Rock Creek Township: mysterious places, plenty of mud

Shown is the residence and mill property of John and Mary Scotton, located on Section 14 in Rock Creek Township. The image was taken from the 1979 Atlas of Huntington County.
Shown is the residence and mill property of John and Mary Scotton, located on Section 14 in Rock Creek Township. The image was taken from the 1979 Atlas of Huntington County. Illustration provided.

Beautiful scenery, rich farmland, mysterious places and plenty of mud.

All of these phrases have been used to describe Rock Creek Township since its organization in 1842, which is bordered by Union Township to its north, Salamonie Township to its south, Lancaster Township to its west and Wells County to its east.

The scenic beauty along Rock Creek is probably one of the county's best-kept secrets.

In 1926, F.S. Bash visited the stream and was quite taken with its "cold, crystal water rippling over the rocks." He noted the limestone outcroppings that created caverns along the bank and the myriad of trees, including a variety called Juneberry.

Along the stream were many Sycamores. Unfortunately, due to rerouting of roads, this area is almost inaccessible, but worth the effort to find. An abundant supply of fish in the stream made this an even more alluring spot, as Israel Heaston explained to Bash.

Heaston's father had come with a party from Wayne County that had 24 teams and wag-ons. The party amazed the local Indians by fishing with nets, and gave the natives all the fish they wanted, returning to Wayne County with 24 barrels of salted bass and pike.

It is not surprising that a large Indian population was drawn to this area, and many friendly encounters with the natives are recorded.

Daniel Mossburg told of working to cut blue ash for the Indians who paid him with "gud-a-ma-quah" at the end of every day. The Indian women tied the four-foot lengths into large bundles with double buckskin thongs.

In 1832, Albert Draper was the first white man to come to this area, which was called the Richardville Reserve (south of Markle). He was hired by the United States government to build and operate a mill for the Indians.

The stone for this early mill is said to have come from France, and is now on display at the Markle Town Hall.

It is thought that Draper's log cabin home is now a residence at the corner of Wilt and Draper streets. He later built a fine home south of Markle in 1853. Later owned by the Brickley family, the house contained beautiful black walnut paneling in all downstairs rooms and the floors were made of hickory.

Giant trees covered most of the county, and Rock Creek was no exception. A walnut log on the Bonewitz farm yielded 1,800 feet of "log measures," and Nathan Perry described an enormous sweek oak tree that measured five feet in diameter.

In addition to the dense forest, the early settlers faced another challenge in the form of mud. Elizabeth Strouse told Bash in an interview that "as far as Rock Creek Township was concerned it was mud, mud, mud - the stickiest, blackest mud that any mortal ever got into!"

Amanda Irwin recalled, "When we arrived in Huntington and inquired how to get out to Rock Creek the men just laughed and shook their heads, stating that there was no bottom to the roads out towards Bluffton."

Devil's Half Mile was located two-and-a-half miles west of Markle and was notorious for sinking a wagon wheel up to its hub. It was also a favorite place for thieves to lie in wait and rob an unfortunate traveler mired down in the mud.
Also among the wild conditions of the area were many kinds of snakes, including rattlers. Mrs. Abe Marshall told of going to get the cows armed with a large machete knife for chop-ping the huge tree snakes that hung down from the limbs along her path.

Mrs. Strouse described a time when she saw movement along the cabin wall, where her pots and pans were hung.

"It was a long spotted house snake crawling between the logs. At first I stood riveted to the spot, but then I grabbed a hatchet and hacked away until I had it chopped to many pieces," she said.

Grandma Roush told of the children encountering a wild animal that was "bold and threatening" on their way to school. The men took up their guns and began a search for the animal. After a day of tracking, the animal was finally treed and shot. It was a "catamount," or cougar, and was five-feet long. (This is the first account of a cougar being killed in Huntington County.)

A "bear pond," or "wallow," was located east of the intersection of SR 3 and 124. Thelma Pribble Strait recalled going to the icy pond, where her parents skated and pulled the children around on a scoop shovel.

The first mail route in the area was delivered once a week by a man who rode a mule with the mail stored in his old plug hat.

A rare glimpse of early Rock Creek life was found in the Hoosier Genealogist. It is a story of Jacob Souers, and was written by a granddaughter on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 1912. Souers was born in Pennsylvania in 1812, and brought his family to Rock Creek Township in 1838.
They hastily constructed a cabin out of poles and small logs, with poles put across the cabin for beds, and this was their home until a hewed log cabin was built the next year.

That summer was so dry that no corn had grown, so Souers had to travel to a mill on the Mississinewa River, where he bought 50 bushels of corn at 50 cents a bushel.

Corn pone was the mainstay of the family throughout that year. Souers once shot two white porcupines, and also found a bee tree with 11 feet of honeycomb, which made nine gallons of honey. (This must have helped to make that cornpone more palatable.)

Souers owned a team of mares, but as he had no enclosure for them, he put bells on them and let them roam the woods. One day the horses strayed away and Sours began to walk after them. As he was on foot he could never quite catch up with them until they had traveled to the Dayton, OH, area, an adventure that lasted for one week.

Souers also recalled the election of 1844, when 12 votes were cast for Polk, six for Clay and the ballot box was a hat.

There were several small settlements throughout the township. In 1848, Moses Brown established a sawmill at the present location of 200E and CR100S. This became known as Brown's Corners, and at one time had a tile mill, three blacksmith shops, a doctor, two stores and post office.

There also was a log school, which was replaced by a frame building, and still later one of brick. One brick building housed a general store with an Oddfellow's Lodge meeting hall above. The lodge had 130 members in 1932. In 1893, the name of the post office was changed to Toledo, for unknown reasons. A terrible explosion once occurred there in 1928, which killed three men.

In 1982, when the first county survey of historic sites and structures was done, a public appeal was made for information. The residents of Markle and Rock Creek Township were especially helpful and forthcoming.

Bruce Myers graciously led a tour of historic buildings in Markle and arranged a trek with Neil Geiger to the site of Chief Richardville's Mill, where the original foundation's stones could still be found.

Dale Bonewitz shared a legend passed down in his family that Indians had buried treasure somewhere along 200E when they moved west. According to the story, they returned later to look for it, but the recognizable landmarks were gone and they were never able to find it.

A very pleasant and memorable afternoon was spent with Ben and Helen Vendrick. This dear couple provided a wealth of information.

Ben told of the early farmers' use of a special "sides-hovel plow" that was made with a cutter in the front, which caused it to jump over the tree roots and "about kick your head off when it did!"

Farmers would then have to drop the corn by hand in the spots between the roots. Cultivation was done by hand with a hoe, or perhaps with a single shovel plow pulled by one horse. He told of wheat-crop failure for three years, when the family of nine had to ration out one barrel of wheat.

Ben Vendrick also recounted stories of his father's encounters with bobcats when coon hunting, and stated that a bobcat could "whip half a dozen dogs!"

Education must have been highly valued by the settlers, as schools were dotted all over the township at an early date. At one time there were five log schools, including the District 4, or Fellabaum, school. It had greased paper over holes in the logs for light, desks pinned to the walls and puncheon benches for seats. Other later district schools were named Weimer, Cupp, Barrett, Brickley, Rittenhouse, Yankeetown, Buckeye and Rock Creek Center.

Rock Creek Center was another settlement that had a post office, cobbler, blacksmith, tile mill and Hardin's General Store. It was also the site of a substantial brick building for grades kindergarten through 12.

The Rock Creek Flying Aces, in their black and white uniforms, were often strong contenders in the various sports.

A memorable event occurred in the fall of 1952, when the school bus barn caught on fire. According to Larry Whinery, great bursts of adrenalin enabled four high school boys to carry a 1930 Ford out of the burning building and move all four buses to a safe place as the barn was totally destroyed.

A memorial for Rock Creek Township School, which was built in 1916, stands today where the building was located.

Bricks for the many substantial homes throughout the township were often burned in kilns nearby.

Of special note is the Omar Summers home on 100E, often referred to as the "Castle." The seven-bedroom house was built with double yellow brick, a red tile roof and beautiful natural woodwork throughout.
The William Bowman farm was located in the second mile west of Rock Creek Center, and a place on this farm was a source of great mystery. On this farm near Pond Creek was a spring, which never froze.

One day a body was found near this site, and it was thought to have been a rich peddler who had been seen in the area. Although there were suspicions, no one was ever charged with the murder, and out of this discovery grew a legend that the place was haunted.

People claimed to have seen strange lights and floating specters in the area that would suddenly disappear.

Other unusual stories concerned the discoveries of ancient skeletons when excavations were made in gravel pits. The skeletons were in sitting positions and faced east. To the credit of the settlers, the bones were treated with respect and reburied.

In 1872, a post office named Plum Tree was established in a small settlement that had sometimes been known as Yankeetown. The name was derived from William Smith's trek to the bear pond to get his cow. From the soft ground at the pond he pulled up a small plum tree, which he used as a switch. When he and the cow arrived home, he stuck the young tree in the ground, where it proceeded to grow.
It stood in front of Whitelock's store, where it provided copious amounts of plums for the residents for many years.

Plum Tree once had a tile mill, blacksmith shop and several stores.

The Plum Tree United Church of Christ was organized in 1866, and the present building was constructed in the 1870s. Several additions have been made over the years. A Baptist church was built near Markle, southeast of the river in 1860, and was used by several other denominations.

At one time there were two churches near Brown's Corners. The Buckeye Disciple of Christ Church is located on 500S and 500E, and is a remarkably beautiful country church. It was built in 1908 of brick with limestone trim, and contains some exceptional stained-glass windows. The congregation is to be commended for maintaining the architectural charm of this treasure of a building.

The Wabash Primitive Baptist Church congregation was organized in 1866, and has a long and interesting history. It is located on 200S near the Star of Hope Cemetery. The Barnes Chapel Cemetery was relocated and stands across the road.

The Civil War era was a time or great dissension in the township. While many men fought for the Union, others joined the Knights of the Golden Circle, a group that opposed Abraham Lincoln and plotted to overthrow the Union and establish a new nation within a "golden circle" comprised of southern states and Caribbean islands.

A Markle physician, Dr. Zumro, courageously infiltrated the groups and attended their meetings. He would then share their plans with the government, and this helped to avert a planned raid on the Indianapolis prison to release Confederate prisoners of war.

Records show that Dr. Zumro testified at the treason trial of Lambdin P. Milligan and others in Indianapolis.

The origin of the town of Markle is clouded in mystery. At an early time a man named Tracy came to the site and carefully constructed a building, covering it with black walnut shingles. He left a large square opening in the roof intended for a double fireplace chimney. Tracy told someone that he would go back to Pennsylvania and return with his family, but he was never seen again.

With the passage of time, a tree took root inside the building and proceeded to grow.

It was not until 1850 that a man named Morse platted the town and named it Markle in honor of his wife's family name.

A three-story mill was soon constructed in 1851 on the nearby Wabash River, but the town did not experience much growth until the completion of the Chicago and Atlantic Railroad in 1883.

This prompted a variety of enterprises, which included a millinery, tannery, opera house, creamery and numerous mercantiles. One hotel was operated by Mr. and Mrs. John Selby, and was a popular hostelry. Mrs. Selby recalled baking 42 loaves of bread in her outdoor oven every other day for her boarders.

Part of the Selby Hotel was moved and now serves as a private residence on Morse Street. One of the livery stables still stands on Draper Street, as well as the first frame school at 260 N. Lee St.

The old opera house was located above the present Markle Furniture Store. Markle can also be proud of the many beautiful and well-maintained older homes and churches.

Civic pride is evident in the festivals, house walks and other efforts toward revitalization.

Markle also had a nice brick school for grades kindergarten through 12. Originally called the Markle Midgets, they became the Markle Eagles and their colors were orange and black.

A large bell from the Markle school with a historical marker is located on the original site of the school near the fire station.

In 1981, an ambitious civic project was accomplished when the turbines were retrieved from the site of the Thomas-Chapman Mill. The turbines had been used to supply power for the mill and were located in a room (or penstock) underneath the river.

One of the turbines is now on display near the town hall. Two millstones from the Scotton Mill (circa 1840 on Rock Creek) are also on display at the entrance to Veterans Park.

Late in the 1920s, the old Dilly Feed Barn was made into a community building with a basketball floor, stage and bleachers. It was used for school and community activities, and was the scene of the biggest stage play ever produced there, called "Ladies of the Night," with an all-male cast.
In the 1930s, roller-skating took over the basketball floor and in 1946 Guy Allred converted the building into a sale barn, using wood from the gym floor for bleacher seats. The building changed hands several times until it burned in 1960.

There is not sufficient space to tell additional stories, such as a cure for ague, or the "shakes," by drinking cocklebur tea, a "pow wow doctor" who could stop bleeding, how to kill a rattlesnake with tobacco juice, pioneer love stories and early school anecdotes.

Those interested may find additional stories in the F.S. Bash notebooks, which are housed in the Indiana Room at the Huntington City-Township Public Library.