Pioneer Days: A First-person Account by Henry C. D’Rodes

oxen

The first Wood County settlers often preferred a team of oxen over one of horses for working their farms. Oxen were stronger and heartier than horses. Their slow, steady pulling style made them ideal for plowing the Black Swamp’s heavy, wet clay soil. (NBOAHS note: drawing and caption not original to article.)

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.”

In 2015, the North Baltimore Ohio Area Historical Society (NBOAHS) selected some of these letters from the Beacon archives which were published by The NBXpress. Because of positive reader feedback on the first series of Beacon pioneer letters, the Historical Society has selected a second series for publication in 2016.

The following article was written by Henry C. D’Rodes (born 1828 – died 1917). It describes the difficulties of the early settlers he personally knew in transforming Henry Township from Black Swamp wilderness into a settled community. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of August 9, 1901.

THE AXE WIELDERS

And Forest Subdoers—What They Have Done for Henry Township

The Enduring Qualities of Pioneers John Howard and His Experiences With a Yoke of Oxen, Blackbirds, Mosquitoes, And Evolution

H. C. D’RODES

ED. Beacon—Please accept this in compliance with your kindly request to supply some reminiscences of the past connected with the subduing of the heavy forests in the country surrounding North Baltimore and the development of its recourses.

Among the first settlers of this part of the country Columbiana County furnished a number of families. Of that number I would mention Col. Richard Wall, Andrew Nigh, David Cook, Valentine Miller, Samuel DeRodes and many other families scattered through Hancock and Wood Counties. These sturdy men with others who had located there for better or worse, as the Thomases, Deters, Wilsons, and Houghs who were thoroughly inured to toil, gave themselves up to face the conditions and subdue heavy forest. With unflinching energy, they saw the forest give way and farms open up which produced abundant crops repaying them in a measure for their hard toil. The most of the hearty pioneers have bequeathed the fruits of their labors to others and passed to the great beyond. They made sacrifices few would believe if made known to them.

To show the enduring qualities of these early settlers, we have only to relate some of the privations and hardships they were called upon to pass through. Many of them had to go to older settlements to work to secure provisions for themselves and family. John Howard related this circumstance in his own experience in the hearing of the writer. He, having a yoke of oxen, went to the Maumee to work and secure provisions for his family. Staying as long as he could for fear his provisions might give out, he secured meal and other necessities and started for home and got as far as the Ross tavern, a few miles north of Bowling Green. Night coming on, he concluded to stop there until the next morning. During the night the oxen got loose and went home some sixteen or eighteen miles. Here was a quandary: he needed the provisions for his family; he needed the ox yoke as bad for using the oxen to return for the wagon and its contents over the long distance between him and his home. With water and mud to wade and logs to climb over, delaying would not help the matter. So he shouldered a bushel of meal and the yoke and struck out for home. After a hard day’s march he reached his cabin somewhat the worse of the load he carried. Many incidents of pioneer life have been lost that would have proven the mettle these pioneers were made of –kind-hearted, cheerful, neighborly to a fault. (NBOAHS note: paragraph slightly edited for clarity.)

What of the amusements of those days? Fighting blackbirds by day and “skeeters” at night. See the farmer with a pipe in his mouth to keep the gnats from biting the life out of him while plowing corn. If “backer” was too strong, he used a piece of lighted punk on the end of a pipe stem which gave smoke enough to keep them at bay. Black birds–I should say a flock–would put a bird on every hill of corn in a ten acre field with a row on the fence around as a reserve and the rainier the day the worse the birds. As old Jackey Thomas aptly said of them, “With song of praise in their mouth and the devil in their heart they would come in the morning and stay all day.” No matter how it rained, if a farmer wanted to save his corn which was his living, he had to go after them with shot and shell and all the powers of a good pair of lungs would afford. It was a regular line of battle all along sand ridge–in fact wherever there was a patch of grain.

For a change, the shaking ague (NBOAHS note: Malaria) would relieve outside performance and give exhibitions inside of the cabin with delirium and aching bones to follow.

Was that all the amusement of the settlers? Cattle had free range and would wander far off in the thick woods. To hunt them in the evening, to climb logs, wade water, and fight the devouring insects was amusing in the extreme.

Winter brought its amusements: husking corn, clearing up the land, ditching and many other amusements the boys are deprived of now.

When they cultivate corn, they ride; when they cut the grain they ride; when they mow, they ride and Oh how tired they get riding in the hot sun. Young men go to some new country and get some real easy employment full of real life. This thing riding so much is tiresome, especially in going to town every evening.

Comments are closed