NB Pioneer Days Series IV: A First-Person Account
By Tom Boltz and North Baltimore Ohio Area Historical Society
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, 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 published their letters in a series of articles which he titled “Interesting Pioneer Sketches.”
The following article was written by Minerva Decker (born 1818–died 1907). It describes the early life of the men and women who first settled in Wood County. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of October 18, 1901.
HANCOCK COUNTY LADY
Gives Some Interesting Facts and Experiences
Indian children the Only Playmates—A Disastrous Frost—Boiled Sugar All Night—Indian Shot by a Settler and Thrown Under a Log
Mrs. Minerva Decker
Upon being asked whether I could relate any of the early history of this country and the hardships which the early settlers were faced with, I will endeavor to give all the information in my power that can be of any possible interest. I will not describe the country so much but will describe the manner in which the settlers lived and labored in their endeavor to make a home for their families.
I was born in Pennsylvania in the year of 1818 where I lived but two years when my father decided to move to the wilderness in Ohio and chop out a farm and home. We settled in Crawford County which was at that time one great massive forest and here made our home. The game was plenty yet and especially the turkeys. I remember one day my mother was sitting by the window writing a letter and I was out on the porch when I discovered a flock of wild turkeys coming toward the house. We sat quiet and they went right over the corner of the porch and on past the house to the Sandusky River for water. Many were the times that whole dish pans full of fine wild turkey meat would be thrown away.
During my childhood days in this country with wilderness abounding on every side I had no playmates except the Indian children who were in our neighborhood. They always carried small bows and arrows and would shoot at a mark. An Indian woman near us was confined to her tepee with sickness and mother went over to see her quite often; taking her biscuits, etc. When the woman got well and able to be about again she made me a pair of fine white moccasins which I would give a great deal for now. We were very poorly clad in those days and they were a very thankful addition to my wardrobe and were therefore immediately put on and worn out. The Indians were quite thick around us, but were always friendly.
Just one more incident that happened in my pioneer days in Crawford County and I will then take up the beginning of Wood and Hancock counties as seen and experienced during my early life. My father received a very hard fall one day in which he broke his collar bone and otherwise injured himself and he was confined to the house for a long time. He grew impatient as the days passed and he was still unable to get out. Telling mother to get his gun and come on he started for some turkeys being unable to carry the gun himself. He shot one, but by this time he was so tired he could hardly get back to our cabin.
I married in Crawford County to Mahlon Decker. My husband purchased a track of land out here and came here with the purpose of building a cabin and preparing a home for his family before bringing them. The dismal outlook was too much for him however and he returned to us without having done anything in view of making that trackless wilderness the future home of his family. He then endeavored to sell the land he had purchased and give up the idea of settling in this vast timberland. It seems that others as well as he were not favorably impressed with the prospect and his every effort to dispose of his purchase seemed fruitless. Being unable to dispose of the land, he finally decided move on it. We packed our belongings in wagons and started on our long journey, which before we reached our destination, we thought would never end. Great trees lay across our path and those we were unable to move had to be bridged by piling dirt up on each side. I will not attempt to describe this long and perilous journey, but let it suffice to say that it was an undertaking that we ll might make a brave man’s heart weaken when he sighted the hardships to which his family would be exposed.
Arriving at last at our destination we stopped at the cabin of an acquaintance who succeeded in making room for us until we could erect our cabin. The family decided then to take a visit and we stayed in their cabin and took care of their children. While they were away, we succeeded in clearing three acres of our land on which we planted wheat and also built our cabin. This was the year the settlers suffered the loss of almost their entire crops and we only got three bushels, half of which we again sowed, leaving one and half bushel for our winter supply. The settlers suffered much this winter for food and they had no money and no crops. In cleaning our wheat, we would put it in a sheet with one end tied to the wall and shake it, turning it round and round. I can well remember also of boiling sugar water many a time all night. We had to work in those days and there was no fooling around about it.
I never worked in the field helping to clear or farm while my husband lived unless I had no work for my loom. I remember at one time the children of the people for whom I was to weave cloth were compelled to sit around the fire almost naked until I could weave their cloth. A lady ahead of them being acquainted with this fact came to my cabin and told me that they could have her turn and she would wait. When my husband could not work in the fields, he would help me weave.
There were some Indians here yet and I remember one in particular who had ninety-nine scalps hanging at his belt and swore he was going to make it a hundred. A neighbor vowed to himself that this Indian would never take that final scalp. A short time after Brown passed my husband with the remark “he had shot a bear and had thrown it under a log.” The Indian was never heard of after this and we all understood.
In 1874, at which time we had begun to be a little more cheerful, my husband was taken ill with stomach trouble and died. Left alone with my children to support, I went into the field and farmed, cleared more land, and built fences. This was the hardest part of my battle and required a great deal of hard labor. In the meantime, my children were fast becoming old enough to help and things again ran a little better after the discouragement following our cruel blow in the loss of our husband and father. I am eighty-three years old and am the mother of sixteen children, eight of whom still live. I think by the above the readers will be fairly well acquainted with my history although this is but a brief description of the early life of the men and women who first settled in what is now a progressing country. I will close by adding that I am still able to be out and around and take care of myself.