Clearfield County Pennsylvania
Present and Past

Chapter III
Stories of Early Times


Robert Porter and family consisting of the mother, Martha Helen Thompson Porter, and Robert, Nancy and George, born in County Donegal, Ireland, came to Philadelphia from Ireland more than a hundred years ago. John was born in Philadelphia about six weeks after they came over, in 1821. Soon after they came to Clearfield county, Robert, the father, died.

Robert, the eldest boy, was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Philipsburg, where he made a hammer, when 12 years old, and gave it to his brother John, whose son now has it.

George was apprenticed to a cabinet maker in Brookville, some of the furniture that he made being still good and in use.

John was apprenticed to a saddler in Clearfield and learned that trade, going to school very little. He lived to be 98 years old.

Nancy married Thomas Ross McClure, son of Squire Thomas McClure. So the family were all provided for.

Later, the mother married William Hepburn, (who already had a family of three boys), and was the mother of Catherine Hepburn, who married James Thompson, and who has but lately deceased at the age of over one hundred years.

Catherine's boys and girls were brought up under the rule of obedience and if necessary, the strap. The girls were regularly taught certain duties as they came to the proper age, it being a rule, for instance, that each girl should know thoroughly well how to bake by the time she was 16, and no one could escape doing her share of the work unless sick.

A Shanty in the Woods. John Porter built a shanty in the woods on his land and stayed here through the week, but went to his uncle Ross McClure's over Sunday. On one occasion while away, a storm came up, blowing a tree down across the shanty, smashing it flat. If in it, he would almost certainly have been killed.

Meeting a Bear. Once when coming up from his Uncle Ross', John saw a bear, and going back got the little dog and showed it the bear. The dog ran after the bear, barking. Then John ran down a timber road to head the bear off and make it climb a tree. But the bear came out ahead and he suddenly came up to it where it had backed up against a tree and was fighting off the dog. The bear escaped.

Seven Little Wildcats on a Rock. When 87 years 3ld, John went with his son out on the mountain to bring in the cattle. He got up on top of a rock to look around for them, and there he saw a nest with seven little wild cats in it.

John looked them over and then got down without disturbing the nest. Later when he told this, the son asked why he did not gather up the little wild cats and bring them along. But John said he thought that in this case discretion was the better part of valor, as the old mother cat might appear at any time and would not be a very good customer to contend with.

Recollections of Early Life. Of the Hepburn boys before mentioned, Samuel Coleman Hepburn, born in 1817, and named after Dr. Samuel Coleman, when over 80 years old, gave the writer some of his recollections of incidents in early times in the Grampian Hills.

He and a son of James Fleming, being both named after Doctor Coleman, the doctor left to each of them a half interest in 1000 acres of land, but the executors of Dr. Coleman's will neglected to keep the taxes paid and the land was sold and title lost.

Going to School. Samuel attended school in the first school house in the Grampian Hills located between Isaiah Wall's and Gideon Widemire's farms. (The site is on the farm owned by Warner Wall, a grandson of Isaiah Wall.) His first book was a paddle on which the letters of the alphabet had been printed by the "Aunty Spencers," maiden sisters of Jesse Spencer. The school books for those who could read and spell, were the primer, speller and Testament. School hours were from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. This was a subscription school, and the term was for two or three months,-as long as the patrons could afford. Dr. Stark was his first teacher. A later teacher whom he remembered was a Yankee, very well liked and popular, but after he got his pay, he left without finishing his term. Wild deer used to come and lick salt near the school house.

This school house at first had chimney and fireplace and later a four plate stove. Some of his school mates were: Charles and Samuel Spencer, Samuel Widemire, Harlan Fisher, Jonathan Spencer, Susie Widemire, William Cochrane, Reuben Wall, and William Wall who attended after he was married.

When a little boy, Samuel had no hat to wear to meeting and his clothes were not very good. His aunt made him a hat of oats straw and he followed the older folks who were going to Presbyterian Church at McClure's, but got switched home again as being too ragged to be seen.

Boys and girls in general had to work from morning until night.

Oxen and Sleds Used for Hauling. Traveling and hauling was done on sleds with wooden soles, usually pulled by oxen. Hepburn's had the first wagon in the community, made by Abram (?) Hartsock in Curwensville. Plows had wooden mould-boards. The plowman carried a paddle to scrape the mould-board at the end of each furrow.

Things to Eat and Wear. Corn was ground on a coffee mill to make hominy, or pounded in a trough. Their first milling was done at Bellefonte. McCracken's kept a black pack horse on the road all the time going to and from the mill. Neighbors would divide up with each other when anyone ran out of food. Deer were plentiful. Hogs ran to the woods and got fat in the fall on acorns, chestnuts and hickory nuts. Flax was grown. It was dried on poles put upon a bank with fire under it. Clothes were all made by hand. Buckwheat was threshed with a flail on a place on the ground that had been leveled off with a shovel. It was cleaned by two men holding up a sheet on a pole which they shook while another poured the buckwheat down on it.

When a young man, Samuel threshed every day for the neighbors for a week, going to apple cuttings and apple butter boilings every night, with only four hours sleep. It nearly killed him and he couldn't lose sleep for two years.

All farmers had whisky to use in harvest, but not many. people got drunk. If a stranger came to work and got drunk, he was dismissed at night and the boys were sent around to tell the neighbors and he wasn't hired anymore by any one. There was very little money in the country, what there was being silver. An Indian once came to McCracken's and stayed for a week.

William Hepburn's first wife was Mary McCracken, Samuel's mother. William Hepburn came from Ireland, where he was born in 1774, to the then wilderness one and one-half miles from the river back of the present town of Lumber City about 1803. He died in 1854 and is buried in the McClure Graveyard.

James Hepburn, older brother of Samuel Coleman, died young.

John, a younger brother, settled in Penn Township and raised a large family.

Samuel Coleman left a number of descendants who live in the county.


When Uncle Billy was a boy, he was a strong healthy lad, always ready to try something new.

For instance, . one morning in summer his folks looked out toward the new log barn which was not yet finished, and much to the alarm of his mother, there was Billy walking along the ridge pole in his bare feet, thirty feet from the ground, as unconcerned as you please.

When the Roof Slipped off the Cabin. One fine day in

early spring, when Uncle Billy was a small boy at home, he and his brother Reuben and some of the other children of the family got out beside the cabin on the south side, to warm their bare feet in the sun where the snow had melted off, while their mother was busy inside. But before going on with the story, maybe you would like to know how a house was built so that the roof could turn water and still be liable to slip off. And it happens that an old man who saw one built that way told me all about it.

In the first place there were no boards to be had for it was a long way to a saw mill and not many boards were made, so the house had to be built of logs.

Here is how it was quickly done, All in a day and with lots of fun.

The logs had been cut just the right length beforehand. Then the neighbors were invited to come and help raise the house. The men came with their axes and some of the women came along to cook dinner and possibly supper. The logs were notched to fit at the ends and laid up in the form of a crib, round by round, until the square was high enough to stand up in.

Then the gables were made of logs each one shorter than the other, and hewed off so as to make a slope for the roof. The two logs across each end, next below the square were left to stick out at each side where the eaves were to 'be, so that a small log called a "water log" rested on their ends. Thus there was a "water log" on each side to help form the eaves. Then logs were put across from gable to gable with the ends resting on the gables just far enough apart for the "clapboards" or "splits" as they were sometimes called, to rest on, as they made the roof.

These "splits", about three and one-half feet long and one-fourth to one-half inch thick, were split out of good, sound, mature pine. The hearts that were left were used for "chunking" on the ends of which to rest the "weight poles" that held the "splits" on. These "splits", in two layers, breaking cracks, rested on the house log at the top of the square, with the lower ends butted down against the water log, and the upper ends resting flat on the first supporting log. Then another set of splits was put on shedding down onto these, one of the heart pieces before spoken of, was put up and down on top of the splits and the weight pole put on, each end resting on the upper end of the "split".

In this way the house was -roofed all the way up to the comb on each side, and the weight poles held the roof on by gravity. Not a nail was necessary or used in building such a house, for even the doorways, being cut out of the logs of the house, were faced with hewed "puncheons" pinned on to the ends of the cut off logs, and the doors, if made of boards were held together by battens, pinned if necessary or "dovetailed" into the door.

The door swung on wooden hinges ingeniously contrived from pins driven into holes bored in the logs or jamb, with other short pins sticking up on which the door swung, holes being bored in the extending battens for that purpose and this forming a hinge. Another form of hinge was to fix a pole upright in the door jamb, the ends being loose, in holes bored in the logs at top and bottom. This pole passed through holes in the ends of battens extending across the door and beyond the side of the door next to the jamb.

To let in light, a section of one or two logs was cut out in the side or end of the cabin and greased paper or cloth was fastened in with pegs. The door was kept shut by a strong latch made of oak or hickory wood, and put on the inside of the door so it could be lifted from the inside with the fingers.

To make it possible to lift the latch from the outside, a hole was bored in the door a couple inches above the latch through which a leather string attached to the latch, passed and hung down outside. On pulling this string, the latch was lifted and the door could be pushed open. At night or to keep intruders out, the latch string could be pulled in. To have the string out was considered a sign of hospitality, hence saying to a person, "our latch string is out," came to be equivalent to saying "come and see us, you will be welcome."

A chimney of logs, or partly of stones, was built at one end, outside, with an opening made through the logs where the fireplace was made, a large flat stone being laid down as a hearth. Across the front at the top of the fireplace, a log mantel was placed. In the most primitive cabins, a large augerhole was bored in this mantel log and a corresponding hole bored in a log at the back of the chimney.

Through this hole, a round stick or pole was put, to hang the kettle on, the other end of the pole being put in the hole at the back of the chimney to support it. On this pole a chain that could be let down or looped up, was hung to suspend the kettle, pot or cake-griddle, or on which to suspend the "spit" for roasting meat.

In later times the fireplace had a crane hung at the side so that it would swing an arm out over the fire. On this arm the cooking vessels could be suspended. Andirons were used to keep the wood in position for burning to the best advantage and tongs were used to pick up hot coals that might fall out of the fire. A Dutch oven or a big iron pot was used for baking on the hearth, and was heated by piling hot coals around and over it, but most of the baking was done in an out oven made of clay and later of brick.

In the days before matches were made, it might be quite a calamity to have the fire go out at night. It was usually kept by covering hot hardwood coals with ashes. If it went out, fire either had to be borrowed from a neighbor, sometimes living a mile or two away, or kindled with "tinder"' from sparks made with flint and steel.

In making an out oven, the clay, mixed with straw and water, was worked up into what were called "cats", and after the foundation was made of stone and a smoothed floor of clay or brick for the oven bottom, dry wood, suitable for burning, was built up in a compact heap just the size and shape the interior of the oven was to be, that is about six to eight feet long, four feet wide and two and one-half feet high. A "cat" of clay was about six by nine inches, and these "cats" were now moulded over the wood, making the oven walls six inches thick.

A chimney made at the far end and a door in front completed the oven. Then the wood was set on fire. This baked the clay and after the coals were raked out, the oven was washed inside with a cloth in the form of a swab on a stick. It was then ready to put in the baking. Raised loaves put on cabbage leaves were thrust in on an "oven peel", (a wooden paddle with long handle) . The wood burned in the oven heated the clay which held heat sufficiently long to bake bread, cakes and pies enough to last a week. Sometimes pies were put in and baked after the bread was taken out.

The cabin in which Uncle Billy was raised had a floor made of flattened poles. Many of the cabins had no floor at all but the earth. Now the ice and snow of winter must have loosened the roof in some way, for as the children stood there under the eaves, the whole roof on that side, slid right down over them. Their mother working inside the cabin seeing what had happened, thought at once that the children must be killed. However, when she ran out to look for them, she was overjoyed to find thern safe and sound, for they had been standing close against the house and the whole side of the roof had slid over them, leaving them untouched.

How Uncle Billy Shot the School Master. In those days boys did not have guns as now, or at least not so dangerous a kind. Uncle Billy had a pop-gun made from an elder stalk with the pith punched out, which was no mean weapon.

He used wet "tow" for "wads" or bullets. In those days most of the clothes were made at home, and besides wool from sheep, flax, grown in the field, was used to make linen clothing. The rougher part of the flax was called "tow" being used for a variety of purposes including a filling to "calk" boats and arks, to make "tow" pants, and for grafting trees, besides what the boys used for pop-gun wads.

Well, Uncle Billy, when at school, had often watched from his bench in front of the fireplace to see the old school master stoop down before the fire and pick up a live coal to light his pipe. But this time Uncle Billy, said he had his popgun in fine shape, and when the master went through the familiar operation of lighting up for a smoke, he couldn't resist the temptation, but let the master have it where his pants were stretched tight.

The poor master wasn't expecting anything of the kind, so it went a little hard with him. Uncle Billy said he jumped straight up in the air, slapping his hand where the sting was in the funniest possible way (to Billy) and yelled right out, "Oh my God, I'm shot."

Of course Uncle Billy couldn't keep a straight face at that, but still all might have been well with him, had not the master at that minute turned around and caught Uncle Billy laughing.

That was too much, and reaching for his long "gad" which in those days, was always kept handy, the master gave Uncle Billy a sound thrashing, which gave him something else to think about for a while. But in telling the story, he always ended it by saying with a twinkle in his eye. "The licking hurt, but I'd have done it again, for the fun that was in it."

How Uncle Billy Tried to Fly. You have no doubt read "Darius Green and his Flying Machine." Well, Uncle Billy had to try flying, too. So one day when his folks had all gone to meeting, Uncle Billy got a couple of the biggest, broadest shingles he could find and tied one on each arm. Then he got up in the wagon shed, and starting to "flop" his arms, jumped out of the window that was up under the gable. Luckily he broke no bones "lighting." That cured him of flying, but not of venturing at other things.

When Uncle Billy Pulled Nails With His Teeth. Once when Uncle Billy was a boy going to school to the same old Irish schoolmaster that he shot with his pop-gun, it came around toward Christmas time and as was customary in those days, the boys and girls demanded a "treat", that is they asked the master to give them apples and cider and possibly raisins or other delicacies suitable to the season. On this occasion the master did not seem inclined to yield to their wishes, whereupon they planned to force matters by taking advantage of the custom of "barring the master out," or in other words, the children got to the school house before the master and would not let him in. So this time the pupils, with Uncle Billy in the lead, decided to shut the master out until he would promise to "treat."

Now the master in "boarding around", as was then the custom, happened to be staying at Uncle Billy's home, and his little brother, Reuben, knew about what was being planned by the big boys, and had been cautioned to say nothing about it. That morning it was noticed that he was up bright and early to be off to the school house with Uncle Billy, ahead of the master. Afterwards the master in commenting on the matter said he wondered why "that little bugger" was out so early.

That morning, for once, the children were all ahead of the teacher, and going inside, shut the door. In order to make sure that the master should not get in, Uncle Billy had brought a couple of nails and nailed the door shut from the inside. After a while the master came to school as usual, but the children would not agree to let him in unless he would promise to give them the "treat." This the master had no intention of doing, and after waiting a few minutes, he went out to the wood pile where the wood for the fireplace was chopped, and picking up the axe, stepped over to a tree that stood near and leaned directly over the schoolhouse and began to chop it down.

At first the children could not believe that he would actually fall the tree on the house, yet when, having chopped in on the one side, he stepped around and began to chop the other side, things looked desperate and there was wonderful anxiety among them to get out. However, the nails in the door seemed to resist every effort to get it open, and they had nothing with which to pull the nails. So as a last resort, Uncle Billy as the leader, had to do something, so he seized a nail at a time with his teeth, and just as they feared the tree was about to fall, he succeeded in pulling, the last nail and the door came open, whereupon the master quit chopping.

Uncle Billy did not say that the master "treated," but at least the pupils had a holiday, for school had to be adjourned until the neighbors came and with ropes pulled the tree away from the house and let it down.

Uncle Billy gets a Bear and two Cubs. After a while, Uncle Billy grew up as boys will, and having married a neighbor girl went out in the woods, as was the fashion then, to clear out a farm.

In those days, if you wanted a farm, or anything else for that matter, you just had to go out after it. Maybe it's a little that way yet.

Anyway, when Uncle Billy had a cabin and a wife and some children, he had to go out after meat for them, and the way to get it then, was to go into the woods hunting a deer. But this time, he saw and shot a bear, for bear meat was eatable too. He shot the bear in the mouth, which made him so "mad" that he chased Uncle Billy up a sapling. Now when the bear came to the sapling and saw Uncle Billy in it, just out of reach, he was soangry that he shook the tree terribly and tried to tear it up by the roots, until Uncle Billy almost fell off.

Maybe you wonder why Uncle Billy didn't climb a bigger tree, a more substantial one, but he probably had two good reasons for going up the sapling as he did. First, there wasn't much time for Uncle Billy to calmly select the kind of tree he would prefer to climb, with a ferocious bear at his heels. Second, a sapling was much safer than a big tree, because the bear can climb a tree, too, if its trunk is big enough for him to hug, but he can't climb a "sapling" which is a little tree, because he can't hug it.

Well, Uncle Billy didn't come down when the bear shook the tree, because it didn't seem safe, but held on all the tighter, and after a while the bear seemed to get quite sick and went off a little ways and rolled in a root hole.

Uncle Billy managed to load his gun, which was no small job up a sapling, and the gun a muzzle loader.

Then he shot the bear again, and as it was getting dark, he slipped down and started home. On the way he came across two bear cubs, and while the mother wasn't around, gathered them up and took them home with him. He put them in an empty pig pen and thought they would stay there safely till morning. But sometime during the night, the old mother bear came around hunting them, and soon knocked a couple of boards off the pig pen and took her cubs home.

So Uncle Billy didn't get to keep the cubs, but next morning when he went out where the bear had had him treed, he found the bear dead and took it home. He had bear meat for everybody and later made a nice robe of the bear's skin.

How Uncle Billy Ate the Deer that Ate His Wheat. One winter Uncle Billy began a nice big clearing by chopping down all the trees and cutting them into logs, big and little. Then in the spring when the old leaves and twigs and limbs of the trees he had chopped down were quite dry, he set fire to his clearing, and oh my, how it did burn! Why the fire fairly roared across it and the sparks flew and there were whirlwinds of fire that carried up leaves and twigs and even chunks of limbs, and he and his neighbors had to watch all the time, while it was burning for fear fire would be carried into the fences around the fields, and so that sparks might not fall on the house or barn and fire them.

But everything went all right, and later when the fire was all out, it could be seen that the twigs and brush and even some of the little limbs were burnt up and only the logs were left.

So after the oats were in and the corn planted, Uncle Billy sent word around to the neighbors that he wanted to have a "log rolling" on next "second day", and Aunt Sally, his wife, sent word for the women and girls to come too, as she had a quilt that was ready and they would have a quilting. And did the men and boys come to help roll up those heavy black logs? They surely did, and brought their oxen too, or horses if they had any, and they worked, for it was no child's play, but for all that, they had a jolly time, and lots of fun while they worked. And how they enjoyed the dinner that Aunt Sally and the other women and girls got ready for them!

When the men and boys had the logs all rolled into big heaps ready to burn later as they dried out, and the women had Aunt Sally's quilt done and supper was over, then was the time for fun. Then the young folks and often the older ones, too, organized their play party, and played and sang "Pig in the Parlor," "Jolly Miller," or "Needle's Eye," and the "Virginia Reel" or played forfeits, and other games with as much or more enjoyment than young people now have in the latest "fox trot" or "shimmy" to the accompaniment of the jazziest of jazz music.

Maybe you think we are a long time coming to the deer that ate the wheat, but wait.

Now after all this hard labor was done, and the wheat was growing rich and green on the clearing surrounded by a high stake and ridered fence; it looked pretty nice to Uncle Billy.

But it looked nice to the deer also, and as they were good jumpers, they could get right over any fence that Uncle Billy could build. So they soon found their way in, and no doubt thoroughly enjoyed eating the luscious green wheat, but Uncle Billy did not like it so well, and as he liked venison, he conceived a plan to stop the deer from eating his wheat and to get meat for himself, at the same time.

So he dug a deep hole, so deep that the deer could not get out when once in, in a fence corner where they were accustomed to come into the field, and then he laid a couple of rails off the fence at that place to further induce them to jump in just where the hole was dug.

In this way Uncle Billy not only saved his wheat from being eaten up by the deer, but had a continuous supply of venison as well, for he caught as many as three deer in his trap at one time.

Uncle Billy was a Good Chopper. Uncle Billy was a big strong man, and could pick up and carry on his shoulder a log that some men could barely lift one end of. His farm was just at the edge of the Irish settlement west of Pennville (now Grampian.)

The Irish immigrants who made up the settlement could dig and shovel and do such work, having worked on "public works" like digging canals or making the Erie Turnpike, but had had no experience chopping trees. The story is told that when they went to cut down a big tree, they first cut a path through the brush for a place to run away when the tree started to fall, then hacked at the tree all around, and having no idea whatever which way it would fall just ran for their lives, straight out the path, as the tree fell.

They soon found that Uncle Billy was a good chopper, but at first couldn't understand how he could make a tree come down just where he wanted it to fall. But they thought a lot of him and would get him to come and chop a day for them and then would go and work two days for him at such work as they could do, in return.

Uncle Billy and the Wolves. One day before Uncle Billy had built his cabin, but was making the first clearing, he had eaten the lunch he had brought from home, laid down on a log to rest and gone to sleep. When he awoke, three hungry looking wolves were sitting on their haunches near, sniffing at him. - He had left his gun leaning against a tree, quite a little ways off, and had no weapon just at hand to defend himself with in case they should attack him. They seemed in no hurry to go away. However he edged over to where his handspike reared and hammered on the log with it and they edged off a little, till finally he got hold of his axe when he felt safer, and pretty soon they trotted off before he could get his gun to shoot them.

Sometime later than this, after he had built their cabin and he and Aunt Sally had moved in, Uncle Billy went out one evening after supper to "right up" some log heaps he had burning in a clearing.

After a while he heard wolves howling in the direction of the cabin, and fearful that they might have eaten up Aunt Sally, he ran home as fast as he could. However, it was a false alarm. The wind must have carried the sound of the howling a contrary way, and he was overjoyed to find Aunt Sally safe and sound.

How Uncle Billy left the Panther Watch the Deer Lick. Uncle Billy had a "deer lick" down on Bell's Run near "Sammy's Cabin." Now a deer lick was made by putting salt, of which the deer are very fond, in between the roots of a tree in a spot where it could be easily watched from a convenient seat in a tree nearby. on the opposite side from the wind. Uncle Billy had his watch-seat provided with a rest for his gun, so arranged that it would point directly where the deer would have to come in order to lick the salt. In this way he would be sure of his aim even after dark, which was the usual time for the deer to come.

One evening, just before dark; he went down to watch the deer lick, getting up in his seat in the tree at dusk. Soon he began to hear sounds that he knew were deer coming to the coveted taste of salt. But presently he thought he heard just the slightest sound in the leaning tree near at hand, and peering through the dusk, he saw a panther crouched in this tree.

The panther had come for deer too.

Now Uncle Billy was brave enough, but he felt that it might be better to be safe than sorry, for it would be quite a dangerous risk to fight the panther, having only his muzzle loading rifle as a weapon, and the night growing too dark for straight shooting.

So he quietly climbed down from his seat in the watch-tree, and went home, leaving a clear field for the panther to get a deer, if he could leap upon one while it was licking salt.

Uncle Billy's Closest Call. One day when Uncle Billy was out hunting, he shot a buck, on a hillside, and it fell, apparently dead, with its head down the hill. Uncle Billy pulled out his hunting knife and ran to the deer to bleed it, but the buck had been only stunned and the knife had no more than touched its throat till it jumped straight up in the air, knocking Uncle Billy down and then, before he could get up or out of the way, it reared up on its hind legs in an attempt to gore him with its horns. He had barely time to roll over till the buck brought its horns down with full force where Uncle Billy had been but a moment before, catching its antlers under a root and breaking them off at its head, and falling head over heels down the hill, dead.

In telling this story Uncle Billy always said he thought this was the nearest he ever came to being killed while hunting.


Courting Under Difficulties. One evening in the olden time a couple of young men went to the house of a neighbor with the intention of "sparking" the two girls, Mary and Hannah. But along early in the evening the father of the girls, a good old Quaker, and used as were all the country people of those times to obey Ben Franklin's advice of "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," arose and said: "Hannah, thee may go to bed. Mary, thee may go along with her. Isaac and Jason may go to bed also. Tommy, thee may take the candle and light these boys to bed. Its dark and inconvenient and rainy and they can't get home tonight."

Thus ended the prospect for "setting up" with the girls for that night, for this occurred in a day when children literally and actually obeyed their parents, at least until they were of age, if living at home.

This actual occurrence was afterwards recounted by one of the young men who were the "victims", because, he said, in spite of their disappointment, he could not but appreciate the joke that was unconsciously played upon them.

Gambling and Drinking in 1817. More than a hundred years ago, gambling lowered moral standards and drink furnished the necessary stimulant for the commission of crime, just as they do now, whenever they are allowed to do so.

One day in 1817, James Monks was traveling afoot from a hunting expedition in the western part of the county toward his home in Center county. He was on the old state road, and, coming to the Stone Tavern on the hill two or three miles west of Curwensville, he stopped to drink and gamble with some men who had been at a shooting match, and in so doing lost what little money he had. Feeling morose and sullen, he later started on his way east.

The same day Reuben Giles, a well to do cattle dealer, on his way over from Center county, stopped at the Susquehanna House at Curwensville for dinner. He rode a very nice horse, with saddle and bridle of good quality. Annie Price a young girl who was working at the tavern, noticed and admired his outfit and was afterwards able to call it to mind very readily.

After getting his dinner, Reuben Giles rode on and met James Monks on the old state road, near the present Johnson Holden farm, about a mile and a half west of Curwensville. They spoke to each other and passed on, but Monks, seeing the fine horse that Giles rode and knowing, or suspecting, that such a man had money with him, allowed his evil nature to assert itself and turning took aim and shot Reuben Giles in the back and killed him.

Then he caught the horse and took Giles' clothes and money, putting the coat on and wearing it. After covering up the body hurriedly, Monks mounted the horse and rode away towards home, stopping at the Susquehanna House for supper and for a bottle of whisky. Annie Price noticed the fact that Monks rode the other man's horse and wore his coat.

A week later Giles' son came along looking for his father, and stopping at the Susquehanna House, had a talk with Annie Price. She later told him of the one man riding the horse over and the other riding it back

Young Giles had a big hound that had belonged to his father and with the dog went on out the road until they came to the spot where Reuben Giles had been killed, when the dog began to act strangely and soon uncovered the murdered man's body where it had been hidden and covered with earth and stones. The body was in a state of decay, but was identified as that of Giles by a filled tooth. Reuben Giles' body was taken to the Giles home in Center county and buried. On the way back, the dog pulled Monk's old coat out of a log by the river bank near the Boggs Fording. Later the dog found Giles' shirt where Monks had hidden it near Surveyor Run.

Monks had sold the horse to a farmer, who was later able to identify him. Monks was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged at Bellefonte for the murder.

Annie Price, the girl whose evidence went far towards convicting Monks of the murder, was the grandmother of the late Mrs. Thomas W. Moore and of the late Mrs. E. M. Davis.

A Real Man's Story. To understand what kind of stuff the people were made of who blazed out our county's road to the wealth, comfort and luxury we now have, we cannot do better than think over this man's life as typical of that of many others of the earlier time.

This boy, Ira, was raised by his grandfather, his father having died early in the boy's life. The grandfather has told him of going to mill at Karthaus by canoe on the river, and poling the canoe back up the river, bringing the flour. Once the family ran out of flour when the river was too low for canoeing, and they lived for two weeks on potatoes boiled with the skins on.

Ira's father had to log up timber and burn it to clear land. He had no money to hire it done, and had no big boys to help him. In that day those who had large families got along best as there was lots of help right at home.

Clothes. Ira wore Kentucky jeans in summer and went barefoot. In winter he wore "tow" pants. These were made of the poorer grade of flax. He never had underclothes, nor a flannel shirt nor boots, until he worked out and earned them himself.

Light. He remembers before they had candles, when they used a "boat lamp" for light. It was like a boat in shape and eight or ten inches long, narrow and pointed at one end. The "boat" was filled with lard and a wick laid in it so the end stuck out at the point of the "boat." A nail in the end of the "boat" could be stuck in a log of the fireplace or in a crack between the stones. It was smoky, but made some light.

Oxen were used when Ira was a boy, and he has a powder horn that was made by his father from the horn that was accidentally knocked off of an ox more than seventy-five years ago.

Raising Clothes. In 1833 a bushel of flax seed cost a dollar, but most people saved their own seed. The flax was sown very much like other grain. When ripe, it was pulled and left to dry, after which the seed was threshed off and the straw put out doors where rain and weather would rot the hard outside of the stem. Then it was put on a "break" made of oak pieces six feet long and two inches apart on a lower frame. These pieces were sharpened at their upper edge.

A set of pieces just like these were set in an upper frame so hinged that when the loose end was brought down these pieces cut down between those in the lower frame and "broke" the flax which was fed into this "break" by one person while the other worked the upper frame up and down.

Then the fiber left after the outside woody part had been thus worked off, was gathered in "hands" a loop put in each "hand" to hold it together, and it was ready for the "heckle".

This was somewhat like a short board driven full of nails that stuck through. It was used to comb out the broken woody stuff, leaving the long flax fiber. Sometimes the refuse was "broke" the second time and "re-heckled". Thus three grades were made, the first being used for spinning and weaving into linen cloth, the second for making "tow" pants and other coarse stuff, and the third and poorest for calking "arks" and boats.

They also raised sheep and the wool had to be sheared off the sheep's backs. According to the old verse, it must have sometimes taken four, big and little,to shear off the wool,

"One at the head and one at the hams,

And two little paddy boys to keep off the lambs."

In the old days the wool had to be washed, cleaned, carded and made into rolls for spinning. Then it was spun the same as the flax and afterwards woven into cloth or made into yarn for knitting into stockings If any other color than that of the wool was desired, the yarn or cloth was dyed with butternut bark or some other convenient natural substance.

Schooling. Ira went to an old fashioned school warmed by a ten plate stove, to an old fashioned teacher who had a ten foot gad and wore gum shoes which made no noise, so that often the first intimation he had of the teacher being in his vicinity was the sudden descent of the "gad!" Here he studied his A B C's and here and in the home, he learned to respect authority, if not getting so much book learning

Work, Work, Work. As he grew up, Ira worked in the woods making and hauling square timber, cutting and hauling logs, "rafting in" and running rafts, driving logs and in fact doing everything with timber. Once going through "Buttermilk", Ira was washed off the raft and had to swim until the raft, which was heavy oak and went under water, came up again. He was often cold and his clothes froze on him. Once he started down the river on a raft in the morning, running all that day and that night and tying up above Lock Haven dam next morning.

These were lively times, plenty of excitement, often no sleep, for those who had no beds kept the others awake. Whisky flowed freely and there were many fights.

But Work Didn't Kill. Ira is now seventy-eight years old, his wife is seventy-three and they have been married fifty-six years, yet he has never lost a day from sickness since childhood and is as straight as a young man.

During his active time of life as boy and man, he ate coarse food and lots of it, working off any surplus by hard, active, manual labor never thinking of "balanced rations" or of digestive troubles.

How an Irish Boy Came to Clearfield County in 1852. In 1836 a boy was born in County Armagh, Ireland. The cabin in which he spent his early boyhood was of rough stone, thatched with straw, stone chimney and ground floor, with two rooms.

Sometimes James got a job at tending cattle as herd boy. His pay for a whole six months work was six shillings, English money, or about $1.50. There was no school to go to, but an old woman, Peggy McGinnis, taught him to read and write. Having a taste for learning, James worked through the arithmetic himself, after coming to Clearfield county. At sixteen years of age he took passage to America on a vessel sailing from Warren's Point on Carlingford Bay, Ireland, walking the eight miles to that port. He came in the steerage and it took all the money his sister had sent him (forty dollars) to pay his passage.

The vessel was long making the voyage, having encountered a storm that swept away all masts, rigging and cabins down to the deck. Then a fog lasting eight days obscured everything until the vessel drifted within sight of the southern coast of Greenland. Six weeks after leaving Ireland, they landed at Philadelphia. Here James expected to get a letter from his sister, already in Clearfield county, containing money for his traveling expenses. But no letter had arrived. However, he succeeded in getting into an Irish boarding house where he stayed almost two weeks, when, despairing of receiving any letter, he engaged with a ship captain to go on a voyage to Calcutta, and other ports and be gone three years.

He was to go on board the next Tuesday. However, on Sunday he got the long looked for letter containing the money to pay his board and lodging and railroad fare to the end of the line at Tyrone Forge near the present town of Tyrone. He did not go to the ship. From Tyrone, James started to walk to the home of his sister in the Irish Settlement in Penn township. A man with a wagon gave him a four mile lift west of Glen Hope. All the remainder of the distance he walked, following the Janesville Pike.

Before starting from Philadelphia, James bought a ten cent loaf of bread and this was all he had to eat until he reached his sister's home.

Soon he got various jobs of work among the settlers at $14.00 a month, and so eventually bought one hundred acres of land in the woods, paying $2.50 per acre. However by the time it was paid off, the interest had increased the cost to four dollars an acre.

At this time the Irish School house was located at "hogback" not far from where William Wall lived, but James had little time to attend, having to work continuously where jobs were to be had. In this school house there were board or slab benches and a board table running around the wall. Here reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling were taught. A spelling school was held every Friday night, when some other school, often Pennville, came over for a contest.

Charles B. Sanford and John Russell were two of the early teachers.

"Tracking A Bear." A man who wore moosehide boots walked out one winter day through the snow in the woods, and a neighbor who saw the tracks, followed them for quite a distance until he came in sight of the man, thinking them the tracks of a bear.

The Horse Fiddle. One Sunday many years ago, as the people of Lumber City and vicinity were going home from church, they met a motly lot of animals running up through the town. There were horses, cows, steers, calves, sheep, etc., in fact about all of the barn yard folk, and they seemed wild with terror. The people, could not imagine what in the world could have happened to frighten them so. But soon different ones began to recognize the stock as the domestic animals from the Kirk farm, a mile below town. But what could have caused such a stampede?

After a while when the Kirk family came home and began to round up their stock, it all came out. While all the others were at meeting in the Grampian Hills, one of the boys decided to make a "horse-fiddle." Now a "horse-fiddle" was made by fastening a 4x4 inch oak scantling at one end, so it could be slid back and forth over a dry goods box well rubbed with rosin. It was operated by the young man bearing down on the loose end of the scantling while moving it forward and back across the rosin-covered box.

The sounds the "horse-fiddle" could be made to send forth were absolutely indescribable on paper, more "jazzy" than any jazz band of our day could ever hope to imitate. In fact the sounds produced in this case by Joe operating the "horse-fiddle" were so blood-curdling that the livestock on the place could not possibly stand it, but immediately took to their heels and ran pell-mell out through the barn-yard gate or over the fence and up the road, never stopping until they had put a mile or two between them and this unearthly noise.

The animals were eventually found in different localities around the countryside, the sheep having crossed the river and taken refuge at the old Owens place above the site of Camp Bonarr, two or three miles from home. This was probably the last "horse-fiddle" to be put into operation, though we understand they were brought into action to enliven the occasion during many a "serenade" in pioneer days.

A Wagon Load of Whisky on the Barn. The story is told of Joe Morrow, one of the old teamsters who used to haul freight through the county, that on one occasion when he was making a trip over the Erie pike with a six horse team and wagon loaded with whisky, he stopped for the night at the Albert Tavern, between Stoneville and Blue Ball.

In the evening everything seemed all right and at night he slept soundly, but next morning on stepping out of the house, he could see nothing of his wagon! Happening to look up, he saw it perched on top of the barn with the barrels of whisky all in place as though it were on the ground ready to hitch to and drive on. Tricks like this were the strenuous practical jokes that young men delighted to play in the early days.

Source:  Pages 42-67, Clearfield County Pennsylvania Present and Past,  T.L Wall, 1925
Transcribed May 2008 by Nathan Zipfel for the Clearfield County Genealogy Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy Project (

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