From "An illustrated history of the state of Indiana"
by De Witt C. Goodrich, Indianapolis: R. S. Peale & Co., 1875, pp.
WELLS COUNTY - HISTORICAL AND DESCRIPTIVE.
THE first smoke of civilization, said the Hon. Newton Burwell, within the limits of Wells county, curled above the log cabin of Dr. Joseph Knox. That cabin was reared in the year 1829, on the western bank of the Wabash, about five miles below Bluffton, and on the farm now occupied and owned by Mr. Henry Miller. There was made the first foothold on the Indian's hunting ground, on the Wabash river, between Fort Recovery and the town of Huntington. It was there, about forty years ago, in the solitude of that awful wilderness, when the first sound of the white man's axe disturbed the wolf and panther in their jungle, and echoed throughout the wilderness the knell of the red man's destiny.
Messrs. Vantrees and Warner, sons-in-law of Dr. Knox, soon afterwards settled near him, and made the first openings on the farms known, respectively, as the James and Robert Harvey farms. These three families lived there about three years, when, becoming tired of pioneer life, they sold their interests in the lands on which they had settled and left the country. Mr. Miller succeeded Dr. Knox in November, 1832, and "fell to work with strong heart and arms," and by dint of his industry, the little field and truck-patch that surrounded the cabin of his predecessor, and afforded him a scanty supply of coarse bread and vegetables, have been transformed into extended meadows, a fine large orchard, and fields that were last autumn waving with golden grain. His brother, Jacob Miller, settled a short distance below him about the same time.
Following the address of the gentleman referred to in the opening sentence of this chapter, we learn that Mr. Allen Norcross had settled on the opposite bank of the Wabash about a year before Dr. Knox and his friends left, and was there when Henry Miller moved into the settlement.
The Black Hawk war, which in the year 1832 raged so fearfully in Illinois, and which spread such consternation throughout the western settlement, began to alarm these new comers, and Mr. Norcross "pulled up stakes," and with his family returned to his native State, where he remained until there was no longer any danger to be apprehended.
This was a trying time with the two brothers and their families, who were thus left alone in the wilderness. When we take into consideration that Black Hawk, himself so heartless and blood-thirsty, was daily increasing his force by accessions from the restless and disaffected of the western tribes, and that he had received encouragement from the British in Canada, it is no wonder that these families, so destitute of means of defense, and so far from material aid, should be terror-stricken at the rumors that occasionally reached their ears. The facilities for getting war news were not so good as they are now. Then the western lightning had not been taught to carry messages, nor had that animal, so peculiarly domestic, the Iron Horse, been introduced into the wilderness. There was not even, at that time, government mail carried on horseback through the western settlement to give information from the seat of war. Weeks, or even months, might intervene without knowing how many white families had been made victims of the savage butchers, and then they would only get the news from some wanderer, on his return from a western trapping or fur-buying excursion, as he might chance to come that way. Thus, these pioneers were liable to be in constant fear, for they knew not but that the next news would be brought by the dusky warriors themselves, who would deal out death to them before they could have an opportunity of escape.
In the years 1834-35-36, immigration set in rapidly. Among the first settlers were Adam Miller, Charles Bennett, Thomas W. Van Horn, David Bennett, Solomon Johnson, Solomon Sparks, Mason Powell, R. C. Bennett, Sen., Isaac Covert, Wm. Covert, Adnah Hall, Thomas T. Smith, Bowen Hale, James Scott, Wm. H. Parmalee, Wm. McDole, Abram McDole, Wm. Priliaman (sic), Solomon Kemp, John A. Deam, Chads Chalfant, James Guthrey, Gabriel Markley, John Markley, Daniel Miller, Michael Miller, Joseph Logan, Elim Hooker, and a few others.
The following sketch of pioneer life in Wells county, from the pen of Mr. Burwell, we quote entire. It is interesting and truthful. Concerning the early settlers, he says: "They settled in different parts of the county, or, rather, within the limits of the county, for the county was not yet organized. That was, indeed, a time that tried men's souls. If we will but reflect on the condition of affairs then, and consider the privations these early settlers had to suffer, we will readily see how unjust, and almost criminal it is for us to complain of our condition now, surrounded as we are by the bounties of a kind Providence. Then they had to go fifty or sixty miles to mill, carry their grists on horses through the trackless wilderness, and would be from five to eight days in making the trip, of course camped out at night, and very often awakened from their dreams by the approach of wolves and other wild animals in pursuit of prey. During their trips for provisions, their wives were left at home to superintend affairs; hoed the corn and potatoes, and attended to other no less arduous work by day, and passed sleepless nights in watching and protecting their little ones from the jaws of hungry wolves and panthers whose howls and screams they nightly heard around their cabins. A few of those brave women are present to-day, surrounded by stout, middle-aged sons and daughters, who were then the objects of their solicitude."
It is hard for the present generation of people, surrounded as they now are by all the improvements, comforts and luxuries of our civilization, to realize that the old settlers suffered and endured the many hardships that they can tell about. When they would run out of bread-stuffs, and their neighbors had none to lend them, they would pound up their corn in a wooden mortar which was improvized for the purpose, and some of them will now tell you of having lived for months on bread made from meal prepared in that way. The fine part was made into bread and the coarser into hominy. They could not go off to mill at any time. It must be remembered that there were no roads in those days, and the streams were not bridged; so that it was sometimes not only inconvenient, but extremely dangerous, to go fifty miles to mill. James Guthrey had a son and horse drowned crossing the Limberlost, on his way to Greenville to mill."
The history of Wells county politically, dates back to the first of May, 1837, a little more than thirty-seven years. At this date, the legislature of the State provided for the incorporation of the county, with a regular jurisdiction. The first circuit court met at the house of R. C. Bennett, on the nineteenth day of October, 1837, Hon. C. W. Ewing, presiding. The county seat was permanently located at Bluffton, in 1838. For many years it was a small hamlet, but, after a long and severe struggle, it has become a prominent business center, with ample railroad communication with the surrounding country. Bluffton has the appearance to-day of a substantial, well built town. The streets are regularly laid out, and are for the most part graded and graveled, and provided with substantial sidewalks. The court house is located in the business center of the town, and although a little out of style, is still useful and durable. The schools and school buildings are the pride of the town. The county is new, and only partially developed, but a majority of the farmers are already wealthy. The people are beginning to cultivate a spirit friendly to all kinds of public improvements. The soil is rich in agricultural resources, and there is every prospect of a continuous rapid growth in all the industries and professions represented in the county.
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