Harriet Warner Holton was a typical pioneer woman, brave, courageous and versatile. Rev. Ball (who the Old Timer often quotes) wrote that she was in many respects "the most remarkable woman in Lake County."
History says that she was the daughter of General Warner, possibly Seth Warner of Green Mountain Boys fame. She was born in Hardwick, Massachusetts, on Jan. 15, 1783, and for a few years gained fame as a young teacher at Westminster, Massachusetts. It was about 1806 when she married a young lawyer, Alexander Holton, making their first home in Massachusetts.
Hearing rumors about fortunes being made in the new state of Indiana (which became a state in 1816), the Holtons became part of a wagon train which arrived at the small village of Vevay in Switzerland County, southeastern Indiana, in 1817. This little settlement on the Ohio River, 60 miles downstream from Cincinnati, Ohio, was pioneered by Swiss settlers and showed promises of becoming a busy community.
But the village showed little progress those first few years, so the family moved north to the town of Vernon, near the city of North Vernon. Harriet again began teaching, but her pioneer spirit was always with her.
When her husband Alexander died at a young age, she heard of opportunities in Lake County and decided to join a wagon train again, but this time in winter weather, an uncommon and dangerous time for pioneer travelers.
The decision to travel in the winter was a dangerous one, the trip being long, tedious and full of perils. The travelers in the wagon train included Harriet Holton, one of her sons and her daughter (both adults) as well as the Clark family, which also settled at Crown Point. One of the first roads in Indiana, not much more than a trail, was the "Michigan Road" from Madison in Jefferson County, northwest to Indianapolis, and on to Michigan City. It was started in 1830, on a route taken by Solon Robinson in 1834, and was part of the possible route taken by the Holton party. The present Ind. 421 Highway now follows along the old trail, which was donated to the state by Native Americans.
The weary and desolate trip in midwinter was a perilous one and the wagons, pulled by oxen, that slowly plodded along and finally crossed the open prairie south of the Kankakee River. As darkness overtook them, they tried to force the oxen over the ice-covered swamp. They had swerved far from the Michigan Road in their quest for a shorter route.
Rev. Ball wrote in his Lake County History: "There was no house, and they were unprepared for camping out, and one of the most severe cold nights was closing upon them, surrounded by a wide field of ice over which the already frightened and tired oxen refused to go further, and not a stick of firewood near them."
Luckily a large pile of logs was finally found, a warm fire built and a shelter was fashioned from the wagon cover, giving some relief from the cold, icy blasts that swept over the wild prairie.
The next day, trying to find a way across the river, the group traveled miles out of their way to find the humble dwelling of a French trader named "Shobar," where they were offered great hospitality by the half- Indian family in a humble and crowded Kankakee area abode where the weary travelers stayed for two days to escape the terrible weather, too severe for traveling. On the third day the weather was a bit milder, and the group was able to cross the river by spreading hay upon the ice, pouring water on it and freezing it, making traction for the tired animals. They camped the next night at Yellowhead Township and then followed an old Indian trail to West Creek, where the oxen broke through the ice, and were pulled out with great difficulty.
Finally, a most welcome sight was seen on the trail: a crude sign -- "Solon Robinson's, 5 miles north," and by nightfall they were offered hospitality at the cabin of Solon, the founder of Crown Point. Harriet's other son and his family arrived a few days later.
Harriet Holton was 53 years of age when she arrived in Lake County. She saw the need for a school in the little hamlet and opened her cabin for the first school there for a few years, then became very active in her community, teaching Sunday School and taking part in many activities.
Historian Ethel A. Vinnedge of Creston (now deceased) wrote the following in her book Pioneer Women of Lake County, 1834-1850: "Harriet Warner Holton was a typical pioneer woman, brave, courageous and versatile."
"As wife and mother she was ideal, as a neighbor and friend she was without peer, as a teacher she was not excelled either in qualifications or ability," wrote Ball.
In her declining years, Harriet made her home with her son, who resided on a farm a few miles northeast of Crown Point. She died Oct. 17, 1879, at age 96.
As her funeral procession traveled toward Maplewood Cemetery, the bell on the old Lake County Courthouse tolled, the first and last time that it was heard at the time of a funeral, according to a 1900 account.
Hiram Wason, born in New Hampshire in 1814, was another early settler who moved from the East to the village of Vevay in about 1843, where he preached and taught. He moved to West Creek Township in 1857, where he was pastor at the Lake Prairie Church until 1864, then farmed there with his son after retiring.
The first road in the State of Indiana was the "Buffalo Trail," which followed the trail of the bison from New Albany to Vincennes. US 150 now crosses the state there. Another early "highway" was the National Road, which crossed the state of Indiana east to west through Indianapolis, now US 40.
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