ANCEDOTES AND INCIDENTS CONNECTED WITH THE EARLY HISTORY AND SETTLEMENT OF HARRISON COUNTY, MISSOURI

SOURCE:
BETHANY WATCHMAN
D.J. HEASTON, EDITOR
BETHANY, MO.
THURSDAY, NOV. 28, 1871


COMMENCED- We this week present our readers with the first installment of the early history of Harrison County.  It will take about three months to complete it.  We can assure our readers that the history is perfectly reliable, being prepareed by one of the first settlers in Harrison County, who "knows whereof he affirms".
Those who desire this history in full should subscribe for the WATCHMAN at once.

EARLY PIONEERS-GAME CREEKS AND GROVES-BUILDING LOG CABINS-SQUATTER SOVERIENGTY
EDITOR BETHANY WATCHMAN:

As you requested us to give your readers a short history of Harrison County, we will endeavor to do so, not promising, however, to be exact in regards to dates.

As a general rule, all new countries are settled by the poor but hardy pioneers- men who, failing to secure homes in older states, strike out into the wilderness with a determination to face dangers and overcome obstacles.  The early settlers of Harrison County were of this class; poor, but honest, industrious, brave and generous.

About the year of 1838 or 39 the first settlers located in Harrison County, Mo,., in the southeastern and southwestern portions of the county, and about 1840 the first settlements were made on Pole Cat Creek.  Old Uncle Tommy Taylor established himself on the head of Pole Cat Creek and it was thought that he showed great wisdom in getting "on the head of the critter".  In 1841 a few other settlements were made in the same neighborhood, by J.W. Brown, Thomas Tucker, C.L. Jennings, W.R. Allen and others.  At that day no other white settlers could be found between this and Lake Superior, but there was an Indian town at For Des Moines, Iowa.  Phillip Harris (now at Hillsborough, Oregon) had, the previous year, located near Big Creek, about two miles southwest of the present site of Bethany, and in this year ('41) commenced the erection of a water grist mill.

This was then, decidedly, what we call a new country.  There was an abundance of game, such as deer, turkeys, wolves and a few panthers; and some elk were killed by David Travis, one of the first settlers.  Wild fruits grew to satisfaction, and in fact this region came nearer flowing with milk and honey than in any new country we were ever in, flowers and grass most luxuriant grew, and peavines so thick you could hardley get through; the flowers were as fragrant as they could well be, and honey soaked through almost every hollow tree, there was only one thing lacking, as Jake said, to make the country self sustaining and that was the fritter tree.   Had that have grown in this region, all that would have been necessary to sustain life would have been to pluck the fritters from the bush and split open some old log, or cut down some old hollow tree, dipped the fritters into the honey, and sat down and satisfied ones hunger.

This country was first traversed by bee hunters, who gave names to many of the creeks and groves found in their wanderings.  For instance, a company of bee hunters camped on Pole Cat Creek, and from the large number of skunks they met with, they called the creek Pole Cat.  So for Mosquito Grove, which was so named from the vast number of mosquitoes found in this vicinity.  The bee hunters were succeeded by the pioneer settlers.  When the latter had selected a location, they cut down a number of trees, provided house logs, and asked each other to assist in raising a cabin.  Trees were then cut down and split into puncheons to make "plank" floors, as they were called.  The covering and door shutters were also made from rough boards split from trees.  As for glass in the window, we had none.  It was said that Judge Asa Butler was the first man in Harrison County who used window glass, and he was regarded as rather aristocratic.  As soon as the cabins were completed the emigrants set about to open little farms.  All hands worked, the women as well as the men.  Women were worth something in those days.  Instead of the melodeon or the organ they used the spinning-wheel and the loom.  They made themselves linsey-woolsey and occasionally a calico habit which was tho't to be very fine.  The men usually wore flax shirts and woolen britches, but sometimes the latter were made of buckskin, and they were very durable for handling rails and other rough work.  Sometimes we took an old pair of pants and "fox" them, as it ws called, that is, cover the front and seat with buckskin.  The writer once owned a pair of this description, and found them to be the most magnificent and lasty pair of unmentionables he ever possessed.  The only trouble was that the buckskin was not very well dressed, which caused it to pucker a little.

A man could have all the land he wanted; that is, he could claim as much as he pleased, for all men believed in squatter sovereignty, and when a settler looked out on his claim of broad acres, he felt that he was indeed "monarch of all he surveyed".  The settlers regarded each others rights and were always neighborly and obliging.  They would drop everything to help raise a cabin or render any assistance and were always friendly and glad to meet each other and relate their hunting stories.

The emigrants generally brought some stock with them, such as horses, cattle, sheep and a few hogs.  They were not able to break up the prairie and made little settlements in the timber.  This accounts for so many improvements in the timber land in our country.  The soil being very productive and easily broken the settlers cultivated it first, their immediate object being to raise bread as soon as possible.



 

BEESWAX CURRENCY-GOING EIGHT MILES TO MARKET-FIRST MILL IN THE COUNTY-
"GRITTING" CORN-SCHOOL HOUSES-PRIMITIVE ELECTIONS

In those days there were no banks in this country, except banks of earth, but these, however, when properly managed, yielded good dividend.  Our currency was principally beeswax and honey, with a little exchange in coonskins.  Our greatest trouble was to procure such necessaries as salt, coffee, etc., the nearest market being at Liberty, in Clay county, a distance of about eighty miles.  When our supplies began to grow short the settlers would turn out on a big bee hunt, gather in what honey and wax they could find and after loading one or two teams, start them to market and on the return of these trains as many hearts were as gladdened as upon the arrival of the first train that ran into Pattonsburg on the Omaha railroad.  The settlers would collect and the freight would be divided out according to each ones share.  It did not amount to a great deal, as honey only commanded on the market from 30 to 37 1/2 cents per gallon, and wax about the same per pound.

If a girl, on the arrival of the goods, happened to get a calico dress pattern, she would grin over it for a week.  One of our great difficulties was to procure breadstuff; but "Phil" Harris, as he was commonly called, tugged away at his mill until he got it to go and when it "went" it went by water- as the fellow said about the meeting house, so he ground our corn, and an honest fellow he was, for if the water got low and the burr stones dull, Phil was never accused of taking to much toll.

But the water would sometimes get low, and in the winter freeze up, so that our miller could not grind, and then we were pressed for breadstuff, as there were no horse mills in the country.  The winter of 1842-1843 the year of the great comet- was the most severe add protracted we ever experienced in this country.  It froze up early in the season and continued until the last of March.  The snow was very deep during the winter.  Having raised no wheat as yet, it was indispensable to convert indian corn into meal and as the mill stopped about the time the corn got hard, the question arose, how was it to be accomplished?  It was said that "neccessity is the mother of invention" and there is evidently some truth to the adage; at least necessity sent our wits to work to supply this want.  We went to work and each of the settlers erected a gritter.  Perhaps the reader don't know what a gritter is?  Well, you see, we would tear up an old coffee boiler, punch it full of holes, bow it up and nail it to a board, with the rough side up.  So much for the "gritter".  The next thing was to fill a kettle with ears of corn and boil them thoroughly, then set the kettle aside for the corn to steep for a few hours, after which it was ready for the mill.  By a vigorus rubbing on the gritter the corn would be converted into a pretty fair meal.  Some called the gritter "Armstrongs mill", other termed the process "plaining meal", but it was generally designated as gritting.  Let it be called what it might, reader, it was business.


Some of the settlers had, that year, raised a little buckwheat.  Those who boasted this luxury ground it in a coffee mill and sifted it through a common sieve and when they had company or wanted an extra meal they would make buckwheat cakes and serve them with honey. 

The country was very healthy and occasionally a new settler would drop in.  After we started the gritters we had nothing to disturb our peace except that now and then a horse thief would pass through the settlement and pick up a good horse or take some indian ponies from the parties of hunters who would be in the country.  Our taxes did not amount to much, and as the state gave fifty cents for each wolf scalp, these scalps entered largely inot our currency and our taxes were principally paid with them.  A wolf scalp certificate was just as current then as a fifty-United States green back currency is now.

As soon as a settlement became strong enough a log schoolhouse would be erected and the children sent to school, for the settlers all believed in schooling their children.  Although we were in a wild country we had all "come from some place".  No burdensome school tax was levied upon us, and every man paid his own school bills, loved his own wife and children, had a genuine friendshop for his neighbor and enjoyed life graciously.  Those were happy days.  Alas, alas!  They are gone!  We look back with mingled joy and sorrow to the first settlement of this county.  Many with whom we shared trials and privations of pioneer life, they are gone.

At that day this county was a territory and attached to Daviess county for civil and military purposes.  Uncle John W. Brown was appointed Justice of the Peace, and , moreover, acted in the capacity of Judge in many little cases that came up, administered on estates, and was sometimes put on the grandjury at Gallatin, in behalf of the territory.  We had no newspapers to read and consequently give the foreign news, but generally could tell how many deer neighbor David had killed, how many bee trees neighbor John had found, or how many wolves someone else had captured.  It is true we occasionally felt the lack of current news of the day.  For instance, it is said, that a little settlement higher up on Grand River, which, with the rest of us, had voted for General Jackson, continued to vote for him for a long time after the General's death!  On one occasion it happened that a stranger was present at their election and asked whom they were going to vote for.  "Why Jackson, of course", answered several.  The man replied that General Jackson was dead.  That it was a lie, that he had come there to decieve them and that if he did not get away they would lick him suddenly that in good order.  They were of true pluck.  We have no doubt that it would be better for the country if we had more "Jackson men" now as honest as men were in those days.



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