A Few Stories about Newton County Indiana

Our history, thus far, has consisted of rather dry statements of facts, and it may not be entirely out of place to rest a while and give a little spice to the story by reciting a few personal incidents in the lives and characters of some of the prominent citizens living in the neighborhood of Morocco during the time the writer was a resident of that place.

I presume every neighborhood has had some few men who, by reason of their peculiarities, were different from the common run of their associates; who, because of their talk and actions, deserve to be remembered. Morocco had its fair share of this interesting class of individuals. The country store was the meeting point, or clubroom, where they had opportunity to meet with others and give to a limited audience the benefit of their peculiar ideas on politics, religion, or whatever subject might be up for public discussion. If our legislatures, state and national, only had the knowledge and ability possessed by these country store assemblies, questions that often take them months to settle could be disposed of in a very short time. Many of the mistakes made by our army officers in the field could have been obviated, if the officers had taken the advice of these rural experts.

The first of these persons that comes to my mind at present is ’Squire Harrington, who lived in Jackson township, about four miles east of Morocco. He moved there about 1851 from Williamsport, Warren county, Indiana, where he had acted as justice of the peace for several years with great credit to himself as well as to his constituents. He had a fair common-school education, was a constant and persistent reader of the general news of the day, and kept well posted. His strong forte was to be ready with an answer to any question that might be put to him, and any one starting an argument with him seldom came out better than second best.

The following incident may be taken as a fair sample of his style of discussion. One day the store was nearly full of the best talent of the country. Among those present, besides the ’squire, was a Doctor Grigg, a man who had a very exalted idea of his own ability. The subject under discussion was the condition of things in Kansas as affected by the slavery question. The ’squire, in commenting on the action of the political parties on the slavery question in days gone by, made the remark that in 1844 both parties, whig and democratic, made their platforms halfway between earth and hell. The doctor, thinking to give the benefit of his theological knowledge, wanted to know, “Where is that place you call ‘hell’ located?”

The ’squire, puffing a little, short pipe, retorted, “What did you say?”

The doctor repeated the question.

The squire then said, “Why, do you belong to either of those parties?”

Yes, sir; I profess to be a democrat, sir.”

The squire replied, “In that case, it is useless to tell you anything about it, sir, as you’ll find out soon enough.”

Another time, the ’squire came into the store and was telling me about a political speech he had heard made by A 1 Bunch at the Collins school-house. He said to me: ‘Why, it was remarkable! I had no idea he was capable of such an effort. You would have been surprised to hear him. Why, he knows ‘constitution,’ ‘amalgamation,’ ‘high heavens,’ and lots of other big words that you would have no idea he knew anything about.”

Still another time, he was telling me about his experience in going to mill. It was in the fall of 1857 or 1858. It was a very dry season, the streams being all dried up. Allen May, of Indianapolis, had a large bunch of cattle herding on the prairie where the town of Remington is now located. When the creek dried up, the cattle were driven to the Iroquois river for water, and when the river dried up they had to be taken to Beaver Lake so they could get water. It was so dry that we had to haul drinking water two miles. The grist-mills of Momence and Texas were compelled to shut down. The ’squire, being out of breadstuff, shelled a sack of corn and went up about eight miles northeast of Rensselaer. In describing his experience he told how it took him all one day to get there in a little one-horse wagon. The mill was a horse-mill, and he said it was the prettiest little thing he ever saw. He said, “Why, it would just hop off one grain on to another so quick, it was fun to watch it.”

Living close to the ’squire was a man by the name of Ward, who, in a fit of passion, put a load of shot into the back of one of the Kennedy boys, while the latter was passing the Ward residence on horseback. Ward was arrested and at the next session of the circuit court he was tried. Harrington was a witness and when called upon to give his evidence, he said: “I don’t know as I can tell anything that would be good evidence in this court, but as I ve had a long ride through deep mud to get here, would say I understand Ward shot the Kennedy boy, putting a whole load of shot in his back. And after he had done it, he played crazy — tried to kill himself by running his head against a fence-stake. His brains ran out and Doctor Richards was sent for. He filled up the cavity with corn meal and they do say that Ward has more sense now than he ever had. This is all I know about the case.”

Another citizen of Morocco, deserving a passing notice, was Samuel Hurst. In many respects he was an entirely different type of man from the ’squire. He was a consistent member of the Methodist church. He was naturally full of fun and a joke on himself seemed to do him more good than to get one on somebody else. His habit of joking was carried to such an extreme sometimes as to demand discipline in the eyes of some of the good brethren who thought it was a grievous sin even to smile.

During the time Hurst lived in Morocco he kept the only hotel in the town. A part of the time he would work at his trade — that of carpenter. At this time the Methodists were building a frame church on the ground some two or three lots east of where the present Kennedy store stands. At this particular time Hurst was working alone on the church building, when a man drove up in a buggy, stopped, and called out to him to inquire where he would find the hotel. Mr. Hurst pointed it out to him, when the stranger asked: “By the way, what kind of a man is the fellow that keeps the hotel?”

“Well,” Hurst replied, “I don’t like to talk about my neighbors, but the real facts of the case are, he is no better than he ought to be.”

The stranger said, “That’s about what I thought, for a man down the road told me he was a d — d old rascal !”

With that he drove on to the hotel, inquired for the landlord, and when informed he was working on the church, the man didn’t have the “nerve” to face the music, so drove on to find another stopping-place. Mr. Hurst got more good from telling this story on himself than he would have derived from several times the amount of the man’s hotel bill.

Before moving to Morocco, Mr. Hurst lived on a farm near the line dividing Newton and Jasper counties. This farm he traded for a stock of goods belonging to Benjamin Hinkle, of Rensselaer. He operated two stores, one in Rensselaer and one in Morocco, closing up the business in about two years. In the meantime he had trusted many of his neighbors and whenever he had failed to collect accounts due him, he took notes giving the parties more time in which to make payment. In this debtor class was a man owing him thirty dollars, whom we will call Jake — because that was his name. After a few years had passed he met Jake one day and said to him: “Jake, here’s your note. It’s all paid off and you might as well have it.”

“Why, Mr. Hurst,” replied Jake, “I never paid you anything on the note !”

“Oh, yes, you have, Jake. It’s paid off, so here, take your note.”

Jake, with a look of surprise, said to him, “I’d like to know when and how it was paid off?”

“Well,” said Hurst, “I’ll tell you. You know, Jake, every time you promised me you would pay the note I just gave you credit for one dollar and— well, here it is and it’s paid off.”

At one time there was living in Jackson township a man by the name of Jerry C., who was red-headed and very impulsive. Each winter during the revival services in the church he would join, and he would then want permission to preach. But they put him off from time to time, and usually, as soon as the weather got warm and the meetings closed, he would fall from grace and be ready to commence again the next winter. On one of these occasions during which he renewed his vows, they gave their consent for him to preach. Announcement was made that he would preach in a certain school-house the next Sunday. I was not present to hear him, so will have to give the facts as my informant related them to me. This was an old lady, about seventy-five years of age, by the name of Ellett — the mother of Martin and Steve Ellett, old citizens of Jackson township. She came into the store and after a while asked me if I was up to hear Jerry preach on Sunday. I told her I was not there. She said: “Well, you’d ought to have been there, you’d have been surprised. Why, he done lots better than you’d ’a’ thought he could. He really done first-rate for a man with neither religion nor education!”

In the ridges north of Morocco were a few families who got their living by making rails and clapboards, sometimes getting a day’s work in the settlement. Among them was a family living in a dugout in a sand-bank. It was a very sorry excuse for a habitation. They had one small room with dirt floor, and a stovepipe running through the covering of puncheon, hay and sand. They had quite a family of small children, with scarcely any clothes, and often not more than half enough to eat. To make conditions worse, the mother of the family had been sick for some time and, as might reasonably have been expected, the sickness ended in death. I met the stepmother of the dead woman the next day — an old lady about seventy-five years of age. With tears streaming down her cheeks she remarked to me: “Well, poor Nancy’s gone! I hope she’s gone to the good place.”

All at once she brightened up and, with almost a smile on her countenance, ended by saying: “Well, anyhow, it couldn’t be any worse for her.”

John Brennesholtz and Madison Collins both came to this country at an early day and became what in that day was considered tolerably close neighbors. However, they failed utterly to live together as neighbors should, trying to promote peace and good will, one toward the other. On the contrary, they were continually mixed up in lawsuits — sometimes over matters too small to talk about. Generally the one defeated before the justice of the peace would take an appeal to the circuit court. A case of this kind was on trial at Rensselaer, and I, along with several other neighbors, had been called as a witness. Milroy & Cole were attorneys for Brennesholtz, who, by the way, was a very strong spiritualist. Spitler & Lee were the attorneys for Collins. The jurors were in their seats, the evidence all in, the arguments ended, except from George Spider, who was to close the argument for Collins.

Now, Spider, as a general rule, was a plain, forcible speaker, quite effective in his manner before a jury — seldom making use of any spread-eagle style of oratory. But somehow in this case he got warmed up and closed his speech with the following burst of eloquence: “Oh, that I had the eloquence of a Demosthenes and the legal knowledge of a Blackstone, that I might portray in characters of livid light the damnable persecution of this man Collins by this idiotic old spiritualist!”

Just as he closed, he cast his eyes over the jury and discovered there were three spiritualist jurors. It is needless to say the jury failed to agree.

We at this day hear but little about ghosts and witches. They seem to be almost a thing of the past. However, only a few years ago the world was full of them. The evidence in support of their existence was fully as strong as is the evidence which still supports such popular superstitions as those in regard to eating at a table at which thirteen are seated, or starting on a journey on Friday. So do not condemn too harshly a man who carries a rabbit’s foot in his pocket for luck, or a buckeye to cure rheumatism, or a red string around the neck to keep the nose from bleeding, until we rid ourselves of all these superstitious notions.

One little incident will illustrate the condition of the minds of some people regarding superstitions a little over fifty years ago. One day, while working in the old log blacksmith shop in Morocco, a man came in with a little job of work. While waiting for it to be finished he related to me his troubles. It seemed from his story that some time before he, or some of his family, had been having a little falling out with an old lady in their neighborhood, and from that time they were unable to make their butter “come,” although they had spent much time and put forth a lot of hard labor at the churn. Being unable to account for this condition of things on any reasonable grounds, they finally came to the conclusion that the old woman with whom they had been quarreling had “bewitched” the cow. The more they thought of it the stronger became the conviction. After telling of his troubles he wanted my advice as to how this “spell” might be removed. My experience along the line of witchcraft having been limited, I had to draw on my imagination somewhat. My first thought was to recommend the black cat cure. That was to take a black cat and cut off three inches of its tail, one inch at a time. Upon reflection I concluded that would be pretty rough on the cat, so I abandoned that treatment. I then told him to go home and fill his churn one-third full of water, take the king-bolt out of his wagon, put one end in the fire, and, when it got quite hot, to swing it three times around his head, shout as loudly as he could, and then stick the hot end of the king-bolt into the water in the churn. That, I told him, I thought was the best thing to do under the circumstances.

He went home and I had almost forgotten the circumstance, when one day a few weeks afterward he again came to the shop. This brought the whole matter fresh to my mind, and I asked him if he had done as directed.

He answered that he had done so and that since doing it there had been no trouble with the butter proposition. To make the remedy still more certain of having produced these results, he said: “And I want to tell you, right at that very time that I done it, that old woman who had bewitched the cow had a spell of sickness.”

Which proved positively that she had bewitched the cow and also demonstrated the efficacy of the remedy. It also proved that my misplaced sympathy for the black cat had resulted in misfortune for the old lady, although I had not meant to do her any harm.

Source: Ade, John. Newton County: a collection of historical facts and personal recollections concerning Newton County, Indiana, from 1853 to 1911. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., c1911.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top