Wayne Township site of beautiful forests, much wildlife in past

Above is the farm of A.T. Searles in 1879, which was located in Section 24 of Wayne Township. Searles was noted for his fine farm, and he was also the proprietor of the largest tile manufacturing company in the county at the time.
Above is the farm of A.T. Searles in 1879, which was located in Section 24 of Wayne Township. Searles was noted for his fine farm, and he was also the proprietor of the largest tile manufacturing company in the county at the time. Photo provided.

Editor’s note: Imagine a land covered with primeval forest and underbrush so dense that it was nearly impossible for humans to walk through, and in that wilderness were prowling wolves and bears, as well as bobcats, cougars and, of course, an abundance of deer.

This was the scene in the early 1800s, in what was to become Huntington County. It was 175 years ago that Huntington County was organized, and to chronicle its development, in 2004 and 2005, the Huntington Historical Society, in cooperation with The Huntington County TAB, featured the history of one township each month. Local historian Jean Gernand did the research and writing.

Due to the popularity of these articles, The TAB is posting them to our Web site.

Wayne Township was described in these glowing terms in the 1887 History of Huntington County:

"The soil is a black loam of great depth and fertility, there are a great number of well-to-do farmers and intelligent business men, and perhaps no similar area could boast of as much valuable timber at Wayne Township."

It continued: "The intelligent observer in passing over the well-improved highways and noting the superior condition of her finely cultivated farms and elegant residences will not long question the justness of the claim."

The organization of Wayne Township in June 1884 was led by early settlers Asher and Thomas Fisher, who also chose to name it after Wayne County, where their father had been a prominent citizen.

It is located on the southwest corner of the county, and is bounded by Grant County on the south and Wabash County to the west. Polk Township is north of Wayne, and Jefferson Township is to the east. Wayne is one of the four smaller townships on the west side of the county, each just four miles wide, as are Polk, Dallas and Warren townships.
Sources vary on the exact date, but all agree that John Buzzard and his brother-in-law John Ruggles were the first permanent settlers, arriving in covered wagons in the winter of 1834-35.

The wagons stopped at the John Buzzard site in the southeast quarter of Section 12 near a fine spring, which produced wonderful, pure water.

After erecting the Buzzard cabin, they hung comforts at the door and window and proceeded a mile farther south - to the northeast quarter of Section 13 - where they built the Ruggles cabin.

Family lore has it that they moved in on Christmas Day 1834, which was Rachel Ruggles' 40th birthday.

In 1931, Thomas Ruggles, a descendant, wrote a family history and described the conditions when they first came to this county:

"The extensive wilderness about the home was full of all kinds of vicious wild animals roaming about seeking anything to devour for food. The most dangerous were the panther, the bear, the wildcat and wolves.

"Imagine the worry of father and mother, in constant fear of their children falling victim to some prowling beast. Then think of the hard life and the labor it took to clear a farm and make a home out of such wilderness.

"Can you see the father, mother and seven children crowded into a one-room cabin? The responsibility of feeding and clothing them, all the while the mother must learn to be the doctor when they got sick, for there was no doctor to call, there was no clear patch to plant and raise anything to eat."

Ruggles finished his story with a timely observation:

"Look around at the nice clear farms and homes, while we are strutting around as some-body. How proud some get to be. We should stop and think who to thank. I can tell you. It was our sturdy fore-parents that ventured into the wilds of a new country to make homes for you and me."

In April 1836, baby Wesley Buzzard was the first white child born in the township.

In 1835, Asher Fisher walked all the way from Wayne County and purchased land in Section 1 at $1.25 an acre. In an interview with F.S. Bash, his daughter, Malinda Fisher Anderson, recalled their cabin, which had just one room, a window and two doors.
One was fashioned with wooden pins, and the other had long hinges with a wooden latch on the inside, which worked with a string from the outside.

This is where the expression, "The latchstring is always out," originated as a message of welcome.

Malinda also stated, "The cabin had no floor and our mother would have to put a coat down for the baby. My mother had a loom and wove practically all material from which our clothes were made. Many Indians gathered in their winter camp several miles west of us. The Indian women did all the work, skinning and preparing the meat."

Elizabeth Ruggles Pinkerton recalled an old Indian trail that ran through their farm, and described a large, fallen tree that was used to cross Richland Creek. She said that all of the bark had been worn off by the many Indian moccasins, and it was so smooth and slippery that the children had to "coon their way across."

Henry Bradford once showed F.S. Bash a rifle that "looked as long as a rail." Attached to the old rifle was a leather shield, which fit down over the breech to keep the power dry. Henry explained that the cover was made from the skin of a calf's hind leg, the bulge over the joint fitting down nicely over the hammer and pan of a flint-lock gun.

He related that this rifle had been used in the battle of Mississinewa in the early 1800s, and stated that he had visited the battlefield where he could see marks on the trees from the battle and bones of the horses that were killed.

He became well-acquainted with Miami Chief Me-shin-go-me-sia, but whenever he asked the chief about the battle he would say he didn't know, as he only held the ponies while the warriors fought.

The first school in the township was held in the Buzzard cabin, and Nancy Hildebrand was the teacher. The first separate school building was built in 1839 and was a private subscrip-tion school.

District schools in the township included Ham, Fisher, Price, Murphy, Hollowell and Banquo. There were three school buildings over the years in the town of Banquo; the last one was built in 1914 and was used until consolidation. A marker on the site of the school gives a brief history and shows a picture of the building.

George and Margaret Osborn were remarkable residents of Wayne Township, who were pioneer doctors. They also operated a trading post in Mount Etna and carried on a large medical practice in the area. The couple's son, Chase, was born in Wayne Township and went on to be governor of Michigan.

In 1949, a historical marker in honor of this remarkable family was erected at the southeast corner of Indiana 105 and 124 on their cabin site. Both Governor Shricker of Indiana and G. Mennen Williams of Michigan attended the ceremony in their honor.

Glen Campbell was a native of Wayne Township who later lived in Andrews. He was an expert at furniture refinishing and repair, skills he had learned from his longtime em-ployment at the Kitchen-Maid Cabinet Company.

Campbell was one of the dearest people I have ever known, and I treasure the time I spent listening to his stories of early history. His family homestead was located in Section 23 along present SR 9, which had earlier been a frequently used Indian trail.

Several oil wells were located on the Campbell farm, and as part of the agreement with the oil company, gas was piped into their log house. However, due to a malfunction the pipeline exploded and the log house was destroyed by fire.

George Eviston also lived along what is now SR 9, and told Mr. Bash of the immense droves of hogs that were driven along the roads all the way to Cincinnati, OH, "walking every step of the way."

He explained that one man went ahead and made arrangements for corn and feeding places. To keep the hogs from crowding at night, the men would shoot paperwads over their heads and get them to spread out.

One of the most intriguing parts of Wayne Township history was the Underground Rail-road activity. The Underground Railroad was a secret network of escape routes that enabled slaves from the southern states to reach freedom in the northern states, or preferably Canada.

Slave owners and bounty hunters often came in search of the runaways, who often had been purchased for large amounts of money.
In another Bash interview, Henry Bradford told of his father, Jasper, who was a strong abolitionist and a "conductor" on the Underground Railway that followed the highway through Mount Etna before the war. He explained that this was known as the eastern route, and another one was further west, near Lagro.

The Asher Fisher home south of Mount Etna was especially interesting. It had a hidden trap door in the porch floor and ancient steps that led through a long, narrow passageway to a small room under the rear of the house.

I visited the house when the Wimmer family lived there and found that it was all still intact. The Wimmers had been told that the runaways would come up along the Salamonie River and a small stream that ran behind the house in order to hide their scent and tracks from the bloodhound dogs, which were often used.

It was easy to slip into the house for concealment until night came and it appeared safe to travel on.

Another Bash story states that during the Civil War period there were "riots, stabbing af-frays, and shootings ... happening in all directions, especially Mount Etna." (A portion of Mt. Etna is located in Wayne Township.)

One day an "anti-Lincoln man" was in a store expounding on his opposition to the presi-dent when John Pinkerton picked up a scoop shovel and hit the "traitor" over the head. As the man tried to get away, Pinkerton kept after him, landing "whacks with a telling effect and at the doorway give him such a send-off that he nearly landed in the middle of the street."

On another occasion, a resident who had been drinking was found wandering around the town with his revolver, threatening to kill all "black Republicans." Dr. Beckford bravely took away the man's revolver and then proceeded to kick the man all the way home.

Originally called Priceville, the town of Banquo was officially platted in 1906 with 17 lots. There is a story that says it was named for Banquo's ghost in Shakespeare because of a sensational ghost story in the neighborhood, but no further information on this tale has been found.

In its heyday, Banquo had several mercantiles, a post office, blacksmith shop, a barbershop, drugstore, creamery, a medical doctor, veterinarian and a steam-powered tile mill. The level conditions of the land prompted the establishment of three tile mills in the township.

Begun in 1900, the Banquo Christian Church is still an active congregation and the building is well maintained. In the early days, schools and churches often served as the social center of the community, and when either closed it delivered a serious blow. So it is today.

However, the memories live on, and the early experiences of Frank "Pink" Ervin, a 1911 graduate of Banquo High School, were recorded in a Marion Chronicle-Tribune Story. Ervin told of attending the one-room Price School, where they had a "tough woman teacher who kept a supply of ‘gads' (sticks) above the blackboard and ‘whaled the daylights out of 15 kids one year.' "

Ervin later attended Banquo High School, walking the two-mile distance in nice weather and driving a horse and buggy in the winter. He rented a stall for the horse in Banquo, and would leave school at noon to feed the horse some corn.

One of the most remarkable parts of Banquo's history was their strong interest in basket-ball at a time when the game was just beginning.

In 1913, they even had a girls' basketball team. But Frank Ervin's stories told of a game that was very different from today. He stated that in the beginning their games were played outdoors on dirt courts, and the first game they played indoors was at Lagro in a "room about as big as a kitchen."

He went on to say, "We'd come to Lincolnville to play. Now that was a pretty good jaunt - about seven miles. The first time we went over there they beat us 6 to 0. The next year we beat them 6 to 4. But you got to realize, there wasn't many people playing basketball in those days as basketball had just got started. But I'll tell you this, it sure was popular in Banquo."

In 1911, a group of young men donated $40 each and built a 60-by-50 foot building with a 40-by-50 basketball court and a sawdust floor. Its first coal oil lamps were replaced with "lights that burned gasoline and were pressurized. Then, we could really see what we were doing," he explained.

Admission ranging from 10 cents to 25 cents was charged, and the building was packed for every game. Ervin went on to say, "The first time we went over to Matthews they really gave us a reaming. The room they played in was all right, but the ceiling was way low, only about 2-1/2 feet above the backboard.

"Now they had practiced. They would shoot the ball up, hit the ceiling and ricochet it down into the basket. They had a big, old dirty spot on the ceiling; they knew right where to shoot. The next time we went over, we made them quit taking those shots and boy, we really beat them bad."

There is speculation that the Banquo building was the first in the state and possibly the nation, which was constructed solely for an independent, amateur basketball team.
The Banquo High School Indians, whose colors were blue and red, were participants in the sectional tournaments until the high school was closed in 1955.

Hoboken was another small settlement at the intersection of 1100S (SR 218) and 800W. The 1879 County Atlas lists five residents who gave their post office address as Hoboken. It is said there once was a two-room building that housed a store/post-office in one room and the proprietor lived in the second.

A short distance to the south is the old Harlan Cemetery, with burial dates that range from 1841 to 1899. Sadly, the tombstones have been badly vandalized, but it appears that an effort to maintain the grounds is being made.

Two other two graveyards are located in the township. One is located west of SR 105 and south of 1100S, and the other is in Section 13. The latter cemetery contains the grave of John Ruggles, and it is thought that his early cabin home once stood nearby. Later residents of this farm recalled an old log house, barn and the remains of an orchard near the grave-yard.

The main room and loft of the house had apparently been built first because no doorway had been cut in the log wall; one had to go outside to enter the later addition. The stairway in the original cabin was 20-inches wide, and the fireplace could accommodate a 10-foot backlog. It was thought that a horse was used to bring these logs into the house.

The wide, open spaces in Wayne Township make it difficult to visualize the unbroken forests that greeted the first settlers. But the stories of Wayne Township's rich history remain.