land "claims" were located, and the settlers prepared to enjoy a squatter's life until the prairie claims could be bought. It is well authenticated that the above-named men located claims on Pretty and English Prairies during the year 1829. The first to do this cannot be known. From the fact that Amos Barr was by several months the first 
to reach Southern Michigan, it may be presumed that he was at least (if not the first) one of the first to establish a 
claim in Greenfield Township. A few of the men- as William Miller and Benjamin Jones- did not reach Southern Michigan until late in the fall of 1829, and, of course, their claims on the prairies were not made until that time. Claims in the woods were established by blazed trees; those on the prairies by stakes or by plowed furrows. So far as known, Amos Barr was the first man to erect a cabin in the township, this being done in the fall of 
1829, but the building was roofless and floorless, and was probably erected to more fully establish the right to the claim,around which (the prairie portion) a furrow was plowed before cold weather set in. Often during the winter of 1829-30, these men (who resided in Southern Michigan) visited their claims to see that others had not usurped their rights. Thus the winter was passed. Quite early in the spring of 1830, William Miller and Benjamin Jones (who had spent the previous winter, either in the same cabin or in two that were close together) loaded their 
goods in probably the same wagon, tore the roof off the cabin in which they had lived and placed it on the wagon, and then moved with their families to near the present site of Lexington. Small tents were improvised until two 
rude cabins (perhaps they do not deserve so dignified a name) had been built. Miller's cabin was located 
southwest of the village, while Jones' was near the northern part of the same. This occured in April or May, and these were, so far as known, the first families in the township. During the same year (1830), there settled mostly 
on the prairies of Greenfield, the following men and their families: Amos Barr, Thomas Burnell, John 
Emerson, John Olney, Mr. Sutford, Jesse Huntsman,Felix Miller, James Miller, Jesse Champlin, Samuel Anderson, Ephraim Seeley, Jacob Croy, Mr. Wolgamott and several others. During the next
year or two, all the prairie land was "claimed," and by the time the county was organized, in 1832, at least twenty-five families resided in the township (in what is now Greenfield). Some of these families were those of McKal, William Brumley, Samuel Robinson, Mr. Leeper, Samuel Fish, Jacob Miller, Silas Thrailkeld, Amasa Norton, Edmund Littlefield, Milton and Oliver Smith, Thomas and Samuel Parham (1836), 
Samuel Bradford, Harlo and William Hern, Mr. Switzer, Mr. Gale, William Legg, Mr. Stead, Mr. 
Wade, Thomas Lozenby, Jacob Vandeventer, D. Lewis (colored), John Leak, William Adair, George
Donaldson, John Safely, Samuel and James Burnside, David and Otis Stevenson, Samuel Gawthorp, David Allen, John Kelley and a host of others who continued to come in very fast.

     At the organization of the county in 1832, it was divided into two townships-Lima and Greenfield- the latter including all that part of the present county as lies east of the middle of Range 10 west, together with portions of Noble and Steuben Counties. Ephraim Seeley was appointed Assesor for the then Greenfield Township, and an election was ordered to be held on the second Saturday of June, 1832, for the selection of two Justices of the 
Peace, Jessie Champlin receiving the appointment of Inspector of Election. The Commissioners also appointed Ebenezer Fish and William Miller, Fence Viewers; John Anderson and Samuel Burnside, Overseers of the Poor. At this first election, Mr. Seeley was elected one of the Justices, but the name of the other is forgotten, as are those of the other officers elected at the same time.

     Improvements went on very rapidly during the years 1830, 1831 and 1832. Nearly or quite all the prairie land was broken up and fenced off into farms, and homes were established in the surrounding woods. At last, when the township was surveyed and the land thrown into market, a great rush was made by an army of anxious squatters to secure the land they had partially improved, and upon which they then lived. It was during the Black Hawk war (summer of 1832) that the citizens of Greenfield and surrounding townships were thrown into a fever of fear by what is remembered as "The Gage War." Two men, named respectively Gage and Langdon, went one day to the mill in the northern part of Springfield Township. Before this, considerable talk had been indulged in concerning the
probability of the Indians arising in war against the settlers, as large bands were then in the county, and the border struggle farther west was not unknown to them. This talk prepared the minds of the settlers for what was to follow. Gage, Langdon, the miller and others at the mill renewed the gossip, continuing it until late at night, when the former two retired with some serious misgivings in their minds. After they had gone to bed, it was resolved by 
three or four at the mill to give them an "Indian Scare" early the next morning. Two or three, or perhaps more, assisted by several Indians, dressed themselves in full Indian war costume, with war paint and blanket and tomahawk, etc. The next morning, while Gage and Langdon were talking in front of the mill with the miller, a 
large Indian suddenly showed himself from behind a tree near by, and, raising his rifle quickly, fired, and the 
miller fell to the earth apparently in the agonies of death,exclaiming, "My God, the Indians! I'm shot!" The Indian who had apparently shot the miller and one or two others came leaping forward, swinging their tomahawks and yelling like demons. Gage and Langdon instantly fled from the scene at the top of their speed, Gage going north in the excitement, and Langdon south. They made excellent time across the country, informing every one they 
saw that the Indians were coming, that they had shot all at the mill, and were sweeping out through the surrounding country. The result may be readily imagined. The most intense excitement prevailed, and families fled in every direction. Gage reached Lexington, and the families in that neighborhood gathered at the blacksmith shop of George Donaldson, into which the women and children were thrust, while the men began to fell trees and cut logs, for the purpose of hastily building a fort (afterward called Fort Donaldson). Families living in the western 
part hastily resolved to fortify the island in Cedar Lake. There they fled, and began the work of constructing the fort. Many very interesting incidents occured, but,within a day or two, the delusion was dispelled. The logs
cut for "Fort Donaldson"  remained at the spot for many years. More of this interesting event will be found in 
other chapters.

     Industries sprang up at a very early day. Orrin Howard was a chairmaker in the northern part, his power 
being a horse-lathe. It is said that he turned out 300 chairs a year. Milton Smith was an early blacksmith, but George Donaldson was the first vulcan in the township. The large stone lying near the shop of the latter was hauled there by Samuel Bradford, to be prepared by Donaldson for the grist-mill that was afterward erected in 
Springfield Township. A small "corn-cracker" was erected at Lexington in a very early day. It did not amount to much, and was soon abandoned. Milton Smith was also a tool-maker; could make axes, chisels, adzes, grubbing-hoes, etc. A post office was at Howard's house for a number of years. Warren Barney, in the northeastern part, manufactured, by means of a horse lathe, large and small spinning wheels, and other 
wooden articles. Daniel Waite made tables, stands, bedsteads, bureaus, etc. The early settlers in the northern part got their whisky at a distillery just across the line in Michigan. The road running north and south across the western end of the township was early known as "Smoky Row," from the numerous log cabins that were built thereon very early; for on winter mornings, when a fire was started in each house, the settlers on the opposite side of the prairie were furnished a fine sight-a smoky row. Pretty Prairie is said to have received its name from the following circumstance: Several men, just from Ohio, were standing at the residence of William Miller, on the south side of the prairie. Looking northward, they saw a beautiful picture. The long expanse of prairie land spread
its bosom of green velvet to the autumnal sun, and stretched away until terminated by clusters of oak and maple, dyed in gorgeous colors by Nature's hand that crowned with beauty the higher lands on the north. The strangers were delighted, and one of their number asked, "What do you call this?"   "O-o-h," replied Mr. Miller," we 
don't call it anything." "Well," said the stranger, "it's a mighty pretty prairie. You might call it Pretty Prairie."  The
name circulated, became popular and is now permanent. "English Prairie" received its name from the fact that 
many of the first to locate there had just come from England. People, in speaking of the place, called it by that name. It is also permanent. Many of the English retained for a number of years their foreign customs. "Old Tommy" Burnell wore knee-breeches and long stockings, as did some of the others. Mr. Burnell brought with
him from his temporary home in Michgan two small sashes, in which were three or four panes of glass. These 
were used in his old log cabin. Samuel Burnside, in about the year 1834, erected a saw-mill in the northeastern corner, on Crooked Creek. This mill, with many alterations, numerous owners, and stoppages from time to time, has been in operation ever since. At times, it has done excellent and extensive work. As nearly as the writer could
learn, Burnside owned the mill until about the year 1845, when it and the farm on which it stands were sold to Peter Bisel. It is possible that Burnside sold to another, and the latter sold to Bisel. The facts could not be learned. In about the year 1846, Bisel erected the gristmill on the same water-power. This mill is yet running,
and has done a vast amount of grinding in its day. It is a large frame structure, has passed through many hands,
and has fed thousands. Bisel, in about 1847, placed a stock of goods at the mill, and soon afterward a post 
office was established there. Bisel was quite a wealthy man for that day, and put a great deal of money on the 
mill site to improve it, and render permanent the excellent water-power there. The money in many ways was not judiciously expended; at least, Bisel became embarrassed, and, in about 1854, sold the entire property to Amos Davis; since then others have owned it. Goods have been sold there the most of the time since. A small town 
grew up about the mills-a very small one.

     In the year 1836, Elisha U. Shepard and Bazaleel Alvord secured the services of a surveyor and laid out a village which was named Vistula, on Section 25, on the banks of Wall Lake. The village on paper was a beautiful place, and the plat was taken East and exhibited, and several men there were induced to buy blocks and corner lots. When they came West to sell their property at a handsome profit, or to erect thereon fine buildings, their wrath became fiery and volcanic. In short, they had been deceived, as not a house was standing in the village, nor ever was. The lake was a nice place, with walls of earth and gravel formed by the agency of ice surrounding it.
The village on its banks was a "paper village"- nothing more.

     In July, 1836, John Kromer, surveyor, laid out twelve blocks of eight lots each, and four blocks of six lots each, on Sections 25 and 30, for Abraham K. Brower and Joseph Skerritt, who named the village Lexington. Very soon after this, Peter Bisel erected a store building there, and began selling from a stock of goods valued 
at $2,000. The stock subsequently increased until worth about $6,000, at which time the owner enjoyed an extensive and profitable trade. Abraham Brower was at first his clerk, but later his partner. A few years after Bisel began, Chancey Adams also opened a store, but his business was not as extensive as that of the former.
In 1847, there were seven or eight families residing in Lexington. Bisel was in the Crandall storeroom; Adams was in a building opposite. Ira Crandall was the proprietor of a small hotel. A shoemaker and a blacksmith were there. In 1848, H. R. Crandall bought the Bisel store building and residence, together with three lots. He began selling from $3,000 worth of goods, the stock being slowly increased as the years went by, and continued until his death in 1870, since which time his widow has successfully conducted the business. Bisel was probably the first Postmaster; but, in 1847, Adams was. Since 1848, the Crandalls have had the office, except for a short time, when George Donaldson handled the property of Uncle Sam. In 1848, Adams sold out to George L. Gale, who erected the Long storehouse. Gale continued about five years. Robert Dayton owned the property for a while. Other merchants have been H. J. Hall, Andrew Davidson, Shope, Scripture Weidler, Wade and Long & Shut. Wade owns a small grocery now, and James Mix is conducting a small broom factory. "Brighton" is 
the name of the post office. Dr. Charles Pritchard was at the village early, as were Drs. Patterson and Reynolds. In 1849, Dr. Delos W. Rupert located there, remaining until the war broke out, when he became Surgeon of the Thirtieth Infantry Volunteers, but died at Nashville, Tenn., in 1862.

Volunteer transcription by Pati Blowers May. Material for transcription gathered by Barbara Henderson. 

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