Pioneer Days: A First-person Account by Mary Howard Coleman

In the late 1890s and early1900s, George W. Wilkinson, the editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, encouraged elderly local residents to write about their experiences in the settling of southern Wood County. 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 and the North Baltimore News. Because of positive reader feedback on the first series of Beacon pioneer letters, the Historical Society has selected a second series of letters for publication.

The following article was written by Mrs. Levi Coleman (born 1830 – died 1907). In it she describes the daily life of the early settlers in the Black Swamp and especially the threat posed by wolves and other large predators to the pioneers in the early 19th Century. Mrs. Coleman’s maiden name was Mary Howard. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of August 23, 1901.

Timber wolf

The North American timber wolf was a major threat to the livestock of early Wood County pioneers. Cougars and black bears were also a menace, but not to the same extent as the wolves. To reduce the number of wolf packs, the Wood County commissioners paid professional wolf hunters a bounty for wolf scalps from 1835 until 1858. This program was extremely successful in eliminating the wolves. By the early 1860s, all the large predators had disappeared from the area.

AN AGED LADY

Recalls Early-Day Affairs Very Entertainingly

The Pioneer’s Cabin Minus Doors and Windows—Tiger and the Wolves—The First Sabbath School—Pot Pie and How Prepared

Mrs. Levi Coleman

Editor Beacon: Please accept this in compliance with your kindly request to supply some reminiscences of the past.

My father Mr. John Howard moved from Richland County to Hancock County in 1830. Well do I remember when we crossed the Ten-Mile Creek, although there was no water in it, the grass was so high and the blades so long and sharp that father carried my sister and me across on his back. We came out in front of Mr. Carl’s who lived in a double log house where the Hill house now stands. We took dinner there and then proceeded to where the D’Rodes live.

My father entered one hundred and sixty acres there and the men went ahead and cleared the road. When we arrived, there stood the log cabin but without a door, window, or fireplace, right in the dense woods. The next thing was to saw out a place for a door. We children were all waiting patiently but my brother, younger than I, who couldn’t wait to get in through the door, tried to creep through a crack and got his head stuck fast. Father then played the saw faster than I ever saw him afterwards to get his head out. The door, fireplace, and window were finally cut out and our home was before us.

The next thing was to cut some of the big trees down that would reach the cabin providing a storm came. The wood thus secured was then prepared to get supper with as there was no such thing as cook stoves in those days.

When night came on mother made our beds down on the ground, as they could not bring but one bedstead and there was no one who had a broad axe to hew the puncheon floor.

The mosquitoes and gallinipers, an insect almost twice as large as the mosquito and with a bite like a bee sting, the wolves howling, made us children stay pretty close to our mother’s aprons.

The wolves didn’t venture up to the house that night because of a large bull dog, which we called Tiger, as big as a calf that kept everything away from the house. In a few nights they would be back again and you could hear us children say as they howled around the fire “father we are afraid” but he would say “don’t be afraid children, Tiger will keep them out.” Tiger and the wolves got into a fight then and he jumped over the fire in the fire place and such fighting you never heard: we could hear him crush their bones as he grabbed and killed them.

There were bear, catamount (NBOAHS note: cougars), lynx, squirrels, coon, turkey, deer, groundhog, possum and porcupine vermin galore. All these had to be contended with. We lived principally on game at that time as the wolves and bear would devour all the cattle and hogs that could be brought in.

I remember an Irishman came to our house and stayed all night. In the morning upon going out he saw the old dog standing there with his mount full of porcupine quills, and scratching his mouth, seeming almost crazy. The Irishman cried out: “faith and will yes be after comin’ out han tellin’ me what moight be the matter wath your dog; faith he’s out here playin’ the jew’s-harp.”

Well do I remember the first Sabbath School that I went to. There was a gentleman by the name of Morgan who lived where john Shafer now lives, who organized a Sabbath School in his little cabin. All the children in the neighborhood went dressed in linen dresses with red handkerchiefs and barefoot. What would the children say if they had to go that way now?

My father and the two oldest boys then left for Maumee to work on the canal to get something to live on; leaving John at home to do the clearing and every child that could pick a brush or chip being called upon to help. The women also went out and worked to; they didn’t lie in bed until the sun burst a hole in their blanket nor let their men go out to his hard day’s work without his breakfast. Flour was $12 a barrel then and corn meal one dollar a bushel.

When logs were rolled all the men and teams in the neighborhood were invited and were always accompanied by four or five women who came along to help cook. Potpie was the favorite dish and was cooked outdoors in a large kettle. The people all practiced in those days “love the neighbor as thyself.”

The Indians camped near us but were harmless.

We went to the log school where the high class and the A B C were in the same room. I don’t think there were any graduates at the close of the term. Mr. D’Rodes spoke of some the privations; I have been through them all. We had no steel pens in those days but used quill pens. The old ganders would not have feathers enough left to fly over the fence.

When people came here, there were but two stores in Findlay. Later on Wm. Mungen, who was the first editor, printed the Findlay Courier. It was there that I cooked on the first cook stove I ever saw.

I have seen the foundation of most of these roads laid and they have been improved so much, that now the boys can ride in the rubber buggies with their sweet-faced girl by their side without getting ruts or receiving hardly a jar or bump. I have also seen Findlay become a city; Van Buren, McComb, and North Baltimore become quite large villages.

Well, I am past 71 years old and most of the old pioneers have gone to the sweet by and by. For fear I am taking too much space in your valuable paper I will bring my letter to a close. I remain your friend.

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