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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Tribulations Of Backwoods Life In Early Turtlecreek Township

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
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Much has been written and preserved concerning the early settlements in and around Turtlecreek. One such manuscript was written by Anthony Howard Dunlevy at the age of seventy-four, and printed in The Western Star in 1867. He was probably the first historian of note in the Lebanon area.
He was the eldest son of Judge Francis Dunlevy and was born at Columbia, December 21, 1793. He was brought to the Turtlecreek area at the age of four and resided in the vicinity of Lebanon until his death, December 21, 1881. At the time of his death, he was believed to have been the oldest man then living in the Northwest Territory.
The Dunlevy's first home was located on the school section southwest of Lebanon, and later they moved to a farm northwest of town.
The following is A.H. Dunlevy's description of the life of the early pioneers in the area. It goes as such:

"The general face of the country in 1798 when I first saw spring vegetation here exhibited a wild luxuriance which cannot well be described. The forests had hardly been touched and were grand and majestic everywhere.
"In the summer a tall weed with a white blossom on its top, of which there are some dwarf specimens yet, covered the bottoms of Turtlecreek and grew as thick as hemp and to an almost incredible height. When full grown in the richest bottoms it overtopped a man's head on horseback, and cattle were hunted therin by traces which they made working their way thru it.
"These high weeds in falling down formed fine harbors for snakes which were as plenty as anyone could wish, consisting mainly of the black snake, rattle snake, the racer, the water snake, and occasionally was found a moccasin snake, the most deadly of all.
"Near where we first lived was a camp of General Harmar as he led his army toward the Maumee in 1790. He had probably remained there for a week or ten days as there were three or four graves there, and some half acre or more cut off and the brush piled in heaps around the camp.
"These brush heaps were decayed in 1798 but afforded fine harbors for snakes, and as the warm sun of spring came out, I think hundreds of them could be seen in an hour passing from one brush heap to another in apparent merry play. I used to amuse myself in watching their movements and noting their peculiar colors. "Every kind of snake seemed to nestle together in these brush heaps. As an evidence of the number of snakes then in this new country, I will mention one fact. My father once took me with him to a neighbor's about half a mile distant, and in going and returning he killed seven rattle snakes, giving me the rattles, and this without any particular search.
"Again, in the first settlement the water courses were infested with leaches so numerous that the most active boy could not run across Turtlecreek in summer, bare-footed and bare-legged without having a number of leaches fasten upon his feet and legs; and if one should walk slowly, they would cover the feet and legs until they were black.
"To get rid of them required hard scraping with a stick. Many of our cattle died of bloody murrain at that time, and I now have no doubt the disease was caused by drinking in these leaches.
"But as the country settled snakes and leaches disappeared. There being no rocks to shelter either, the hogs soon destroyed both, and for fifty years this section of country has been almost free from snakes except the black water-snake which is not poisonous.
"For some years the Indians occasionally encamped in the neighborhood, especially in the sugar-making season. They were friendly but would sometimes steal horses. The first year that Ichabod Corwin settled here they stole all his horses. He had just finished planting his corn when his team was stolen, and he was compelled to return to Kentucky to replace it, but he failed to get horses and brought back a yoke of oxen and a Yankee to drive it, as Kentuckians then knew little about working oxen. But with these he raised his crop, and tho it had suffered from want of attention at first, it surprised him in the fall by turning off one hundred bushels to the acre.
"There were fishing and hunting parties resorted to after periods of hard work for recreation. Sometimes they proved very profitable when fish and game happened to be abundant; at other times they yielded little else than the recreation.
"Usually at the first settlement of the country, game was abundant. The wild turkeys especially, in the fall could be shot or entrapped in great numbers. I have seen in one drove several hundred, all large and fat. This was at seasons when mast [beechnuts, acorns, etc., used as food for hogs] was abundant. When mast was scarce here game was usually scarce, as all kinds sought parts of the country where food abounded.
"Sometimes, however, the scarcity of food in the unsettled portions caused all kinds of game to venture into the settlements for the benefit of the grain-fields, then game would be unusually abundant for a time.
"Of all sports of hunting in early times the bear-hunt was the most exciting. This usually occurred accidentally. I never knew a bear hunt to be regularly organized. Someone in the neighborhood would discover a bear, and if at a time when the animal was fat and worth possessing he sounded a horn, known in the neighborhood as the signal of the discovery of a bear and the call for help to capture the prize.
"Soon men on horseback with rifles and dogs were on hand. For hours, sometimes from morning till nightfall the chase would continue. The dogs would keep on the track of the bear, but unless they could cause him to take to a tree, they could do nothing but keep the trail and enable the hunters to follow. If they ventured to attack him, they were usually repulsed, sometimes killed on the spot.
"At last after many hours chase the exhausted bear would take to a tree around which the dogs quickly gathered. The signal horn was sounded and the hunters were soon on the spot. If it was still light the bear was soon brought down by the rifle. If too dark to see, the bear was watched until morning.
"The event ended with the skinning of the bear and cutting up the carcass so as to give each hunter a portion and usually sending a portion to each family in the neighborhood. The flesh, tho considered by most people a delicacy, I could never eat, but the sport of the bear hunt had no equal with me at that day or any time since.
"The ground was then peculiarly adapted to the production of corn and potatoes. Both were raised without much work and gave a fine yield of the best quality. Eastern people are even now surprised at our tall corn, but it does not grow so tall by several feet as it then did. The tallest man cold hardly reach all the ears, and it was not uncommon to gather it on horseback, riding between the rows, plucking the ears and throwing them into piles for the wagons to take up afterwards and transfer to a heap for husking.
"The husking of the corn was generally an evening's work, neighbors enough being invited to husk the heap in one evening. These huskings were made exciting frolics. The long heap was divided by a rail, captains chosen who selected the huskers alternately, and then the strife was to beat.
"Men would work harder to beat in these matches, than they could be induced to work for any hire of on other occasions. When one side was hard put to, it was not uncommon to throw corn forward of backward unhusked and sometimes bad work was the result of the strife.
"But as the labor was free, it was all taken in good part, and a good supper closed the evening's exercise. One, two and sometimes three thousand bushels would be husked in one night. The corn was usually placed in a long semi-circular heap with the crib in the center so that the huskers threw the ears over the heap and thus cribbed as well as husked.
"Of all the social gatherings of early times, such as house-raising, log-rolling and corn-husking, the last was the most exciting. Usually there was no trouble in getting corn husked, but it was sometimes difficult to procure men for house- raising and log-rolling.
"In all the neighborhood gatherings utility was a main point in all the strifes to excel. Speed in corn husking was acquired which would now be thought incredible.
"Strength was exhibited in the log-rollings and house-raising rarely to be found at the present day. Skill in swimming and diving was acquired by all the boys while quite young, and this they often found of great use to them afterwards. One of these, Benj. H. Spinning, who after hunted and fished with me when a boy, was wrecked on a steamboat on the Mississippi about 1820 and not only swam to shore himself, but saved several passengers by swimming with them from the boat to the land. Every boy should learn to swim at an early age, and it would do no harm for girls to learn the same art.
"In the early settlements each family manufactured their own wearing apparel. Weavers, shoe makers, wheelwrights and blacksmiths were the most essential mechanics. Tayloring was generally done by the household. The flax, wool and cotton necessary for clothing were prepared by and spun in the family. Every girl had her little wheel on which flax was spun in winter, and each family a big wheel on which wool was spun in the summer for winter clothing, and the buzz of the wheel was heard. It would be a strange sound now.
"As everybody labored, every one expected to live by labor. Young men and women did not think it essential as it now has become by the slavish customs of society, that they should possess a fortune before entering into wedlock.
"If a young man had a team and the necessary farming utensils, or if a tradesman his set of tools, he was ready to settle into life. If a young man owned no land, he would take an improvement, lease for five or six years, his neighbors would put him up a cabin in one day and in a week he would have it ready for his young wife, who would bring to him perhaps nothing more than a bed, a cow and some cupboard and kitchen ware. In this way I have known many to commence life, and I could name some of our wealthiest men who began with no more capital than their own hands and an active industrious wife.
"It must not be inferred from this that the earliest settlers here were all very poor. A majority of them perhaps owned land for good farms, but these were unimproved and of course unproductive.
"The labor of opening a farm in a country covered with heavy forest was very great. It took, as a general rule, six or eight years to open a farm and erect a more permanent house than the first log cabin. Any quantity of the best land could be purchased in this neighborhood at near two dollars per acre.
"It is a general opinion that new countries are unhealthy. But this was certainly not the case with this neighborhood. From the first settlement in 1796 there was no physician in the country about Lebanon for several years.
"But there was little call for a physician at that time. We had no chills and no fevers of any kind, except an occasional inflammatory fever which yielded to one bleeding followed by some simple means of promoting free perspiration.
"My impression has long been that this neighborhood was at its first settlement unusually healthy. As a proof of this I could name at least twelve families forming one neighborhood immediately west of Lebanon in which there was not a death from 1796 to 1809. Each raised all their children to maturity tho there were large families of children."

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
© 2004 Arne H Trelvik  All rights reserved