In December of 1938, the Hon. John W Kitch (1866-1946), judge of the Marshall circuit court, gave a talk to the members of the Kiwanis club. As James K Gorrell, who reprinted the talk in the Bremen Enquirer at the time, wrote: “He talked to the boys, reminiscing and philosophizing, recalling a lot of things which happened long before the memory of most of us began.” The judge was 72 at the time and would live to be 80.
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The judge proclaims his right to reminisce
After forty, each year brings more and more a desire to reminisce. Of course each year added, also makes one more of a bore to the younger strata of society.
It is such a comfort to the aged to be permitted to recount the ancient glories of their youth, that I believe the later generations should be compelled to bear a little punishment along this line, and I favor some sort of law or edict forcing youth to listen to a portion of the maunderings of their senile neighbors.
I am past forty.
Unfortunately, my birth-place was not a log house, but a frame one in Marshall county, Indiana, about five miles southeast of what was then the little village of Bremen. To atone for this mistake in living in the wrong kind of house at the time of such an important event, my parents, within a year, moved into a proper round log house with chinking and a blue clay plaster between the logs. It also had a clapboard roof—not nailed—but properly fastened down with “weight poles.”
When I can first remember, “Dick” and “Dave,” our ox-team, were housed in a round log stable without any chinking or clay between the logs. Soon thereafter, the oxen were replaced by horses, and a little later by a team of mules, one of which in her old age was buried on top of the murdered Fetters down in Starke county [*1].
[*1 In 1897, fur trappers found the murdered body of Plymouth man Edward Fetters buried under that of an old mule. The sensational tale had many twists and was followed closely by the Bremen Enquirer at the time. It may be the topic of a future Historic Bremen article.]
The northern part of Marshall county was, probably, almost the last of the backwoods territory in Indiana. Some years ago [relative to 1938] during a centennial celebration in Plymouth, I stood near another young man looking at some relics in a store window, and heard him detail his experiences in seeing wild deer running in the woods in Polk township. I am afraid they were calves. So far as I know, there were no deer or timber wolves running in Marshall county after the Civil War. Benoni Jordan (1815-1891) had some deer in his park on what later became known as the David Snyder (1839-1892) farm, and there were rumors of someone having seen a deer in the vicinity of Houghton Lake, west of Culver (or Marmont) [Culver was called Marmont at the time].
I have never seen a deer or a wolf or a bear out of captivity anywhere, but I have known folks who told of seeing these, and other wild animals, including pink elephants, in Marshall county, during my time.
Eleazor Johnston (1810-1885), a neighbor, stood in the road in front of our house one day talking to my father, when I was present. Suddenly he looked down the road and said: “I just saw a deer cross the road down by the swamp.” Father and I were not quick enough to see it. Neither of us was present at the time Johnston skated two hundred miles in one day on the Mississippi River, as he related to the listeners at James Bates’ (1835-1923) barn-raising, but it might have been so, as he said it was in the long days in August. We had several experienced, blue-ribbon prevaricators in this county in the early days of my remembrance, but whenever our old neighbor, Eleazor Johnston, was present, no one else carried away any prizes.
The judge remembers the fire of 1871
I have a distinct recollection of the forest fire that swept over a considerable portion of this county in October 1871, and deadened a lot of the fine timber. It was followed by an undergrowth of raspberry and blackberry bushes and in places a thick growth of saplings which we knew by the name of “quaking ash” [today called “quaking aspen“]. People came from miles away and gathered hundreds of bushels of wild raspberries and blackberries in this burnt-over land. Finally, the berry bushes disappeared almost as rapidly as they had come. Within my recollection, the “Huckleberry Queen” held sway at the big Bently Marsh near Walkerton.
The first political campaign I remember was the Grant and Greeley contest of 1872, and the main thing that interested me was seeing my grandfather [Samuel] Lehr (1820-1879) wearing a broad-rimmed Greeley white hat. In 1876, some of us got into a fight at school, with the opposition boys when they cut down the hickory pole we had raised on the school ground. By that time, boys of our age had learned which parties their respective fathers belonged to, and had become militant and vociferous politicians.
Frank Bailey (1826-1903), a cripple [and a dwarf] who walked on his knees, gave his magic lantern show at the No. 9 school house [Muncie school] in the summer of 1870, and we were taken to see it. It was a wonderful entertainment. He had a lot of colored slides showing Biblical scenes, and a few comic pictures interspersed between. For many years, Bailey drove his little team of ponies over from near Niles, and gave us an annual treat with his show at ten cents per head. Finally he married a dwarf lady of our neighborhood [Phebe Tedrow (1827-1903)] and they came oftener. [John] Stowe’s one-ring circus and Van Amburgh’s Colossal Shows [*2] visited us and father took us to town to see the parade.
[*2 Isaac Van Amburgh himself was dead of a heart attack by that time, but his name continued to be used. He was famous for pioneering the lion-taming act in which he stuck his head in the mouth of a lion.]
Sometime in the summer of 1871, we drove in our lumber wagon to the Osborn neighborhood in Starke county to visit Mother’s uncle, Walt Geiselman (1828-1903) [*3]. It took a day and a half to drive there from our home, but we stopped in Plymouth long enough to have our pictures taken by Washington Tuttle (1829-1912). He seated Ed (1868-1934) [*4] in a plush chair, while I stood beside it with my hand on Ed’s shoulder. I still have a copy of the picture. It does not show the iron prongs that were placed at the backs of our heads to hold them still during the performance. Tuttle was a fine, old, lame gentleman, and he rang a little bell and told us to “watch the birdies,” so that we would look toward the camera.
[*3 Malinda and Walt’s brother was Josiah Geiselman, one of the founders of Bremen. He built the second building in town, a log cabin blacksmith’s shop, where Dietrich Dept Store eventually was built (now bFit).]
[*4 Edward S Kitch was John’s younger brother and three-and-a-half at the time. He was a Bremen school teacher for many years and later cashier of the Marshall County Trust & Savings Bank. He held various local offices, such as town trustee.]
When we left Plymouth, we drove out past the Dave How (1827-1899) place and wound around through the country past Sligo, through the “Barrens” to the “Burr Oak Flats.” From there we went west through the old Vories neighborhood to Uncle Walt’s. Uncle Walt was a commissioner of Starke county. His great crony was “Doc Burr” of Marmont [*5], and it was as good as a circus to see them together, and hear them use their bountiful supply of “cuss” words and watch them chew their home-grown tobacco leaves and spit.
[*5 This is likely Dr Gustavaus Durr (not Burr), the man who got Uniontown to change its name to Marmont (now Culver).]
This visit lasted four days, and Ed fell off of a “flying Jenny” on which he was riding and nearly broke his neck. [Ed survived and grew up to marry Della Bates, daughter of James Bates.]
Samuel Beckner (1819-1881) was our nearest neighbor when I can first remember. He had a plank house painted red and a log barn with sixteen corners. Later, he moved down on Michigan Road north of Argos.
In 1877, S L McKelvy [?], a lawyer from Plymouth, gave the Fourth of July oration in a grove just south of Bremen. He made the mistake of calling the occasion the “77th [instead of 101st] anniversary of American independence.”
In the [Democratic presidential primary] campaign of 1880, I was allowed to march in a torchlight procession following General Franz Sigel, who was speaking for [Winfield S] Hancock and [William Hayden] English. The torch leaked, and the kerosene nearly ruined my seven dollar suit of clothes.
Mike Stine’s [1842-1916] new barn was struck by lightning, and the ultra-religionists said God had visited his wrath on Mike because he had celebrated the completion of the building with a public dance on the threshing floor. When, a little later, a bolt of lightning shattered the tip of the Lutheran church steeple in Bremen, the United Brethren, the Dunkards, and the Winebrennarians thought the Almighty had shown his displeasure with a denomination that was not of the true faith and baptized by sprinkling instead of by immersion as plainly set forth in the Scriptures.
Judge Kitch remembers when folks believed in witches
J K Gorrell noted “Well, folks still have strange superstitions. They still ‘measure’ babies. Once in a while, we read about a witch murder. So the world has not gone ahead very rapidly in its knowledge of such things.”
Ida Albin [married J W Kitch’s uncle John W Lehr in 1887] couldn’t get the cream to turn into butter because a witch had found its way into the churn. She upset the churn, spilled the cream, and this killed the witch. After that, she had no trouble in making butter.
Old Doctor [John] Bollman (1815-1886) lived a few miles away, and—I have been told—cured me of an infantile disease known as “decay of the flesh” by passing my baby form through a split sapling, measuring me with a string dipped in buttermilk, and then burning the string. I was too young to recollect anything about it, but I saw the great “Hoodoo” doctor a number of times and heard many tales of his miraculous cures.
In the late fall of 1876, during the Hayes-Tilden controversy, a couple of our neighbors, while out coon hunting, saw a band of soldiers marching in the sky—a sure sign we were about to go to war over the presidency. The 8 to 7 decision in favor of Hayes by the electoral commission, averted the bloody strife, and the celestial soldiers probably marched straight on to Mars or some other neighborhood planet.
Our library at home consisted of a Bible with a family record and a place for photographs; a history of the United States published in 1830; a new history Franco-Prussian war; a history of Mormonism; and a history of “the Religious Denominations of the World.” Our little rat terrier pup tried to investigate this last volume one day, and when discovered he had eliminated the Baptists and most of the Swedenborgians.
My Grandfather [John B] Kitch (1810-1872) was a local preacher, a school teacher, and a farmer. He also possessed a shoe repair kit, a lancet, and a turnkey and was thus equipped for half-soling footwear, bleeding the sick, and pulling decayed teeth. He never had a picture taken but once—an old-time daguerreotype, which he afterwards destroyed so that there is no picture of him to be found anywhere.
Lew Snider (1847-1931), father of Jacob Snider (1873-1948) of Plymouth, drove a little span of mules to a lumber wagon and led the “singing” in the U B church. There was no musical instrument used in the church—not even a tuning fork to strike the pitch. Lew had a lusty voice and could always strike the correct key for the congregation.
Rev. John Surran (1817-1890), who hailed from Bangor, Michigan, was our preacher for some time. He sported a modern improvement in the way of a set of false teeth. Once in a burst of oratory during one of his sermons, these new-fangled affairs flew out of his mouth and landed on the table in front of him. Pastor Surran was not the type to become greatly disconcerted by such trifles. He merely reached down, retrieved the recreant ivories, clapped them back into his mouth, and continued his two hour discourse on the final destiny of those who did not repent and bid adieu to their sinful ways.
The judge remembers the old country schools
In looking over an abstract of title a few days ago, I discovered that Simon Snyder (1811-1890) was trustee of German township in 1862. He was the township trustee in 1871, but I do not know whether or not he held that position continuously during the war and up to that date. I remember his visit to our school when he tacked up on the blackboard a paper containing a set of rules for inmates to obey. This was during the winter term of 1871-1872, when some of the big boys became unmanageable, and the teacher, Joseph Schrock [?], sent for the trustee.
In those days, the teacher did not need a degree, but a good right arm stood as a number one qualification to “keep” school. Thomas McDonald (1842-1912) was county school examiner, and of course the prospective school master had to satisfy Tom that he could read, write, cipher, and sing the maps.
Our blackboard consisted of two smooth planks nailed on the wall, one above the other, and colored with some sort of black paint. There were no crayons [meaning stick chalk]. We used chunks of chalk and erased the board with pieces of sheepskin tacked over little blocks of wood.
My first textbook was a yellow-backed McGuffey Primer, which lasted about two weeks. It was supplemented by some large charts on which were pictures, letters, small words, and some simple sentences, such as “Up! Up!! Mary. The sun is up.” We repeated the scripture lessons and sang the songs from “The Manual of Devotion.”
It was a mile to the school house, and, as we hadn’t bought our car yet, we walked, carrying our lunches of home-made bread spread with sorghum molasses, or a mixture of apple and pumpkin butter. Sometimes we were allowed a small “hunk” of cold pork sausage. Among other accomplishments, we learned to smoke dry elm roots and corn silk.
We had to cross a swamp on a corduroy bridge, and quite often on the way home from school, “we stood on the bridge” (not at midnight) [*6] and hurled the remnants of our sumptuous midday repast out among the cattails. And on such occasions, mother generally commented upon the apparent eagerness with which we devoured our evening meal. The swamp has been drained; and the corduroy road is overlaid with modern highway material; and the corn and oats in the fields where the cattails flourished probably show greater results because of the early fertilization with stale bread mixed with a generous portion of sorghum molasses and the hybrid apple and pumpkin plaster.
[*6 He’s probably invoking Longfellow’s poem “Bridge”.]
We did not call those who went to our school “pupils.” We had not heard that word up to that time. We called them “scholars,” and that’s what they were. Most of us became adept at throwing “dornixes” (pebbles) at the heads of the bull frogs when they stuck them up through the green scum of the swamp. We knew what trees to look around for the big, yellow mushrooms.
Our learning told us that it was no use to wait for the hickory nuts to fall where the gray or fox squirrel was storing his winter supplies. It was the red squirrel who scampered up the big shell-barked hickory tree and cut off the nuts so they came tumbling down through the branches until sometimes the ground was fairly covered with them.
Of course, we waited quietly until the harvester started down the tree to carry away his hard-earned winter store. We had no thought of cheating Mr. Squirrel. All he need do was to go deeper into the woods, find another shell-bark, and try it over.
It was the fox and gray squirrels who cheated us. They would climb a tree, cut loose one or two hickory nuts at a time, and carry them to their den. We had no chance unless we found their cache of winter food after they had it fairly well stocked.
You may think that all this contains no moral, but it does. The moral is that when you are desirous of gathering the nuts for the benefit of your political party or in the interest of your own candidacy for office, steer clear of the wise gray and fox squirrels, and take up and follow the trail of the silly, brainless, red squirrels.
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