Randolph County Indiana Biographies Surnames Starting with I

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Pages 333-336

S. O. Irvin

Chapter VIII

By request I submit this as a part of my early experiences of pioneer life in Randolph County, Indiana.
My parents were among the early settlers, and emigrated from the state of Virginia in 1819, the year after the county was organized. Thirteen constituted the family, and I am the youngest of eleven children. My father's first improvement was a round log cabin. His trials were many, but they were overcome with an indomitable spirit to make an honest living for his family. He went forty miles to get corn cracked to feed his young on and cut his road through the wilderness a great part of the way. Forty miles to get a barrel of salt, when the roads were so bad the one barel made a two horse load through the swamps. It cost at that time from six to seven dollars a barrel and the pay had to be in specie or coon skins, which was a legal ender in business transactions; 25 to 37 ½ cents a pelt, with no source of income, but to draw sap from the maple and convert into sugar and molasses, and then had no market for it short of twenty-five or one hundred miles. But to myself more particularly. I have often been requested to write about myself and give my own experiences. For many reason I have often declined from doing anything of the kind, for the simple reason that the eternal "I" of so many writers is to me more that half disgusting. It seems egotistic to be always repeating the story of your own achievements. Feeling thus, I avoid, so far as possible, writing or talking solely of self. I know that I was born in great poverty. The log cabin in which I first breathed and saw the light of day has long since passed away; but it was so indellably impressed on my mind, that it is fresh to my vision now. My living was meager and scant. I hardly knew what luxury was. My bread was principally of corn, occasionally biscuit, and that was served on strong enough to intoxicate. Our salt meats were fatted on maste in the woods; our fresh meats in the heated season consisted of wild game which abounded in plenty.
The opportunity for obtaining an education was very limited compared with the present. The school houses were rudely constructed, built of round logs and wide fire places on one side and a log cut out on the other with greased paper pasted on for a window, to write by, and in turn each scholar was permitted in order and limited to so much time for writing each day. The most of my schooling cost me six miles' walk through mud and water each day of the term, and the tem was from tow and sometimes three months in the year, and that in the winter season. For night study I had to resort to a log fire, sometimes I would get hickory bark to get a more brilliant light. Occasionally got the benefit of an old iron lamp that consumed the dirty grease with with wick made of the remnants of our worn out shirts. How does this compare with the age of kerosene, gas and electricity for heat and illumination?
The wearing apparel was principally home-made. Flax and linen were used for summer raiment. Nearly every household raised a small amount of flax for the lint, and instead of having drawing room parties, we had flax pulling frolicks and the company would mate, male and female, gent selecting his best girl, march to the field two by two and sise by side, pull the crop by the hand, spread it in swathes upon the ground to cure. Later on it would be taken up and spread upon the meadows to bleach. Then came the breaking, scratching and hackling. All this was attended with the loss of many drops of sweat; but was enjoyed hughly, knowing it to be a matter of necessity.
Refinement was not considered an accomplishment so much as a good worker. Industry was the prominent motive and greatest ambition. The most desired topic of the women in their associations was how many cuts such on one could spin a day. Everything merged into industry, and the hum of the spining wheel made music for the neighborhool instead of the pianos. I have seen my good father and mother take the wool from the sheep's back, wash the fleece and sit up until a late hour in the night before a blazing fire carding the wool by hand into rolls, spin, color and weave the same into cloth, cut and make it into garments for the family. Jeans and lincey for the winter, flax and tow linen for the summer. On other circumstance I will never forget. I feel delicate to mention it in this day of refinement, but as people were at that time honest and unassuming, it did not occasion any gossip. It may seem strange to you, but nevertheless a fact to me.
I well remember the first pair of breeches (as they were called) I wore. As a lamentable fact I was big enough to make love to the girls. Well, to be sure, it was somewhat embarrassing, but everything went. No critics then, and as everybody was honest, nothing was said about it. Style and fashion cut no figure, the motto was do the best you can and you were called a hero. We had no division or classification in the social circle, all belonged to the same great family. Consequently God's law prevailed (harmony) and people lived happy.
My mother employed a widowed lady, who lived near by, to make my breeches, and when done I was sent after them. She requested me to go behind the door, (as there was but one apartment) and put them on, and don't you know I was as proud a Lucifer. I moved, stepping as high as a blind horse. I traversed every path in the vicinity that led to a neighbor's house, that they might see my improvement, and some of the older people, to guy me, would say, "where are going young man?" and in retort I would reply, "I am putting for the settlement," as different neighborhoods were called settlements in those times. But such was life in this new country before civilization had driven all the native red men of the forest to the far off west.
I was a pupil of the first Sabbath school organized in Winchester and I was faithful and prompt in attendance, and hailed with gladness the coming Sabbath as a day of recreation, and repeat so many lines of the Bible that I committed to memory as was apportioned by my teacher for each Sabbath. I had to travel three miles to enjoy that Sunday feast, and as I was limited to one pair of shoes a year I was very careful not to wear them out to soon, as I have made barefooted tracks many times in the snow before I got my new ones. My shoes were made of heavy cow skin, home tanned, and about half tanned at that, and in July and August they would get hard as rawhide, so I would begin to grease and set in the sun about Friday to have them soft for to go to Sabbath school. Being limited in footwear I was so careful that I carried them in my hands until I neared the village before I put them on, and the same on my return.
My mother died at the age of sixty. My father lived to the ripe age of ninety-seven, and died a healthy man; no disease; just wore out and died. I am in my sixty-ninth anniversary, and contemplate living three years longer than my father and make out the hundred.
One other event occurred in our family that created alarm and consternation throughout the whole settlement, and that was the loss of three children in the woods. Our sheep had to be herded to browse in the woods. When evening came on it clouded over and they took the wrong direction for home, contrary to the inclination of the flock. Night came on, dark and dismal, and the pelting snow began to fall, and three children gone. No one knew where except in the wild woods, with Indians skulking around and the woods infested with howling wolves and screaming panthers, barefooted and without food. Imagine if you please, the feelings of a kind father and mother. The alarm was given and enmass the whole neighborhood responded. Some afoot, others mounted on horesback, equipped with bugles and loaded guns, the sounds of which made the air vibirate with an echo. At last the signals were answered, the children were found and returned to their home, to father and mother and such rejoicing was beyond expression.
My first schooling was in a log house in the woods. After I got to be a good sized boy I attended the seminary school in Winchester. My receptor, James S. Ferris, one of the noted teaches, to who I owe much as to my habits of life, was offered and accepted a situation at Muncie, Ind., for more money, and as I was a favorite pupil for my obedience, insisted that I should go with him and persue my studies. I declined on account of not having means to defray my expenses. Bue he over-persuaded and I paid my contingences as an assistant in hearing recitations in minor branches. Later on I was furnished a scholarship to attend the Asbury university, where I finished what little education I have. Being unable for the want of funds to complete my collegeate course, I withdrew and concluded to take unto myself my best girl and entered the busy scenes of life, and thus far my scholastic days ended.
I have followed many avocations. I have been a farmer, a counter-hoper, a school teacher, a railroader, a shipper and a dentist and photographer. I might say Jack of all trades, and at present a hotel landlord and have been for nineteen years feeding the hungry, but let the naked clothe themselves.
Sometimes I think it a burning shame that I was born so soon, when I see how nice the little ones have it now, wearing fine shoes the year round, and clad with such nice wearing apparel. They must have fine baby carriages, with body on springs, cushioned most elaborately and silk or satin parasol adjusted over them to shelter from the sunshine or storm. But how different it is now. When I was a baby of course I thought I was just as good as any other baby. But I had to be rocked in a sugar trough, and if I got restless and fretful, as most children do, I got my bottom spanked and set down on a puncheon floor.
Oft times when I reflect on my early birth I feel sorrow that my time was so soon. But when I consider, and truthfully say that I have seen and experienced things that the present and future generations never can, it gives me consolation.
Omitting the many long winded stories of my deer and bear hunts and the pleasant times that were so enjoyable at our frolicks I will close, least I tire the readers' patience.
This is all I care to give of my pioneer life.
S. O. Irvin.

Transcribed by Andrea Long
Reminiscences of Adams, Jay and Randolph Counties City of Publication: Fort Wayne, Ind. Publisher: Lipes, Nelson & Singmaster, job printers Date: 1897? Page Count: 366