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 Mrs. George Baker [Margaret (Weaks) Baker] (born 1822–died 1913). Margaret Baker, who was six months pregnant with her first child, and her husband came to this area in 1841 many years before Henry Township came into existence. Together they raised seven sons and five daughters. This article describes the life of a pioneer woman. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of November 15, 1901.
A LETTER FROM A HANCOCK COUNTY LADY PIONEER
Lived in Wagon—Raised Grain with a Three-Week-Old Baby in a Fence Corner—
We came to this part of the country in 1841 from Fairfield County in our wagons and settled, on the ridge, west of Van Buren. I don’t know that what I can give you will be of much interest, but I will try and recall as much as possible that I think will be of interest to the BEACON readers. My husband, who I married in Fairfield County, had lived here about a year in his youth, but upon the death of his father, his mother moved back to her old home.When we came here there was no land cleared to any great extent although several settlers were already here and were toiling away in their endeavor to clear enough soil to raise some provisions for both family and stock. Arriving at our destination my husband and I lived in our wagon while we cut down and hewed the trees into lengths which we required to build our cabin. After the cabin was completed we put in a puncheon floor and made some puncheon furniture such as chairs, tables, cupboards, and a bed stead. My eldest daughter [Hannah], Mrs. Wilse Decker, was born the following September we having settled here in June.
The cabin when completed was like all the settler’s cabins to a great extent but I will give it a brief description together with the furniture and the manner in which we made a bedstead. A clapboard floor which divided the lower apartment and the loft separated the children’s bed room from ours. The loft was reached by a ladder in one corner of the cabin. Another corner was occupied by my puncheon bureau, another by my bedstead which my father had given me while in the other was the bedstead we made by boring a hole in each side of the cabin and putting in poles with a post to act as one corner and the two sides and the three other corners. From this outside pole to the wall bed cords were stretched and thus a bedstead made.
Our nearest grist mill was east of Tiffin and Tiffin and Perrysburg were our nearest markets. My husband left on Tuesday with a grist for the mill and didn’t return until the next week. Upon arriving there he found so many ahead of him that it would be impossible for him to get his grist before the next week and he decided to wait rather than make two trips.
We experienced some very hard times in those days because of the lack of markets and places to buy our supplies and also the high prices which we were compelled to pay. In the winter time and also at nights I would spin flax and wool and in this manner clothed my family. During the day I worked in the field with my husband or if we had our crop out we would go into the wilderness and clear some more land. Help was very scarce, and the settler’s wives were compelled to give considerable aid to their husbands. I would take my children into the field and spread a blanket down in the fence corner and set them on it and leave them to amuse themselves while I followed the cradler—we always hired a man to cut our grain with a cradle and he was called the “cradler”—with a rake and raked the grain in bunches which my husband and I would follow and bind I remember of following through the fields all day long with a baby only three weeks old.
The game was plenty and wild turkeys would often come right up to our cabin and fight our turkeys. Mr. Baker would often go out in the morning and kill a couple deer before breakfast. He killed a large amount of game but never wasted any time in hunting to any great extent although he was quite a hunter. If he would see a flock of wild turkeys or some deer while laboring in the fields he would come to the house and get the gun and kill them after which he would return to his work. In this way he kept us supplied with game and still advanced his farming also.
A little girl was lost in the woods and they searched three days while she was compelled to spend three nights in the darkness. I well remember how they built great fires around through the woods hoping to keep the wild animals from her. Her little dog was with her when she wandered into the thicket and stayed with her until it met its death in the clutches of the most ravenous of the animals which inhabited this country in the early days, the timber wolf. She slept at nights by these large fires until she was finally found.
In 1869 or about that year we were just getting in better circumstances and the dawn of success just breaking upon him, to reward him for his hard labor and sacrifices, he [her husband George] was suddenly called to that great beyond. In apparently good health he went to Hammansburg to plaster a house for a Mr. Rantz and was found dead in bed the next morning. The death of my husband was a most cruel blow leaving me with eight children and the farm to take care of. The outlook was not very pleasant for me, but I resolved that with the help of my children I would finish the task which my husband had worked so hard to forward this far. I will not take the time and space to tell of the hardships and struggles through which I passed until my boys were large enough to take charge, but let it be suffice to say that they were many and of a most severe kind.
The country around us was becoming more thickly settled by this time and the life of the settler was made more pleasant with the advance of civilization. We finally decided to further improve our now good-sized farm with a new house and which house still stands and is in use. We had up to this time lived in the cabin erected by my husband and myself on our first arrival.
After this, times became better and my children having complete charge of the farm, I decided to move to town. In 1890 accompanied by my youngest child and a boy of my daughter’s I moved to North Baltimore. If I had stayed on the farm until June I would have spent fifty years there. I am now eighty years old and my memory I find can recall a great many incident that happened that I had almost entirely forgotten.