Indiana TrailsGenealogy Trails

Newton County, Indiana
Pioneer Families


It was no uncommon thing to find a large family of children among the first settlers. If the husband and wife were of fairly robust health and lived past middle life, from six to ten children usually encircled the hearthstone, and it was no uncommon thing to find families numbering as high as fifteen. If there was anything more than another that the pioneers rejoiced in it was a family of good, strong boys and girls,—good boys and girls, mind you; for parents then were as sensitive about flat failures as they are to-day. They knew as well as we do that much more depends on the quality than the quantity of the increase of population. The present generation has learned very much that was unknown to the pioneer; some of which is well worth knowing as it relates to hygiene and reproduction. "Other some" would better be unlearned, but there are few people who can learn to unlearn. And so it is, habits, desires, and society "fads" are stronger than the strong-minded. To-day, among those who make any pretentions to paternity, the average number of children to the family may run from two to four; others there are, endeavoring to cheat nature out of the whole crop.

Whatever other faults and failures the pioneers had (and doubtless they had many), failure to be fruitful and multiply could not be reckoned among them. At the present rate of diminution, we shall soon be on a level with France, with her two children to the married pair among the ban tons, leaving the sustaining of the population to the poorer and less prepared classes, who have always borne more than their share of this natural burden. There is no good reason why a husband and wife should bring into existence more children than they can reasonably hope to care for; and, if we are to have the survival of the fittest, there is still less reason why strong and healthful husbands and wives should bring in none at all. It will be good for the world when the time comes—if ever it does —that none but the true and brave, the honest and good, will be engaged in this cooperative industry; and, when public opinion will be so formed and ripened as to reduce the procreation of paupers, criminals, and imbeciles to the minimum number.

Among those in our county who have stood pre-eminently at the head of large families, was William Gregory, a remarkably vigorous and energetic pioneer, who was born in Pittsylvania county, Virginia, February 8, 1776. His father's name was also William, and his mother's maiden name, Sally Graves, both natives of Virginia. When but a boy, young William's parents moved to Washington county, Tennessee. Soon after their arrival his mother died. About two years after this sad event, his father married again, and soon after moved to North Carolina where he passed the remainder of his days as a local Methodist preacher. He died at the age of seventy years.

The subject of our sketch was first married in North Carolina, March 25, 1795, to Miss Nancy Laws. In 1806 he moved to Kentucky where he remained until February, 1811, when he came to Harrison county, this State (then a Territory), and settled near Corydon. Here his wife died, May 15, 1814. To them had been born eleven children between July 19, 1786, and May 16, 1814, ten of whom were living at the time of the mother's death, which occurred within thirty minutes after the birth of the eleventh child. Their names and dates of birth were as follows: James, February 9, 1796; John, July 1, 1798; Beverly, June 11, 1800; Katy, April 24, 1802; Thomas, April 1, 1804; Daniel, May 5, 1806; Susan, March 29, 1808; the eighthwas stillborn; Nathan, March 22, 1810; Levi, January 22, 1812, and Nancy, May 14, 1814. Shortly after the death of his first wife, Mr. Gregory was married, September 1, 1814, to Mrs. Lucy Moffet, a young widow with three small children, and be it said to his credit that he cared for them as tenderly as for his own. This second wife in due time added eleven more children to this already large family, as follows: Wiley, October 9, 1815; Dennis and Robert, September 13, 1817; David, May 12, 1819; Fanny, April 17, 1821; twins stillborn in 1823; Hiram, June 14, 1825; Grant, February 1, 1827; Milton W., April 7, 1829; and Eliza D., December 15, 1831. Many old citizens will remember John Moffet, the tanner, who for many years lived in and near Martinsville; also, Mrs. Grant Stafford, his sister, Mr. Stafford's first wife. These were Mr. Gregory's step-children. Grant Stafford's second wife was Miss Fanny Gregory, half-sister to his first wife. After Mr. Stafford's death, she became the wife of the late John W. Ferguson. The exact date of Mr. Gregory's coming to our county is not given, but it was early in the twenties. They first settled on the east side of White Lick on the road from Lyon's mills to Mooresville, where he engaged in milling and farming until 1832, when he purchased a farm in the northwest corner of Greene township on the road leading from Martinsville to Indianapolis.

This farm is now owned by attorney C. G. Renner, of Martinsville. Here, for eight or ten years, Mr. Gregory added merchandising to his farming. On the 17th day of May, 1835, his second wife died. Eighteen of his twenty-two children were then living. In August of the same year he made another matrimonial venture. This was with Mrs. Polly Lang, widow of James Lang, a very early settler. She had five daughters and three sons living, all grown, excepting the youngest son. This match proved to be ill-sorted and brought plenty of trouble, not only to the principal parties, but to their children as well, who all felt more or less aggrieved at the unpleasantness. After much court maneuvering, a divorce was obtained and peace was restored "all along the line." The truth was, there was no congeniality between them. They were both stern and unyielding. She was a thoroughbred Calvinist, and he an "overflowing" Methodist. In those days soda and acid would not effervesce much quicker than "free grace" and "unconditional election" when thrown together. But Mr. Gregory was "foreor- dained" to be a patriarch, as the sequel shows, for after his divorce from "Aunt Polly," he married, September 28, 1840, Mrs. Naomi Scott, who had two children. She was the daughter of John and Susan Jackson, and sister of James Jackson, elder of the Christian church at Martins- ville, and clerk of the Morgan Circuit Court during the forties. With her he passed the remaining years of his life, adding six more children to his remarkably large family. William G. was born July 11, 1841; Wallace, December 18, 1842; Marion, December 6, 1843; Scott, September 20, 1847; Edgar, June 22, 1849; and Mary, March 19, 1851.

The panic of 1840 dealt Mr. Gregory a hard blow. He was then in his sixty-sixth year, a time in life when most men are ready to "throw up the sponge." But he was not a man to "sulk in his tent," or "strike his colors" as long as there was a foot of tenable ground on the battlefield. He gathered up the fragments of his estate in 1843 and moved to Iowa, then a Territory, and settled about twenty- two miles northwest of Burlington. Having served in General Harrison's army in the War of 1812, he received a land warrant, which he laid on eighty acres of prairie land adjoining his homestead. He held an enormous sod- plow, dragged by five yoke of oxen, until the last foot of sod was turned up to the sun for the first time. Here Mr.
Gregory found more "snakes in the grass" than he had encountered hitherto in all the ups and downs of his eventful life. His son Milton, at that time a lad of fifteen, and principal driver, says, "When a rattlesnake got tangled in the grass about the cutter, the plow was allowed to hold itself until a quietus was put upon the rattler." When finishing a land, as the grassy strip grew narrower with each furrow, the snakes would crawl out of the grass and over the plowed land trying to escape; but he became so expert with his ox-whip that he could clip the head off one nearly every snap of the lash. One day he "lynched" seventeen of "the little prairie devils" without judge or jury, and it was no great day for snakes either.
Here upon the broad prairie of the West he made his last home. Far, far away from where he gave the first infant wail; far from the scenes of childhood and first love, with his children scattered far and wide—some dead, some in childhood, some busy with the concerns of life; himself well worn with the toils, cares, and sorrows of a mortal existence. His journey from the cradle to the grave came to an end September 25, 1858, in his eighty- third year.

Mr. Gregory had lived in six different States, had been four times married, was the father of twenty-nine children and step-father of thirteen. His first child was born in 1798 and the last one in 1851. Thus, for the time of fifty- three years, his ears had been accustomed to the wails of babies and the racket of wideawake children. He was a large, strong man, rather stern in manner and full of energy. A man of good business tact, always providing well for his family, large as it continued to be for more than forty years. His posterity is scattered far and wide, a respectable and respected people, many of whom have passed their lives in Morgan county. Two of his children are well known residents of Martinsville—Milton W.
Gregory, to whom we are indebted for many of the items in this sketch, and Mrs. William Edwards. At the time of Mr. Gregory's first marriage, people had not been educated to believe that "marriage is a failure." When the characteristics of manly men and womenly women are so changed or obliterated through luxury and false ideas of life,—when home is the last place they wish to be, and the least cared for, and when women would rather tend lap dogs than lap babies, when both parents desire nothing higher than to dress, flirt, and have a good time,—then it must be conceded, marriage is a failure, man a fraud, and woman a cheat. Whether or not marriage is a success or failure, depends upon who is married more than on any of the external circumstances of life.

One of our near neighbors in 1832 was Solomon Collins. He was the head of one of nine families of that name who came from Tennessee at the earliest period of our settlement. Several of them lived near the mouths of Sycamore and Highland creeks. "Old Sol," as he was called, then lived in the river bottom, about three miles north of Mar-
tinsville, and was a fair specimen of a backwoods Tennesseean. He was no bookworm—knew not a letter or figure in the books—much less was he a dude or a "gentleman
of leisure." He was a good neighbor to good neighbors, but woe to him who undertook to tread upon the toes of "Old Sol." During the summer of 1832, he, with the help of his daughter "Jinse," the best farmhand in the household, cultivated a field of corn on the bottom lands.

They had worked hard—that is, Jinse had—and a fine crop was the result. Down on the bottom ground near Cox's (High Rock) mills, lived old Tommy Clark and his son Jim. They were full of "crookedness." Among other annoying things, they kept breachy horses and cattle that, like an invading army, were always foraging in every direction. As one settler said,"It took a fence horse-high, bull-strong, and pig-tight to beat Old Tom." In the fall, Clark's horses and cows held daily picnics in "Old Sol's" corn field. When this came to his ears, and a personal investigation proved the report true, the air nearby seemed to turn blue, for Mr. Collins was not a regular church attendant, neither had he learned to curb his temper or bridle his tongue; but he could keep his own counsel.

He was at that time the owner of seven dogs. Now, one or two dogs can live on the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table, but seven dogs are too many boarders under the table of a poor man; so the dogs were in poor condition, and very much lacking in snap and vim. Collins killed a beef and began putting his dogs in training for the fray. He said "nine days was all he wanted to put 'Bull' and 'Caesar' in good workin" order." He told one of the neighbors that "if them cows git into my corn ag'in, old Tom Clark won't hev head nor tail on 'em." A peace- loving neighbor informed Clark of what was coming, and averted a calamity to the cows, as well as a lawsuit; for Clark took in the situation and kept his trespassing animals at home.

It is a true saying that "bad fences make breachy animals and bad neighbors." A good farmer does not like to see his own animals in his wheat or corn, much less to see other people's stock trespassing on his lands. The best farmers among the early settlers made and kept up good fences, and consequently, had but little breachy stock. But many communities had those among them who were careless as to where their domestic animals roamed, knowing full well that they would breach any common fence. Nay more, they were known to pass by, seeing their horses in a neighbor's field and never offering to remove them, and if remonstrated with, would reply, tantalizingly, by saying, "Build up your fences." It took Indiana fifty years to learn that it is the duty of every man to fence against his own stock. There are those who yet think that they ought to be permitted by law to forage the unfenced lands and public highways. The Legislature wrestled many sessions with the fence question, all to no purpose; for many members who wished to be returned were afraid of those voters who wanted to keep the State as a sort of a big ranch. They finally passed an act defining a "lawful fence," over, or through which, if an animal went, the owner was liable for damages. Two fence viewers were to be elected for each township. Nobody wanted this thankless office, and the people ridiculed it by electing the longest and shortest men in the township—the one to view the height, and the other the cracks of the fence.

Miss Jinsey Collins was the strongest woman in the county. She was about medium height, weighing 130 pounds. It was said that she could shoulder three bushels of wheat, standing in a half-bushel. She could swing an ax like a logger, and was a good hand in a clearing. She could ride as wild a horse as the average man. In winter time she was usually attired in linsey-woolsey, with a red bandana tied about her head. She had dark brown eyes and hair, with complexion to match, and was more useful than showy. She moved away with her father's family, and we lost all trace of her.

One Christmas Sol brought home two jugs of whisky,
one of which he suspended with a rope from the joist to a height to meet the mouths of the smaller children; the other jug was set on a shelf for his private use, and for visiting neighbors. Many kinsfolk and friends dropped in to see Sol on that day and were feasted on pork, venison, and wild turkey, together with com bread, hominy, and dried pumpkin, all plentifully interspersed and leveled off with stew, sling, and eggnog. It was a merry Christmas at Old Sol's house, long to be remembered by the participants. Even the "seven sons of thunder," as he called his dogs, were not forgotten, but had an additional allowance, besides the ordinary share of crumbs; for next to his family, Sol's affections went out to his dogs and gun, and if you wished to carry a broken nose, you only had to kick one of his "seven thunders" unlawfully.

People of to-day can have but a faint idea of the tie that bound men and dogs in the days of howling wolves, snuffing bears, and purring panthers. Sol's dogs were his bodyguard by day and his sentinels by night. Daniel in the lion's den was safer than a stranger would have been prowling around Mr. Collins's domicile after nightfall. Back among the Collins ancestors there must have been some one who greatly admired Hebrew names, for of the nine heads of families, eight of their baptismal names were strictly Hebrew, David coming in for four of them, to-wit: "Cracker-Neck" Dave, "Ticky" Dave, "Cackling" Dave, and "Bucket" Dave. Next came "Old Sol," of whom wehave already made mention; "Punkin" Sol, perhaps so named because of his partiality for pumpkin pies and all other forms of this unclassified edible. Then Hiram and Isaiah, dubbed "Old Hi" and "Old Zair." Even Pompey's name may have been Jeremiah or Ezekiel, but we always heard him called Pompey. Only two of the nine pairs of old folks stayed to have their bones buried on the old camping ground. They were Hiram and David L. ("Cracker-Neck"). Hiram owned a small farm near the mouth of Highland creek, where he and his wife lived to old age, having brought up five sons and five daughters to full age. Their last days were embittered by neighborhood broils. Wyatt Carpenter and family frequently came in collision with Collins and family. But the greatest battle of the neighborhood was between the Collins and Overton families—near relatives. The war spirit had been hovering over them for some time. Their farms joined, and one day something about a partition fence or a watergap brought them face to face. The skirmishing began by firing red-hot words into the ears of each other. There was no one to pour oil on the troubled waters, or the water- gap. Both parties were ready for the encounter, and from words it came to blows. Fists, clubs, teeth, and claws went into action on the double-quick, and for a few minutes it seemed that there would be business for the doctors and coffins to be sent for. Fortunately no one was killed; but, when the smoke of battle lifted, it was found that Anderson Collins had been severely punished and his father cut in the thigh with a knife.

From the battlefield this feud was transferred to the courthouse, where the crossfiring from the witness stand was equal to that on the skirmish line. Time alone, which blots out everything, could quell this neighborhood quarrel. Some died, some moved away, and others forgave, but it was years before peace was fully restored. The other family to remain was "Cracker-Neck" Dave's. He purchased a little farm on Sycamore creek, where he continued to reside until the end of life. He and his family were quiet, good citizens, and well respected by their neighbors. Several of his descendants are still living in Clay township.

When the bear tracks were fading away, the herds of deer scattered, and the flocks of wild turkeys growing wilder and scarcer; when churches and schoolhouses began to spring up in the woods, and the little copper stills to die out, then "Old Sol" turned wistful eyes westward, as to the "land of promise." About the year 1836 he gathered up his goods and started for a new country—a country not yet unduly civilized—a country where he could chase bruin with his "seven thunders" every day in the week, Sunday not excepted. The last we heard of this backwoods child of the chase, he was in his ninetieth year, hale and strong for his age. He could no longer join in the hunt for bear or deer, but had to content himself with a seat in the chimney corner and while away the time with pipe and tobacco. My informant said his chances were good for rounding out one hundred years. His wife and most of his children had "shuffled off this mortal coil," and the old hunter seemed to be sad and lonely. Like Othello, his "occupation was gone."

Pompey was a nondescript. You might travel to and fro for half an age and never find his match. He was not an "all-round crook" but, physically considered, an "all- round tough." As Fowler once said of Henry Ward Beecher, he was "a splendid animal." He walked to Martinsville one Christmas day when the snow was falling on warmly dressed people, clad in nothing but a coonskin cap, and tow-linen shirt and breeches, while his feet were as bare as at birth. He could snap his finger at Jack Frost in midwinter, and walk about, seemingly as comfortable as the average man in boots. His diet was corn bread and wild hog, and his drink, whisky. The truth is he was somewhat careless about his menu and personal appearance. But he was the "very soul of honor," as he understood the term; for when Bill Jones at a shooting match said something about a hog thief, which Pompey thought was a reflection on himself, he proposed to vindicate his honor by pounding Jones into sausage meat. But Jones headed him off by landing his rifle on Pompey's head. The gun- barrel left the stock in Jones's hands, and together with Pompey fell to the ground. The blood was spinning out of his left ear in a fearful stream, and he was supposed to be killed. However, he was only "dummed"; for in a short time he was on his feet, and wanted to go gunning after Jones, but the peacemakers interposed their goodly offices and prevented further bloodshed.

Pompey had a "hog ranch" somewhere between Cox's mills and Lamb's creek. He did not exactly own, but exercised a sort of supervision over it, looking after his neighbors' as well as his own swine herd. In those days people had ear marks for their hogs; slits, swallow-forks, underbits and upperbits, slopes, holes, smooth crops and half crops. Pompey's brand was a smooth crop of both ears. He was greatly annoyed by some neighbors who were always trying to pry into his business. He usually marketed his hogs at the Martinsville porkhouse; and sometimes the hair was scalded, and again it would be singed off. The ears had been frozen off. He once built a corn crib; but like Ward McAllister's head, never had anything in it.

Had Pompey lived at the present time and been so disposed, he could have been a noted prize fighter or football player. He had the one great qualification—a thick skull. "
Here I close my narrative— I tremble as I show it, Lest perchance that 'all-round tough' Should ever catch the poet."




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