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History of Dayton, Ohio 1889
Chapter Four

(page 49)




The Pioneer's Faculty of Adapting Himself to Unaccustomed Surroundings-Temporary Protection-Log Cabins-Trees Cut Down-Scanty Furniture- Pioneer Housekeeping-Illness from Exposure-Scarcity of Cooking Utensils-Wooden, Pewter and Horn Dishes and Spoons-No Lamps-Light and Heat from the Open Fire-Cheerful Winter Evenings-Scarcity of Food-Venison, Game, Wild Birds' Eggs and Wild Honey-Corn the Principal Article of Food-Varieties of Corn Bread-Difficulty of Making Meal-Substitutes for Mills-Dearness of Provisions Brought from Cincinnati-Flour Fourteen Dollars Per Barrel-Clothes, Moccasins and Harness Made of Deer Skin-Caps of Raccoon and Rabbit Skin-Settlers Often Made Their Own Leather-The Pioneer's Dress-Home-made Linen, Flannel and Linseys -The "Faculty" of the Pioneer Women-Pioneers Wholly Dependent on Each Other for Society and Assistance-The Latch-String Always Out-Sports, House Raisings, Corn Sbuckings, and Log Rollings-Quiltings-Weddings--Early Marriages-The Axe and Rifle Equally Indispensable-Wolves-Hunting, Trapping and Fishing-Settlers on the Town Plat-Names of Streets-Boundaries of the Town-Gullies and Ravines-Hazel Thickets Spread Over Nearly All the Town--The Country Thickly Wooded-Three Cabins on Monument Avenue Constituted Dayton in 1796-Houses Built Near the River Because It Was Supposed to Be Navigable -People Usually Drank River Water-Prairies Within the Town-The Communal Corn Field West of Wilkinson Street-First Winter Mild and Pleasant--Out of Door Work-Dayton the Rallying Place in Case of Danger from Indians-Jerome Holt, D. C. Cooper, and Robert Edgar Arrive--A Good Crop Gathered in 1797-The Growth of New Vegetables Eagerly Watched-Contented with Their Situation, Poor as It Was


            THE pioneers had the happy faculty of quickly and cheerfully adapting themselves to new and uncomfortable surroundings. They were skilled in the occupations peculiar to each sex, and soon supplied themselves with dwellings and with the bare necessaries of life, though they had few tools and little material to work with.

            As a temporary protection from the weather, the men, as soon as they arrived at the mouth of Mad River, built with poles against a log or bank, three-sided huts or shanties, roofed with skins or bark and open towards the fire, which was made outside. Then they began at once to fell timber for their log cabins, which were usually a story and a half high and contained one room and a loft. A ladder led to the loft, which was floored with loose clap-boards. They had clap-board roofs, held down by weight-poles, swinging doors on wooden hinges, and wooden latches, which were rarely fastened.

            The chimneys were made of sticks and mud. Wooden pins took the place of nails or spikes, which could not be obtained. Often there was no floor but the ground, but sometimes puncheons were put down. A (page 50) piece of greased paper, fastened over all opening cut between the logs, served as a window, for they had no glass. The chinks between the logs and the interior of the chimneys, to prevent their catching fire, were daubed with clay; a few wooden pegs and shelves were put up, and the house was finished. The paper windows were not fastened in, nor the cabins daubed and chinked till winter. Sometimes the cabins remained doorless, and windowless, and without being chinked the year round, and yet the inmates survived and were healthy.

            After or before the cabin was built, the trees for some distance around were girdled and left to die a slow death, as they interfered with the cultivation of the soil and also concealed skulking Indians. Then a few acres were grubbed for a corn and potato patch.

            The cabins were scantily furnished with tables, shelves, benches, and three-legged stools made of split slabs, supported by round legs, and usually manufactured by the master of the house. The editor of the American Pioneer says that" it was absolutely necessary to have three-legged stools, as four legs of anything could not all touch the floor at the same time." Puncheons were not as level and smooth as modern hard wood floors. Buckeye and beechwood were often used for furniture and other Household articles. In eight or ten years these huts, as they would be called at the present day, gave place to comfortable frame or brick houses.

            The pioneer women endured many hardships, but the housekeeping, sewing, and washing and ironing must have been light. Their wardrobes were scanty, and there were no carpets to sweep, no books or ornaments to dust, no paint or windows to wash in the small cabin with its one room and loft. But they suffered from lack of what we regard as the necessaries and comforts of life, and exposure and miasma, caused by the cultivation of the rich, new soil, produced the dreaded ague, which made many of them old before their time. But a majority of the pioneers lived to an advanced age in the enjoyment of good health. Often there were but one or two cooking utensils in the house, but these were sufficient to cook the meat and corn bread, and occasional dish of fresh vegetables which constituted their meals. Doddridge, in his "Notes on Virginia," gives the following enumeration of a pioneer's table furniture: " Some old pewter dishes and plates; the rest wooden bowls or trenchers, or gourds and hard shelled squashes. A few pewter spoons much battered about the edges were to be seen at some tables. The rest were made of horn. If knives were scarce, the deficiency was made up by the scalping knives, which were carried in sheathes suspended from the belt of the hunting shirt."

            (page 51) Bear skins spread on the floor were comfortable substitutes in the western cabins for rugs, mattresses and blankets. They had no lamps, but the hickory log fires lighted, as well as comfortably warmed, the small cabins. The open wood fire, with its huge back log, front log and central mass of lighter and more combustible fuel, was a work of art, which only skillful and experienced hands could properly construct. The family made a pleasant picture gathered around the glowing fire-place in the long winter evenings. The women occupied themselves with sewing, knitting, spinning, preparing fruit for drying or cooking, and platting straw for hats. An early Dayton paper commends the straw bonnets made by a neighboring farmer's wife. The men busied themselves, we are told by pioneers who wrote of these early times in Ohio, stemming or twisting tobacco, shelling corn for the hand-mills, making or mending articles for the house or farm, and cleaning guns and running bullets. They had plenty of nuts gathered from neighboring trees to regale themselves with when they rested from their work. No doubt Benjamin Van Cleve and other intelligent Dayton settlers, as is recorded of Mr. Williams, of Belmont County, or Mr. Dunham, the Ames pioneer, when so fortunate as to obtain a "nourishing book," read aloud far into the night to their industrious families, the fingers flying all the faster because the mind was pleasantly occupied and entertained. The frontiersman often tired of his steady, though varied diet of venison, bear's meat, rabbits, squirrels, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, quails and pheasants, the dainties of the city epicure, but it was a difficult matter to procure anything else to eat. Sometimes, when too busy in their fields and gardens to hunt, they had a limited supply of even game. They had in the season all the wild turkey, goose and duck eggs, gathered from nests in the woods, that they needed, and wild honey was found in hollow trunks of trees or in the ground at their roots.

            Corn was the principal article of food and from it many delicious dishes and varieties of bread now seldom seen were made. The making of hoe-cake, ash-cake, johnny-cake, dodgers and pone is a lost art since the open fire-place gave way to the cooking stove and range, and many another wild, woodland favor vanished with it. Mush eaten with gravy, or with bear's oil, or with maple molasses, or mush and milk, was one of the regular articles of diet. Benjamin Van Cleve speaks of the relish with which the big pot of mush and milk was eaten, which was all the surveyors of Dayton found at Cunningham's on their arrival there, after thirty-four hours of fasting, traveling and surveying.

            It was not easy to get the corn ground into meal in a country where no mills had been built. Probably the Daytonians, like the Marietta (page 52) people, sometimes parched it and ground it in large coffee mills. But it was    usually pounded in a hominy block and then sifted through a sieve. The coarse portion was used for hominy and the finer as meal. Sometimes it was grated by hand; or it was pounded by a stone pestle attached to a spring pole in a stump mortar, which was made by burning a round hole in the top of a stump. A welcome invention was the hand mill made of two stones, twenty inches in diameter. It was worked by a pole in a socket, one end of the pole being attached to the floor overhead and the other to the edge of the upper stone. One person turned the stone, while another fed corn into the "eye." It took four or five hours to grind enough meal to supply a small family for one day. These mills were afterwards arranged to run by horse power, and wheat was sometimes ground in them. The next improvement was small water mills. Provisions were dear at Cincinnati, and when settlers could afford to purchase them, there was much delay in bringing them up to Dayton, so that the supply here was often nearly exhausted. Flour cost $14.00 per barrel by the time it reached here, but it was seldom used except in sick ness or on special occasions. The fne crop, which the settlers raised the first year, rendered them less dependent on the Cincinnati market. They brought horses and cattle with them, and milk was an important part of their food.

            Clothes, moccasins, and harness were often made of deerskin, and caps of the furs of raccoons and rabbits, killed and dressed by the wearers.

            They frequently made their own leather, which, though coarse, was durable. Tan bark was easily obtained and pounded for the tanning trough which nearly every family had sunk in the ground on their lot. The pioneer's dress, according to a writer in the American Pioneer, usually consisted frst of a tow linen shirt and pantaloons manufactured by the women of his family. Over this lie wore a suit of buckskin, consisting of a hunting coat and leggins. The coat was ornamented with buckskin fringe down the sleeves, round the collar, cape, belt, and tail, and sometimes on all the seams. The leggins, which protected him from rattlesnakes, briars, and nettles, and kept out snow and mud, reached a little above the knee, and were cut the size and shape of the leg. The seams, which as in the coat were two inches and a half wide and sewed up on the outside, were cut into fringe. They were buttoned to the pantaloons by a strap reaching from the knee to the hip and tied into the moccasins at the ankle. The deerskin moccasins neatly ftted the feet. Dried oak leaves usually took the place of socks or stockings. A large scalping knife in a scabbard was generally worn suspended from the belt. Soon the pioneers began to raise flax, hemp and wool, which their (page 53) capable wives and daughters, who had as much faculty as the typical New England woman, spun and wove into tow linen, woolens or mixed flannels, linseys, and jeans for clothes and household use. They seldom bought dress goods. Every cabin had its spinning wheel and loom. Abraham Grassmire, the ingenious Dayton pioneer weaver, assisted the settlers to build looms the first or second year after their arrival. The women made dye stuffs themselves at first, no doubt, from the hulls of walnuts and butternuts and from a wild root of a bright yellow color. A little later the hunting shirts were probably dyed with indigo or madder brought from Cincinnati.

            Isolated from the other settlements by miles of unbroken forests, the only road a trail marked by blazed trees or a narrow bridle path, with treacherous Indians and wild beasts prowling through the tangled under growth on either side, the inhabitants of frontier places like Dayton were dependent on each other for society and for assistance in sickness and in work. They shared everything. The latch-string was always out. Hildreth says of Marietta that the various households in the little community were like the nearly related branches of one family, and probably this was true of the log cabin hamlet of Dayton.

            The principal amusements of the men were hunting, trapping, shooting matches, and the quarter race. Then there were log rollings and burnings, house raisings, corn shuckings, and frolics at the sugar camps, in which both sexes participated, and which occupied so much of their time that their life cannot be described without mentioning them. Sometimes nearly the whole winter was spent in rolling logs, and when a number of large heaps were made, the men gathered to kindle and the women to tend the fires. They often worked half the night, making a frolic of necessary labor, and regaling themselves with a hearty supper.

            Sugar camps were correctly named in those days, for in sugaring off time when the collecting and boiling of sap often continued all night, men, women, and children literally camped in the maple groves. The line between town and country could not be drawn during the earlier years of the history of Dayton. Woods and corn fields spread over what are now city streets.

            The elder pioneer women were always specially interested in quiltings. Patches of gaudy colors and bizarre patterns were a substitute for the art embroidery of their granddaughters. Still more delightful than the gossipings around the quilting frame and the supper afterwards, to which the men were invited, were the wedding festivities, which, according to Mr. King, among well-to-do Ohio pioneers, lasted three days. The first (page 54) day the guests amused themselves with sports of various kinds. The second (lay the marriage ceremony was performed, which was followed by the wedding feast, the table groaning under a bountiful supply of backwoods dainties. Then came the dance, which lasted till morning. The third day was devoted to the infare or house-warming. The bride was escorted on horseback to her new home, and "the ride was not unlike to that of Canterbury in style." The day ended with another merry dance. Rough practical jokes were played and there was much boisterous talking and laughing. The fun was fast and furious, and unrestrained by the ceremonious and punctilious manners of fashionable society. The territorial law permitted the marriage "of male persons of the age of eighteen years and female persons of the age of fourteen years, and not nearer of kin than first cousins." But it was necessary that notice should be given either in writing posted at some conspicuous place within the township where the woman resided, or publicly declared on two days of public worship. Sometimes a manuscript notice, signed D. C. Cooper, Justice of the Peace, for the territory, was tacked to the trunk of a prominent forest tree near the road. Early marriages were so much the custom that respectable parents saw with approbation young daughters who at the present day would be still in the schoolroom married to men who were mere boys in age. A girl of fifteen was as much a young lady in 1800 as a girl of twenty at the present day. The axe and the rifle were equally indispensable to the pioneer, for wolves, panthers, and wild cats, as well as Indians, were often troublesome. Packs of wolves sometimes came into the settlement in the day time, and they made night hideous with their howls, destroyed stock and poultry, and ate up vegetables growing in the gardens. They were sometimes shot after dark through the cracks in the cabins. Large bounties were paid for scalps. The settler's rifle was never long out of his sight. When in the house, gun, powder horn, and shot pouch hung within reach on buck horns fastened on the wall, and were beside being useful, about the only decorative articles a cabin contained. Doddridge says that hunting "was an important part of the employment of the early, settlers of this country. For some years the woods supplied them with the greater amount of their subsistence, and with regard to some families and certain times, the whole of it; for it was no uncommon thing for families to live several months without a mouthful of bread." At such times children were taught to call the "lean venison and the breast of the wild turkeys bread, and the flesh of the bear was denominated meat." But the artifice did not succeed very well with those who had been brought up in the east, where beef was plenty. (page 55) "After living in this way for some time, we became sickly; the stomach seemed to be always empty and tormented with a sense of hunger." "It frequently happened that there was no breakfast till it was obtained from the woods. Fur and peltry were the people's money. They had nothing else to give in exchange for rifles, salt and iron, on the other side of the mountains."

            Buffaloes and elk disappeared front the Miami Valley before 1795, but the woods in 1797 were still full of deer, bears, wild turkeys, geese, ducks, pheasants, and numerous other edible animals, beside many that were both useless and troublesome. Harmless gartersnakes abounded and rattlesnakes were occasionally seen. Large and small animals and turkeys were frequently taken in traps for the sake both of the pelts and the flesh. The rivers were full of bass, catfish, pickerel, pike, eels and sunfish, which were caught by hook and line and in snares, traps, and nets. "Hunting," says Doddridge, "was not a there ramble in pursuit of game, in which there was nothing of skill and calculation." "The whole business of the hunter consisted of a succession of intrigues. From morning to night he was on the alert to gain the wind of his game, and approach them without being discovered." Bear hunting required much daring and courage, as well as skill, but was constantly engaged in for the sake of obtaining the valuable skills, meat, and oil.

            A favorite amusement with the first settlers of Dayton was "fire hunting," which Curwen thus described: " The deer came down to the river to drink in the evening and sheltered themselves for the night under the bushes which grew along the shore. As soon as they were quiet, the hunters, in pirogues, paddled slowly up the stream, the steersman holding aloft a burning torch of dried hickory bark, by the light of which the deer was discovered and fired on. If the shot was successful, the party landed, skinned the animal, hung the carcass upon a tree, to be brought home in the morning, and then proceeded to hunt mow game." The settlers did not bring swine with them, and it was several years before "hog and hominy" were substituted for venison.

            The Thompsous, Van Cleves, McClures, George Newcom, his wife and brother William, and Abraham Grassmire settled on the town plat and the other colonists on neighboring farms. The farming lands for two or three miles around the mouth of Mad River were included in the Dayton settlement. William Van Cleve moved to his farm south of Dayton in two or three years, and Abraham Grassmire left here before 1803. The town plat was divided into two hundred and eighty building lots, ninety-nine feet wide and one hundred and ninety-nine deep, and reservations were made for markets, schools, churches, and burial grounds. (page 56) There were also fifty-four ten-acre out-lots east of the present canal basin.

            The town and three of the streets were named for the original proprietors, General Dayton, General St. Clair, General Ludlow, and General Wilkinson, who were Federalists, and as a compromise one of the streets was called Jefferson.

            The town was bounded on the north by Water Street, now Monument Avenue; east by Mill Street to Third; thence west to St. Clair Street; thence south to Fifth Street; thence west to Jefferson; thence south to South, now Sixth Street; thence along Sixth Street to Ludlow; thence north to Fifth; thence west to Wilkinson, and thence north to Water Street. Water, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and South streets were to run east and west, and cross at right angles Mill, St. Clair, Jefferson, Mail), Ludlow, and Wilkinson streets, which were to run north and south. Water Street, now Monument Avenue, was immediately cleared of trees and brush to the river brink; but over nearly all the rest of the town plat spread for several years a dense thicket of hazel bushes interspersed with occasional clumps of haw, wild plum, cherry, thorn, scrub oak and forest trees.

            A gully about five feet deep extended from near the corner of First and Wilkinson streets, crossing Main diagonally at Third Street, to the prairie near the corner of Fifth and Brown streets. It was bordered and hidden from view by a thick hazel copse. Main Street, which was merely a narrow, rough wagon road cut out of the bush from Cincinnati to Dayton, must have disappeared at the Third Street crossing in the bottom of this gully, coming up and out again on the other side of it. The gully was sometimes full of water and difficult to cross, as it served as a natural drain. for the ground on which Dayton is built; but during the greater part of the year it was dry. The First and Wilkinson Street end of the gully was not filled up till 1883.

            A deep ravine extended from the head of Mill Street down the course of the canal to the river below the foot of Ludlow Street. This was connected near Library Park with another ravine, which ran across the town ' from the river at the head of Jefferson Street.

            Forests with a thick undergrowth of vines and bushes, and full of wild animals, covered most of the country to the east and southwest and the hills to their summits on the south. North of the Miami, the woods extended to the river bank. The rich bottom land beyond old Mad River was, as in 1795, hidden under a tangled maze of weeds and vines.

            Opposite the Main Street shore of the Miami there was a large island and there were three others in Mad River just above its mouth. In the spring of 1796, three cabins on Monument Avenue, between (page 57) Main and Mill streets, constituted the whole of Dayton. George Newcom's cabin stood on the southwest corner of Main Street and Monument Avenue; Samuel '1honipson's on Monument Avenue, half way between Jefferson and St. Clair streets, and Mrs. McClure's at the corner of Monument Avenue and Mill Street. They built their dwellings on Water Street lots close to the Miami, because the river was then believed to be navigable. They thought that in future years, when they hoped that boats laden with produce from their own neighborhood and supplies from abroad would be constantly passing up and down the stream, property would be more valuable near the landing than elsewhere. The settlers, as a rule, drank river water, though there was a spring in a grove near the corner of First and Wilkinson streets.

            A prairie extending from First Street to Fifth, and from Perry Street to the river, was enclosed and cultivated in common by the Daytonians.

            This communal farm, long known as the commons, and where in later times cows had free pasturage, excited the imagination of Curwen, whose sketch of Dayton is a model of skillful condensation of facts and grace of style. "West of Wilkinson Street," he says, "was a huge corn field within one common enclosure, where, as in that golden age of the world when men lodged under trees and fed upon acorns, every man was at liberty to till as much of the soil as he chose."

            Between this large enclosure and the three cabins was a small prairie which served as a vegetable garden for the hamlet, though most of it was also planted with corn. A number of prairies, usually less than half an acre in size, lay north of First and west of Wilkinson Street, and there were five east of St. Clair and south of First Street, separated by small tracts of timber.

            The first winter proved mild and pleasant, and both men and women accomplished a good deal of out door work, burning brush, rolling logs and clearing ground for cultivation in the spring. During the year the settlement was strengthened by a constant stream of emigrants, though only two or three settled on the town plat. But dread of Indians, who wandered about the country in small bands, prevented any of them from locating far from here, for Dayton was the rallying place in case of danger. Jerome Holt, Daniel C. Cooper, and Robert Edgar came this year. During the preceding year Mr. Cooper had located one thousand acres of choice land near here and in the town. Mr. Cooper built a cabin, which he probably occupied about two years, at the southeast corner of Monument Avenue and Jefferson Street.

            The spring of 1791 was favorable for making maple sugar and molasses, and the settlers had also it good crop this year of corn, tobacco, (page 58) hemp, flax, beans, turnips, pumpkins, and cabbage, while plenty of wild grass and fodder were gathered for their stock. The following description of the eagerness with which settlers welcomed the new vegetables after the deprivations of the long hard winter is probably applicable to Dayton : " I remember how narrowly the children watched the growth of the potato tops, pumpkin and squash vines, hoping from day to day to get something to answer in the place of bread. How delicious was the taste of the young potatoes when. we got them! What a jubilee when we were permitted to pull the young corn for roasting ears, still more so, when it had acquired sufficient hardness to be made into Johnny cake by the aid of a tin grater. We then became healthy, vigorous, and contented with our situation, poor as it was."

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