Chapter 08 - History of Wyoming County



THE settlement of the region which includes the present county of Wyoming commenced at about the beginning of the present century. Previous to the war of the Revolution the tide of emigration had begun to set westward from the New England States, but during that war it was arrested; for the emissaries of the enemy sought constantly to arouse and foster a spirit of hostility among the natives, and no one would seek a home in a region where "the merciless Indian savage" might at any time bring destruction on feeble settlements, in accordance with his "known rule of warfare." After the close of this war, and the return of the Revolutionary patriots to their homes, the tide again set in this direction, and at the commencement of this century its foremost wave had reached this region.

The hardy, active and ambitious sons and daughters of the New Englanders left their paternal roofs, and sought homes in the untamed wilderness of what was then the west. They were not the effeminate sons and languid daughters of wealthy parents, who had been reared in the lap of luxury. From their infancy they had, by precept and example, been taught the industry and economy which had enabled their fathers to thrive among the rocks and hills of their native country. Some of them started alone, with knapsacks on their backs, rifles on their shoulders, and axes in their hands. Thus accoutered, they bade adieu for a time to the loved ones at home and turned their faces westward, to seek their future homes and fortunes in the wilderness.

For a time they followed the trail of various emigrants, but sooner or later they abandoned this, left the borders of civilization, and struck into the forest. Having selacted suitable locations and secured their titles, they commenced their preparations for the future. Shanties for temporary shelter were constructed, clearings were begun, and preparations made for the erection of rude log houses for the shelter of those whom they were to bring with them on their return the next year. While this work was in progress, these solitary laborers procured what supplies they required, beyond the game they killed, from the nearest settlements, several miles away. Their nearest neighbors were those who were making similar preparations at points one or a few miles distant; and with these they occasionally exchanged visits - to talk of home and to discuss their plans for the future, to anticipate the pleasure which they would derive from such visits the next year, when they would be accompanied by the partners who were to share their fortunes and their privations.

At times they "changed works" in order to accomplish some of their various tasks with greater facility, and occasionally they clubbed together and hired from a distant settler a yoke of oxen with which to draw to their building sites the logs which they had cut for their houses, and to "log up" the timber which they desired to burn on their clearings. Thus passed their first summer in the wilderness. By night they lay in their shanties on their beds of hemlock boughs and dreamed of the homes they had left, or of the future homes which their fancies pictured; or, in their waking intervals, listened to the distant howling of the wolf and the nearer hooting of the owl. Day after day they toiled on sustained and cheered by their hopes of future happiness with their chosen companions and children in the midst of the surroundings which they were creating.

By early autumn their rude houses were erected and partially prepared for their reception on their return. Small areas had been burned off, and here they "brushed in" the wheat which they had brought on their backs from some distant settlement. Larger areas had been cut over and made ready for burning and planting next spring. When these preparations were completed they concealed their axes and few other implements, shouldered their rifles, and with light hearts turned their faces again towards their paternal mansions. Thus terminated the first summer with many a pioneer in the wild woods upon the hills of the Holland Purchase.

In due time he arrived among the scenes of his childhood and wended his way to the old home where parents, brothers and sisters welcomed him warmly, and listened with eager attention to the story of his experience in the wilderness. He received a still more hearty welcome from another, who during his long absence had not ceased to think of him by day and dream of him by night. She listened to the recital of his doings with a deeper interest: for to her and him they were matters of equal importance.

A wedding soon occurred, and the last winter of the pair in their native State was a season of busy preparation for removal to their western home, interspersed with social gatherings and merry-makings among the scenes and companions of their childhood. They sat down to their last Thanksgiving dinner with their parents, brothers and sisters; attended their last Christmas and New Year's festivals with their former playmates and school-fellows, and on the approach of spring bade all these scenes and friends a tearful adieu, and departed for their new home, followed by the good wishes of their friends, and the benedictions and prayers of their parents.

Their outfit consisted of a yoke of oxen and a canvas covered wagon, loaded with a few utensils and necessary articles of household furniture. They brought with them a cow or two and a few sheep, the latter to serve as the nucleus of a flock, which, if spared by the wolves, was to furnish wool for their future clothing. Thus equipped they pursued their toilsome journey till at length the last settlement was reached. There they left their wagon and went forward with their animals, carrying sufficient blankets to make them comfortable for a night. As they went, they cleared a path among the trees, over which the husband soon brought their wagon and stores, and they entered at once upon the realities of pioneer life.

Their house was made tenable by the few preparations which pioneers found necessary for their comfort. A small spot was prepared for the garden seeds which they had brought, their corn-field was burned off and planted in due season, and a larger area prepared for other wheat and corn-fields. In this the labor of the husband was brightened by the presence and encouraging smiles, and sometimes by the assistance, of his young wife. In their solitude they were sustained by their buoyant hopes of the future, and they ever afterward referred to this summer as the happiest period of their lives.

Their wheat- field gave good returns; a few acres which they cleared and planted with corn yielded abundantly, and early in the winter they secured a sufficient supply of venison. Their wheat and corn were ground in a "pioneer mill" - a mortar hollowed in a stump or in the end of a log. A hovel had been constructed of logs and roofed with brush or straw, for the protection of their animals against the inclemency of the weather and the attacks of wild beasts. No hay was provided for the cattle, but from day to 'day trees were cut off ground that was to be cleared the next summer, and they lived on the browse which these afforded. A couple of pigs and a few fowls were fed each morning at the door of the house with corn from the wife's folded apron. Thus passed their first winter in the woods. The sound of the husband's ax echoed through the forest during the day, and the wife plied "her evening care" in the cheerful glow of the "blazing hearth "at night. Their simple fare and active exercise in the open air gave them robust health, and though their surroundings were quite different from those in the midst of which they had been reared, this was the home which they had made for themselves, and they were happy in the enjoyment of it. During the summer other settlers had come in, some singly, others in companies with their families; and neighbors were more numerous and less distant, and the monotony of their life was varied by occasional exchanges of evening visits among these. This social intercourse among the pioneers had none of the bad features which characterized that of later times. There were among them no conventionalities, no unmeaning expressions of civility, no unkind criticisms of each other's dress or surroundings, no rivalries and jealousies, and no hypocritical manifestations of interest in each other's welfare. Each rejoiced with his neighbor in his prosperity, or sympathized with him in his adversity. These visits were anticipated with pleasure and remembered without regret.

Another summer and winter passed, and changes indicative of increasing prosperity were visible. The clearing had been enlarged, and a portion of it fenced; a stick chimney, plastered with mud filled the hole in the roof; glass had taken the place of greased paper in the window; a plank door swung on wooden hinges where formerly hung the blanket, and some flowering shrubbery was growing at the side of it. A more capacious and comfortable stable had been erected for the animals, and a "worm" fence appeared around the house and garden; a log bridge had been built across the stream which ran near the house. Near the edge of the clearing the crackling fire was consuming the logs that the men of a logging bee were piling together for that purpose. The corn, potatoes, pumpkins, etc., which had been planted among the stumps, had attained sufficient growth to be visible from some distance. A calf frolicked at the side of its dam, and a litter of grunting young porkers asserted their right to. "life, liberty," etc. Everything wore an air of thrift. The solitude of the wife was enlivened by the prattle of her first born. Emigrants had continued to come, and what was a pioneer residence had become part of a frontier settlement.

The tide of immigration - the first wave of which had borne them hither - continued with increasing flow. Settlers came more rapidly, the smoke from their hearths curled upward at shorter intervals, and clearings encroached more and more on the surrounding wilderness. The hissing and rushing of the whirlwinds of flame was oftener heard, as the trees that had been felled and had become dry were consumed. Small fields of waving corn and here and there a verdant meadow were to be seen. The music of numerous cow-bells was heard by day, and "drowsy tinklings lulled the distant folds," where sheep were herded to protect them from the wolves at night. The merry laughter and shouts of children might be heard as they frolicked in the woods. The frontier settlement was fast becoming a rural neighborhood.

Twenty years rolled by and brought with them still greater changes. The old house was only the wing of a new one, that had been built of squared logs, covered with a shingled roof, lighted by glazed windows, and closed by a paneled door. A lawn appeared in front, tastefully ornamented with flowers, and fruit trees were growing on the former site of the garden. An apiary stood at the margin of the lawn, which was bounded by a straight fence; a commodious framed barn had been built, and where the forest once stood were fields of waving grain. Beyond the grove of sugar maples could be seen the log school-house, where
"In her noisy mansion, skill'd to rule,
The comely mistress taught her little school."

The stream that ran by was spanned by a newer bridge, and the ding-donging of a saw-mill that had been built on its bank could be heard in the distance. Their first born- now grown to be a young roan - drove toward the barn with a load of hay drawn by horses, instead of the oxen that for years had constituted their only team. At the well, which still had its primitive sweep, stood a somewhat portly matron who turned to look with matronly pride at her son as he drove the team along. A middle aged man was walking down the road that came from the mill. It was he who came twenty-three years since with his knapsack, rifle and ax and built his shanty in the howling wilderness. The woman at the well was the young wife who came with him a year later. Their industry and economy had been rewarded. They had acquired an honorable competence. But their sky had not always been unclouded. They had followed the remains of two of their children to the grave.

Another interval of twenty years has passed. An elegant mansion stands on the site of the old log cabin, and all its surroundings show that it is the abode of wealth and refinement. The stream passes under a stone arch, the old saw-mill has gone to decay, the sugar orchard is no longer to be seen, and only on the distant hills are patches of forest visible. Spacious fields and elegant farm houses are seen on the extended landscape. A train of cars speeds over the plain, and the tall spire of a church points skyward from among the houses of a village near by. A gray haired man is busy with the cattle in the barnyard. A portly woman sits by the stove knitting, while some of the grandchildren are playing on the floor, and others are engaged in various kinds of work.

These old people are the ones who left their New England homes more than forty years since and came to this spot. They have deeded their farm to their eldest son and taken the usual life lease. Another of their children has been added to the group in the cemetery, one has settled in an adjoining town, and two have gone to seek their fortunes in the West.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1880