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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Forests That Pioneers Found In The County

Dallas Bogan on 14 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The native forests of the newly discovered lands in America were described as "one of grandeur." No other region in the world had so majestic and so great a variety of trees.
It has been said that Warren County, at the time of its settlement, had a greater variety of trees than all of Europe. The actual clearing of these trees will be our subject this week.
Which came first as far as working tools in the newly found lands of the Miami Valley, the plow or the ax? Naturally the ax had to be used for clearings before the plow could prevail. This single tool was the most significant part of the pioneer's livelihood.
In the early land sales of this great valley a selling point as to the purchases of land was that one settler could clear an acre of forest in three weeks.
But the greater amount of trees contained on a certain tract of land meant a longer time in clearing.
An increase in the diameter of the trunk adds to the labor of cutting it down. It is easier to cut down three trees each a foot in diameter than one of eighteen inches.
A giant oak four feet in diameter has an area close to that of sixteen one-foot trees. In consequence, more wood would be chipped out from the large tree than from the smaller ones.
One method of clearing was to cut down all the smaller and medium sized trees. Next the area was cleared of all underbrush.
Deadening was done by girdling all the large sized trees and allowing them to stand until they decayed and fell. This method was unsafe as sometimes the dead branches would fall and injury could occur. But this maneuver was a great labor saver.
The chore of opening a farm in the woods was sometimes so immense that a period of five or six years was required to open a tract sufficient for the migrant to farm and support his family.
It often took a young man half a lifetime to perform the task of opening a half-section (320 acres) suitable for this mission.
Wintertime was generally the time when the trees were cut down. The logs, brushwood and branches were then gathered into heaps and were left on the ground through the summer. In the fall the enormous piles were fired.
The ax and fire were the two main ingredients in the early clearings. The scene of smoking piles of brush and logs were dominant for many generations.
A not-so-common practice of felling trees in heavily timbered tracts in Ohio was one called "slashing." It was a quick method of clearing, but required an expert for successful handling.
The slasher painstakingly chose a strip about thirty feet in width and, beginning at one end, he chopped the larger trees one-half, one-third, or one-fourth way through the trunks. He would make the notches so that they would fall in the same direction and lean toward the middle of the strip.
The larger trees that were cut into were designated as starters and, when the wind was sufficient, trees falling against one another produced a domino effect.
Another strip was lined out and cut until a great forest lay in a network of entanglement. It was said that two expert workmen together could slash twenty acres of heavy timber in nine days.
The trained slasher did not like to embark upon a project with less than a ten-acre tract.
Two years was the time allotted for the slashed timber to lie. During this dormant period decay set in and, during a dry spell with a sufficient wind, it would be fired. Often the process would be commenced at the same time in several spots.

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This page created 14 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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