Early settlers in the Bourbon area of Marshall county were not uneducated men and women. They came here from established homes and brought with them the skills and ambitions needed to settle this heavily wooded and swampy wilderness. Why would any sane person leave the comforts of home to fight the elements, wild animals, and mosquitoes in this place that would become Bourbon township?
In 1836, when Marshall county was formed, Bourbon was part of Center township. Four years later (1840) Bourbon township was formed and it was BIG. It took in all of the present township, plus all of Tippecanoe township and 14 square miles of the east side of Walnut township. In August, 1849, a traveler passing through Bourbon recollected quite vividly that there was not what could be called a town there then--the whole country with few exceptions being unbroken wilderness.
Imagine what it would be like to make a home in an area so thickly covered with trees, underbrush and swamps. Hand tools needed to cut down trees and build a crude shelter (homes came later) had to be brought in on pack animals that could weave around through the trees once the underbrush had been cut to blaze a path. Early settlers didn't ride in on horseback; they walked to their new homeland and led the animals. Notes made in 1934 by a United States surveyor as he marked out sections of land, record the species and size of trees found, where the swamp began and ended and, on occasion, gave the direction of an Indian trail they happened to cross.
Early settlers found an abundance of wildlife for food but had to live on mostly meat until someone could travel to Goshen (the nearest mill) for grain and flour. They couldn't even plant a garden until enough trees were cleared so that the sun could reach the ground. Crude roads were eventually laid out between Plymouth and Warsaw, but they were so rough that it was difficult for even an ox cart to get through. Early mail had to be picked up at either Plymouth or Warsaw. An 1872 map shows the only roads going out of Bourbon were the Leesburg Road (now 12B) and a road along the range line (now State Road 331).
When the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago railroad came through in 1856, sawmills sprang up all over the territory. In four years, from 1864 through 1867, over 1000 railroad carloads of lumber was shipped out of Bourbon each year. As the timber disappeared, farms were opened-, houses and barns were built. With the timber off and swamps drained into the Yellow River to the north and the Tippecanoe River to the south, Bourbon township was transformed into some of the best farm land in the county.
The town of Bourbon was laid out in 1851 according to Thompson's "History of Indiana" written in 1890. However, McDonald's "History of Marshall County" written in 1908, states that the town was not regularly laid out until the 23rd of April, 1853, although it had prior to that time grown into a considerable village. It was incorporated into a town under state law in September of 1865, and the first town officers were elected.
We've come a long way in 150 years. We have a few mosquitos but we don't have the mosquito-born diseases that killed many of our early settlers and even more of their children. We complain about potholes, but we have good, hard-surfaced roads that lead to almost anywhere we want to go in our air-conditioned cars. Food is plentiful and a healthy, well-balanced diet is readily available, yet we complain when told we need to eat our veggies. One hundred and fifty years ago, would you have ventured into the northern wilderness to make a new home for your family? Perhaps you would if offered land for the going rate in 1830 - $1.25 an acre.
Regardless of whether we picture these pioneers as hardy or just foolish, we are all very fortunate that they came to this place called Bourbon.
Wriften by Judy McCollough for the
Bourbon Sesquicentennial History Commiftee