Old Time Tales of Warren County


It should be thoroughly understood that this book does not pretend to be a history. The outstanding historical events which took place in the early days of Warren County have been ably gathered and written years ago. If the reader discovers that some of the most prominent happenings in the history of the country have been entirely omitted or but casually mentioned here it is hoped he will remember that this volumn makes no pretense at being a history in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather a collection of the picturesque and romantic happenings of the region, since the early days of the white man.

It has been said that "History is a skeleton which only literature can clothe with life and feeling." A mere catalog of happenings is a priceless record, but it paints for us no complete picture of the past. To add some color to things already set down, to rescue from oblivion many true tales never before written is the avowed object of this volumn. Warren County is particularly rich in romance of the past. Since La Salle, supposedly the first white man ever to set eyes on the region of Warren County, came traveling down the Allegheny in his canoe; since his countryman Celeron de Bienville made his famous canoe trip down the Conewango many interesting men and women have lived and died among our favored hills of Warren County.

Studying the lives of some of these sturdy pioneers who hewed their homes in the wilderness, the men who built the first churches and schoolhouses and rude log bridges which spanned the smaller streams, one wonders at times if such men now exist anywhere. How hard they worked, those men and women who struggled to rear their families here in Warren County when great, virgin forests clothed all the hills and valleys and life smelled of woodsmoke, pine chips, the steam of the great iron kettle bubbling in the open fireplace, and, sometimes, gunpowder! The business of living was a serious one, the day's work began with daybreak, or before.

Men walked unbelievable distances, carried tremendous loads, endured hardships as a common part of the day's work. Yet life must have been full of hope, there was a fine virility among the pioneers that made existence a thing worth fighting hard for. It seems that boredom rarely lives on bare board floors and ennui is unknown in the home whose center of sustenance is a big iron kettle hung in a stone fireplace. Life was raw and hard in many ways in those pioneer times in Warren County when axes were ringing in the forest, the tall pines crashed and the winding waters of the Allegheny were carrying countless rafts of logs and lumber to the expanding markets of the south and west. It was work, work, work for the early settlers, and yet, as we look back into those fast fading days of the great forests through the memories of men and women still living, we catch a glimpse of a vivid freshness that permeated life, a tremendous faith and interest in existence not encountered in these modern times. Men labored through long, solitary days in the forest, felling trees, clearing the land with high hope in their hearts. Women sang at their wool carding and candle making, while they knitted sturdy gray stockings for the children to wear on snow-drifted trudgings to the log schoolhouse, often miles away. Hardship there was a-plenty, yet the vision seemed never to perish from the people.

Babies were born in woodland cabins without the aid of a doctor. Many women had their dried bundles of herbs and roots hanging near the open fireplace and in the great iron kettle were boiled and brewed such herbaceous remedies as occasion called for. And somewhere in the neighborhood there was always an old woman who "knew the herbs" and would come for a consideration, or without one, and minister to the sick.

Rugged honesty existed in a high degree among the early homemakers in Warren County. Extensive pieces of land were often sold without the stroke of a pen. John Brown would say to John Davis, "I would like to buy two hundred acres of that land of yours along the creek. I have no money now but I can pay you something at the end of a year." And the land would be surveyed, or perhaps "stepped off", the deal considered closed and payment never doubted. It was pretty well back when business was done that way in Warren County, yet such deals were made within the memories of men living in this year of 1930.

It seems natural to clothe the past in mists of romance that obscure the harshness we know existed. Mankind is inclined to look backward and forward rather than at the present, vesting both past and future with a glamour born, in one case of kindly memory which is prone to forget the unpleasant, in the other of that hope which springs eternal in the human breast. Yet it is undeniable that the blue wood smoke that went curling up from Warren County's pioneer cabins to go floating off through the endless green forests was full of romance and the picturesque. To catch some of that romance, to picture the picturesque is the aim of this book.

The stories set down here have been gathered with infinite pains from the four corners of the county with occasional excursions over the lines, as in the case of Teddy Collins who had many dealings in Warren County though he never lived here. Other incidents for which the county lines were crossed have been deemed worthy of inclusion because of their associations with Warren County.

Certain chapters have been written in story form because this style of presentation seemed best adapted to them. These little narratives have been carefully built up from actual facts, verified so far as possible in every case. The book is a sincere attempt to portray the life of early days in Warren County.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 1-4: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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