The most evocative accounts of Lucas County's early history are found in eye-witness reports published in Chariton newspapers, then largely forgotten as the years passed and bound volumes of back issues piled up.
That's the case with this report, published in The Chariton Democrat on Dec. 20, 1888.
The author is identified only as "Pioneer" and while it's possible that some detective work might narrow the field, there aren't enough clues in the narrative to figure out exactly who he was.
We do know that he arrived in Lucas County as a child during 1852 with his family and an ox-drawn wagon, traveled southwesterly about eight miles from Chariton on the Mormon Trail to the approximate location of Goshen Church, then turned south about four and a half miles, crossing the Chariton River to reach the hilltop in or at the edge of timber where the family cabin was built somewhere in the neighborhood of where Derby eventually was established.
This all transpired in Lucas County's most southwesterly township, Union. You can locate the township on the first map here, taken from the 1875 Andreas Atlas. The second map, showing land ownership in 1896, locates Goshen Baptist Church, its cemetery and the nearby school in Section 11.
Here's the account as published:
SOME EARLY EXPERIENCES
The Trials of Pioneer Life
Tonight my thoughts are busy with the scenes and incidents that were transpiring in Lucas County 36 years ago. It was in the year 1852 that my father, with his family and an ox team and all his worldly goods in one wagon, passed through Chariton in search of a new home. At that time, Chariton was a very small and lonely looking place of perhaps 10 or 12 cabins. The view in every direction showed nature in all its glory, not a sign of any human habitation in any direction as far as the eye could see.
The prairies were covered with waving grass and tall nodding yellow wild flowers and the hoot of the owls and howls of the prairie wolves made night anything but pleasant to one whose nerves were easily excited.
We followed the Mormon trace 8 miles west, then went south until we reached the Chariton river. Here we had to stop and dig down the banks to enable us to get our wagon over. On reaching the south side we again stopped in the edge of the timber and pitched our tent, which was nothing more than a wagon cover, and such other protection as we could provide with bed clothing. And here we resolved to make a home.
And the first thing to be done was to build a cabin, and soon the ring of our axe told the surrounding stillness that we were busy in falling trees and cutting the logs in proper lengths, and as fast as this was done the ox team was hitched to one end, and it was dragged to the top of the hill where we intended our home should stand. When a sufficient number was on the ground, the ends were notched, and were built up to a height a little above a man's head, then straight poles were laid across the shortest way for joists. A few more logs at each end, each one shorter than the last. Straight poles were laid the longest way on which to place the roof. Large blocks about 3 feed long were cut from straight grained trees and split into rough boards. The roof was made by placing these boards in rows and on each row a heavy pole was placed, and made secure with wooden pins. No nails were used in making the roof, and but a handful in the entire house. the floor was made of split trees with one side straightened with a broad axe. The wide fireplace and chimney were made of wood, protected around the fire by rocks and plastered with clay above. The cracks between the logs were first filled with pieces of wood and then made tight with clay.
Many will think this a rough home, and so it was. But it was a happy, comfortable one, nevertheless; and the thought of those dear old cabins will bring a feeling of pleasure to the heart of every true pioneer.
I do not think there was a mill within 50 miles where breadstuffs could be procured; ours with grain and other provisions were hauled from Mahaska county with an ox team, and as these trips had nearly always to be made in the winter, it was no light or pleasant undertaking. And often during the winter we were entirely destitute of anything with which to make our bread, save such as we could make by pounding corn in a hominy block. This did not make the most delicate bread in the world; but we often made a change by mixing stewed pumpkin with the dough; this was to give it color and tone, and it was a perfect success.
Our first crop of buckwheat was made into flour by grinding it in an old fashioned coffee mill, and then separating the chaff from the flour by shifting through a meal sieve. But the separating process was not an entire success, and it took the throat of a hardy pioneer to swallow it without wincing.
We raised flax and worked it up into linen for wearing and use on the bed and table. We got a few sheep and the wool was worked up in the same way, even the carding was done at home on a small machine that made the rolls 8 or 10 inches long, and for coloring we used the bark of trees, principally the walnut.
Father tanned hides in a large trough, with oak bark, and made our own shoes. The leather, both sole and upper, was of a reddish color and was not the most soft and pliable kind. But a few applications of the lubricating oil from the raccoon made them comfortable to wear.
I think our winters then were more severe than any we have had in recent years. Snow would often fall to a depth of two feet or more, and was always followed by a howling norwester, and would often blow a perfect gale for 48 hours without a stop and the snow would be piled in drifts, 10 or 12 feet deep.
Snakes of many varieties were numerous all over the county. But there were none feared and despised so much as the deadly, savage, vindictive rattler. I always took great pleasure in killing every one I could find, and I have destroyed as many as 8 or 10 in a single day. I have cut off their heads and with my knife separated their jaws and taken out their poison teeth and examined them to my heart's content. There are two of these teeth, one in each side of the upper jaw. They are about one-fourth of an inch long, and are as white as ivory and curved like the claw of a cat. At the root of the tooth there is a small cavity filled with a drop of pale yellowish colored matter which is the deadly poison. The teeth are hollow, and when the jaws are closed they are folded back in the upper jaw. But when they strike at their vicim, they fly out like the blade of a half opened knife, and the poison is forced through the hollow tooth into the wound. The naked tooth is as harmless as a pin or needle. I know this to be so, because I have purposely pricked my own finger with one of them, and the result was no worse that it would have been had I used a pin or needle. This may seem like a very foolish act. But boys are often guilty of doing foolish things.
I remember I once was anxious to know the taste of hartshorn, and to satisfy the desire I placed a bottle to my lips and left a quantity on my tongue. The result was so satisfactory and convincing I have never had the slightest desire to try it again. I did not take much solid food for some time, and was constantly impressed with the idea that I had a coal of fire in my mouth.
But let me describe to your our hogs. Our first were hauled from Mahaska county in a wagon. I do not know the name of the breed, but think they might have properly been called the "Long Breed" because their noses were long, their legs were long and their bristles were long, and it took a long time to fatten them. It was of no use to set a dog on them, because the hog could outrun the dog, if it wanted to; and if it did not feel inclined to run, it would turn on the dog and would knock him out in the first round.
We have gathered the eggs from the nest of wild turkeys and taken them home and given them to Biddy, and in due time she would bring forth a fine brood; and they were as tame and domestic as any of our tame breed --- until the fall of the year came, and then they would begin to make excursions to the timber, going further and further each day, until finally twilight would find them a long way from home where they would take shelter in some leafy tree; and after that it was useless to expect them to ever return to the house.
We have also captured a number of fawn, the young of the wild deer, when they were but a few days old, and taken them home and raised them as we would a pet lamb. They were given full liberty to go where they pleased, and they make a beautiful, graceful pet, and seldom went far from the house until fall when they would stray too far, and a leaden ball from some hunter's gun would lay them low.
My only chance for a school education was a few months' attendance at a log school house situated on the hill just west of Goshen Church, and going and returning I had to walk 9 miles each day. About half the distance I had to pass through the timber, and school was never dismissed until almost dark. By the time I reached the timber on my way home it was quite dark, and the unearthly hoot of an owl or howl of a wolf, or some other wild animal, near me, would scare every idea out of my head that I had been able to get into it during the day.
Besides, the teacher was not a person that would now be chosen as a proper person to teach the young. and this was my excuse for being a rough, unpolished and uneducated man today. It was intended that I should go to school or chop timber and maul rails during the winter months, but I was not a very steady hand at either.
Deer was plenty and wild turkeys, chickens, quail and squirrel were abundant. And I found the rifle and my traps far pleasanter companions than the axe, maul or books.
The hill where our cabin stood is still the dearest spot on earth to me. But it has long been the property of others, and I have visited it but a time or two in 20 years, and then there came over me a feeling of sadness such as I cannot describe. The hills that were thickly covered with beautiful white oak, and the lowlands with the sturdy stately oak, walnut and hickory --- every one was familiar to me and each one seemed like a friend. I had looked them over so many times in search of the nimble squirrel --- but the sharp and cruel axe has done its work and nearly all have disappeared and the few remaining ones seem like grizzly sentinels mournfully watching over the desolate scene.
Father and sister sleep in quiet, loved and honored graves; and the others are scattered in different directions, and mother --- dear old mother --- her whose life struggle began almost 80 years ago, still lives in an adjoining county with enough to keep her comfortable. But after so many years of constant toil she cannot be idle, and the click-click of her knitting needles may constantly be heard as she quietly sits and muses over the events of the long, long ago. And how patiently, hopefully and lovingly she waits for the final summons that will again unite her with the dear departed ones that have passed over the River and are now watching and waiting to welcome her to that bright and beautiful shore where sorrow and want can never enter, and the weary are at rest.