True Accounts of Early Portage County by Christian Cackler
Christian Cackler was born June 27, 1791 in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and died July 05, 1878. He came to Hudson, Ohio, with his parents in 1804. He served two years in the war of 1812 which included the first defeat of a British naval squadron under U.S. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie.
After the war, he married Theresa Nighman in 1814, bought a farm on 50 acres in Franklin Township in 1816 for $3.50 an acre, and proceeded to clear his land. After cutting and splitting logs by hand, having no team of horses, he hauled them on his back to the property edges where he erected a split rail fence. He then employed a hired hand to work his field and plant his corn, all of which was accomplished entirely with a hoe. I wonder how many of us could handle such physical work today!
As one of the earliest settlers in Portage County who was often asked what the country was like at that time, Christian took on the task of recording many of his early memories in his book Recollections of an Old Settler.
It is from this book that I have gathered the stories which I will be featuring here. Much of what I have written is taken word for word, while some has been omitted or paraphrased for ease of reading. I have kept it in first person as told by Mr. Cackler. Chapters and titles are my own for purposes of archiving these features.
Living Among Indians and Understanding Their Way of Life
In 1804, Portage County was nothing but wilderness. There were probably 40 Indians to every white man though they were friendly and peaceable. Three Indian tribes resided here; the Senecas, Taways, and Chippeways. Each had their own hunting ground marked and knew their boundaries as well as any farmer knew his own farm.
John Bigson was the Seneca chief. He was near six feet tall, stout and muscular with keen black eyes, and rarely smiled. What he said was law with his tribe. I think he was perfectly honest, and what he said he meant. If he promised you anything, you might be sure of it and if any of the rest promised anything, they had to be as good as their word. And if you promised them anything, they looked for it with as much grace; and if you lied to them they would never forget it.
John Bigson had his headquarters in Streetsboro on or near the Cuyahoga River. I have been there a great many times, and if they had anything to bestow upon you in the way of eatables, it was as free as the water. They thought it was a privilege to give, for they thought it was a token of friendship; and if they gave to one, they gave to all who were present.
Their wigwam was about twenty five feet long with a fire through the middle. There was a door at each end to let smoke out and thatched roof, making it tight and warm. They would lie down feet toward the fire under their blankets and furs. The chief would gather his family and connections and all would remain here for the winter, warm and comfortable as a man in his palace. Meat was killed in the summer and kept over the winter so little hunting had be done. In spring, each family would venture out over the hunting grounds and build wigwams for the summer. They hunted with great care, killing only at close range too be sure of no misses and would only kill for present needed use.
The Indian was placed in the happiest condition of any race of people I ever saw. The God of nature had provided everything that the heart could wish for. They had nothing to vex or perplex or disturb the mind. They gave no thought for the morrow, but let every day provide for itself. They had no government expenses, no taxes to pay, no jails to build, no locks to buy to secure their property, which was always secure, if they put it out of reach of the dogs and wolves. They meant to make honor and honesty their rule of life. And when they left their camps, they set up sticks as a signal that there was nobody at home, and everything was secure.
I think the Indian is the happiest man in the world, in the wilderness. He can get up, kill and slay the fattest of the land, and lie down and take his ease with no one to make him afraid. I have often inquired why it is that the man of the forest is so much more honest than the civilized and christianized world. I never knew of any language of their own that they swear or blaspheme in, at least not till the whites taught him.
The Indians were a peculiar people in their notions. In June, 1806, when the total eclipse occurred, they did not know anything of it until it began to be dark. They became very much frightened., and thought the Bad Spirit had gone to war with the Good Spirit. They formed themselves in a line of battle and commenced firing at the Bad Spirit, and as the glimpse of the sun came out on the opposite side, one of them fired and gained the victory, and they made him Chief, or so it was said.
Chapter Two, Animals and Hunting Excursions, will be next week’s feature.