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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Olden Times Miscellany

Dallas Bogan on 13 September 2004
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Scenes And Incidents In The Early Settlements of the Ohio Valley.

Every Day Life of The Pioneer--Great Fire In A Clearing--
Scarcity of Small Change--Silver Dollars Cut Into
Quarters--A Lawyer's Experience In
A New Country--Other Stories.

September 1, 1910

Some incidents and scenes illustrative of life in the interests of the Ohio Valley in the days of the pioneers will be here given. They have been collected from sources both published and unpublished. They are all from actors in the scenes described and I believe them all to be authentic.
Unfortunately most of the analysts of pioneer history gave too much attention to the stories of western adventure, the battles, murders and activities during the Indian wars, with occasional accounts of the hunter's prowess. Our early western literary men seemed never too weary in writing of the perils of border life and much that they wrote was semi-historic and semi-fictitious. The time has already come when the plain and un-varnished story of the every day life of the early settler is of more interest and value than his daring adventures with Indians and wild animals.

First Fire at Cincinnati.

Most of the first towns in Ohio in addition to the smaller lots on the town plat had large lots, usually of four acres each, on the outskirts. These larger ones were called outlots. Previous to 1794 there were at Cincinnati a large number of these outlots which were partially cleared but without buildings upon them. The larger trees on them had been deadened by girdling them with the ax and they were left to decay while still standing. Most of them had become very dry and combustible. In May, 1794, one of the owners was engaged in burning brush on his own lot when the high wind from the west spread the fire over the whole clearing.
The conflagration spread farther and farther east. The dry bark, with pieces of the outer wood and dead branches, were blown as fire brands until more than one hundred acres of dead forest trees were in flames. Only one small building belonging to Thomas Gowdy, a lawyer, was endangered by the fire. This stood on Main street between Seventh and Eighth and was the only one in the vicinity. It was saved by water thrown upon it from buckets. Most of the owners of the lots were engaged in trying to save the rails of the fences they had built but the greater portion of the fences were destroyed.
Judge Matson, an early settler of Hamilton county, who wrote out an account of this conflagration in 1845, says it was the first fire at Cincinnati and the most extensive as respects to the space it covered.

Three Cornered Money.

In the early settlements of the Miami country as well as thruout the whole Ohio valley there was much difficulty in obtaining specie for small payments. The first currency at Cincinnati was raccoon and other skins, but that place being a garrison town in the Indian wars, a fair supply of specie was obtained in the payment of the soldiers. The soldiers, however, were generally paid in gold or in Spanish silver dollars and there was still difficulty in obtaining money for small sums.
In this perplexity the settlers declined it necessary to coin for themselves "cut money." They would cut a silver dollar into four pieces, each passing for twenty cents, and sometimes divided the cut-quarter into two pieces for twelve and a half cent pieces. Some of the others of this triangular money found it agreeable to make five quarters out of a single silver dollar, the fifth one being made perhaps to pay the expense of the coinage. These light weight and wedged shaped quarters were called sharp skins and became unpopular. As late as 1806 a business house in Philadelphia received over one hundred pounds of cut silver brought by a Kentucky merchant. Charles Cist relates that he was then an apprentice in the Philadelphia house and this cut silver was taken in a dray under his direction to the U.S. mint for coinage. The Philadelphia house accepted it only at its real value much to the loss and vexation of the Kentucky merchant.
At this period the western merchants often made change for sums smaller than 12 1-2 cents in pins, needles, writing paper, etc. It is said that the first considerable quantity of copper coins was brought to Cincinnati in 1794 by a merchant named Bartle who secured a barrel of copper cents. These coins were then large and heavy, and many persons, it is said, thought themselves insulted when they were offered copper money for change.
Cut money was used for a considerable period in Lebanon and in Warren county. When the supreme court of Ohio held one session each year at each county seat of the state, a defendant was arraigned in the supreme court of Warren county in November, 1805, on an indictment for stealing from Ephriam Hathaway the tavern keeper in Lebanon "one pocketbook, one Spanish milled dollar and one cut eight part of a Spanish milled dollar," the whole value of 110 cents. The defendant, who was a boy, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be whipped on his naked back three stripes.

A Lawyer in a New Country.

Hon. Oliver H. Smith, a distinguished lawyer, congressman and senator of Indiana went to that state in 1817, the year after its admission into the union. In his reminiscences he has given us a vivid picture of the scenes in which his life as a young lawyer were passed. He writes:
"The whole middle, north and northwest portion of the state were an unbroken wilderness. When I first visited the ground on which Indianapolis now stands, the whole country east to Whitewater, and west to the Wabash, was a dense unbroken forest. There were no public roads, no bridges over any of the streams. The traveler had to literally swim his way. No cultivated farms, no houses to shelter or feed the weary traveler or his faded horse. The courts, years afterward, were held in log huts and the juries sat under the shade of the forest trees. I was circuit prosecuting attorney at the time of the trials at the falls of Full Creek where Pendelton now stands. Four of the prisoners were convicted of murder and three of them hung for killing Indians. The court was held in a double log cabin, the grand jury sat upon a log in the woods, and the foreman signed the indictment which I had prepared upon his knee. There was not a petit juror that had shoes on, all wore moccasins, and were belted about their waist and carried the side knives used by hunters. The products of the country consisted of peltries, wild game killed in the forest by the Indian hunters, the fish caught in the interior lakes, rivers and creeks, the papaw, wild plum, haws, small berries, gathered by the squaws in the woods. The travel was confined in the single horse and his rider, the commerce to the pack saddle, and the navigation to the Indian canoe. Many a time and oft have I crossed the swollen streams by day and by night, sometimes swimming my horse and other times paddling the rude bark canoe of the Indian. Such is a mere sketch of our state when I traversed its wilds and I am not one of its first settlers."

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This page created 13 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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