20 Jan Pioneer Kids- Crossing the County in 1824
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
In the post about Haymond Clark, I mentioned that some of the books that he donated to the library were still in the collection. One of them is interesting for both its age and its content. Recollections of the Early Settlement of the Wabash Valley by Sandford Cox was published in 1860 and gives a unique account of traveling through Hamilton County in the earliest time of settlement.
Sandford Cull Cox (also spelled “Sanford”) was born July 1, 1811, near Richmond in Wayne County, Indiana, and died on October 4, 1877 at Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana. In 1859, he wrote a series of articles in the LaFayette Daily Courier about the first settlers in the area, and the articles were later collected into the book. One of his sources was the journal of the “Black Creek School Master” which some say was actually Cox himself.[i]
This journal describes the author’s family traveling by oxcart in October of 1824 from Pendleton in Madison County to Thorntown in Boone County. They followed the Lafayette Trace – the early trail running from the Ohio River to the Wabash River which passed through Hamilton County. The route of the Trace can be seen on the 1866 map of the county.
While they were at Pendleton, they saw the men who were on trial for the famous Massacre on Fall Creek. On the first day of the journey, October 25, they got as far as Strawtown, which he referred to as “Abbott’s Ford”, and camped overnight. When they began the next morning and crossed White River, there was a cabin by the roadside. The driver of the oxcart pointed to the cabin and told them to take a good look, as it would be the last house they would see for forty miles.
At that time, the area was an immense forest and getting lost was very easy. The family’s sheep wandered off the trail into the forest and, in chasing them, the author got lost as well. He was terrified, but was found after a few hours. The sheep were considered to be lost beyond hope and the family left without them.
That night there was a rainstorm with strong winds. It stopped before morning, but the temperature dropped and there was frost on the ground at sunrise. As they were preparing to leave their campsite, the author’s younger brother became lost and they were delayed a few hours until they found him.
At noon they reached Cicero Creek and were fortunate to find half a deer carcass that some previous traveler had salted and roasted to leave for other people on the road. It was considered a kind gesture, (although today, sanitation issues might be a concern). They then tried to increase their pace to be able to reach a spring that was the only water source between Cicero Creek and Thorntown. They were unable to reach it that day and the author said that he suffered from thirst so intense that “I could not refrain from stooping down and drinking out of a horse track in the road, shutting my eyes lest I might see wigglers in the water”.
After an uncomfortable night, they reached the water source the next morning. It was a spring called “Brown’s Wonder” and there is church by that name today just north of Lebanon. After meeting up with some old acquaintances who had been to the Wabash and were traveling back along the road, they continued on their way. They camped at another water source that night and reached Thorntown on the morning of the 29th.
Today, a trip from Pendleton to Thorntown takes about an hour, depending on the route you choose.
[i] Smart, James Hinkle. The Indiana Schools and the Men Who Have Worked in Them. 1876; Banta, Richard E., Indiana’s Amateur Historians, Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 44, Issue 3, 1948.