Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

Progress in the 19th Century

(from the Jan. 25, 1989, Lowell Tribune, page 11)

Amelia (Willey) Fisher prepared an interesting paper for a meeting of the Old Settlers at the Lake County Court House in Crown Point on Aug. 28, 1900.

She wrote: "We hear so much of the good old pioneer days, and their good fellowship and bountiful hospitatlity, as contrasted with the present, that for a few minutes I will look backward on the flight of time. I think I know a good deal about good old times; for I am a pioneer by birth; was born and spent my early childhood in a typical log house, where the one room did duty as kitchen, bedroom and parlor. I do not wish to go back to its comfort, although it was typical in its hospitality; the latch string always out, and room for one more."

She described her early school days in the old log school house with slab seats, no maps or chalk boards on the walls. "Of course it was the best that could be done, and was much better than no school house. But do we want to exchange our admirable school system and modern school houses for the old time ones? I do not like to hear people say the log school was good enough for me and is good enough for my children. Maybe for yours, but I hope not for your neighbor's children," she lectured. (Most of her 'modern' school houses of 1900 have been replaced with school buildings beyond the imagination of the pioneers.)

Fisher continued: "How would those who are complaining so bitterly of the expense of the gravel roads, and their increased taxes, and finding fault with railroad companies, like the traveling of years ago with unbridged streams and miry sloughs?" She told stories of early pioneers as they drove their teams on bad roads, and how, when taking grain to Chicago, they had to unload and reload their wagons many times to get across the great swamps to the north. (How she would marvel at the asphalt and concrete superhighways of today.

She had this to say about farming: "They earned their money, if not by the sweat of their brow, by the aching of their backs. As we think of the farm methods of those days of scythes, cradles, handrakes, and traveling threshing machines, when all was hand work with no labor saving machinery, and the undrained marshes disfiguring so many farms, and contrast it with the tile-drained, well-kept farms of today [1900], with their improved machinery and commodious dwellings; truly the new is better than the old. And I do not believe that friends were truer or neighbors kinder then than now." (If she could have seen the changes in the farms since then, along with the changes in this decade, with the corporate farms, metal buildings, huge combines, mechanization and all the chemicals for weeding and feeding the land, it would seem to be a dream.)

Many times the question is asked, "What pushed the pioneers to leave so much behind and travel to the wilderness to make their home?" One of the best answers was given by Fisher: "Do not misunderstand me, I do not depreciated those early days or people; I love and honor the pioneers; we owe them a debt of gratitude; it took brave men and loving women to leave the comforts of the east and brave the hardships and loneliness of the unknown west. And many a gentle woman faded and died from loneliness and want of companionship.

"What could have been their motive? Not simply love of adventure, but the hope of bettering their condition, of winning homes for themselves and their children; and while they bravely and cheerfully bore the privation of the new country, they were ever looking hopefully forward to better days when the comfortable house would take the place of the log cabin; when horses should take the place of the slow moving ox, and wagons and buggies of the cart.

"They were not content with things as they were, but strove hard for something better, financially and intellectually, and it is to this spirit that we owe the goodly heritage they left to us. Can we, the children of the pioneers, do less than emulate them and give to our children that same spirit of progress and advancement that has made our fair state and county so rich and beautiful?

At that same meeting at the court house in 1900, another paper was read by Mary Jane (Ball) Cutler, who also compared the past with the year 1900: "When this century began, Indiana was a part of the Northwest Territory. The irresistable impulse of the dwellers of the Atlantic Coast sent them westward, and through pathless woods, over mountains, by the rivers, they slowly journeyed; through weeks of hardships and privations, and the Northwest Territory had 4,875 persons all told, at the census of 1800.

"These had come mostly with ox teams and clumsy wagons, with no greater speed than they would have come when the world was young. The same appliances for labor and the same household furnishings, similar methods of living that had existed for thousands of years, were still nearly all that was known.

"How little that was can scarcely be realized now, for the last century has been one of marvelous strides in science and invention, in all that pertains to human knowledge, to human comfort, and human happiness, and one may well stand amazed at the opened pages of Nature's secrets that have been closed to the human mind from the foundation of the world."

She listed many of the inventions and discoveries since the time of the pioneer, and wondered why all those mysteries were hidden from human knowledge for so many centuries. She said, "There are questions still unanswered for the 20th Century to solve. What is electricity? What is light, sound, heat, cold? How cold can cold be? Four hundred degrees below zero Fahrenheit is now supposed to be the temperature of space. How great is space? Four thouand stars were supposed to be the number in the olden time. Now, by the wonderful telescopes with 41-inch lenses, 400,000,000 stars are calculated to neighbor with our sun. Truly we have lived in a marvelous century, when 'to be living is sublime.'"

Fisher and Cutler, pioneers both, were looking forward to the future, but neither could have imagined the advancements made by new groups of pioneers who landed a spaceship on the moon only a few decades after that meeting at Crown Point in 1900.

Last updated on May 18, 2001.

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