The pioneers of the West three-quarters of a century ago, and more, were of a hardier and more self-reliant class than those who followed. They lived largely by the hunt; consequently, they were expert in the use of firearms. They began life anew in a dense wilderness filled with gigantic trees, and, therefore, were skilled in handling an ax. Roads and bridges there were none, so that a close observation of the bark of trees, the stars, the breaking of twigs and bushes, and the position of trees and natural objects, was necessary to enable them to find their way from one house to another. They were compelled to be pupils of Izaak WALTON in his gentle craft; for fish add much to the pleasures of the table. They must be vigilant and brave; for danger from Indians and wild beasts had not yet gone. And they must be good farmers; for all their efforts were only preparatory to the clearing up of the soil. They made shoes, tanned their own leather, constructed their own household implements, and were obliged to teach their children, unaided by pedagogue or preacher. They were a strong, hardy race.
Those who came West were rarely destitute of a little money, and if there were exceptions to this rule it was among young men with strong arms and invincible determination. Removal to their new location was most generally from concerted action in neighborhoods. Occasionally entire villages felt the impulse, and moved bodily. Some Churches were organized in the East, elected their deacons and other officers, took up their line of march for the West, and the congregation drove their teams by day, halted at night, invariably offering prayers at bed-time and at meals, and resumed their march the next day, stopping on Sunday for a long season of religious worship. Such was the case with some of those who first went to the Western Reserve, and, to a modified extent, this will hold good for the congregation of believers whose descendants now worship at Paddy's Run. Land was not infrequently bought in the East; but most generally the actual settler saw the ground before purchasing.
The projectors of the land companies did not spare flowery adjectives when describing the good qualities of the tracts they had to sell. One of the first companies was the Scioto. It was represented in Europe by Joel BARLOW, the poet, who spoke of its merits as a poet should sing when describing an Arcadia. In his circular,liberally distributed in Paris, he chants the praises of the country bordering on the Ohio.
"A climate wholesome and delightful, frost even in Winter almost entirely unknown, and a river called, by way of eminence, the Beautiful, and abounding in excellent fish of vast size; noble forests, consisting of trees that spontaneously produce sugar (the sugar-maple), and a plant that yields ready-made candles (Myrica cerifera); venison in plenty, the pursuit of which is uninterrupted by wolves, foxes, lions, or tigers. A couple of swine would multiply themselves a hundred-fold in two or three years without taking any care of them. No taxes to pay; no military services to be performed."
Similar stories were published and told about the lands in the Miami Valley although, as Judge SYMMES and his associates were not poets, there was not so much exaggeration. Much of the land hereabout was taken up in New Jersey and in New York and Philadelphia, largely by persons who never intended coming out to Ohio, and who bought simply because it seemed likely to become a profitable speculation. The very first who came had most generally been in the armies of ST.CLAIR or WAYNE. The settlement of Hamilton was nearly entirely from this source. But the great covered wagons began moving out here with the first roads, and before that cattle and horses were driven slowly and laboriously over the mountains and down to the promised land. Pittsburg became the center of an outfitting industry similar to that which St. Joe occupied for so long a time on the plains. Here the emigrant met those who had been over the route and knew its dangers and pitfalls; here the land-jobbers congregated and here were dealers with all the implements, gear, and articles of clothing likely to be needed in the war against the forces of nature. We have now conquered, but three generations have died since the contest began.
Pittsburg swarmed with life. So also did one or two of the towns lower down the river, where boats could be bought and the passengers committed to the slow-moving stream. The boat was very plain and simple. It was large enough to contain six or eight tons of load but that was all. Floating down the river would now be pleasant enough; but then there were stretches of twenty or thirty miles without a single house. The crack of a rifle might at any moment be heard, striking down the head of a family or wounding some woman or child, and causing dismay and sorrow to those who survived. By night and by day the river bank must be watched. The boat must be pushed away from sand-bars, and steered so as to avoid contact with snags.
To those who were going to the settlements north of Cincinnati it was most usual to stop there, sell the boat, and proceed overland. To come to Hamilton was often two or three days' journey in unfavorable weather. The land having been bought, either from the United States or from SYMMES's company, the next step to be taken was to clear it. He was happy who could get some other adventurer to join him for the first few days, until he had made a beginning in the forest. To fell the trees was a colossal undertaking. Many of them were three or four feet in diameter, and some much exceeded these figures. The spot for the cabin was usually picked out from its contiguity to a spring. Here, then, a space of thirty feet square having been selected, the axes rang merrily out, and one after another the monarchs of the forest fell. They were trimmed of their branches, the underbrush cleared away, and the first log, having been partially squared, was laid upon the ground in the place where the cabin was to be. Notches were cut near the ends, and in these notches other logs were laid, one at a time, until the building had reached high enough for a roof, which was at first only boughs and bark. Doors were cut in, openings for windows left, and the house was ready for its first occupancy. Daniel DOTY, of Middletown, lived out-doors for more than two weeks, cooking and sleeping in the open air while his cabin was going up. This was just over the border in Warren County, and the denseness of the woods was the reason why he finally abandoned that neighborhood, and came to reside on the banks of the Miami. He was tired of the warfare against nature, and when he heard that there was a beautiful natural prairie at the side of this river, he left his improvements, on which he had spent eight or nine months, and became a dweller in what is now Butler County.
The cabin windows were made by sawing out about three feet of one of the logs, and fastening in a few upright pieces. For lights they put in paper, and greased it with bear's-oil and hog-fat, pasting it on the upright pieces. There was then very little glass made in the country, the only place in the West being in Pittsburg, which is still the center of the glass industry; and the high cost of transportation and the lack of money put it out of the power of the settlers to purchase this transparent material.
Housekeeping presented many serious discouragements. That civilization which is a multiplication of wants, our forefathers, happily, had not attained to. Rather they adhered to Goldsmith's dictum, "Man wants but little here below." It is surprising how few are the things which are really indispensable. In the forest, without roads, with scarcely even a path, it was difficult to get any thing from market, and it was still more difficult to take it thither; for the latter was likely to be the heavier commodity. It did not pay to transport Indian corn, oats, or wheat; and a farmer can scarcely raise any thing more valuable than these. He consumed all he grew; or, if he did not, he threw the remainder away. Flax was made into cloth at his own house; so was wool changed from the back of a sheep to a regularly woven fabric. This was, of course, when sheep could be kept; wolves and bears often made it impossible. The gun often supplemented the fruits of the soil. Deer and raccoons, foxes and wolves, opossums and squirrels abounded. The man of the house left home before daybreak, and before noon often returned with a huge load of venison or wild turkeys. The stranger who came by was welcome. He represented the outside world to them. He was theater and church, school and fair, all in one. They heard nothing of what was going on except as he echoed it.
Sometimes the pioneer began even more unpretentiously. With an ax he started out to fell enough saplings to build a rude hut, seven feet by four, and five feet high. It was open in front, where a place was left for a fire. A frying-pan and a jack-knife would complete the equipment. Coals lingered the whole day. A piece of pork would be put in the pan and fried, and, with a piece of bread, borrowed, like its oleaginous neighbor from a farmer of the vicinity, the woodchopper made his hearty meals. Coffee and tea were not introduced at the beginning of the State settlement; indeed, the latter was not in much use until 1830. One of these pioneers has left us an account of his struggles to get a frock for the baby:
"I built a log-house twenty feet square-quite aristocratic in those days-and moved into it. I was fortunate enough to possess a jack-knife. With that I made a wooden knife and two wooden forks, which answered admirably for us to eat with. A bedstead was wanted. I took two round poles for the posts, inserted a pole in them for a side-rail; two other poles were inserted for the end pieces, the ends of which were put in the logs of the house; some puncheons were then split and laid from the side-rail to the crevice between the logs of the house, which formed a substantial bed-cord, on which we laid our straw-bed -- the only bed we had -- on which we slept as soundly and woke as happy as Albert and Victoria.
In process of time a yard and a half of calico were wanted. I started on foot through the woods ten miles to procure it; but, alas! when I arrived I found that, in the absence of both money and credit, the calico was not to be obtained. The dilemma was a serious one, and how to escape I could not devise; but I had no sooner informed my wife of my failure than she suggested that I had a pair of thin pantaloons which I could very well spare, that would make quite a decent frock. The pants were cut up, the frock made, and in due time the child was dressed."
The house, after being first erected, needed many repairs and alterations to fit it for the residence of a family. It was always left with great interstices between the logs, which needed to be filled up with mud or clay or with pieces of wood. As the means of the family increased and saw-mills were built, the rude structure was often enveloped with a frame covering; but underneath all was unchanged. The house occupied by General HARRISON until his death, situated at North Bend, was an instance Generally the chimney was built up on the outside, and the floors were of slabs of wood, rough-hewn by the ax. Excepting for Indians, there was no need of bar or bolt. There were no thieves and no dishonest people. Credits were long, and pay was taken in almost every thing to be found in the country. Potash, hides and furs, cattle, tobacco, and, later, wheat and oats, were merchantable articles, and often answered instead of money itself. But the prices, as we should judge them now, were ruinously low. We give elsewhere, in the article on the National Armory, and in some of our local histories, the cost of commodities as they were forty and sixty years ago. The currency was as varied as the articles for which they were given. There were notes of banks on half a dozen different States in various stages of depreciation; the United States currency of dollars, dimes, and cents; currency from New Spain, Cuba, and other Spanish American countries; British silver, and French five-franc pieces. Each of these floated at some conventional price, and it required careful study to know the value of each kind. The calling of money-broker was, until the late war, one of the most lucrative in the United States.
The agriculture of the day was rude. Fruit grew with a luxuriance and certainty which it does not now equal; but the quality of the apples, pears, and plums first planted was poor. The trees were sheltered by the surrounding forests, and the insects which are now the bane of the fruit-producer had not yet made their appearance. The smaller fruits -- the strawberry, raspberry, and curran -- were uncultivated; but the melon in its different varieties was abundant. The trees were deprived of life by being girdled, and then afterwards cut down; but often they stood for many years, weakening and falling, a most deplorable sight. After the trees were felled the stumps were burned out and pulled out; the ground was fertilized with the ashes and mold, and the crops that were obtained were in great abundance. There was no rotation of crops, no underdraining, scarcely any surface draining, and no manuring, except the small portion derived from the stable. When one field was worn out, another was got ready. There were few sheep, but hogs were numerous. They were of the genuine racer breed, and earned their own living. Chickens and turkeys were numerous, and the holiday meal always included one of these. Pork was the great staple. It had an advantage over the other products of the farm. The hog could be driven from home to the market, and corn could in no way be more easily moved than in this concentrated form. Hot biscuits were the delight of the farmer, and cold bread was very rarely eaten. The maple-tree furnished an abundant yield of molasses and sugar, and there was no lack of fruit to be put up in homely preserves.
Farmers worked their places with much less labor than at present. They rarely hired any help, except at harvest, and the pioneer, with his wife and children, toiled on year after year with little assistance. There was usually a cow or two, and the duty of milking and making butter devolved upon the wife. So did that of making cloth, and the garments out of the cloth. The husband made the shoes, except at the time when some wandering shoemaker sought shelter and a few days' work. A clock was too expensive a thing to have; rude dials answered every purpose on bright days, and on dark days they guessed as to the hour. The crockery was homely yellow ware, and was often eked out by pewter and wooden dishes. Fine queensware and china were not to be seen. The ovens were huge and capacious, and in them could be baked whole turkeys or sheep. So also were the fire-places of those houses which were constructed after the people became a little forehanded. Here and there may now be seen an ancient dwelling in which the Dutch oven is a prominent part.
It was a difficult thing, even after a family had some money, to get luxuries. Public sentiment frowned upon them as effeminate, and the shopkeepers did not have odd and curious articles on hand. The chairs and tables were at the beginning made by the stout hands of the farmer himself; the beds were built in the house, and thongs of deer or coarse ropes were extended across from side to side, to give the requisite elasticity. Over this was a tick, filled with oat-straw, and the high structure was surmounted by a feather-bed, loved by all who were brought up to know its soft embraces, and contemned by this latter-day generation, who have been taught that it is hygienically bad, and makes man, woman and child too comfortable. The last of all were the sheets of linen, woven at home, and a counterpane, carefully joined together from twoscore different patterns of cloth-a true housewife's delight. If there was a cradle, it was made at home. Perhaps it might be half a barrel cut lengthwise, and furnished with rockers ; sometimes it was a log hollowed out; but generally it was made by some handy man in the neighborhood. The floor was rough, as it must needs be when slabs or puncheons are used to lay it. There was no danger of dying from suffocation, as there was a huge fire-place and chimney to make a draft, and innumerable chinks and crevices in the walls and floors to admit the free air of heaven; and there were no needless pieces of furniture for the housekeeper to dust and keep in order. What would she have said could she have seen the present craze for pottery and furniture?
For the first score of years after the treaty of Greenville the hunting of wild animals formed an essential portion of the pioneer's livelihood. It is true that most men did not neglect tilling the soil on this account; but until the wild animals had been nearly exterminated his stock and crops were not of much account. Squirrels swarmed in vast numbers, and to them a corn-field was a particular attraction. Bears had the same weakness. It was a common plan for farmers to go on a Summer's night to a corn-field and there wait for the quadruped to approach. If the field were fenced, the beast would find some place to climb over the rails. When at the top, he would carefully look in every direction for an enemy After a time, seeing none, he would drop off the fence inside the field. He can not climb down and so must fall. Having picked himself up, and waited, perhaps, ten minutes to see if he was observed, he would proceed to the hills of corn, pull down the stalk, strip the ears of the husk, and begin eating the succulent grains with the greatest relish. It was wonderful what devastation one bear would make in a corn-field in one night. If the plans of the hunter had been well carried out, he would fire from his ambush as soon as the bear was near enough, and enough meat would be obtained to last his family until the carcass could be no longer kept. The skin was worth a round sum, either to sell or to keep. The fat, tried out, made a pomade or ointment, and the dogs had a feast on the poorer parts of the animal. These latter were an important part of every household. From one to six were to be found near each farmstead, and, if of "low degree" and not well trained, they would make the night vocal by their barking. They were useful, however. They aided the farmer to discover any depredator on his fields, whether man or beast; they helped him in his encounters with savage animals, and they formed excellent playmates for his children. In all new countries man prizes the companionship of dogs. In hunting wolves and foxes they were essential, and were the same with raccoons and opossums. The latter were largely hunted at night, and formed excellent roasts for the family. The furs and skins of animals formed the most compact and valuable of all commodities that the frontiersman had to do with. Offered at the shopkeepers', they brought cash, and in dealings of one man with another they passed more readily current than any other property. A premium was paid on the heads of wolves by the commissioners of Butler County for a number of years, and this stimulated the energies of the hunter. Many expedients were used to ensnare these animals. Large traps were made and baited, the mechanism being such that the attempt to take the bait would result in the fall of the gate, thus securely imprisoning the beast. Other hunters would take the ovary of the female wolf at a particular time of the year, rub it upon their boots, and then walk across the paths where the animals were sure to come. They immediately left whatever they were doing, and followed. This plan, while very successful, was attended with great danger, as the wolves became infuriated when they saw the deception that had been practiced upon them, and not infrequently attacked the backwoodsman. Often have hunters been obliged to climb trees to secure their safety. But so effectual were the attempts to exterminate wolves that few have been seen by any one now living, and there is probably no one resident in the county who has killed one within its limits.
It is impossible to give a description of a school that shall entirely correspond to that which existed among our forefathers. It was entirely sustained by subscription, the wealthier men paying a little more than the poorer ones. The schoolmaster was a man of consideration. He ranked next in the community after the doctor, the lawyer, and the minister, and although his learning might not have been great, it was greater than that of the persons. in whose society he found himself. Often he was some man who had traveled far afield, and knew more of the world than his auditors. He generally wrote a good hand, was familiar with the easier parts of arithmetic, had a little knowledge of geography, English, American and Roman history, and could read passably. He only gave instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and if he taught these well he satisfied his patrons. The houses were generally of logs, with a capacious fireplace, and the benches and desks were of plain plank or slabs, the fiat side uppermost. There was no uniformity of books. Each pupil brought what he had, and all were in turn used by the teacher. One thing is undeniable: the pupils carried from the schools more that they remembered, considering the extent of the curriculum, than is now done in similar places. There was more concentration, and there was no study of a dozen different branches, all of necessity imperfectly acquired.
It must not be imagined that all the inhabitants were farmers. The hunter and trapper preceded them, and the blacksmith followed. Many of the articles which we now buy ready made were then beat out on the anvil. Nails were among these; the point to a plowshare, the remainder being wood;. bolts and bars, knives, sickles, and axes were wrought out by his labors. He was an indispensable man. Something which is widely different from that found today was the multitude of innkeepers. Roadside taverns abounded everywhere. It was necessary for the traveler to stop over-night, and as he could only make from ten to twenty miles per day, often finding two or three miles too much, he was compelled to avail himself of their facilities. In the smaller kind there was only a lower room and a loft, into which the traveler mounted by a ladder. Here were three or four beds, and if there were women in the party there was a curtain to divide their part of the garret from the other part, in which the men slept. In the larger there were two log-cabins, side by side, with, of course, additional accommodations. Log houses were the rule then, not the exception. When John REILY came to Hamilton, nearly eighty years ago, the cabins outnumbered the frame houses, and the latter were very small, unpretentious dwellings. The landlord in those days gave plentiful fare, but not what would now he considered as of the best quality It was pork and potatoes, with corn-bread. Chickens were afforded as often as possible, and always on gala-days; but beef and mutton were seldom seen, unless the former, salted, in Winter-time. There was game on the table when the landlord or his guests were fortunate enough to shoot any, or when he could make an exchange with a neighbor for some. Often the inns were full, and the wayfarer slept in his wagon or under a friendly tree. Expenses were low. The York shilling, or twelve and a half cents, was at that time considerably used in this neighborhood, and meals were generally charged for at that rate, sleeping from six to nineteen cents, and the same for horse-feed. The bar had an abundance of whisky and rum, sold at three cents a drink. No beer or ale was used, nor were there any fancy drinks. Water and sugar were the only things ever put in the glass to modify the taste, except occasionally a little mint. The pioneers drank enormously, yet such was the strength of their constitutions and the bracing effect of living in the open air, they seemed to suffer no ill effects from it There were drunkards, it is true; but they had given up labor, and had no other thought than the bottle.
The taverns were frequently the scene of balls. Here gathered all the young men of the neighborhood who were not Church members, and the young ladies whom they had invited to accompany them. The largest room in the inn was cleared of all furniture, a couple of fiddlers found place in one corner, and some citizen with a stentorian voice, or perhaps one of the fiddlers, called off the figures. Dancing began early. By sundown, often, small parties might be seen on their way to the house appointed, and in the neighborhood every available place was used to tie the horses which brought the cavaliers and their fair charges. These dances were old-fashioned and few persons now would know them The minuet was never in vogue in this section; it went out of date with hair-powder. But quadrilles, country dances, and reels were the order of the night. There was no languidness. Few girls were wall-flowers, and when they were on the floor they moved with vivacity. There was a careless and open enjoyment. No regulations were made as to dress. Few of the ladies aspired to silk or gentlemen to broadcloth; but, instead, they wore plain linsey-woolseys and coarse woolen clothes. The entertainment culminated at supper-time which was near midnight. Here were roast and boiled turkey and chicken, boiled ham, any stray articles of game that could be got in time, biscuits, pies and cake, and preserves -- a royal supper it seemed to them, but which our degenerate and weakened race could hardly digest. After another hour or two of dancing the party broke up, and Ethelberta was escorted home by her faithful Edwy.
Those who clad the human frame were people of consequence. Caps were generally made at home, and few men, except of the better sort, wore hats; so that this calling did not thrive. The milliner was not in request. The decoration of bonnets was entirely a home affair. But while most men possessed an elementary knowledge of shoemaking, and some even owned a cobbler's kit, it was not generally found expedient to make shoes. So the journeyman cordwainer made his circuits, even as the dressmaker now does. In one house he might be kept a couple of days, in another a couple of weeks, busily at work repairing and making shoes and boots. These were firmly and substantially constructed, and had a weight in them of leather which nowadays is rarely seen. They were larger and roomier, and when new resisted the rain very well. It was not an uncommon thing to find those which had been worn the second year. There were, in a region like this, no thin shoes, or shoes got up expressly for show. Vanity or the length of purse was not great enough. Moccasins were worn here for many years after the first settlement of the country. They were soft and easy to walk in, and made without trouble. They were much affected by those with tender feet.
The tailor did not come in, at the very beginning, but he was here within a half-dozen years. There was then no ready-made clothing, and all material was cut and sewed in the neighborhood where it was used. Gentlemen wore broadcloth, which was imported and was very costly, and many of them were clad in it continually. Artisans or farmers never wore such an expensive cloth, except it might be for a wedding-suit, and all professional men were to be told by it. The Methodist minister always had a very long-tailed coat, and he could be distinguished as far as he could be seen on account of this garment.
An indispensable man was the saddler and harness-maker. There was much riding on horseback, as the roads were poor when they existed at all, and it was a necessity not only to be a good horseman, but to be well provided with riding-gear. Tanners and curriers were also soon to be found in most localities. Deerskins were prepared during the last century for garments by those who followed a trade called skin-dressers, and their products were worn by men of all classes. Others were known as leather-breeches makers. These callings have been superseded at the present day. Some trades have gone out of use. There were men who made spinning-wheels and looms, and like machinery. Joel COLLINS made powder, which is now only manufactured by extensive establishments.
There was preaching of the Gospel in many parts of the country. Among these early missionaries the names of CRUME, MACDILL, MONTFORT, ELLIOTT, and others, rise up in the remembrance of those who attended upon their ministrations, or whose parents did. They preached everywhere -- private houses, blacksmith-shops, groves, open spaces, or wherever they could attract auditors. Many of the early ministers were men without education, but with strong minds, trained by experience and observation. They understood the nature of the men to whom they talked and what arguments would influence them. They dealt more with personal religion than with abstract and barren idealizations, and they wrought much good in the community.