Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A sad, but unverifiable, winter's tale

This is one of those stories embedded in Lucas County lore that can't be verified, although there's no reason to believe that it --- or some version of it --- did not occur. But it had passed as oral tradition from person to person many times before Clarkson C. "Clark" Burr (1861-1939) finally wrote it down at the turn of the 20th century. 

He shared it twice in writing, first as just a paragraph in a memoir of early life in Warren Township prepared for an Old Settlers Association meeting just after the turn of the 20th century; then again, for publication as follows, in The Chariton Leader of March 26, 1929.

Clark heard the story from his father, Milton J. Burr (1821-1893), who with wife, Alcinda, and older children were among several Quaker families --- including my own Dent-Chynoweths --- who arrived in Lucas County from Belmont County, Ohio, not long before the Civil War. Milton Burr would have heard the story from earlier settlers.

The "bands of roving Indians" cited were parties of friendly --- and curious --- Potawatomi who ranged across the county in hunting parties sometimes while headquartered in far southwest Iowa. The cabin in the snow is located on the Lucas County Historical Society museum campus and this photo was taken a few years ago. Our ground is bare --- at the moment. Here's the story as Clark Burr wrote it:

In last week's Leader, reference was made to the venerable Charles Noble, and the wonderful changes that have occurred in this country in the span of one human life. And I will now relate an incident of frontier life that has never been published, and as told by my father, over half century ago, was always listened to with great interest, and illustrates the manner of living of the early settlers, and the sufferings and privations they endured.

Near the year 1850, a family of newcomers arrived from Indiana and built a cabin near the timber, by the Chariton River; this family consisting of a man, his wife and a boy. In the early days, almost everyone lived near the creeks and timber, thus having the three necessities of frontier life close at hand --- water, fuel and protection from the storms of winter.

For several years this family lived and prospered, until the father sickened and died, leaving the mother and son alone. In their struggle for a living, the son became very much discouraged and begged his mother to return to their former Indiana home; he also talked to the neighbors in the same manner, and it was generally known that he was greatly dissatisfied.

So events passed, until one November day, the son said he was going hunting, and taking his rifle disappeared in the timber, and never returned.

Upon appeal from the mother, the neighbors searched for the missing boy, but from the start it was generally supposed he had returned to the Indiana home; however, the mother gave this idea no consideration, and her belief was attributed to mother love, and then followed a winter of sorrow and loneliness, as she lived in the cabin, menaced in the daytime by bands of roving Indians, and the nights made hideous by the howling of the wolves.

Finally the winter ended and one day in March, she made her daily visit to the spring, for a bucket of water for her household use, when she saw, beyond her reach in the water, some object, and upon the arrival of some neighbors, they were horrified to find it was the body of her lost son, and upon searching upon a steep bluff, above the spring, evidence was still plain, by the broken brush, showing where the son had evidently stumbled, and fallen to the overhanging bluff above the spring, where he had fallen to his death in the water below. Later his rifle was found in the bottom of the spring.

I am unable to give the name of the family, or the part of the county in which this tragedy occurred, and will add this was one of several incidents of pioneer life furnished by my father to the late T.M. Stuart, who it is understood gave much of his time, in the last years of his life, to the collection of these events with the intention of having the same published in book form, and it is a loss to posterity, to know Mr. Stuart passed on, and the book was never published.

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