In February of that year, according to well-authenticated tradition, William Offeld with his wife and one child came from a settlement on White river, not far from the present town of Martinsville, in Morgan county, and settled a few rods from the mouth of the little stream which flows into Sugar creek, some five or six miles southwest of Crawfordsville, and which now bears the name of Offield's creek. His cabin, which was only 12x15 feet, was on the south side of Sec. 16, T. 18 N., R. 5 W. Mr. Offield moved from the settlement on White river in a single wagon, in company with Thomas Johnson, father of Hon. Archibald Johnson, of Montgomery county, Jubal Dewees and John Sigler. All except Mr. Offield stopped in Putnam county, near where Greencastle now stands. A son of John Sigler, named Andrew, accompanied Mr. Offield to Montgomery county for the purpose of taking back the wagon which the latter had borrowed from some one in the White River settlement to transport his household goods to his new home. The whole country through which they traveled was covered with undergrowth, in some places so thick that Mr. Offield had to cut it out with his axe to enable the wagon to pass. In going down a steep hill Mr. Offield would construct a brake by cutting down a bushy-topped sapling, making the butt-end fast to the hind axle of the wagon and leaving the top to drag on the ground. Mr. Offield came to the White river settlement from Tennessee in 1819, and raised a crop of cow there in 1820.
His wife's maiden name was Jennie or Jane Laughlin. A second child was born to them while they lived in the cabin on Offield’s creek. An old Indian squaw officiated as doctor on the occasion, there being no doctor or white woman nearer than thirty miles at the time. This was undoubtedly the first white child born in the territory which now constitutes Montgomery county. Mr. Offield is represented by persons now living, who were well acquainted with him sixty years ago, as a man low in stature, broad and strong, with sandy hair kind blue eyes, possessed of great coolness and courage, and strong common sense. Some have reported that he was extremely fond of hunting, and often found in the woods with his rifle and dog. But other accounts, from persons who lived in the family, say he was also an industrious husbandman, with horses, cattle, hogs and sheep, and that his attention was largely given to the care of his stock and the growing of grain, which latter must have been, of course, on a very small scale, as the country about him was mostly covered with thick woods. He was undoubtedly fond of a lonely backwoods life, and had little taste for the ways of a cultivated community. There is reason to believe that he was well educated, for he was elected a member of the first board of county commissioners and his signature yet appears on the records of the board in a plain smooth, business-like hand. While yet a member of the board of county commissioners, in the beginning of 1824, he, together with his family, disappeared from the county. He is known to have remained in the county up to January 1, 1824. In May of that year Henry Ristine was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board of commissioners, the record reciting that the vacancy had been occasioned by the removal 'of William Offield from the county. So it is rendered certain that he left the county between January 1 and May 1, 1824. It is conjectured by some that he became dissatisfied with the growing civilization of the county, and went toward the setting sun in search of new hunting grounds, where he could continue to gratify his supposed passion for the chase and the solitude of the wild woods. There are stronger reasons, however, for believing that he quietly packed his scanty supply of household goods in a wagon and wandered back to Tennessee in the same manner in which he came from the White river settlement to Montgomery county. It is remarkable that not even tradition has preserved the least account of his departure from the county. What his immediate destination was, how he went, or why he went, will probably remain forever hidden from the populous community which has grown up around the site of his cabin, on the banks of the little stream which perpetuates his name in the county. It appears from the public records that on July 4, 1822, more than a year after his arrival, he entered the E. 1/2 of N.E. 1/4 Sec. 4, T. 18 N., R. 5 W., which lies about half a mile north of Yountsville, and that on December 31, 1823, he and his wife, Jane Offield, conveyed this land to Jonas Mann. The name of his wife, as attached to the deed, is without the cross-mark so often met with in the early deed records of the county. This fact shows that she knew at least how to read and write, accomplishments by no means common with the women of her day in the backwoods regions of Indiana. The consideration stated in the deed is $307.50, which indicates that Mr. Offield must have considerably improved the land, having entered it for $100 the year before. It is known that he built a cabin on it, to which he removed from his first location near the mouth of Offield's creek.
But whether Mr. Offield removed back to Tennessee, or went farther west when he left the county, it is certain that at some time between 1824 and 1841 he went to the wild country beyond the Ozark mountains, in the southwestern part of Missouri, not far from the Arkansas line, perhaps in what is now McDonald county; for in the latter year Christopher C. Walkup, now a citizen of Montgomery county, was traveling in that country, and found Mr. Offield living in a rude cabin in the woods, such as he built at the mouth of Offield's creek in 1821. Mr. Walkup staid over night with Mr. Offield, who related to him the circumstances of his settlement on the banks of the little stream below Crawfordsville, and the birth of his second child there; and also told him of an unfortunate mistake of his which occurred shortly before Mr.Walkup’s visit, and which resulted in the death of one of his best neighbors. He was out hunting, and mistook for a deer the neighbor, who was dressed in deer-skin pants with the harry side out. Seeing only a small part of him through the thick undergrowth, he shot and killed him dead on the spot. Mr. Offield greatly regretted the occurrence, and said it would be a source of sorrowful reflection to him as long as he should live. Mr. Walkup represents Mr. Offield as a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and seemingly about sixty-five years of age. But as he was only about thirty years old when he came to Montgomery county, he could not have been over fifty at the time of Mr. Walkup's visit. His constant outdoor life in the backwoods had probably given him the appearance of being older than he really was.
The year following the advent of Mr. Offield quite a number of families came to the county, and in a little while there were several small settlements or neighborhoods on Sugar creek, not far from where the city of Crawfordsville now stands, and a few in other parts of the county.
On July 3, 1822, John Lopp entered the first tract of land ever sold by the government in Montgomery county. This was the E. ½ of S.E. 1/4 Sec. 14, T. 17 N., R. 4 W., in what is now Scott township. The land now belongs to M. M. Henry. Subsequently, on the same day, however, Austin M. Puett entered the E. 1/2 of N.E. 1/4 Sec. 34, T. 17 N., R. 4 W., and David Henry entered the W. 1/2 of S.E. ¼ Sec. 34, T. 17 N., R. 4 W. On the next day several other tracts were entered in different parts of the county, and during the following autumn quite a number of entries were made, most of them in what is now Union township.
On December 21, 1822, the legislature passed an act defining the boundaries of Montgomery county, and providing for the organization of civil government, therein. The county was named Montgomery in honor of Gen. Richard Montgomery, of revolutionary fame, who was killed in the assault on Quebec, December 31, 1775. On March 1, 1823, William Offeld, James Blevins and John McCullough were elected the fist board of county commissioners for the new county, and the local government thus went quietly and peacefully into operation. The whole number of votes cast at the first election was sixty-one. The county jurisdiction originally extended northward over what are now Tippecanoe, Clinton, Carroll and Cass counties; eastward to Marion county, southward to Parke, and westward to the Wabash river.
The first settlers on the lands embraced in what is now the county of Montgomery came principally from Kentucky and Ohio. There were some, however, from Tennessee, the Carolinas and Virginia, and a few from the eastern states. They brought with them but few of the necessaries of civilized life, and none of its luxuries and refinements. They lived in rude cabins, built of round logs, with the ends beveled on top and notched underneath so as to fit closely together and prevent slipping apart. The cracks left between the logs were filled with mud, and the cabin was thus made tight and comfortable. The floors were laid with what are called puncheons, which were made by splitting small logs through the middle, dressing off the flat surface with an axe or adz, and notching the under side so as to fit down on the sleepers. The fireplace and chimney were made of split sticks, and lined with a stiff clay, which, when dried, was very durable. A smoke-house, in which to dry the meat, was made in the same manner as the dwelling, except without floor or chimney. The cabin and smoke-house were covered with clap boards, which were made by cutting off oak logs about three and a half feet long, and splitting them into thin slabs with what was called a frow, a strong, thick knife, with a handle at one end at right angles to the back, like the handle of a cross-cut saw. The pieces of wood were set on end in a horizonta1 fork, slightly elevated, and the knife driven in with a small mallet. Nails being out of the question, the boards were weighted down with small poles, extending from one gable to the other, and laid on each course of boards. The cabin usually consisted of but one room, and in this the pioneer housewife and daughters cooked their scanty meals, consisting, for the most part, of corn-bread and meat. Here the whole family slept at night, and here, on Sunday, they received and entertained their company from neighboring settlements. This description of the first settler's cabin would be very deficient in the eyes of many without some mention of the proverbial latch-string. The door was always fastened by means of a wooden latch on the inside, to which a long buckskin string was attached and put through a small hole a few inches above, so that one wishing to enter had but to pull the string and thus raise the latch. At night the string was pulled inside, so that the door could be opened only by one within. The contrivance thus answered the place of a latch by day, and a lock by night. When it was said of a settler that his latch-string was always out, it was simply meant that his door was ever in a condition to be opened by those in quest of his hospitality. The family dressed in plain goods, usually of their own manufacture. The settler who succeeded in getting his cabin built, and a few acres of ground cleared on which to raise his bread-corn, was thought to be in good condition for living.
In those days mills were scarce, and going to mill was one of the great events of the year. The settler, when returning from one of these trips, which sometimes occupied a week and more, would spend many evenings around the big fire-place relating to his wife and children what he had heard at the mill, for the mill was the great news depot. In those times the settler had no daily papers, with telegraphic news from all parts of the world, as we now have, and it was only those who were more than ordinarily prosperous and well-to-do who could afford even a weekly paper. But notwithstanding these early settlers had only rude cabins in which to live, plain fare to eat, homespun clothing to wear, and were shut out, in great measure, from all communication with the world, they were not absolutely unhappy. They gathered often at each other's houses, and spent many pleasant hours at night by the blazing fire, relating their adventures while hunting in the woods, discussing plans for the future, and telling the news received through letters from the kindred and friends they had left behind them in the old states. They were a simple, honest and sociable people, and long years after their settlement in the county, when they had grown rich and had carriages to ride in, and pianos, and silks, and broad-cloth, and were worried with trade and business and fashions, some of them have been heard to breathe a sigh, and wish for a return of the good old days of the log cabin in the woods, with its humble fare, its generous hospitality, and its sweet peace and freedom from anxiety; and, in later days, when the question at the school-house debate happened to be “Does a high state of civilization and refinement tend to increase man's happiness,” the old settlers were always inclined to take the negative, fancying they could find stronger arguments on that side. But, after all, were it seriously proposed to do away with the improvements of the age, throw away our fashions and luxuries, and go back to the condition of 1822, it is more than probable that the old settlers would begin to hesitate, if not to oppose such a course.
A benevolent creator has so made man that he soon forgets the troubles and long remembers the pleasures of the past, and this, in large measure, accounts for the universal disposition to regard the past as preferable to the present. But few would sigh for a return to their childhood if it were not for the fact that childhood's bitters are all soon forgotten, and its sweets long remembered.
The traveler passing northward along the road about one half mile from the mouth of Black creek, some three or four miles northwest of Crawfordsville, will see to his right a considerable knoll, known the neighborhood as "Noggle's Hill." It is on the S.E. 1/4 of N.E. 1/4 Sec. 34. Here, at a very early period, perhaps before the county was organized, a man by the name of Mayfield murdered one Noggle. The former had suspicions, and perhaps proof, that the latter had been interfering with his domestic affairs and meeting him in the woods one day, while hunting, fired upon him at a distance. The ball passed through his knee, and so disabled him that he could not walk. Mayfield reloaded his gun, and walking up to where Noggle lay piteously begging that his life might be spared, deliberately shot him through the heart. Noggle was buried near the spot where he was murdered, and his grave is yet pointed out by those living in the vicinity. Mayfield fled from the country, and no attempt was ever made to arrest him. This was the first murder ever committed in the county.
The first court ever held in Montgomery county was organized at the house of William Miller, in Crawfordsville, on May 29, 1823, with Jacob Call, of Vincennes, presiding, John Wilson acting as clerk, Samuel D. Maxwell as sheriff, and Jacob J. Ford as prosecuting attorney. At this session nothing was done beyond organizing the court, ordering a summons for a grand jury for the ensuing term to be held in August, and adopting a seal for the court. After transacting this business, which probably occupied only a few hours, court adjourned "till court in course," and Judge Gall mounted his horse and rode through the woods back to Vincennes, or to some other county in his circuit, which then extended from Montgomery county to the Ohio river.
On August 28 following the court convened, for the second time, in Crawfordsville, but the record does not state at whose house. Tradition, however, locates it at the tavern kept by Henry Ristine, father of Ben T. Ristine. The grand jury, for which a summons had been ordered at the previous term, was in attendance, and was composed of the following persons: James Dungan, Richard M. McCafferty, James Scott, James Stitt, William Miller, Robert Craig, Samuel Brown, Elias Moore, George Miller, Joseph Hahn, Samuel McClung, William P. Mitchell, Wilson Claypool, and John Farlow. Samuel McClung was appointed foreman. The jury was duly instructed by the judge of the court, and retired to diligently inquire of the felonies and misdemeanors which had been committed in the county. After a few hours' session an indictment returned against John Toliver for assault and battery, and the foreman answering in response to the inquiry of the judge, that they had no further business before them, the jury was discharged, and allowed 75 cents each as fees. Burwell Daniels was allowed $1 for serving as bailiff to the grand jury, Jacob J. Ford $25 for his services as prosecuting attorney, Samuel D. Maxwell $15 for serving as sheriff, and John Wilson $15 for serving as clerk.
There was yet no case on the docket for trial, except the indictment returned against Toliver, and he seems to have fled, for the record shows that writs were repeatedly issued for his arrest without success. The court remained in session but one day at this term. At the May term, 1824, James Stitt and William Burbridge appeared with their commissions as associate judges, and were duly sworn into office by Judge Call, the presiding judge. At the May term no indictment whatever was found, and after a session of one day the grand jury was discharged, and the court adjourned till the next term. At the May term, 1825, one Jesse Keyton, was sentenced to the penitentiary for two years for receiving stolen goods. This case doubtless created a profound sensation throughout the county, for it was the first case of any importance ever put on the docket of the court. At the time of the trial of this case the new court-house had been finished and received from the hands of the contractor and Mr. Keyton had the honor of going to the penitentiary from a bran new temple of justice.
On August 11, 1823, the contract for building the house was let to Eliakam Ashton, at $295, and on August 9, 1824, the house was duly finished according to the plans and specifications, and turned over to the board of commissioners. It stood on the lot now occupied by Gregg & Son's hardware store, on Main street. A chimney was afterward added by another contractor. It seems to have been overlooked in the first contract, or perhaps for some reason, now unknown, was purposely left out of the original specifications.
It was in this house that the case of the State of Indiana v. Jesse Keyton (spelled in the indictment Keaton) was tried, on May 3, 1825. Keyton was charged with receiving and concealing a stolen cow's-hide, knowing the same to have been stolen. The case was prosecuted by Hon. John Law, afterward a member of congress from the southern part of the state, and Joseph Cox and Nathan Huntington appeared for the defendant. The jury was composed of the following persons: Joshua Baxter, Regina1 Butt, Samuel D. Maxwell, William Miller, George Miller, Samuel Wilhite, John Stitt, William Mount, John Ramsap, Edward Nutt, Abraham Miller and Isaac Miller. The presiding judge was not present at this term of the court, and the law was expounded by William Burbridge and James Stitt, the associate judges, both plain farmers (the former a good blacksmith, also), wholly without legal knowledge, except such as is usually acquired by observing persons without the aid of law books. Yet the record does not show that any of their rulings were excepted to, or that a new trial was asked on account of any blunder of the court. The case undoubtedly attracted much attention, as well on account of the fact that it was the first case involving a charge of felony ever tried in the county, as because of the eminent attorneys engaged in the prosecution and defense. The settlers came from far and near to witness the trial, and "hear the lawyers plead the case," as listening to the argument of the case was universally designated at that day. It is probable that almost every voter in the county attended the trial, and that the little court-room was unduly crowded with men dressed in either tow-linen or buck-skin pants, homespun linen shirts and coon-skin caps, and without vests or coats. The evidence showed that Henry Wisehart, who lived northeast of town, had lost a cow, and that certain indications showed she had been killed, skinned and carried away in pieces. About the time the cow was missed a couple of women (Lydia Cox and Rachel Middleton) had seen the defendant going northward on horseback, carrying a cow's hide before him. His trail was followed, and the hide found in a big pond or swamp in the northern part of the county, where, according to tradition, he had cut a hole in the ice and sunk it. But, as, the indictment, charges the act to have been done on April 18, a doubt is raised, as to the correctness of the tradition, or of the date laid, in the indictment. The hide was easily identified as the hide of Wisehart's cow. The jury found Keyton guilty as charged in the indictment; that he be fined in the sum of $6, and be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary at Jeffersonville for the term of two years. The next morning young Keyton (for be was quite a young man) was taken to Henry Ristine's tavern for his breakfast, and it is said by an eye witness that he wept over the misfortune that had overtaken him all the time he was eating his breakfast. In a few days be was conveyed on horseback to Jeffersonville, and put in the prison, where he died before the end of his term of imprisonment. Before leaving for the penitentiary he disclosed all the fact about the killing of the cow, implicating several other persons in the crime, but as there was no witness but himself they were never arrested. The indictment against Keyton was indorsed by John Beard, as foreman of the grand jury. Mr. Beard afterward gained much celebrity as a state senator from the county. It will be of some interest to the present generation to know that Jesse Keyton was put on his trial the same day the indictment was returned into court, and that, although sixteen witnesses were examined, the case was argued and submitted to the jury, and a verdict returned before night.
In those early times the courrt was a great resort for persons fond of exciting scenes and served the double purpose of securing justice and affording pastime for the backwoodsmen, who always enjoyed with a keen relish the searching cross-examination, and the sharp and sometimes angry contests between opposing attorneys. A closely contested case of assault and battery offered quite as interesting an entertainment for the early settlers as the play of Hamlet or Richard III does to the theater-goer of the present day.
At the time of Keyton's trial the population of the county was yet sparse. There were altogether a dozen or fifteen families in Crawfordsville, and most of these were located in the neighborhood of the Whitlock spring, near where Brown & Watkins' mill now stands. West of town, between where Wabash College now stands and Sugar creek, there was a small settlement, composed of the following persons: John Beard, Isaac Beeler, John Miller, Isaac Miller, George Miller, Joseph Cox, John Killen and John Stitt. The last named built a small corn-mill in the deep bottom immediately west of the old Remley homestead, which was ran by a branch issuing from the bluff near by. Remains of the old mill are yet to be found on the spot where it stood. Southwest of town some two miles, lived Crane, Cowan (the father of Judge John M. Cowan), Scott and Burbridge. East of town lived Whitlock, Baxter, McCullough, Catterlin and John Dewey. Farther east lived Jacob Beeler, Judge Stitt, W. P. Ramey, Sr., McClafferty, widow Smith and the E1mores. On the north side of Sugar creek lived Abe Miller, Henry and Robert Nicholson, Samuel Brown, Farlow and Harshbarger.
A few other families were scattered over the county, but the whole population within twenty miles of Crawfordsville at this time was probably less than 500.
Some time in 1823 the land office, which had previously been at Terre Haute, was removed to the infant town of Crawfordsville, and on December 24, 1824, a public land sale was commenced, which lasted for several days. This sale had been extensively advertised, and land-buyers, speculators and persons in, search of new homes came from far and near to buy land. The eastern part of the state was well represented, and there were many persons from Ohio and Kentucky, and a few from Tennessee and Pennsylvania. At this sale a large portion of the lands in the county which not been previously entered were sold at public auction to the highest bidder for cash. The money received at the land office was mostly gold and silver, which was headed up in kegs and hauled in wagons to Louisville, and thence it was shipped up the Ohio, and finally reached Washington city. William Miller, the first settler of Crawfordsville, hauled several loads of money to Louisville from the land office at Crawfordsville, sometimes camping out at night, with no guard to protect the treasure he had in charge. On one occasion Ben T. Ristine and an uncle were employed to take $40,000, mostly in silver. They went in a two-horse wagon, passing through the rough country in Morgan county. At a steep hill near where Martinsville now stands their horses balked, and they were compelled to unload the wagon and roll a part of its burden up the hill with hand-spikes. Sometimes they slept in the wayside cabins at night, leaving their wagon with its contents standing in the road. They arrived at Louisville in about a week, and delivered the $40,000 to a government agent at that place.
The year following the public land sale settlers came rapidly, and the dense forest began to disappear, cabins were multiplied, numerous corn-mills were erected on the smaller streams, school-houses and churches began to appear at intervals, roads were being opened in every direction, and altogether the scene presented was well calculated to cheer the hearts of those who had come with hope and courage to build up new homes in the unbroken forest in what was then known as ''The New Purchase."
The new settlers spent most of their time in the clearings, stopping work at intervals only long enough to hunt wild meat for their families. In those days the sugar-maple was thick in almost every neighborhood, and the settlers had no trouble in providing themselves an abundance of good sugar and molasses, which cost nothing but a few days' labor, with which the young folks mingled much fun. The young men and women of a whole neighborhood would often gather at the sugar-camp at night and have their candy-pullings, and enjoy themselves in harmless sports till a late hour. The cattle and horses ran at large in what was called the range, and fed on the leaves and wild grasses in summer, and the tender twigs of the undergrowth in winter.
The county was for a time measurably free from malefactors, and there was but little use for prisons, but this blissful condition did not last very long. With the influx of people the usual number of thieves and law-breakers of every grade began to make their appearance, and the practice of hiring guards to keep such of them as had been arrested from running away was growing expensive, and the commissioners, at their February term in 1824, set about providing "a jail-house" for the county. The written specifications provided for the minutest details of the building, and the whole document, as entered of record in the minutes of the board, is worthy of a place in the history of 'the county. It shows not only the kind of jail the fathers thought sufficient to hold the criminals, but likewise how carefully the public business was transacted by the plain and honest servants of the people in those early times.
The contract to build the jail was let to Abraham Griffith, who in due time completed it, and received as his pay there for the sum of $250. It stood only a few yards from the northeast corner of the present court-house. In 1827 an inmate under charge of larceny, set fire to the building in order to burn off the lock. He succeeded in making his escape, and left only a pile of ashes to mark the spot where the jail had stood.
When the county was first settled, the woods, as already intimated, were full of wild animals of almost every kind common in North America. Whole droves of deer would sometimes come up to the settlers’ cabin, take a quiet look at what they doubtless regarded as an invasion of their rights, and then bound away into the thick undergrowth. Bears frequently carried away the young pigs, wolves were so abundant and so ravenous as to keep the settlements in constant dread of their depredations. But the early settlers were all expert with the rifle, and deer and bears and wolves disappeared with amazing rapidity. The streams were also full of fish. Not far from Stitt’s mill and just below the high bluff' on Sugar creek, on the Remley place, there was in early times a fish dam or trap at which immense quantities of fish were caught. It is related by an old settler that during one night in 1824 nine hundred fish, consisting of pike, salmon, bass and perch, were caught in this trap. The settlers often carried them by skiff-loads from the trap and put them in Stitt's mill-pond, where they were fed, and from which they were easily taken as they were needed for food.
When the first settlers came to the county they found the pathway of a most destructive tornado or cyclone, which, in some places, had prostrated the entire forest. It passed about two miles south of the present site of Crawfordsville, sometimes rising above the tops of the trees, and then again descending and sweeping, down everything in its course. On a part of the land entered by Edmund Nutt, southwest of Crawfordsville, and immediately south of where Johnathan Nutt's new brick house now stands, not a tree was left standing. At the time Mr. Nutt entered this land a dense new growth of young walnut trees had sprung up, and grown to the height of thirty and forty feet. They were, perhaps, between twenty and thirty years old, which would fix the date of the tornado not far from the commencement of the present century. The precise time will probably never be ascertained. The prostrate forest had not all decayed when the first settlers came to the county, and the locality of the tornado was spoken of for years by them as the fallen-timber country. On the east side of the road, between the residences of John A. Harding and Henry B. Wray, about two miles from Crawfordsville, may yet be seen a beautiful grove of young timber, which has grown up in the pathway of this whirlwind. The grove is remembered as a thicket of young saplings fifty years ago by some of the citizens of the county, who were boys at that time. Traces of the same tornado, or a similar one, were visible fifty years ago in Marian county, between Eagle creek and White river. The young walnut trees on the Nutt land were all cut down by Mr. Nutt and made into rails with which to fence his fields. Had they been left standing to the present day they would readily have sold for$20 apiece, and had there been but fifty to the acre (and the number has been represented as much greater), they would have yielded more than $1,000 to the acre. If human foresight could have reached to the present day, with its numberless railroads and saw-mills, and its shiploads of walnut logs and lumber going across the Atlantic, what a magnificent heritage might Mr. Nutt hare preserved for his posterity! But as it was almost impossible for the early settler to get a saw-log to the mill, only a mile or so distant, not even the wildest enthusiast could have dreamed of the possibility of ever transporting the huge trees of Indiana to the seaboard and thence across the ocean to be manufactured into furniture for the titled aristocracy of the old world.
In December, 1824, Jacob Bell and James Smith, acting under appointment by the legislature, superintended the laying out of the state road from Terre Haute to Crawfordsville, Joseph Shelby, of the former place, acting as surveyor. At the same time Samuel McGeorge, of Marion county, Uriah Hultz, of Hendricks county, and John McCullongh, of Montgomery county, laid out the state road from Crawfordsville to Indianapolis. The opening of these two thoroughfares was considered, at that day, of great importance, though nothing was done toward making highways of them beyond cutting out the trees and putting down a little "corduroy" in the marshy places. This corduroy road, now almost forgotten, was made by cutting down small saplings and placing them close together, thus forming a floor on which horses could pass over the swamps. It was called corduroy because of its resemblance to a kind of coarse cotten goods of that name, corded or ribbed on the surface.
But few of the young people of the county have any idea of the amount of boating done on Sugar creek in early times, and they will be surprised to learn that in the spring of 1824 William Nicholson came from Maysville, Kentucky, to Crawfordsville in a keel-boat of ten tons burden, which landed at the mouth of Whitlock's Spring branch. It floated down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash, and thence it was rowed up to the mouth of Sugar creek, and finally, after a long and tedious voyage of many weeks, to its destination. Afterward Ben T. Ristine, Esq., and William Nicholson took this same boat down to Terre Haute for a load of corn. They took on board about 250 bushels, and rowed back as far as the Narrows, some eighteen miles below Crawfordsville, where, in consequence of the low stage of the water, they were compelled to stop. The two men went courageously to work, shelled the whole 250 bushels of corn with their hands, put it in sacks, and by the aid of several assistants transported it to Crawfordsville in canoes, bringing about ten bushels at a load. The boat was afterward brought up empty, and in the course of time rotted at Baxter's Ferry, near the site of the present Louisville & Chicago railroad depot. In those days there was much more water in Sugar creek than now, and no dams to interfere with navigation.
The first settlers of the county were nearly all addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors, but about the 1830, through the efforts of Rev. James Thornson, the subject of temperance began to be agitated. At a log school-house a few miles south of Crawfordsville, a debating society took up the subject and discussed it from night to night, until the interest grew so great the little school-house would not hold the audience; so it was concluded to continue the debate at the Methodist church in Crawfordsville. The disputants on the side of temperance were George W. Benefiel and Bartis Ewing, and on the other side Ambrose Armstrong, yet living in Scott township, and Capt. Ben. Hall.
This discussion gave an impetus to the cause of temperance in the county, which has lasted to the present day. In 1840 another great temperance excitement prevailed in the county, and many drinking men who joined the Washingtonians at that time are today living monuments of the good that is done by such agitations. They signed the pledge of total abstinence, and have maintained it for forty years, and but for which many of them would long since have been carried to drunkards' graves. There are few counties in the state where the temperance cause is stronger than it is in Montgomery.
It is difficult to realize that as late as 1832 Montgomery county was so near the western frontier as to be subject to alarms from Indian wars. Yet it is true that in that year the whole county was thrown into the greatest consternation by the breaking out of the Black Hawk war. In the latter part of May of that rumors reached the Wabash valley that the celebrated Sac chief, with a large band of painted warriors, was on his way eastward, and was likely to penetrate the settlements as far as Montgomery county. Runners were sent out from Crawfordsville to the commanders of all the military companies in the county, ordering them to assemble their commands at once at the county seat, armed and equipped for a campaign against the Indians. All who were fit for military duty assembled at once. The colonel, major and captains were all on hand with their red and white plumes, red sashes, and shining brass buttons, and the hardy settlers in homespun suits brought their trusty rifles, powder-horns and deer skin bullet pouches. The ''big drum," the "little drum" and fife filled the air with the music of war. The band marched up and down Main street, and all who were willing to aid in driving back the merciless savages were requested to fall in behind it. In a short time a company of infantry, one hundred strong was recruited, and a cavalry company of fifty. The infantry was put under command of Capt Elikam Ashton, and the cavalry under Judge Burbridge. These companies were soon equipped, provided with stores and provisions and started on the campaign. They went through Attica, and marched as far toward Chicago as Hickory Grove, in Illinois, where they met about 3,000 Illinois volunteers, who escorted them into camp with honors such as only heroes returning from a victorious campaign are worthy of. But it was soon ascertained that the alarm was groundless, that Black Hawk had been already driven back by a detachment of the regular army and some Illinois militia; and the Montgomery county volunteers took up the line of march for Crawfordsville, where they arrived after an. absence of about fifteen days, and dispersed to their several homes, never again to be disturbed by rumors of war in the Wabash valley. Although the campaign was brief, bloodless and uneventful, it showed the mettle of the early settler of the county.
In 1836 there occurred on Sugar creek, at a point just below where Deer & Canine's mill now stands, a most singular murder. Moses Rush and his wife lived in a cabin on a high bluff overshadowing the creek. He was an outlaw, and owing to some difficulty between him and his wife, he threatened to kill her, and secretly brought the axe into the cabin for the purpose of executing his threat. Not meeting with an opportunity to do the bloody deed just then, he lay down on the bed and fell asleep, when his wife took the axe he had brought in for the purpose of killing her and split his head open at a single blow. She then went to some of the neighbors, and told them what she had done. A number of persons met at the cabin next day and buried the corpse, but no steps were ever taken toward having the murderess arrested, the neighborhood, perhaps, feeling inclined to thank her for putting the desperado out of the way. The grave of the murdered man is yet to be seen near a large beech-tree, with the words and figures ''Moses Rush, 1836," cut in its bark. This grave is an object of interest to the many picnickers who every summer visit the wild and romantic region near the mouth of Indian creek.
In 1831 the population of the county had grown to more than 3,000 and the old log court-house would no longer serve the purposes for which it was built. In fact it was intended only as a temporary courthouse, and is so designated in the order under which it was built. It was contemplated from the first that the county would at no distant day build a more imposing structure than the one erected by Eliakam Ashton in 1824-5. And so it did. At a session of the board of commissioners held in January 1831, by Daniel Farly, James Sellar and Dennis Ball, proposals for building a new courthouse were ordered to be advertised for. At the next succeeding session the contract was let to John Hughes at $3,430. This house was a two-story brick, forty feet square with a cupola, and stood on the public square. At the time it was built it was considered a fine edifice. But forty years afterward the public voice demanded a finer, more convenient and commodious house, and it was torn down to make way for the present stately structure. Its bricks are now doing duty in the walls of the Crawfordsville coffin factory. It is claimed that the first horse-thief detective company ever organized in the west was a Montgomery county institution. In the fall of 1844 a great many horse-thieves were in the habit of passing through Coal Creek township, and stealing the farmers' horses, and to put a stop to their depredations about fifteen of the leading citizens living in the northwest part of the township met at a locust grove on the Meharry land, near the Tippecanoe county line, and formed themselves into an association which they called ''The Council Grove Minute Men." A constitution and by-laws were drawn up by Jesse Meharry and Cyrus J. Borum. At the session of the legislature of 1848, through the influence of John W. Dimmitt, then a member of the lower house of the legislature from Montgomery county, an act was passed to incorporate this company, and give its members, while in pursuit of criminals, all the power and authority of constables. The charter members whose names are set out in the act are James Gregory, William Casseboom, Absalom Kirkpatrick, James Meharry, Jesse Meharry, Christian Coon, Elias Moudy, John M. Thomas, and Edward McBroom. Though every charter member excepting Jesse Meharry, is now dead, the organization still exists and is doing effective service in bringing violators of the law to justice. Its vigilance and activity have well nigh put an end to all horse stealing in the neighborhood. Its present officers are Hiram Palin, president, and G. N. Meharry, secretary. From this organization have started a great number of similar companies, which are now organized pursuant to a general act of the legislature for that purpose.
They hold what they call "grand annual meetings" that is, representatives from all the companies meet at some convenient point to make their work more effective by a thorough cooperation. John S. Gray, of Wayne township, Montgomery county, who is noted wherever known for his sterling honesty and firmness, is president of the grand council. So well are these companies organized, and so thoroughly do they understand their work, that they seldom allow a horse-thief to escape. They not only arrest the thieves, but superintend prosecutions, hunt up witnesses, and, when necessary, employ counsel to aid the prosecuting attorney in bringing malefactors to justice. These companies are composed of the very best citizens of the country.
History of Fountain County, Indiana
by H. W. Beckwith
Published by H. H. Hill and N. Iddings, Chicago, in 1881
Montgomery County - Early History
History of Fountain County, Indiana
by H. W. Beckwith
Published by H. H. Hill and N. Iddings, Chicago, in 1881
Montgomery County - A Noted Criminal Trial