Locating a Home
When the white men first came into the hills of Crawford County, the land was a howling wilderness over which wild animals roamed at will. Probably the entire county was covered with a heavy growth of timber. At first the settlers chose the uplands for their homes because the lowlands were so heavily wooded that they were unable to clear it readily, making it unhealthy and the water impure. Many pioneers squatted on the land which they bought later from the government at $1.25 an acre. This land was called the "Congress Land."
The first settlers lived under the starry heavens until they had time to build a cabin house. The pioneers built cabins out of the tall straight poplars and oaks, many of which were 2 ft in diameter. These were scored down and hewed till they were about 8 in thick. The poplar tree was much softer and could be worked easier. Since the timber was light, the logs could be handled easily and were much preferred for houses. The hewing was done with a broad-axe. A good workman could hew the face of a log almost as smooth as one could saw the same and the hewed face did not rot as easily as the sawed one.
The site for a cabin was generally situated near a spring of wholesome water. This was very essential because the creek water was not good for drinking. All sizes of cabins were built.
Abraham Sheckel's old cabin house which once stood near Cape Sandy on the river, his house was about twice as long as wide. This was the style the southern men preferred, while men from the north built square log houses. Many built double log houses. These were two houses just a few feet apart. All the open space was covered by the same roof and used for a breezeway or summer kitchen.
The logs were notched so that they would fit together easily at the corners and be locked together. Hence such a house was not easily blown away by the wind.
When a man's logs were ready he invited in his neighbors and had a house raising. Of course there was plenty of food to eat and drink on such an occasion. The pioneer covered his house with a clapboard roof. These were about four feet long, 8 in wide and 1 inch thick. He selected a fine white oak for a broadtree, one possibly 4 ft in diameter. The settler sawed down the tree and cut the body into cuts about 4 ft long. The cuts were set upon and the bark dressed off well. The cut then was split into bolts which were rived into boards with a frow. When the settler had time he generally shaved the faces of the board. When a house was covered with such a roof it lasted a long time.
The settlers often used a whip-saw in sawing out lumber. In the use of the whip-saw the settlers raised a small tree about 4 ft high and one man stood on a platform above it and another below it and sawed the log lengthwise. What lumber was sawed in this way was used for doors and flooring and furniture.
The pioneer built his chimney in one end of the house. In most cases the chimney was made out of stones if they were handy. If they were scarce, one then built his chimney out of mud and sticks. Of course the best families did not have mud and stick chimneys.
The old fashioned pioneer made his floor out of puncheons, which were hewed timbers and matched so that they made a rather stout floor but not very warm. Such a floor was sufficiently tight to keep out rats and snakes but not to keep out spiders, many of which were poisonous to man if bitten by them.
The door was hung on wooden hinges and opened by means of a string run through a hole in the door. At night the settler drew his door-string in and fastened the door by means of a pin stuck into an auger hole in the door facing.
The pioneers used glass when it was available and when they could not obtain glass they used paper in the windows. The first settlers lived under rock shelters, hallowed out trees until they had time to build a cabin house. Glass might be bought at Corydon or Jeffersonville, and later, when boats were on the Ohio, the glass might be bought at Fredonia.
At night the pioneer lighted his cabin by a huge fire in the fireplace, or by burning sticks put in a holder in the jamb-rock. The lamp was made by using a piece of cloth twisted into a cord and put into a saucer of grease. When the end was pulled slightly over the top and lit it made a fair light come but was rather dirty and smokey. Later candles came into general use. They were molded by the settlers and were much better than the grease. They were used until long after the Civil War when coal-oil was discovered and became cheap so that all people could use it.
The pioneer's hardy housewife did most of the cooking over the fire on the hearth. She baked the bread in an old fashioned oven before the fire. It was something like a skillet with a movable top. When the bread was put into the oven and the top was placed on carefully, it then was covered with coals of fire and sat in a bed of coals which had been raked out before the fire. Sometimes the bread became a little dirty but no one complained, for every man was hungry and enjoyed the meal. The meat was roasted over the fire or broiled. Much of it was wild game, for the woods were full of all kinds of animals. Corn was used for bread in most of all homes.
It was ground in three kinds of mills, namely, horse-mills, water-mills and steam-mills. Leggett's and Fullenwider's and Leavenworth's Mills were the oldest ones in the county. Leggett's Mill and Fullenwider's Mill were on Little Blue near Alton, while Seth Leavenworth's Mills were at Leavenworth and at Milltown.
The first cooking stove which was ever brought into the county was probably the one which Holcraft bought from a store boat in 1837. This was a little step stove. Holcraft, who lived about 2 miles north of Fredonia, had many callers to see the stove and see if it would really cook. Elam Wilens advertised three stoves for sale on August 30, 1838, at Leavenworth. These were about the first in the county.
The millers generally ground one day in the week. On that day the pioneers from far and near came with their grist. There was always something to drink and many men enjoyed the days at the mill. This gave them a chance to meet their neighbors, many of whom lived several miles away. While they were waiting their turn at the mill the time was spent in storytelling, among which the favorite tales were ghost stories. No wonder then that each one wanted his "grist" ground before dark, so that he could get home. Besides, the pioneers might have an encounter with a bobcat, a wolf, or a bear as he went through the dark and gloomy forest. The state encouraged millers by exempting them from military duties and jury duties in times of peace. The miller was not held responsible for the loss of sacks unless the owner's name was on them. The miller was allowed to extract a toll of 1/4 if he furnished the horses to grind the grist.
One of the most interesting stories told in those old days was Peckinpaugh's Indian story. Uncle Peter Peckinpaugh, who had moved to Southern Indiana about 1806, built a cabin near Cape Sandy on the Ohio River and was living there by himself. He had a large sugar camp open and was making sugar. The pots were boiling well, the sun had set, and all the land was dark. Uncle Pete sat in an easy seat, smoking his pipe and watching the syrup boil. Suddenly the syrup caught fire and burned up. Uncle Peter took that as an ill omen and fled to his cabin.
When morning came he returned and such a sight he never had seen before. There were moccasin tracks of all sizes around the pots where the Indians had been licking the syrup and drinking the sap in the other vessels. The point of contention was whether that was a sign admonishing Peter to flee or weather he had gone to sleep and let his syrup get too hot and burn up.
The writer's father, when he was a little boy, went to John Carnes' Mill with the men where he was staying. It being a cold ugly day, the men were in by the fire. One man who had brought his two wolf hounds was telling some amusing stories to the crowd when occasionally one could hear the dogs bark out at the hopper. After some time, one man went out and found that the dogs had discovered the meal streaming down and we're eating it faster than the mill could ground it, then they would bark for more. After that one man stayed out and kept the dogs away.
(HISTORY OF CRAWFORD COUNTY, INDIANA-Pleasant 1926)