The trials and disappointments of Ebenezer Saxton, a Merrillville pioneer of 1837, could have also been a part of the lives of the typical "South County Pioneers."
Saxton was originally a native of Vermont, but came to Lake County from Canada in 1837. He sold his Canadian farm on a credit and, soon after, began the long trek to the city of Detroit. He and his family traveled the 400 miles in a wagon drawn by oxen. From there they headed for Lake County, where he met his first trial at the county line.
The old history books related that the streams of Lake and Porter Counties were full of water and mud, or perhaps quick-sand in the spring of 1837.
The family, along with seven other groups, ox teams and equipment, was crossing swollen Deep River on a ferry boat near the pioneer town of Liverpool, as the boat slowly sank into the river. The families were rescued, the boat was raised and caulked, and then the oxen were brought over.
They arrived at Turkey Creek with five dollars of gold left, and there the oxen stuck fast in the mud. Saxton was forced to give up two dollars of his gold to a man for helping him out of the mire.
The Saxton family finally settled at Wiggins Point (Merrillville) where his claim covered an old Indian dancing ground and burial place and where many of the main Indian trails of the county crossed.
Leaving his claim for a time, Ebenezer Saxton traveled to Door Prairie, near LaPorte, where he traded 20 days of work for 10 bushels of corn. Corn, at the time, was worth two dollars a bushel, and a man was paid a dollar a day for his work. He gave a man one half of the corn to take to the mill and then received only the meal from five bushels of corn!
While still at Door Prairie, he rented some land from pioneer Dr. Wilkinson, for which he was to pay two dollars per acre. But while the doctor delayed in writing out the contract, the wheat grew and promised a good yield.
The doctor denied the contract, as it was only a verbal one and could not be proven, with no witnesses at hand. Taking the advice of a lawyer, Saxton took two thirds of the crop and left one third for the owner according to established customs of the time.
He locked up 90 bushels in a barn and took 20 bushels to the mill. His bad luck with streams returned: his wagon was upset and spilled the grain into the river before he got to the mill.
The doctor, not satisfied with the landlord's share, obtained a warrant, opened the barn, and sold the 90 bushels of wheat for the low price of 10 cents a bushel. All that Saxton received for all his effort was a hundred pounds of flour, given to him by a very understanding miller.
Another effort to obtain provisions also met with a sad result. In the month of March 1838, Saxton purchased 1,500 pounds of flour from a man who was traveling from Michigan City to Crown Point.
He was to pay the man in team work at two dollars a day, the work to be done at Michigan City. So off he went to the city, did one half of the work, and was ready to finish when the man discharged him. Soon after the man filed suit to collect the remainder owed in money.
Saxton went by horseback to that court trial with his friend Wiggins on the horse behind him. As they passed the area of Turkey Creek, Wiggins slipped off into the water, but survived. At the trial the bargain was proved in favor of the plaintiff, and the other half of the work for the 1,500 pounds of flour was never finished.
His luck still on the bad side, Ebenezer lost all his wheat stacks by fire soon after and again was involved in a lengthy case of law.
In his 1904 Lake County history publication, Rev. T.H. Ball, pioneer historian, wrote about pioneer Saxton: "He met with more than the ordinary trials and disappointments of frontier life, but passed through them as became a descendant of a Mayflower family. He was a prominent citizen of what became the Village of Merrillville, and lived to a good old age. He has left some worthy descendants."
Due to the difficulties which the pioneers experienced when crossing streams, the Lake County authorities recognized the need for bridges. The year of 1838 marked the beginning of building the spans.
"Torrey Bridge," also over West Creek, soon appeared near the Henry Torrey claim.
Cedar Creek was bridged on the east side of Cedar Lake near the property of Lewis Warriner, an 1837 pioneer and an Indiana State Representative in 1839 (probably over Morse Street). It was built by S.P. Stringham, 1836 pioneer, and Robert Wilkinson, who settled in 1834.
Two bridges were built northeast of Crown Point by Daniel May, an 1836 pioneer, and Hiram Nordyke, who settled the same year. A larger bridge was built over Deep River near the claim of B. Wilkinson by A.L. Ball, 1837 pioneer, for the sum of $400, and many smaller bridges were built in 1838 across the county.
Most of Lake County's streams were no longer without bridges, and the early settlers no longer depended on the fords and the ferries. Pioneers like Ebenezer Saxton could finally cross the waters without a soaking!
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