by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 21 published on July 22, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Rev. H. H. Prout
Dear Sir: Your writings on "Old Times in Windham," by both young and old are read with interest; and if I can help you in any way by what I know, I shall be happy to do so.
Being born in East Windham in 1800, on the top of what was then called Catskill Mountains, where my father then lived, he having moved there some ten or twelve years before, with his family, from what the Dutch called the Great Imbough, in the Town of Catskill, where he was born. He bought a farm of 200 acres of Thomas Harrit, with a log house, about two acres of land being improved. The remainder was all a wilderness, inhabited by bears, wolves, panthers wild cats, &c.
My father’s house consisted of two rooms below, made of logs, and a loft, with a ladder for stairs. Living where he did, he had a great chance to know the toils and troubles of the early emigrants to reach their locations beyond the mountains, many of which I have heard him relate, and of his own privations and labors and incidents of the first years that he spent there in the woods. Many times he was called upon by people after dark, who were in trouble, travelling to their home beyond the mountains, with a tired team, in a muddy road, and dark woods. He would get up his ox team and go and "haul them in," as they expressed it—taking hold of the bow of his near ox and feel his way in the dark through the mud and woods; women crying and wishing for their old homes, children tired out and asleep in their wagons. Sometimes the rooms of his log house would be so filled with tired-out emigrants in the night, trying to get a little rest and sleep, that he could hardly find a place to put his feet without stepping on some one. Many were discouraged and very willing to turn back, but would finally go on with those who were willing to proceed. When he first located there his nearest neighbor west was about two miles. There was a small clearing, and a log cabin—a man by the name of Morrison living there. On the east it was further still, I believe.
I have heard of some men who came on in the spring and worked all summer to make some improvement, to bring on their families the next spring, and then return and winter east. Some who done so did return and settle, and some never returned.
Those were the days that tired men’s courage, when they had to travel miles in the woods to find their cattle by the tinkling of a bell, of which I have had some experience myself. Very often out after dark, and perhaps in a shower, from which I have received more than one wet jacket—sometimes return without them—a great disappointment in not having a warm bowl of new milk for supper, which was so highly prized in those days. But emigrants began to pour into the new country from all parts of the coast. In those days Goshen Settlement was soon filled with men and women from eastern Goshen, who cleared land, went to making butter and cheese, and raising stock, The Baldwins, Pecks, Squires, Dickermans, and Johnsons, with many others. But my sheet is full, and I must stop by saying if you can glean anything from this to help you, my purpose will be answered.
Peter Van Orden
July 5th, 1869 East Durham