1882 COUNTIES OF 
LaGRANGE and NOBLE INDIANA HISTORICAL and BIOGRAPHICAL

Chicago F.A. Battey and Company Publishers 1882
 

JOHNSON TOWNSHIP
Part 1
By: Weston A. Goodspeed

 Johnson Township-The Earliest Settlers-The First Election-The Tamarack-Wright's Corners and
Valentine-Incidents and Adventures-Rise and Subsequent Growth of Wolcottville-Industrial interests-
The Wolcottville Seminary-Miss Susan Griggs-Education and Religion.

     Johnson is decidedly the lake township of the county. No other has such a number nor such a variety, as there are some fifteen either wholly or partly within the township limits. Oliver Lake is the largest, covering about six hundred acres, while Adams is perhaps second in size, though Witmer and Atwood are almost as large. Several 
of them have fine gravelly, or sandy, shores, and all are bordered by beautiful clusters of oak, maple or beech.
There is great diversity in the soil which, in some places, is deep and black, like that in the states farther west,
while in other places it is sandy, gravelly, or even stoney.
     Nelson Nichols and Peter Lampson were the first two settlers in the township, both coming in June, 1834,
the former entering his land (160 acres on Section 34) on the 23rd of the same month, and the latter (eighty acres on Section 33) on the 30th. John Adams came to the township in November, 1834, entering his land (on the shore of the lake that took its name from him) on the 15th of the same month. These three were the only men 
who entered land in Johnson Township prior to January 1, 1835. Levi Wright came to the township in the fall 
of 1834, but did not enter any land until February, 1835, at which time he purchased eighty acres on Section 13, and within the next two years, over three hundred acres more. The following men also entered land in the 
township in 1835: Samuel Benham, Peter Tillipaugh, George Walker, John Hughes, Jeremiah Bidwell, Robert Meeker, John Doty and Robert Latta. Several of these men never resided in the township. Daniel Matin was in the township in the fall of 1834, but he entered no land. Five men were present and assisted in the erection of  Mr. Wright's cabin in the fall of 1834; they were John Adams, Nelson Nichols, Peter Lampson, Daniel Martin, and another whose name is forgotten. From the above it may seem that Mr. Wright either built his house before he bought his land, or his daughter, Mrs.Vaughan, is mistaken when she says the house was erected during the autumn of 1834. It is probable that the house was built in 1834, as stated. Following the 
above men, there came in Thomas Oliver, Philo Taylor, two or three Indian traders at the Tamarack, George Wolcott, Henry Nichols, Almon White, Hiram Gardner, James Campbell, John Benham, Simeon Cain, John and Abraham Rowe, Allen Brundage, Stephen Pierce, William Dickinson, Thomas Koon, Nathan Sherman, William Hardin, Abraham Eiman, Charles Doty, Aaron Hill John Parker, Abraham Brayton, George Dickinson, Samuel Barnes, Ozias Wright, Levi Wildman, Thomas Higgins, Mr. Olin, James Oliver, Selah Benham, Joseph Caswell, Anthony Dickinson, James Dunbar, Erastus Disbrow, William R. Hill, Samuel Koon, Henry Miller, Hiram Meeker, William McCollum, Ira Nichols, George Noble,
James Parker, Ross Romine, Phineas Tillotson, William Taylor, John Vaughan, Alexander Vaughan, Isaac Wright and others, all locating in the township prior to 1840.

     The township of Johnson was created at the March session, 1837, of the County Commissioners, and an election was ordered the first Monday in April of the same year, at the residence of James Campbell, Hiram Humphreys being appointed Inspector by the board. At this election James Campbell was elected Justice of 
the Peace; but who the other officers were is not remembered. Before the creation of the township by the board, Johnson was attached to Bloomfield for election purposes. During the years 1836 and 1837, the greater number 
of the above men bought their land, and began the long and tedious process of clearing. It is stated by several old settlers, and currently believed in the township, that the first settlements of whites was at the Tamarack, as it is called, in the southeastern part. This seems to be confirmed by the statements of those who passed through the place at a very early day. The facts seem to be about as follows: As early as 1833, and perhaps 1832, the trading-house of Comparet & Bowrie, or Comparet & Cuttieaur, at Fort Wayne, sent to the Tamarack one or more Frenchmen to open a trading station with the Indians. A small cabin was at first built, but later a double log building designed for a hotel was erected, in which the traders had a small stock of  goods, including whisky, 
which they sold to the Indians, who often came there in great numbers. A man named Runeaux was one of 
these traders. He is said to have been a brother-in-law of Comparet. After his death, which occured quite early,
his widow (Comparet's sister) conducted the tavern for the Fort Wayne firm. This tavern was built of tamarack poles, six or eight inches in diameter, and was known far and near as the "Tamarack House". In July, 1836,
Burris & Durand, or Burris & Hitchcock, built a dam and saw-mill just south of the Tamarack House. It was 
a small, rough frame structure, in which was placed a sash and an old-fashioned flutter wheel. The water-power was not very good, and the mill, at it's best, could not turn out to exceed about 1,500 feet of lumber per day.
Hiram Hardy was one of the sawyers. The mill was owned by these men until about 1838, when it and the land around there was purchased by Comparet, who, a short time afterward, opened a good store in another 
building that was erected. During the time the saw-mill was owned by Burris & Co., the Tamarack House was also conducted by Mr. Burris. His wife, in his absence, tended the bar. It is related that one day, while she was thus engaged, several Indians came to the tavern bar and bought and drank some whisky. One of them soon became half tipsy. He saw Mrs. Burris leave the room for a moment, going into the other part of the house on 
an errand, and when she attempted to open the door on her return, the tipsy Indian, who had stationed himself behind it, struck at her with his knife. But she was too quick and dodged the stroke, at the same moment leaping behind the counter and catching up a rifle that was standing loaded there. The Indian had sense enough remaining to know what was coming if he remained there, so, without waiting for the "order of his going", he ran out of the door and off at full speed. Mrs. Burris ran to the door and fired at him, but, of course, missed the mark, and the redskin was soon out of sight in the woods. The others were ordered out, and peace was soon restored.

     In 1844, Comparet erected the grist-mill that is yet standing, dismantled and abandoned, on the south side of the river. It was a three-storied frame structure, and, in its day, was an excellent mill, turning out large quantities 
of excellent flour. It is said that Miss Jane Creighm of  Noble County, made the first bolting cloths. At the 
death of  Mr. Comparet, the property went to his sons, and in 1856, was purchased by O. P. Grannis, in 
whose possession it remained until 1879. It is said that, in 1866, the mill cleared for its owner $3,000. In about
1845 (or at least just before his death), Comparet built the second saw-mill near the old one. At his death, his goods were sold out at auction. The Tamarack, in later years, became a noted resort for the blacklegs, as they 
had their hiding-places in the swamps and marshes in the vicinity. Stolen horses were brought to the vicinity and secreted. Passers of bogus coin and counterfeit bills found it a safe place when closely pursued. Men living in the 
neighborhood assisted them in the concealment of stolen property and the disguise of  their personal identity. Tamarack was truly a bad place.

     When the first settlers reached Johnson Township, they found it a tangled wilderness, filled with wild animals and semi-wild men. The latter had quite a large temporary village on the west bank of Oliver Lake. They mingled freely with the white settlers, going to the cabins to barter, to beg or to borrow. They often stopped to stay all 
night and were perfectly satisfied to roll themselves in their blankets and lie down until morning before the 
fire-place. Two of them, one cold night, called at the cabin of Thomas Oliver, and asked to remain until
morning, and was granted the privilege. Mr. Oliver was engaged in some sort of work in his cabin that required the assistance of two additional persons. He therefore enlisted the two Indians, placing them so near the fire that
in a short time they were reeking with sweat. At last the work was finished. The next morning, Mr. Oliver concluded he wanted more help from his red brethren, as he had several instruments to be sharpened at the grind-stone. So he called upon them to turn the stone, but the Indians, true to their habits, shook their heads, wrapped their blankets around them and walked away. They did not bother Mr. Oliver again. They were in the habit of  bringing venison to the settler's cabins. This was traded for potatoes, beans, pumpkins, corn, etc. Occassionally a bear steak was brought in. Bears were rarely seen, but sometimes stragglers passed across the township, several of which were killed. It is said that Serenus Heibargen and Henry Randall were out hunting deer one morning after a big snow, when they came across a fresh bear track. They started in pursuit and finally found the animal in the middle of a swamp. They fired, badly wounding it, and, after a little chase succeeded in getting in a couple more shots which finished the animal. The meat was divided up among the settlers. It was quite 
a thing to have bear's lard in the house. One night after Mr. and Mrs. Oliver had retired, the latter was 
awakened by a strange noise in the door-yard. She arose, went to the door and peered out, and saw that the 
yard was full of deer, whose broad antlers could be seen against the sky. She told her husband, who got up and dressed, took his gun, and going to the door, shot one of the largest, whereupon the whole herd, including the wounded one, ran off at full speed. The next morning a large fine buck was found lying dead a few yards
outside the dooryard. Mr. Oliver, one day, had a severe fight with a wounded buck. He shot it through the hips, and the animal fell on the ground, to all appearance dead. Mr. Oliver, without loading his gun, hurried up to cut
its throat, and while leaning over the prostrate animal for that purpose, was suddenly kicked back by the deer, the knife flying off several yards. The furious animal leaped up on three legs, and with head down, made at the hunter.
The dog of the latter came to his assistance. Mr. Oliver seized the buck by its antlers, and, by a little 
maneuvering, succeeded in getting his knife, whereupon he immediately hamstrung the enraged animal. It fought 
on after that, standing only on its forelegs, but it was soon dispatched. It is related that Abraham Eiman, one 
day, set out a fire in the woods which soon got beyond his control. The roaring flames swept southward and soon the Indian village went up in smoke. It is stated that the fire swept them so closely as to destroy some of their property. This roused them into retaliating for the injury done them. A band of warriors presented themselves at 
the residence of  Mr. Eiman, demanding where the latter could be found, but they were informed that he was not there, although at that moment he was under the floor. Mr. Eiman kept close watch for several days until the 
wrath of the Indians had subsided. Many more incidents similar to the above might be narrated. An amusing story is told of an old settler, not a thousand miles from Valentine, who shall be nameless here. He was out in the 
woods one evening just at dark, several miles from home. Being a timid man and unused to the ways of the 
woods, his fears were naturally on the alert as he hurried on toward home. Two of his neighbors, who had been
hunting and had become somewhat belated, saw him hurrying along, without being perceived by him, and 
knowing his disposition and weakness, resolved to give him a scare. They therefore began to imitate the howl of the gray wolf. This had an instantaneous effect on the settler. He glanced wildly around him, and then started on a rapid run in the direction of his cabin. The others followed fast after him, howling frequently, which had the effect 
to greatly accelerate his traveling qualities. Excellent time was made through the woods until the settler arrived panting and tired at his own door, announcing that he had been chased by wolves and that he had just escaped their clutches by the "skin of his teeth."  The story is told at the expense of the old settler even to this day.

     Levi Wright entered his land in the vicinity of Wright's corners, named thus in his honor. He had considerable property, and, as a matter of course, had considerable influence. A few years later, Joseph Head erected a 
house at the corners; and still later Mr. Kimble built another, which was thrown open for the entertainment of the public. In about the year 1847, Vaughan & Wildman opened the first store at the corners. Their stock was 
worth several thousand dollars, and comprised about everything sold at that day in country stores. They did not confine their entire attention and capital to the store; but bought considerable country produce, which was 
shipped to distant and larger places. They also dealt to some extent in live stock, buying the same from the 
settlers living over an extensive scope of country. It is said they made no little money in these various transactions. Two or three years after they had begun, Wildman sold his interests to his partner; but the latter continued until about the year 1851, when he too, retired from the business. Contrary to the usual condition of things, Mr. 
Wright was averse to the establishment of a small village at the corners. Mechanics and artisans applied to him 
for lots upon which to build their shops; but he obstinately refused to sell, and was thus the means of preventing 
the growth of quite a village at that place. Had he encouraged its growth, as he alone could, the Grand
Rapids & Indiana Railroad might be running through the place to-day. In spite of him, a small country village 
sprang up, and has endured until the present. Other merchants have been Messrs. Adams, Crandall, Strayer,
and the present one, Mr. Woodruff; there have been times when there was no store. A post office was established quite early. Some milling interests have been established there in later years. Mr. Wright kept some twenty cows, and his wife manufactured butter and cheese. In 1836, Mr. Wright  procured about fifty apple 
trees and a number of currant bushes from a nursery on one of the neighboring praries. These were set out at the corners, and, so far as known, were the first of the kind planted in the township. The population of the village has never exceeded eight or ten families. It has a fine schoolhouse and a fine church, which will be described further along.

     Valentine is yet in its infancy. Barney Newell lived in the present Valentine House years before the village 
was thought of. Some twelve years ago, or immediately after the Grand Rapids Railroad was completed, 
Sergeant & Clugston built a saw-mill at the place. Steam and double circular saws have been used. The mill 
has been an excellent one. It was conducted by Sergeant & Clugston until about two years ago, when the latter sold out to his partner. George Hobson obtained an interest in the mill a year ago. A considerable quantity of lumber is shipped away by rail. They are manufacturing a small quantity of Lath at present. Some six or seven 
years ago, Albert Scoville, of Sturgis, Mich., erected a large frame building and began the manufacture of all kinds of wooden handles and staves for barrels, kegs, butter-tubs, etc. Four or five car loads have been shipped annually. A planing-mill is connected with the factory. Leonard Butts has obtained an interest in the business. In 1874, William Painter placed a stock of goods (no dry goods), valued at about $800., in the office of the 
present Valentine House. In 1877, when William Rowe opened his store, Mr. Painter disposed of his stock, 
and retired from the business. Rowe had some $700 worth of goods. He did not remain long, and was 
succeeded by James D. Clugston, who, with a stock worth about $1,000, remained about a year. Then Oscar Gardner was in with a stock about a year. He was succeeded by Albert Markel. Clark Betts is merchand-
ising at present. The mercantile pursuit at Valentine has been extremely fickle and uncertain. William is at present conducting a shoe shop. George Slack was the first blacksmith in the village. William Painter opened his hotel (Valentine House) in 1874. Oscar Gardner also entertains travelers and others. William Painter was appointed Postmaster in November, 1873, retaining the office until April, 1881, when William Rowe received the 
appointment. In April, 1879, James McKibben employed a surveyor, and properly laid out Valentine, 
recording the plat at the county seat. Twenty-one lots were laid out on Sections 8 and 9. The present population 
is some eight or ten families.

     For a great many years, George Wolcott, a native of Connecticut, was the leading spirit at Wolcottville. He was a very energetic, hard-working, generous man, but burdened, as many of us are, with a high spirit. He had considerable means at his command, and, upon his arrival in September, 1837, began industrial enterprises on an extensive scale. He immediately built a saw-mill that soon became known far and near. It was completed in 
1838, and a year or two later a small set of buhrs was placed in an addition built to it. This building was standing just below the present grist-mill. In about the year 1841, that portion of the building occupied by the sawing machinery was vacated, and a new saw-mill was erected some twelve or fifiteen rods farther up the race, the old room being fitted up with machinery for carding wool. About this time, Mr. Wolcott had in his employ many 
workmen, as he was conducting quite a large farm in connection with his industrial enterprises. Philo Taylor, who purchased a farm just north of Wolcottville, in June, 1836, became a well known and prominent man. Himself 
and sons have done a great deal to render Wolcottville an attractive place, and its present thrifty condition is 
largely due to their efforts and those of  L. L. Wildman. In about the year 1839, Mr. Wolcott built a storeroom and placed therein goods worth about $1,000, but subsequently greatly increased the stock. Eight or ten years after beginning, he probably had on hand $7,000 worth of goods. At this period, his trade was large, and, of course, lucrative. While he was conducting the old grist-mill, it is said he boarded, free of charge, the men who came to him for flour. The old set of buhrs had been obtained of  Mr. O. P. Grannis, who had come to the county in 1834, first locating near Lima, where he engaged in the milling business, but subsequently removed to 
the Tamarack, where he yet resides. In 1845, Mr. Wolcott erected the present grist-mill, placing therein the old set of buhrs and two new ones. This mill is yet in operation, and, in its day, has been one of the best for miles around. With it, the owner did a large amount of  merchant work, besides custom work, over a large extent of country. In 1847, he built a new storeroom to accommodate his stock of goods that had greatly increased. It is said that at one time Mr. Wolcott was engaged in seven different occupations- milling, sawing, blacksmithing, merchandising, "coopering", farming and manufacturing potash. He probably had twenty workmen  employed at one time. He had erected some fifteen buildings in the village, which were rented or sold as required. It is said 
that his brother James had an interest in the property at the village. No cloth was manufactured at the 
carding-mill, which was conducted about four years. A small distillery was conducted for a short time at Wolcottville, some say by Mr. Weston, and others by Mr. Wolcott. Both, perhaps, had an interest in it. The kegs, barrels, etc. manufactured at the small cooper-shop, were probably intended for and used in this distillery. What liquor was manufactured there was consumed about as fast as it was made. A considerable quantity of pearlash was manufactured at the ashery, and shipped away by wagon. O. B. Taylor remembers of going there one night, when a boy, with a quantity of eggs (he did not say where they were obtained), and of roasting them 
in the hot ashes. He also well remembers that many of the eggs had suffered severely by the process of incubation, and that he received the full benefit (?) of that mysterious process. Is the trite axiom, "The way of the transgressor is hard," applicable in this case?


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

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