Recently the Old Timer received a most welcome letter from Marian Hayden, a Lowell resident for many years who is now living in West Lafayette. Enclosed was a story that she wrote in the 1960's for her Homemaker's Club, a collection of remembrances of the early days of West Creek area from Alice Scritchfield, Earl Bailey, Leon Bailey, Ned Nelson (Hayden's brother) and Elliot Buse, all from prominent West Creek families.
Hayden wrote: "I had often wondered if there were Indians here when the early settlers came in 1836-37 or earlier. Earl Bailey's grandfather, Reuben Chapman, came onto an Indian and his squaw trying to cut down a tree with a hatchet. (An axe would have been too heavy for the brave to carry.) He was trying to get a 'coon that was up the tree. Mr. Chapman cut down the tree and they got five 'coons. The Indiana divided the 'coons -- one by one -- and had one left over. He did not know what to do with it. Mr. Chapman gave his two to the squaw, so she got the fifth one too. She threw the five 'coons over her shoulder and trudged away after her brave, who was 'heavily laden' with the hatchet. Another time Mr. Chapman met an Indian wearing practically nothing on a very cold day. When asked if he was cold, the Indian replied, "Your face cold?" No, said Chapman, (and) the Indian said, "Me all face!" [The Old Timer has a clipping from an old scrap book telling of the death of Mr. Chapman -- He died in an accident while cutting down a tree! He had come to Lake County in 1834.]
"How different that same country would look to the people who came here first. George Lyman Foster earned $20.00 working on the Erie Canal. He, and many more like him, walked from Erie, Pa., to West Creek. He came in 1836 and spent his first year in a cabin in the woods, one half mile north of the West Creek Cemetery. His brother, Alfred Foster, and Reuben Chapman had preceded him. As the men came they would look over the land (and) maybe put up a meager shelter there or go back for their families.
We quote here from the 'Pioneer History' column of Jan. 28, 1981: "The winter of 1834-34 was mild until February, then came very severe cold and a terrible snowstorm in April. In this kind of weather, four hardy pioneers stayed in a crude dugout shelter. Two of them were Foster and Chapman."
Hayden tells about her interview with Scritchfield: "Sherburnville was a thriving village in the early days. There was a hotel run by the Dodges, who were Mrs. Scritchfield's grandparents, two stores, a blacksmith shop, two churches and several homes. Mr. Dodge was the postmaster as well as the innkeeper, and during the Civil War he was the local draft board.
"There were very few, if any, fences in those pioneer days, so the cattle were turned loose to graze. They wore bells so they could be found in the evening. Cynthia Dodge, Mrs. Scritchfield's mother, although a small girl, was sent out to bring in the cattle. Her father told her to round them up -- start them moving -- then follow them as they would go home. Many times she was sure they were going the wrong way, but they always went home.
"She kept telling her father about the 'dog and puppies' she saw everyday. When her father investigated -- it was a wolf with her pups!
"The First Methodist Church was located in the corner of the West Creek Cemetery. The minister took notes from the members, sold them to a bank, and had money to build the church. This was in 1834 and (it) was the first protestant church built in Lake County. Services were scarce, but people came from as far as Valparaiso to attend the quarterly meetings. They came in wagons, bringing their own food and bedding. The women slept in the homes and the men in their wagons. Meeting was not only a time to renew one's faith, but also a time to visit old acquaintances and to learn the news of other districts.
"Schools were very limited at first -- six weeks or two months was the usual term. Later, there was a log school just west of West Creek. Mr. Ewer was one of the teachers. He had been around the world and his pupils enjoyed his stories of far away countries.
"An old cemetery was located near the entrance to Donald Bailey's farm. Later, the bodies were moved to the West Creek Cemetery."
Hayden continues: "To us, wells and water are everyday conveniences. When Mrs. Scritchfield's parents lived on what is now (1960) the Ervie Brown farm, the nearest well was across the road from the Rosenthal farm on U.S. 41. The women met there to do their laundry. One day they complained of the terrible odor from the open well. The men investigated and found what looked like a woman's body floating in the water! Stories of a murder spread immediately. When pulled out, it was a woman's dress stuffed with remains of a butchering.
"Everyone mentioned the roads. I can remember when they were stoned, and you kept off the dirt roads when it rained, but I never saw them so bad that horseback was the main transportation. If you had to take a wagon, you used more teams, or you drove a two-wheeled rig which hit the high spots.
"Entertainment was made by the young people themselves. One source was to drive to Lake Station to a dance. Mrs. Scritchfield's father used to take a wagon load of young people there. They could stay at the hotel where the dance was held or come back home. Quite a trip in a wagon over very poor roads. Spelling bees and programs helped to pass the time when schools were better organized.
"When times were better, new homes were built. Almost every farm had an old house that was used as a tool shed, grainary or pig pen. I can remember two: One was on my folk's farm -- it was used as a pig pen. It had such tiny little rooms. I never heard mother speak as though she lived there. The other house was at my Aunt Foster's, my idea of heaven. Her daughters had a real playhouse in the old house -- there were kittens in the big old woodshed and sugar cookies in the pantry.
"My brother (Ned Nelson) says the house on the Dahl farm (in the 1960's) near the cemetery is probably the oldest in West Creek. It was my great grandfather's and stood across the road from Aunt Foster's (now John Keithley's). The old house was moved to its present location and Albert Foster lived there.
"Wheat and corn were taken to the mills at Wilmington, or Deep River (now the site of Deep River County Park). The flour had to be sifted to get out the bran. Cattle were driven to Chicago. Those were long and dangerous trips in those days." [In the 'Pioneer History' column fo Feb. 25, 1981: "J.B. Bailey spent many years as a cattle farmer, buying western cattle in Chicago, driving them to West Creek and, when fattened, the herd would be driven back to Chicago and sold. Two or three days were required for the trip, and firearms were carried for fear of hold-ups.]
"My mother told how they all had the same color dresses, as her father would buy a bolt of cloth. Sugar came by the barrel and was a delicacy. It was an exciting time when their father came back from a trip to Chicago.
"Mr. Spaulding had a sorghum mill on his farm. It was a good sweetener then and still is, but I would hate to use it for everything.
"The first post office (West Creek) was started in 1839 or 1840. Mr. Robert Wilkinson, the first pioneer in West Creek Township, was the postmaster. Later came Major Torrey, and then Edward Farley. When Mr. Spaulding was postmaster, George Bailey used to ride to Crown Point to get the mail. Later the post office was moved to the Charles Bailey farm and called the Lanthus. Everybody was responsible for their own delivery.
"Every farmer seemed to have a boat which they would load into a wagon and drive to the Kankakee River at the drop of a hat. Fish were plentiful and a treat.
"Diptheria was a disease that was prevalent in those days. Many who had it did not recover. They were buried at night, so the disease wouldn't be spread. Dr. Mazzun and the sisters from the convent in Momence came to help one year when my mother, sister and brother had it. In case of sickness or death everyone helped his neighbor.
"The 'tinker' was another person who was remembered, He mended pots and pans -- you didn't throw them away. He also carried some merchandise which was sold from his wagon. He was a welcome source of news from the outside world. I can remember how we used to watch for the 'whistler' to have our scissors sharpened.
The Ladies Aid of the Lake Prairie Presbyterian Church knitted and made bandages for the soldiers during the Civil War, just as their descendants have done since then."
Hayden's last paragraph: "I hope my memories of my life will be as interesting to the children of the next generation as they have been to me. In a world that has seen man land on the moon, who will care that I say the 'Perils of Pauline' at the Lyric Theatre in Lowell -- way back when."
The Old Timer is sure that many readers do care, and appreciate the fine memories of West Creek.
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