West To The Wabash
by Harriet (Hicks) Dale
From the "Heritage of Vermilion county", Spring 1987
published by the Vermilion county Museum Society

Transcribed by K. Torp


"The following article was contributed by Mrs. L. Parr Birch. It was written by her grandmother, Harriet Hicks who was the wife of John W. Dale. John W. Dale was born in 1842 and after losing an arm at the Battle of Chickamauga returned to Vermilion County to become assessor and collector for Ross Township. He was elected Vermilion County Clerk in 1869 and laid out and developed Vermilion Heights. Caroline Hicks, great aunt to Mrs. Birch, was the wife of Danville banker and state senator, John L. Tincher. This brief history, by Harriet Hicks Dale, was written in April of 1922. The house that George W. Hicks built, overlooking the Wabash near Perrysville, still stands (as of 1987)"


In 1623, on the ship Ann, Thomas Hicks of Bermondsey Street, London, England came to this country. He settled in Massachusetts and was an ancestor of my Great Grandfather George W. Hicks who was born in 1795 at South Rehoboth, Massachusetts a son of Nathan Hicks, a soldier in the American Revolution.

When about 20 years of age, George Washington Hicks went to help his married brother Nathan clear up his farm located in western New York near Canandaigua. During his stay of several years he saved some money and came west to Indiana in the spring of 1823. He remained until the sale of government land at Indianapolis, Indiana and bought 160 acres, lying about three-fourths of mile west of the Wabash River on which in about 1827 the town of Perrysville was located. Mr. James Blair, a revolutionary soldier, named the town after Commodore Perry, under whom he fought on Lake Champlain.

After George Washington Hicks bought the land he went back to his brother in New York state and in the fall of 1823 married Mary Curbs of Aliens Hill, New York. Her brother Amos Curbs married about the same time and being much enthused over the new western country the two young married couples fitted out two large covered wagons with household supplies and clothing and two spans of good strong horses. They started out on their life's journey for the great undeveloped western country camping at night by small streams where they sometimes caught fish for their evening meal and had water for the horses and cooking. They killed wild game along the way and probably enjoyed the journey in the beautiful Indiana summer, never dreaming of paved roads or automobiles and some one running into them because they did not have a light hung on behind. One of the horses sickened and died. They fastened one wagon behind the other and the horses together and came through the rest of the way safely, having no trouble with the Indians.

Indianapolis had just a few houses and Crawfordsville, where they bought some corn pope, had three log houses comprising the whole town. They came on to Clinton, Indiana where Amos Curbs bought a farm. The wives stayed in Clinton and the two husbands came up to the new farm near the Wabash where they and one or two men cut logs and built a house and barn. They finished the house about Christmas, except the door. This was made a few days after they moved in. The weather was as warm as springtime and they stocked up the farm a little at a time with horses, cows, hogs, chickens, sheep and a dog and cat. They cooked on a crane in a big fireplace always keeping a little fire, for they had no matches and if the fire went out they would have to start it with a flint.
One Sunday morning in the late spring George Hicks took some salt and went up to the woods to salt the cows so they would not stray away. Some Indians of the Pottawattomie tribe came through the woods on their ponies all dressed up in their war paints going to Terre Haute to get their supplies of ammunition and blankets. Mary Hicks saw them coming and thought of hiding in the corn but saw her husband with them so she stayed in the house. The Indians came and ransacked the house, climbed up into the loft and found a dipper made from a gourd. The Indians wanted it and took it leaving a coon skin for pay. They said they wanted it to put powder in. They were friendly and came to the house many times.

The squaws would give Mary Hicks their babies and take hers when they got ready to go they would laugh and take their babies back and say, "Swappie, swappie, no swap."

The old chief talked French and would get George Hicks to tell him the name of things in English and laugh so hard about it. He would come alone and sleep before the fireplace half a day at a time and was so much in the way, as all the cooking was done there, that Mary Hicks would tell him in Indian language to puckachee, meaning to go away. He felt so insulted that he went away and did not come again for a long time.

After a few years other settlers came and as they had no market for what they raised on the farms George Washington Hicks and two or three others built a flat boat and loaded it with pork, corn, wheat, flour, and meal and started down the Wabash River. Their objective point was New Orleans. They sold to planters on their way down and sold the flat boat and all the rest at New Orleans. On the return trip they came north as far as they could on steam boats and walked whenever they could not ride. Sometimes they encountered a great deal of trouble on their many trips down. They would often get stuck on a sandbar and everyone would have to get out in the water and push to loosen the boat. Once when the night was very dark and an awful electrical storm was raging the electricity was so great that it hung around the edges of their wet hats. They had a hard time getting the boat loose from the bar but always got through without serious trouble. George Hicks made his last trip in the spring of 1844. At that time he had a general merchandise store in Perrysville, Indiana and as the boats came all the way up he would buy goods for his store and have them brought north on the steamboats.

In the earlier years when he went south on the flatboats the children were small, one a boy of about 12 years old. One night my mother, Mary, heard such a noise at the barn that she got the lantern and awoke the little boy. She took a gun and started out. The wolves were after the sheep that were in the barnyard. So she shot at the wolves and ran to the barn, opened the door, drove the sheep in and fastened the door tight and the gate to the high fence. She shot about the barn a few times and ran to the house. After a while the wolves got up on top of the barn and tried to tear the strong clapboard that formed the roof. But they could not loosen them so about daylight they went away.Deer and wild turkey were plentiful as well as wild honey and delicious wild strawberries and blackberries.

My father used to go to a mill about 7 miles south of Perrysville, Indiana where Eugene now stands. Just where Mrs. McDowall's bungalow stands, on the big Vermilion River is the ford where people crossed. Here a battle was fought at one time and father found an old bayonet near there. They still have it in the old home.

When Danville was just a village the people used to drive to Perrysville for dry goods and supplies of every kind. The Wabash River boats making regular stops up and down.
After living in town a few years George Hicks decided to build a new house on the farm. They made the brick from clay found on the farm and cut black walnut trees, hauled them across the river to a saw mill, had it sawed and kiln dried, and made all the woodwork for the house except the doors. The house was constructed in 1841 on a hill overlooking the valley and town about one mile from the Wabash River.
The road from Danville to Perrysville goes by the house. This road from Perrysville to Georgetown was laid with thick planks and toll houses were built where people had to pay for riding on the plank road. It was built in about 1848 or 49 but in a few years the planks began to warp and get loose. It had to be taken up.
The Hicks farm of 160 acres, bought at $1.25 an acre, is still in the family and will have been owned by them a hundred years in 1923.

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