By Tom Boltz
In the late 1890s and early1900s, George W. Wilkinson, the editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, encouraged elderly local residents to write about their experiences in the settling of Henry Township and the founding of North Baltimore, Ohio. He then published their letters in a series of articles which he titled “Interesting Pioneer Sketches.”
The following is Part I and Part II of an article written by Samuel Slaughterbeck (born 1831 – died 1910) and describes the settlement in the 1830s and 40s of Henry Township east of Rocky Ford Creek (then called the Portage River).
This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of October 4, 1901. Because of its length, the Beacon editor broke the letter into two parts. TheNBXpress.com presents the letter in one installment.
This is the second in the series of Beacon pioneer letters researched by members of the North Baltimore Historical Society. The first article in the series by Mrs. B. L. Peters described the settlement of the northern portion of Henry Township and the beginnings of North Baltimore in the 1840s.
A LENGTHY DESCRIPTION
Of the Trip to This County in the Early Days
Joined Forces with another Family
Stayed Over Night in Rome Just Before Entering the Wilderness
Stuck in the Muck
BY T. O. COPUS
During the fall of 1835 my father made a trip on foot from Westmoreland County, Pa., to Perry Township near the present site of West Milgrove. When he reached that section of Ohio he found it a vast forest, although it being in the fall was dry and to him seemed a very suitable place to make a home for a large family. He spent about a month trying to locate a good farm, finally purchasing one from on George Swaim. The farm contained but one building which was a new log cabin, built during the summer season. He returned home late in the winter and prepared for immediate departure for the new home in the Ohio wilderness.
We started about the middle of March 1836, driving four heavy draft horses hitched to a large high wheeled wagon which contained all the necessities for house-keeping at this early date. I was but five years old at this time and father gave me the tiresome job of driving the horses. This was pleasant for a short time only. Every boy knows just how it is to handle a whip for a few hours, but it soon becomes a task which even the older ones dread. Late in the afternoon of the first day’s travel we met a family of Germans by the name of Weaver, who were wandering travelers: that is they were journeying “to no one knew where.” My father told them of the farm he purchased in Wood County and gave them a description as best he could of the country. He finally persuaded them to accompany him here.
We journeyed on day after day through rugged wood land, small and rolling prairies, large swamps and wild thickets, arriving in a small place called Rome, now the thriving and industrious town of Fostoria. There were only two buildings in the town then, one a small grocery store run by Charley Foster and the other a rude inn of which Joel Hales was proprietor. Here we went to spend the night, but there being two large families of us it was impossible to get hotel accommodations. The landlord told our parents if they would furnish the bedding he would furnish the room. We were shown a large room without carpet on the floor and neither pictures nor wall papers were on the wall. In this we placed our bedding and spent a comfortable night. The next morning bright and early we were out. Our breakfast consisted of corn cakes meat and coffee which the good Mrs. Hale had prepared.
It was but seven miles from here to our new home and we started early in the morning much refreshed and filled with new vigor knowing our destination was not far off. We had gone but a mile or two when we ran into a swamp—a real swamp too it was. There was water as far as you could see and heavy horses were unable to pull their burden through this mud and muck. We were in great peril, as one would know, being in a strange country almost lost from the world, not a road to travel nor even a dry piece of wood to build a fire. Mr. Hales was informed of our perilous situation and came to our assistance bringing a yoke of strong oxen. We were pulled out of the swamp and taken back to Rome to remain a second night. The next day was a gloomy one. The drizzling April rain drenched our clothing and chilled through and through. Our road had to be cleared thus making very slow traveling.
We pulled into our new home late in the evening, and, friend of Wood County, it was a dismal sight. Water around the house to a depth of two feet, not a bit of earth visible, nothing could be heard, scarcely, but the howling of the wolves, which filled the forests at this time. When my mother saw the new home she wept most bitterly and begged my father to return to Westmoreland County. But as he had spent his small fortune in coming, it was next to impossible to return. Now my good readers this ends a very long and lonesome journey and I will now try and tell you in a few words something of pioneer life such as I and other were accustomed to.
After my father had become permanently settled, he and John Swinehart drove through to Sandusky. Here they purchased an old hand-mill with which to grind corn for domestic use. The mill consisted of two large millstones, a shaft and crank, and was fastened to the ceiling, usually joists, of a building. In feeding the mill you could put in but two or three grains of corn at a time; more than this would choke the machine and it would not work. Corn was bought in Lima. Father would go to the Maumee, get a load of fish and from there drive to Lima, peddling along the way. It took him at least a week to make the trip there and return. Sometimes some of the neighbors would send with him for corn and many times I frequently remember of them coming to our house inquiring of mother if Uncle John had returned from Egypt with their corn yet.
The following is Part II of an article written by Samuel Slaughterbeck (born 1831 – died 1910) and describes the difficulties his family faced in helping turn the Black Swamp wilderness into a settled community in the 1830s and 40s. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of October 4, 1901. It is the second in the series of Beacon pioneer letters which the North Baltimore Historical Society plans to publish.
LIFE IN THE SWAMPS
As it was Back in the Days of Our Fore-fathers
Horses Could Not Live in the Swamps
A Bear Hunt by a United Force of Farmers
Taxes Paid With Raccoon Hides in 1842
BY T. O. COPUS
We had been here but a short time until our four large horses died. They could not live in such a country—the swampy lands killed them. We purchased two young oxen, made our yokes and cleared a small patch of land. On this we raised a little corn if the springs were not too wet. When we had a wet summer season the corn crop was an entire failure. Our cattle roamed in the open forest which extended many miles in either direction. On the neck of one was placed a bell. This one was known as the “bell cow.” I had attained the age of 10 when it became my duty to hunt the cows, and many times during the long May evenings I would have to throw sticks into the water to hush the merry croak of the frogs so that I might her the “ding dong” of the cow bell.
I well remember one night in mid-summer about the year 1842; I was unable to find any trace of the cattle. Night overtook me in a large timberland and I was at a loss to find my way out. After some searching I found a dry spot and lay myself down to rest till morning. I had “Indians” on my mind when I lay down, so you may know I was in a rather restless condition. About 9 o’clock I was startled by the hideous barking of the wolves. I need not say that the hair stood straight upon top of my head although it was a common thing to hear. They used to come near our home every evening and some one of the family would fire a gun and chase them away. After hearing the wolves that evening my thoughts entered different channels. I thought of bears, lions, and tigers and in fact all the large and terrible monsters that roam the woods. It is needless to say my sleep was very much broken that night and I was exceedingly glad to see the appearance of Old Sol next morning sending forth rays of light on the gray sky and affording me a direction by which to travel.
At the time of which I am writing the wood abounded with deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, and snakes galore and sometimes a black bear was to be found. I must tell of a little bear hunt which took place on a Sabbath day and of which I was a member. Several hogs had been missing in the neighborhood and in muddy spots bear tracks had been seen. A bear hunt was planned by all the nearby farmers. Everything being in readiness, the dogs were placed on the trail and soon were on a “hot track.” That is they had routed the animal and had him going. Everybody rushed for the dogs which were running on either side of the Portage River. The bear had plunged in the river and was going up stream so as to throw the dogs off his trail. He kept this course for over a mile, but the dogs gaining on him fast, caused him to leave the stream and head for a tree. Several attempts were made to kill him but as each shot was fired he would descend the tree he was on and make for another. It is an actual fact that when a bullet pierced the skin of the bear so as to cause the blood to flow it would pull fur from its body and plug the wounds. We finally succeeded in getting him after having pierced his body with 14 bullets. While I am on the hunting theme let me say the Wesley Copus and myself together with others were hunting one day about in 1845 and as near as I can tell, Copus shot a deer near where the B&O depot now is in North Baltimore.
I will not ask for more space to tell of the Indians and many frantic wolf and deer chase which are as fresh in my memory as in boyhood days, but in conclusion will say that my father, John Slaughterbeck, paid his taxes at Perrysburg with raccoon hides. The town was reached on foot by an old Indian trail and took four days to make the trip. Think of it then, and think of the people of today making a trip to Bowling Green, paying their taxes, riding on a palace car, then taking a street car to Toledo, a boat to Presque Isle and returning home in a few hours. Dear young readers of the Beacon you would never doubt the great improvements of the most industrious people of the world if you could have lived with your grandparents in their boyhood days, especially if they lived in Wood County. Could you have been with them you would have seen nothing but a huge forest sometime water covering the greater part of the soil. Today you see large towns, some young cities filled with busy and industrious people; you see large fields of corn, and great stacks of wheat and other grains; you see large long railroads and electric lines, large boats, immense oil fields and many other things which were not even thought of 60 years ago. I only hope Wood County people keep on making such vast improvements during the next 60 years as they have in the past and I trust to the great and good God they will.