Comes the Hangman


What might surprise many people was the number of sheep on Sugar Creek farms. Unlike those in the northern tier of states in the Midwest, like Wisconsin or Minnesota, Hoosiers were not really mutton eaters. No, in states like Indiana, Illinois and Ohio sheep were meant to fill a pocketbook, not a dinner table. Over 1,500 sheep grazed the fields of Sugar Creek. Each spring they were divested of their winter coats as shearers went about their work. Wool was a prized commodity to farmers. Some of the 3,500 hundred pounds of wool was handed over the wives and daughters to be carded and spun into clothing material for the family. But most of it was sold to support the family. Wool was in demand and easily transported. Sugar Creek farmers likely got about .40 cents per pound in the 1850s. There were always buyers. For instance, one Joseph Tiernan placed a notice in the Terre Haute Journal on April 1, 1853 that he wished to purchase 100,000 pounds of wool, and he was prepared to pay the highest prices for good clean wool delivered to him in Terre Haute.
Early settler life was well known for cooperation among farm families. Barn raisings, corn huskings, harvesting were just a few types of mutual support. But there were instances when feuds could erupt. Most involved disputed ownership of animals or water rights, but some were sparked by pure economic disputes.
One such dispute in Sugar Creek Township led to the first hanging of a man from Sugar Creek.
The Mickleberry and Beauchamp family farms were located north St. Mary’s near the Fayette Township border. The dividing line was a small spring used by both families to water their livestock. Like many early settlers the Noah Beauchamp family came to the area by a circuitous route. Noah was born in Maryland in 1785. He was likely descended from one of the families which founded the Plymouth Colony. Beauchamp, a tall red-faced man was known to be a very devout Baptist, but one who was quick to exhibit a foul rage when he felt provoked. He became an ardent abolitionist who may have been disowned by his slave-holding father. He learned the blacksmithing trade and moved to Cincinnati around 1803. It was there he met and married his wife Elizabeth.
He moved the family to Fayette County, Indiana in 1811. While there he joined the 11th Indiana Regiment during the War of 1812. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant. From there he moved to Edgar County, Illinois, just across the state line. Sometime in the 1830s he moved to Vigo County in Fayette Township, where the George Mickleberry family became his neighbors. George was born in Tennessee, later moved to Harrison County, Indiana, before settling in Sugar Creek. He bought 80 acres north of St. Mary’s in 1837.
The two families were not the coziest of neighbors. There was an ongoing dispute about the boundary lines, likely centering upon the creek/brook that demarcated their property. But it was a bit of wool that led to tragedy.
April and May was sheering season. By then the sheep’s coat was at its fullest. Farmers would gather around the sheerer as he barbered his four-legged customers. The wool was then collected and spread to dry before being sold. The wool kept for family use was stored and later brought out to further dry and whiten in the sun. The Beauchamps laid theirs out on one side of the creek, the Mickleberrys on the opposite side.
Two tales were told about what sparked the deadly dispute. In one, the Mickleberry daughters spread the word that the Beachamps were sneaking across the creek and stealing wool. The other version (which is the preferred version of Beauchamp family) is that, despite the enmity between the families, Mickleberry’s wife Mary hired the Beauchamp girls to do knitting for her. Soon after, the Mickleberry women spread the word that the Beauchamp girls had made off with bits of wool.
It did not take long for the gossips to spread the word, which quickly reached the aggrieved ears of the Beauchamps. Noah was away, but was immediately informed of the slander when he came home for lunch. Quick to anger, Noah rose from the table thundering he would set things straight. He long legs hastened his stride across the creek. Some said, that being very religious, he paused a moment to seek God’s guidance. If wisdom was indeed proffered, Noah did not heed it.
Beauchamp appeared fuming at the Mickleberry’s door, demanding to know if the gossip was true. The Mickleberrys were sitting down to eat. When the family repeated the accusations anger blinded Noah to reason. A fearful George Mickleberry was said to have grabbed a chair to protect his family. Noah pulled a knife from his boot. The blade of the six inch knife flashed in the light as it was plunged into George Mickleberry. He collapsed to the floor, blood painting the wood around his body.
When reason returned to Noah’s mind his instinct was to run. He made his way to the Wabash and swam to the opposite bank. There he stole a rowboat to help make his escape.
News of the murder caused an uproar throughout the area. Posses were formed to look for the fugitive throughout the county. They searched through the woods and bottoms, scoured the banks of the Wabash. They did not find him. Frustrated in the search, local authorities printed handbills with Noah’s description offering a $500.00 reward for his capture. He was described as grey haired, leaning toward fat, and wearing jean pantaloons, a striped dove color coat and a white hat. Word of the murder even made its way into the Boston newspapers.
Time passed. Hope that Noah would ever be caught dimmed like the fall of night.
Chance is a funny thing. How often are fates decided by mere coincidence, by a seemingly trivial aligning of time and space?
A young man from Vigo County decided to seek his fortune in the new Republic of Texas. At the last moment he threw some of the wanted posters into his bag. He eventually made his way to a hardscrabble town along the Rio Grande River, just across from turbulent Mexico. Arriving in April of 1841, he spent the night at a dingy “hotel” where he nailed one of the posters to the wall of the hotel bar.
More than a year before this another man from the Midwest had appeared in the town. He was tall, quiet. He did not say much about where he had come from or why. He borrowed money to rent a blacksmith shop. Times were not easy and he fell in debt. By coincidence one of the young men who frequented the hotel saw the poster. He thought a minute. Yes, that description matched the blacksmith who owed his dad money. Taking note of the $500.00 reward he convinced a friend to help him grab the blacksmith.
The would be bounty hunters captured Noah Beauchamp. They took him to the river and boarded a steamboat to take him to Indiana, and thus return to Texas richer men than when they started the trek.
Noah managed to break away from them, but his freedom was fleeting. Recaptured, he was held in a boarding house until the steamer arrived. He tried to cajole a slave working there, saying if he helped him escape he would take the man to free a free state. The blandishment was not enough.
Soon Noah and his captors boarded a ship name the Canton. Noah was chained in a cabin. Seeing the chains as his only hope for freedom he attempted to hang himself with them. But his captors foiled his death plan. Noah cried he would stop eating and they would never get him to Terre Haute alive.
But, he did indeed make his appearance in a Terre Haute courtroom. His lawyer, Tilghman Howard, argued for and received a change of venue. The trial would take place in Rockville, Indiana where less was known about the case. The change did not help. On September 8, 1842 Noah Beauchamp was found guilty and sentenced to hang by his neck till he was dead.
Howard appealed the decision to the Indiana Supreme Court. While the court deliberated there was a most odd revelation. Noah’s cousin Jeroboam had also killed a man with a knife 17 years earlier. Liked Noah, he had escaped, been recaptured, tried to kill himself and was hanged.
On December 22nd the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and ordered the sentence be carried out with haste. Four days after Christmas a gallows was built in built in Rockville. The next morning crowds appeared, eager to witness the spectacle of a man swinging from a rope. Many had made the journey from Terre Haute and Sugar Creek. They watched as the prisoner was brought out. Someone asked Noah Beauchamp if he had any last words. He looked out and said “goodbye.”
With that word sounding in the air, a hangman’s rope in Indiana did what a chain in Texas could not.
Noah Beachamp was the first man from Vigo County to be hanged.

“Lips That Touch Liquor…”


Perhaps the issue that most divided the people of Sugar Creek and Macksville was Temperance, the battle between the so-called “wets” and “dries.”  It was a contentious issue that was in many ways one of the rights of the individual versus the “public good.”  It was especially bitter in Macksville, which was often noted for its saloons.  Before delving in to specifics, I thought it might be good to look at the history of temperance to place the Sugar Creek struggle in context.


America was a nation of drinkers. Foreign visitors like Trollope and others commented upon the bibulous nature of the citizens of the New Republic and decried the often staggering quantities of alcohol they consumed.

It is not surprising that alcohol was a feature of American life as it grew from European cultures where drinking also abounded. The Dutch had their genever (gin), the French and Spanish their wine, and the British rum. It is likely that there was at least a medicinal stock of alcohol on ships bring the Puritans to the new world, where it was known as “hot water.”

Who drank is perhaps the easiest question to answer. In short, nearly everyone, all ages and classes, across the nation had a “taste” from time to time. Workmen, farmers, children, women, men all were tempted to lift the cup. Even the clergy drank. In 1800 members of the Presbyterian clergy, gathered for a meeting, drank four bowls of punch, a pint of brandy, a round of grog, two bottles of wine, and four bottles of wine (sounds like a party at Jimmy Swaggart’s house). Thus, drinking crossed all lines in society and casual consumption in itself elicited little comment. It was the quantity that gave rise to the temperance movement.

Americans drank over 5 gallons (some sources believe it was 7.1 gallons) of distilled spirits per capita each year. Additionally, the “average” American drank 15 gallons of hard cider and small amounts of wine and beer. Americans drank more than the British, Irish and Prussians, and about the same amount as Scots and French. Only the Swedes are thought to have been heavier drinkers than Americans. This thirst was serviced by numerous eager suppliers. The 1810 census listed over 14,000 breweries (in this case, “breweries” was not limited to “beermakers,” but included all manner of distilling operations ranging from large distilling businesses to lone “distillers” like William Conner).

Americans drank for many reasons. Technical innovations allowed for increased efficiency in distilling and more ”bang for your buck.” Some drank to “supplement” their diet. Whiskey added zip to the often bland, unvarying meals gracing American tables and provided much needed calories to a meager diet. Many non-alcoholic drinks were considered unsafe or too expensive for some pockets. Water and milk could be “unhealthy” and coffee and tea often cost more than “spirits.” It should not be forgotten that alcohol (in moderation) was thought to be healthful (cf. modern medical thought regarding wine and its role in preventing or ameliorating certain diseases). Alcohol was often “prescribed” for various ailments and afflictions or as a preventative. Finally, as with today, alcohol in the 19th century offered an escape from life’s “troubles.” The view from inside the cup was often more roseate than the shadowed vistas glimpsed from without and drinking became an addiction for some.

Drinking was not limited to saloons. Alcohol was sold in stores, druggist shops, groceries, inns and numerous other outlets. People drank at home, work and play. Public occasions were occasions for drinking. Weddings, funerals, bees and agricultural fairs (Indiana’s most famous 19th century drunkard and temperance activist Luther Benson—see below—first drank at a county agricultural fair) often featured alcohol—either openly consumed or hidden in dark corners.

All the above led to calls for Americans to at least temper their drinking habits. By the early 1800s, a temperance movement began to gather speed.

Drive Toward to Sobriety

There were always those who hated drinking and decried its effects. Religious groups were early leaders in temperance efforts, as were some in the medical profession. Eventually, reformers of all stripes would join in the call for temperance. It is important to note that, initially, most called for temperance, not total abstinence or prohibition. They only asked that Americans drink less, not give up alcohol completely.

Religious voices were among loudest in the temperance chorus (and music was to play a major role in temperance campaigns). Various denominations took the lead, among them the Quakers. Methodists, too, became increasingly prominent in the movement. In 1790 they imposed limits on the use of distilled liquor and by 1816 had barred ministers from distilling or selling it. The church council officially voted to support temperance in 1828 and in 1832 took the ultimate step of calling for prohibition (though some medicinal use might be tolerated). The Methodist temperance message was pushed at camp meetings and by circuit riders.

Some doctors pointed out the health hazards of excess drinking. America’s most famous and prescient physicians, Dr. Benjamin Rush, published an article in 1784 that enumerated the debilitating effects of alcohol. Others in the medical “profession” echoed his warnings, such as health faddist Sylvester Graham (of cracker fame).

The temperance movement existed alongside other reform and self-improvement efforts of the day, sharing the roiling landscape peppered with abolitionists, protean labor reformers, women’s rights activists, and educational revisionists. Many viewed temperance as vital to the economy and society. Industry needed sober workers in its workshops and factories and the nation needed a temperate citizenry so as not to fall into rowdiness and anti-social behavior.

So, it is not surprising that local temperance societies sprang forth between 1810 and 1820. One of the first “national” societies formed in Boston in 1826 when the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, which helped establish a model for other temperance groups by conducting press campaigns and sending out lecturers to harangue audiences about the evils of drink, was begun. Many local efforts followed suit. Though most opted to push temperance, there was also an element within the movement which urged total abstinence (thus “T” for tee-totaler). Disputes over how “temperate” to be sometimes divided groups. At the national convention of the American Temperance Union in 1833 a dispute broke out between the moderates and those seeking total abstinence. The dispute festered for several years, until the moderate wing dropped out of the union to form its own organization.

Indiana’s earliest temperance group was probably the one formed in Richmond in 1819. Their temperance “pledge” was hardly all-inclusive. It only specifically proscribed whiskey and even then individuals were allowed a “dram every morning” for health reasons. Beer was not considered alcohol and wine, gin and brandy were thought too costly to be consumed by those in the area, so were not prohibited. Methodists began pushing for total abstinence by 1824. A statewide temperance group formed in 1829.

Most groups used the same techniques to forward their agenda. They preached, bullied and exhorted laggards to return to the straightened path and to prevent others from first stepping off of it. They pointed to the moral, social, and physical ills caused by drink. Temperance activists also sought practical steps to lessen drinking. They proposed taxes to make liquor more expensive, production limits to make it less available, and selling in quantity to at limit the access of the poor to drink.

Their efforts often paid dividends. By 1860, some estimate, consumption had been cut by more than half among some. Still, many felt much more should be done—and that mere preaching or encouraging temperance was not enough. In a move that presaged later developments, these groups called for governments to take action (Indiana passed a prohibition law in 1855, but it was declared unconstitutional) by enacting prohibition legislation. Little was accomplished at the time.

After a quiescent period caused by the Civil War and other national concerns, temperance voices rang anew after the war.

Politicization and the Rise of Prohibitionism

The temperance movement revived and carried the cause’s banner with renewed vigor after the war, this time with increasing calls for not just temperance, but prohibition. There was also an overt move into the political arena.

The arguments for temperance (and prohibition) were much the same as before. Its pernicious effects on the body, mind and spirit were endlessly cataloged; its negative influence on individuals, families, and society were trumpeted in speech, verse and song. By the 1870s many temperance advocates had a locus upon which to focus, a place against which to plot—the saloon.

The saloon came to epitomize all that was evil about drinking. They were seen as dens of immorality, fosterers of multiple vices, almost palpable “creatures” whose dark hands could reach out to ensnare the innocent and willing alike. They were dark places that took money from the pockets of husbands and fathers, and food from the mouths of babes. Increasingly, they were also viewed as gateways to violence.

The emphasis on the saloons coincided with the increased participation of women and gave rise to an American archetype, the axe wielding temperance woman, later epitomized by Carrie Nation. Such incidents actually began more than forty years before their heyday. One early example took place in frontier Illinois in the 1850s when a group of militant temperance ladies smashed a saloon. They were defended by lawyer Abraham Lincoln, though they lost their case.

Not all saw violence as the solution and there was an increased emphasis on political means to further their agenda. The national Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 and fielded its first presidential candidate in the election of 1872. The Indiana Temperance Alliance was formed to promote efforts in 1870. They supported legislation like the 1873 Baxter law that mandated licenses for Hoosier saloons. The following year the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which was to become one of the most powerful temperance and prohibition movements, was formed in Ohio.

The WCTU shared the stage with other temperance movements, like the Washingtonians, Reynolds movement and the Murphy group. Symbolism often played an important role with such groups. In a move that presaged the various modern “ribbon” movements, the groups encouraged supporters to wear various colored ribbons to show their support for the cause. The Murphy supporter wore blue ribbons, while Reynolds supporters had various colors (red for reformed drinkers, white for women and boys). WCTU members wore white ribbons.

Except for local successes, outright prohibition was still decades away for temperance groups. They were more successful at getting specific laws passed in Indiana. Between 1877 and 1883 the Hoosier legislature enacted laws that regulated aspects of liquor sales. These provisions forbade sales on Sundays, election day, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Even druggists could not sell on these proscribed days, unless the patron had a prescription from his physician (which shows that alcohol, properly used, was still considered medicinal).

Other legislation mandated penalties for public drunkenness, selling to drunks or minors, and furnishing liquor to prisoners. No sales were allowed between 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM. Nor could vendors sell within a mile of religious or agricultural meetings unless sold in regular places of business. The prohibition against sales at agricultural meetings and fairs is interesting. The most famous Hoosier drunkard (and one of the nations most well known), Luther Benson, began his life inside the bottle at a county agricultural fair. Benson was known for his continual attempts to wean himself from drink and became one of the country’s most famous temperance speakers. Benson traveled the nation chronicling his struggles with alcohol and his description of delirium tremens is one of the more harrowing passages in temperance literature. He recounted his struggles in 15 Years in Hell, one of the late 19th-century’s most widely read temperance works. He started writing the book after his friends and family committed him to the Indiana insane asylum following yet another hard fall from the wagon. Benson was ultimately out-wrestled by his demons and, never shaking his drinking habit, died in the asylum. Indiana was home to another temperance author and speaker, one who successfully broke his addiction—to multiple vices. Mason Long was a Ft. Wayne resident who wrote of freeing himself from gambling, tobacco and alcohol in Mason Long the Converted Gambler. Long, a prototype Born Again Christian, credited religious faith for his recovery. He, too, cited agricultural fairs as prime venues for drinking and gambling.

Outright prohibition remained a goal for some. Fresh efforts at outlawing drink were made in Indiana. In 1882 and 1883 another attempt was made to emend the state constitution by adding a prohibition amendment. It failed. The State Temperance Union was formed in 1887. By bringing together as many of the local supporters under the umbrella of a statewide organization it was hoped to increase influence with legislators. It was to be two more decades before the temperance (or ”dry”) groups met with success. After years of lobbying and preaching, and with the aid of a sympathetic governor, temperance advocates finally saw a dream fulfilled when Indiana passed a “local option” law that allowed to counties to take prohibition to the polls.

Pioneer Sports and Recreation


Though much of daily life in the early Midwest necessarily focused on survival, sports and recreation were important aspects of pioneer culture as settlers sought respite from their toils. Some recreational activities took place in conjunction with social or work gatherings while others were extensions of protective or survival skills. Some were means to educate the young in necessary skills, others purely for enjoyment. Recreation occurred year round, but was most often occurred during the agricultural year’s slack times of late fall and early winter or on days set aside for enjoyment.
Most pioneer recreation fit Adelman’s definition of pre-modern sports as competitions held only local significance and offered little clear distinction of participant’s roles or between competitors and spectators. Additionally, the contests’ organization was non-existent or informal and they were played by unwritten rules highly variable by location.
A major study has shown that though the pioneer generation was preceded by and had contact with Native American and European cultures there was little direct cultural transference between the groups with regard to sports. Recreation was simply another piece of the cultural baggage settlers brought with them to the Midwest. They normally adapted activities they had known back home, although some who migrated from more settled areas may have taken part in survival-related recreation for the first time after moving into the frontier. It does not appear that any new sports were specifically “created” after the pioneer’s arrival in the Midwest.
Physical strength and dexterity played important roles in pioneer sports, many of which were connected with defense or survival skills. Sport thus became a pleasurable pastime and a method to measure one’s worth. Events like shooting matches, fighting, and horse and foot races were all examples of such contests that could also train the young or hone the survival skills of their elders.
Shooting matches were extremely popular and occurred throughout the year. Typically a target was attached to a tree or post and shooters took three shots from varying distances. Prizes for winners included cash, whiskey, or beef (an early Indiana settler recalled beef shoots in which marksmen shot for shares of a butchered cow). Equally important to most marksmen (and they were almost always men) was the pride inherent in being the “crack shot” in the area.
Though modern prizefighting was unknown in the pioneer Midwest, there were fights and wrestling matches. “Bully” fights in which a local tough picked a fight joined “friendlier” matches meant to settle who was the “best man.” Both drew crowds of spectators backing (and occasionally betting on) their man. Other than prohibiting weapons, there were few rules and custom allowed kicking, gouging, biting and “stomping upon a fallen victim.” Much the same was true for wrestling matches, although they could also be friendlier affairs at social gatherings. Ideally the battles did not result in lasting grudges and combatants and spectators alike adjourned as friends, as in the famous case of a young Abraham Lincoln’s match with “bully” Jack Armstrong in frontier Illinois.
Speed of foot, both human and horse, was an obvious source of competition. Many gatherings featured foot races to determine the swiftest. Allied with these were other games analogous to modern track and field events, such as Jumping the Bar which was akin to modern high jumping and early versions of pole vaulting.
Horse racing was perhaps the most popular sport in the Midwest during the first half of the nineteenth century. Races ranged from informal contests for bragging rights to organized “meets” complete with prize money. The sport’s popularity grew from its long practice in America combined with an intense sense of competition and pride in one’s livestock.
Informal match races usually took place along dirt roads or across farm fields and were held on the spur of the moment or at gatherings like militia musters or July 4th celebrations. The steeds were usually “saddle nags or plow ponies” ridden bareback by proud owners along distances from a few hundred yards to a quarter mile or longer. Most were “match races” between two horses, but occasionally a larger field competed. The spectacle seldom failed to thrill the crowd.
More formalized race meets were held on designated racecourses, often ovals, and offered purses. The first recorded race in the Midwest may have been the 1801 event in Cincinnati that lasted two days and earned the winner a $50.00 prize. The meet quickly grew to a three day fair with a sweepstakes prize of $500.00. By 1840 many other Midwestern towns featured racetracks. The horses that ran on these tracks were many cuts above the nags of earlier times. Horse breeding, long a southern tradition, swiftly made inroads in the Midwest as blooded stock became available in most areas. Indianapolis newspapers, for example, carried ads for a number of stud horses in the 1830s, including one whose lineage was traced back to the famous Godolphin Arabian. Harness racing, later to be wildly popular in the Midwest, made few appearances during the pioneer period.
Early settlers eagerly sought escape from their isolation by combining work and social functions into events such as husking bees or house raisings. At such gatherings work skills, like survival skills, morphed into recreation with a purpose. Log-rollings were popular “work sports” that combined strength and speed. After trees were felled and stripped, two teams armed with hand spikes were chosen. Logs were rolled to a specified spot where they were lifted to erect a cabin. Rollings to clear land continued beyond the log cabin era. Teams rolled unwanted logs to a spot and lifted them onto a pile. The first team to hoist their final log was the winner and the logs were set afire. Related skills were shown in woodchopping contests in which individuals or teams competed in felling and trimming trees.
The highly developed American sense of competition turned even mundane activities into sport. Cornhuskings were good-natured coed, intergenerational contests that took place in a party atmosphere. Teams of men and women, adults and children, competed to remove the husk from the ears of corn. Though there were seldom prizes for the winners, there were rewards. Finding a rare red ear of corn sometimes meant the finder received a kiss from the opposite sex or perhaps was the prelude to the passing around of a bottle of whiskey for the men.
Though hunting and fishing were primarily food gathering activities, they were sometimes recreational as well. Small groups gathered for wolf, squirrel, or coon hunts, as much for sport than meat or fur procurement. Sugar Creek farmers were still organizing township-wide fox and wolf hunts as late as the 1890s.  This time it was to eradicate them from preying on chickens and other livestock.Hunts were also important avenues for educating the young in necessary survival skills.
Not all sporting activities were directly related to work or defense. Some, like pitching quoits, were meant for amusement, sport for sport’s sake. Two versions of quoits appeared in the Midwest. One mirrored the eastern game of tossing an iron ring toward a stake. In the other, quoit pitchers hefted a boulder or flat stone onto their shoulders and threw it to a designated spot. This version of the game, described as being played on the Indiana frontier, more closely resembles the Native American practice and may be one of the few examples of cultural transference. Similar was the game of Long Bullets (not to be confused with the Native American gambling game of Moccasin and Bullet), which was played with an iron ball. Hard evidence about the game is sparse, but it appears to have been played by two teams who tried to prevent their opponents from throwing or rolling the “bullet” across their goal line. How widely the game was played is unknown.
Such “ball” games did not play a significant role in pioneer culture, at least among adults. This was in sharp contrast to Native Americans, who participated in games (often accompanied by gambling) similar to modern soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and field hockey. A 1796 account described a game of “football” in Ohio in which a male team competed against a female one, a rarity. The idea was to drive the ball (probably a deer hide stuffed with hair) between the opponents goal. Men were restricted to using their feet to touch the ball, while women were allowed to also use their hands. Lacrosse, the most widely known Native American sport still practiced, was played throughout the Great Lakes area with one contemporary account claiming nearly 2,000 Miami gathered to take part in a game.
The Midwestern frontier was also a scene of blood sports such as cockfighting and gander-pulling. Typically in cockfighting a ring was cleared and the agitated birds battled each other until one died or managed to flee. Even crueler was gander-pulling. With feathers plucked and neck greased, a gander was suspended by its feet from a tree limb. A succession of riders took turns attempting to pull off the bird’s head to win a prize. Shooting matches sometimes featured live geese or turkeys as targets. How prevalent were these “sports” is open to debate, but they existed to such extent that laws were passed in attempts to control them. An 1807 Indiana territorial law levied fines for any person who “shall cause to fight any cock or cocks, for money… , or shall encourage any match, or matches of cockfighting.”
A trait shared by many pioneer pastimes was gambling, which one historian noted was “in the blood of the time.” Gambling was widespread as wagers, friendly and otherwise, were placed on horse races, footraces, billiards, and cockfights. Nearly every sort of contest was a potential venue for betting. Though it appears most wagering was as much for its entertainment value as profit, a strident anti-gambling movement formed in reaction as religious groups and reformers sought to outlaw it. Indeed, most laws concerning horse racing or cockfighting seem meant more to inhibit gambling than prohibit the sport.
One of the few direct recreational transfers from Native Americans to pioneers was a form of gambling called Moccasin and Bullet. Later simply called Bullet, it was an early version of a shell game practiced by many Midwestern tribes and eagerly taken up by settlers. In the game, a dexterous “tout” would gather the players around and show them a large bullet and four to six moccasins. The bullet was skillfully (and deceptively) place under one of the moccasins as “players” bet on under which one it nestled. The game was very popular among wagering pioneers, as were various card game and billiards. Billiard tables, usually found in an inn or tavern, were a presence in the Midwest by the first decade of the 19th century. Contemporary descriptions of the games are rare, but it likely resembled modern pocket billiards.
As always, children found time to play. In addition to typical childhood games they were more likely than adults to take part in ball games. Versions of games similar to baseball were played throughout the Midwest, among them Rounders, Town Ball and One Old Cat. Children emulated adults by competing in foot races or wrestling matches. Boys were indoctrinated into their grown up roles as providers through shooting matches, hunting and fishing. There were also seasonal activities like swimming or iceskating that likely led to competition.
Though some of these childhood activities were coed there was usually a clear separation of genders as females were expected to attempt less strenuous activities thought more in keeping with their delicate natures. Much the same held true for adults. Though women occasionally took part in sporting activities, their usual role was as spectator or food provider, not participant
Pioneer sports may have been limited by time and circumstance, but they did lay the groundwork for the future. The American love of competition, exaltation of physical prowess, and eagerness for recreation exhibited during the era set the stage for the sporting boom, both participatory and spectator, that began in the late nineteenth century.

“Noxious Weed,” The Anti-tobacco Movement in Early America

tobacco coin

“Noxious Weed:” The Anti-Tobacco Movement in Early America

An anti-tobacco movement began to emerge in America after the Revolutionary War. Even then the effort was a small, ill-formed weed often lost in the fields of other reformist movements. One historian has called it the “uncertain little sister of the anti-liquor crusade.”

The initial animus towards tobacco was—and continued to be throughout the first half of the 19th century— mainly based on “moral” grounds, not primarily because of health concerns. Tobacco, filtered through the unsoiled souls of most reformers, was viewed as the ally or henchman of “evil rum.” The two, drink and nicotine, were see as the twin sisters of moral decay. To many, tobacco produced a thirst most easily quenched by liquor. And everyone knew where drinking led one……….

The first major anti-tobacco figure to emerge in the United States was the famous and admired Dr. Benjamin Rush, who published an essay bemoaning tobacco use and its pernicious effects in 1798. Though Rush did point out tobacco’s adverse effect on health, the bulk of his essay dealt with its contribution to moral decay.

Though the anti-tobacco movement was not significant nor highly visible during the early decades of the nineteenth century, Rush did beget adherents who cast their tinny voices into the wilderness. Among the most prominent and vocal was the Reverend Orin Fowler, a Massachusetts clergyman who believed temperance would not succeed until tobacco use also ceased. Fowler, who was also a phrenologist, was among those reformers who thought tobacco imbued with erotic aspects (he was neither the first nor the last to hold such beliefs) and saw it a destroyer of inhibitions, which led to the usual horrid consequences of sin.

Fowler sent forth his views in A Disquisition on the Evils of Using Tobacco, probably first published in 1834 or 1835 and widely available throughout the east. His work, which also contained a small section on the effects of tobacco on health, became one of the seminal tracts in the anti-tobacco movement. The few reformers who made tobacco an issue often used Fowler’s book as a guide and inspiration for their work.

The anti-tobacco movement began to tentatively appear in Indiana by the 1830s. Capitol city resident Calvin Fletcher noted in a March 1836 diary entry that a young Indianapolis area Methodist minister named Smith preached a sermon on the evils of “chewing & spitting” tobacco. The exact content of Smith’s sermon is unknown, but it seems likely they reflected those of Fowler. (see below for a list if some of the major arguments against tobacco use)

Anti-tobacco forces gathered strength in the decade before the Civil War. By the mid- 19th century, the anti-tobacco movement was gaining strength, as more people added their voices to a swelling chorus decrying tobacco use. By the 1850s an Anti-Tobacco Tract Depository had been established in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and was selling tracts like the Diary of the Rev. Solomon Spittle, a pastiche telling of the tobacco addiction of a minister and its ravages upon his body, which featured a testimonial from former president John Quincy Adams. Other works were often geared to specific audiences, like the 1862 The Winter School, or, The Boys’ Campaign Against One of Their Worst Enemies, a cautionary tale about tobacco for students to be used by teachers. There was also a change in the content of the warnings as, increasingly, health concerns regarding tobacco use came to the forefront. Activists cited the addictive properties (“an enslaving habit,” according to one of the many tracts dealing with tobacco) and general ill effects on eyesight, circulatory system, and brain.

The movement grew even stronger after the war. Still strongly allied with other reform elements of the period (one of the major reformist works of the period was the memoir of Hoosier Mason Long, whose Mason Long the Converted Gambler told of his battle against the triple addictions of gambling, alcohol and tobacco), the anti-tobacco ranks swelled each year and, like Mason Long, it was not uncommon to see the individuals preaching against multiple sins, often tobacco and alcohol. The different reform movements often mirrored one another. One common element was “taking the pledge” not to use alcohol or tobacco. Temperance workers often gave out ribbons or badges to those promising to abstain from drinking, while anti-tobacco forces often gave children a token that could be worn on a chain if they pledged to never use the “noxious weed.” On one side he token showed a young boy on one side with the words “I will never use tobacco in any form. The obverse contained the message “Tobacco tends to idleness, poverty, strong drink, vice, ill health, insanity & death.” It was hoped that youth would wear the “medal” as a badge of honor and influence others to abstain

Despite the increase in the strength and sophistication of both movements, a long battle was ahead.

Major Early Arguments Against Tobacco Use

1. Moral:

Tobacco use leads to ruinous effect on the habits and morals of the user. It leads to “idle, sauntering habits…,” induces “benumbing, grovelling, stupid sensations….” Most importantly, it leads to intemperance. Chewing, sniffing and smoking often lead to drinking!!!!!

“Tobacco benumbs the affections and moral feelings, and renders love a mere passion. I knew a man who married a fine woman. At first he was very affectionate, his moral feelings were active, and for a time he studied for the ministry; but imbibing the habits of chewing and smoking, he became less pious and affectionate to his wife, and by the time he smoked thirty cigars per day, he could swear like a pirate, and abuse his wife shamefully. Not being able to endure his treatment any longer, she commenced drinking to drown her trouble, and soon put an end to her life.” [quoted in Robert, The Story of Tobacco in America, 109-110]

“…. The tobacco pipe excites a demand for an extraordinary quantity of some beverage to supply the waste of glandular secretion… ardent spirits are the common substitutes; and the smoker is often reduced to the state of dram drinking, and finishes his life as a sot.” [Fowler, 16]

“… smoking and chewing tobacco, by rendering water and other simple liquors insipid to the taste, dispose very much to the stronger stimulus of ardent spirits; hence, the practice of smoking cigars, ahs been followed by the use of brandy….” [Dr. Benjamin Rush, quoted in Fowler, 16]

Smoking and chewing, said one who once did both, “produced a continual thirst for stimulating drinks, and this tormenting thirst led me to the habit of drinking ale, porter, brandy, and other kinds of spirits…. I reformed, and after I had subdued the appetite for tobacco, I lost all desire for stimulating drink.” {Fowler, 16]


Though some early reformers saw that there were benefits to using small doses of nicotine in medical treatments, they saw only ill effects of smoking, chewing and snuff-taking on a person’s body and overall health.

“… tobacco is an active poison; … its constant use induces the most distressing and fatal diseases.” [Fowler, 14]

“No man can devote himself to the pipe, the quid, or the snuff box, without certain injury to his health and constitution. He may not perceive the injury at once, on account of immediate exhilaration; but complicated chronic complaints will creep upon him apace, making life a burden, and issuing a premature dissolution.” [Fowler, 14-15]

Anti-tobacco activists often “proved” that tobacco was a poison by telling of cats or dogs that were killed instantaneously when nicotine was placed on their tongues. “ A drop or two of the chemical oil of tobacco, being put on the tongue of a cat, produces violent convulsions, and death itself in the space of a minute.” [Robert, 107-108; Dr. Rees, quoted in Fowler, 12]

“As medical men, we know that smoking injures the whole organism, puts a man’s stomach and whole frame out of order; but it acts mainly, as all other poisons do, on the nervous system.” (quoted in the 1888 publication Anti-Tobacco by Abiel Abbot Livermore, 2-3)


Many activists pointed out that tobacco was damaging to the intellect…

“Intoxicating drinks, opium and tobacco, exert a pernicious influence upon the intellect. They tend directly to debilitate the organs…. Weaken the memory, unfix the attention,, and confuse all the mental operations…. [tobacco] can bow down to earth an intellect of giant strength, and make it grind in bondage…. . The use of tobacco may seem to soothe the feelings, and quicken the operations of the mind; but to what purpose is it that the machine is furiously running and buzzing after the balance wheel is taken off?” [quoted in Fowler, 14]

Economic Costs:

Fowler estimated that tobacco cost America over 25 million dollars a year (ten million spent on tobacco, 12 million dollars in time lost because of it, and over 3 million to pay pauper taxes and charity to those who succumbed to tobacco and drink and were unable to be productive citizens). [Fowler, 18-20]

Learning: Education After the Civil War

Education in Indiana Overview

The 1880s period has been called the “great awakening in education” in the state of Indiana. It was a time of rapid growth of schools and increase in funding for education. The state’s educational system was “highly decentralized” and controlled by elected township officials in rural areas and appointed boards in the cities. During the 1880s the majority of the state’s schools were of the ungraded district variety housed in one-room schools in session for only 120-140 days per year. The quality of education in these district schools varied greatly and was usually much inferior to the education afforded urban schoolchildren. (Phillips, Indiana in Transition, 385-387)

School Districts

19th-century rural school districts were often created to ”bring schools to children” and alleviate the problem of getting children to schools caused by lack of transportation. This led to “neighborhood” schools and assured local control, a concept eagerly supported by the often tight-fisted farmer who sought to keep taxes down and the degree of control high.

In the Midwest, typically, the school district varied in size and shape, but schools were invariably located at a crossroad, often very near the farm of the most successful or influential local farmer. An Illinois educator noted in 1883 that the ideal was to have 9 district schools per township, with each township approximately two miles square with school located in center of district. This “ideal,” like others, was seldom attained. The 1880 map of Delaware Township (which then included parts of what is now Clay Township) shows 12 schools within the township boundary. The nearest schools to our site were at District # 2 at what is now 126th & Allisonville Road and District # 1 located just east of present day 131st & Lantern Road

“The heart of …independent school districts was its annual meeting.” Once a year, usually on a date set by the state legislature, taxable farmers met to elect then school board and set procedures for the district. (Fuller, The Old Country School, 43-47

Interior of 1886 District School Interior at Conner Prairie. I led the research for the project.

Interior of 1886 District School Interior at Conner Prairie. I led the research for the project.



“Except in Indiana, where there were a large number of brick schoolhouses, it [the one-room schoolhouse] was a rectangular frame structure, almost invariably painted white, with three windows on each of its longer sides, one door squarely in the middle of it, and a small belfry directly above the door.” Though the above description fails to fully take into consideration widespread local variations, it does offer a reasonably accurate picture of many district schools in the Midwest.

The arrangement of windows allowed for sufficient light and ventilation during warmer months, but that was often not the case in the darker, closed-in months of the school term. Ventilation, in particular, was a problem during the winter and one often ignored by local school officials. The ideal classroom (note the attached drawing found in the Indiana State University Archive) was to feature proper ventilation.

Again, ideally, the windowless wall of the school was to face west to allow sunlight to fall at the proper angle onto the students’ desks. That, however, depended upon the road on which the school sat. Invariably (Fuller calls it the ‘almost the natural law in the Midwest”) the door faced the road. The chimney was usually located on the wall opposite the door. Initially, there was often only a single privy for use by both genders.

The district school was a multipurpose facility. It was also used as a community center, grange hall, polling place, and meeting venue. In addition to classroom education for children, it was used as a site for “adult” education and entertainment by hosting chatauquas and lyceums. (Fuller, 72-75; Wrenn Collection, ISU Archives)

Teacher Education

Though many felt that teachers were born, not made, the Midwest was also home to a coterie of progressive educators who believed in teaching pedagogy (the art and science of teaching). This feeling led to a growth of “Normal,” or teacher education, schools and colleges. In Indiana, the “official” normal school was Indiana State Normal School at Terre Haute. ISNS was founded in 1865, but did not open its door until 1870. Other, private normal schools such as Central Indiana Normal School in Ladoga and Central Indiana Normal College in Danville also existed. Normal schools sprouted across the nation between 1870 to 1890.

Normal schools rose upon the tide of thought that felt teaching was a “science” which could be taught and learned just as any other science. This was diametrically opposite the views of many who felt teaching was an inborn faculty or that no formal teacher training was necessary. Many who held this view were precisely those who pushed young, untrained teachers into country schoolrooms. Even the Superintendent of Iowa Schools did not think teacher training indispensable to classroom success, but instead pointed to what he considered the four primary characteristics needed to teach: knowledge of subject, uprightness of character, a desire to improve, and common sense.

Untrained teachers and their quality (or lack thereof), though, were the major complaint issued against rural schools by the “educational establishment.” One Wisconsin school committee claimed that “poor teacher…. are the bane of the rural school.” Official at ISNS saw teacher education as a “logical necessity.” These differing views notwithstanding, it is obvious that there was often a wide gulf between the quality of education offered rural students and their city cousins.

Normal schools were not the only means of training teachers. By tradition and state law, Indiana teachers were required to attend a county “teachers institute.” These institutes were a prime learning ground for rural teachers. Institutes were 1-5 day gatherings in which those wishing to teach, inexperienced teachers, and even their older colleagues came together to share teaching skills and knowledge. At these gatherings, experienced teachers or education professionals taught others to teach. Eventually much time at institutes was devoted to teaching methods. Institutes also appear to have been used to prepare would-be teachers to take the county teaching exam in order to obtain their license. These were often thorough, intense exams that sometimes began at 6:00 am and lasted all day. The failure rate for these difficult tests was often over 50%.

Institutes were held yearly within each county. By 1886, Indiana required that each township also hold one township institute each month during the school year, usually on Saturday.

[Fuller, 162-168; Lynch, History of Indiana State Teachers College; ISNS Annual Report for 1879]


By 1870, 56% of midwestern public school teachers were female. This trend was partly due to the manpower drain caused by the Civil War and simply continued after the conflict. Additionally, women worked cheap. Because there so few other professions open to them they more readily worked for sums lower than a man would demand. On average the typical female teacher was a young farmgirl looking for a career away from the fields (though not broken down by gender, records at ISNS show that 175 of the 273 students enrolled in 1879 were children of farmers). Many of them learned on the job.

Location of district schools in 1880s circled in red

Location of district schools in 1880s circled in red

Road to Macksville

Cross section of typical corduroy road

Cross section of typical corduroy road

Getting to Terre Haute was one thing. Going across the river to Macksville and other parts of Sugar Creek was quite another. Not yet bridged, the Wabash River had to be crossed on ferries. An illustration of how frustrating just getting to Sugar Creek could be was provided by perhaps the most unusual of early Sugar Creek “settlers.” Sr. Theodore Guerin had been sent from France to establish an academy for women in the United States. After a long sea journey from France and an arduous trip across the country she and five other Sisters of Providence arrived in Terre Haute, a town she described as “not pretty.”

The Sisters were then just about five miles from their destination, a small plot of ground in northern Sugar Creek Township. On October 22, 1840 they set out for their new home. Carrying provisions, they took a stage coach to the ferry, arriving there at 10:00am. If she thought the last five miles of her journey would be any less arduous than all those previous, she was quite wrong. She still had to cross the Wabash and the bottoms to get there:

“As there is no bridge we were obliged to wait our turn to be ferried across. We waited until three forty-five in the afternoon, that is, more than five hours and a half. At last we crossed, but scarcely had we been on the road ten minutes than were again in the forest, and the ground was so covered with water it was like a small pond. The plank road having disappeared, it became dangerous to travel on account of the trees that had fallen here and there. No matter! The horses were whipped up and they rushed into the water. At every moment we were on the point of being overturned, although Father Buteux went ahead with a pole to sound the road. At length, unable to go any farther, the water being too deep, wet to the skin he had to get up with the driver. Once the carriage struck a stumbling horse, and a wheel went over the trunk of a tree, and lo! The carriage was again thrown on its side. The water entered the coach and the horses were swimming rather than walking. It was like being in the middle of a sea, but in a sea surmounted by a thick forest; for the trees are so near together that it required all the experience of American drivers to be able to get through. There was imminent danger for us and we had two miles to cover in this way.”

What Sr. Theodore called a plank road was likely a corduroy road. It is hard to describe just how terrible dirt roads could become in wet weather. Nearly every account left by those who traveled the Midwest spoke of the horrible conditions of the roads. They were little more than quagmires in wet weather or rutted with deep furrows in dry times. Tree stumps often littered the pathway (The specifications for National Road only required that stumps be no higher than 18 inches, a height over which wagons could safely pass over without damaging an axle.).

As in many areas, attempts to make roads more passable in Sugar Creek focused on an abundant natural resource, trees. Logs were split in half to make puncheons, the same technique used as floors in early log cabins. The puncheons were laid perpendicular across other puncheons used as a base, rather like floor joists. The logs were held in place by lath-like strips of wood that also acted as curbs. Corduroy roads were often used to traverse low spots or swampy areas. That is why the Sisters encountered them as they crossed the bottoms west of the Wabash. They were also used in other such areas throughout Sugar Creek. The roads caused a jarring ride for those using them and soon deteriorated due to the ravages of traffic and nature.
Roads, whether of gravel, dirt or wood, were helpful to those living in Macksville and Sugar Creek, but there were still obstacles to making the area easily accessible. Most important was the lack of a bridge over the Wabash. Ferries still had to be used to get wagons, people and livestock across the river. The long waits at the ferry docks often caused traffic jams on both sides of the river. Ferries were vital but inefficient.

A bridge was needed. Most everyone said that (with the notable exception of the ferry keepers, one assumes). But, where was it to be located and who would pay for it? Vigo County did not have the money for it. No one wanted the city Terre Haute to foot the bill. Sugar Creek Township certainly couldn’t afford such an expenditure. That left it up to private enterprise. Some sort of company was needed to build the bridge. That company was indeed formed. In January, 1845 the Indiana Legislature passed a bill authorizing the formation of the Terre Haute Drawbridge Company. It was authorized to sell stock in the company in order to “erect and maintain a bridge across the Wabash river at any point within 500 yards of the National road, on the southside thereof or downstream.” The act fixed the tolls to be charged to bridge users.

The bridge was completed and opened to traffic in December, 1846. It became the focal point of local Christmas festivities that year. Hundreds strolled over and back across the bridge led by a band playing martial tunes, which seemed particularly apt as the country was at war with Mexico. At one point 500 people crowded the bridge and its approaches singing, dancing and Huzzah-ing the new structure that meant so much to the area.

The Wabash Express, a leading Terre Haute newspaper, was effusive over the bridge, calling it “an excellent and useful structure.” No structure,” it noted, “of a public character about Terre Haute, does more credit or will add more to the prosperity of the place, than the Wabash Bridge….” It noted that Ohio Street had been finely graded for an easily accessible approach to the bridge from the Terre Haute side. So, too, had been the western approach. Already livestock, goods and people were passing more easily across the river. Tellingly, the article stated the improvement most needed now was “to improve the road through the bottom to the bluff land at Macksville.”

And that was the crux of the problem still plaguing easier access to and from Sugar Creek Township. The bridge was a great addition, but the bottoms were still a barrier to movement. Muddy and rutted in the best of times, during high water the bottoms became little more than a bayou or swamp. Travelers crossed it with trepidation even in good weather. But a snow melt or heavy rains made it impassable. During those times the area was literally cut off from the east side.

This was not only a transportation dilemma, but had serious effects on the local economy. This worried many in Terre Haute who feared unless something was done that towns to the west or north of Sugar Creek would become an economic hub for the area instead of the growing city just two miles east of Macksville. An 1851 newspaper editorial in the Wabash Express took note of the potential problem and called for the building of plank or gravel roads to remedy the problem. It noted that those in the townships west of the river were already turning their attention and trade to Illinois, Paris in particular. They were doing so even those towns were more distant than Terre Haute. The paper called for something to be done about the bottoms.

It took four years but finally progress was made. In 1855 and 56 the “grading up” of the bottoms took place. Tons of rock, gravel and soil were hauled. Luckily there was a gravel pit on the southeastern edge of Macksville so it did not have to be hauled very far. Soil was dug from the bottoms or hauled in. Months of back breaking labor slowly built up a road across the bottoms. Inch by inch, layer by layer was compacted until the grade rose more than fifteen feet about the bottoms. It would be a major step for Macksville.

Interchangeable Parts: Shootout at Larimer Hill


America is a land of interchangeable parts.
Eli Whitney, celebrated inventor of the cotton gin, is often credited with introducing the concept and practice of interchangeable parts to the United States. Working for a military armory, Whitney worked to make parts or components to identical specifications. They then could be easily assembled by almost anyone, regardless of skill. Prior to that, each gun was unique and painstakingly made by talented gunsmiths. That took time, and was expensive. If one could provide interchangeable parts, then in essence any old pair of hands could do it. Thus manufacturing products became easier and cheaper, and more profitable. In the early twentieth century Henry Ford married interchangeable with the assembly line and a new industrial revolution began.
Those parts were made of metal or wood, but long before that, centuries before the birth of the United States, there had always been interchangeable parts. These parts were made of flesh and bone. They were called workers. If your job called more for brawn than brains, hard labor more than advanced skills, then you were merely a human interchangeable part to business owners. A coal miner killed in a slate fall or explosion could easily be replaced by another human interchangeable part. Work would continue with your replacement part. If you were a laborer on a construction site, or laying track for a railroad, and you fell to your death or were crushed, well, a new part would soon be seamlessly fitted into your place.
And if you did die, or lost and arm or leg, good luck to your family. They might be offered a pittance in compensation (how much was that guy’s leg worth, again?) Then again, they might not. I have spent years combing through newspapers from the area. From 1890 to 1920, in particular, seldom a week went by without a story, or stories, about industrial accidents. Usually followed by notices of the families of the victims having to sue owners to get some sort of compensation. How much was that human part worth was the calculation.
I offer the following, the story of the Larimer Hill Shootout, as an example.

The Railway Shopmen’s strike of 1922 spread across the nation, ultimately involving over 400,000 railroad workers. It was the largest strike against the incredibly powerful railroad owners since the great Pullman Strike of 1894. It was the outgrowth of railroad workers growing anger about wage cuts following WWI (during which the government actually nationalized the country’s railroads). In addition, railroad owners increasingly “hired” outside “contractors” to circumvent legally negotiated labor contracts and their provisions that protected the workers, rights. The final blow was the owners demanding a second pay cut in less than two years. That pay cut of seven cents an hour may seem paltry today, but in 1922 it meant a loss of 12 % of the workers income. And, said the owners, if they don’t like it we can always replace them.
So, the shopmen called a strike. Shopmen were the boilermakers, machinists and laborers who maintained the rolling stock of railroads. They were the men who kept the rails humming. A union report after the strike summed up the workers’ view:
Brotherhood leadership had hoped to hold fast to standards of wages, hours and working conditions as stipulated in the National Agreement, in a belief that somewhat decreased living costs would result in that agreement providing fair remuneration . But the first wage reduction was followed by a decision on August 11, 1921, dealing with overtime, eliminating time-and-one-half for Sunday and holiday work and modifying other sections of the overtime agreements.
The effect of this decision was electrifying. To the Brotherhood membership it was a piecemeal decision on one part of the National Agreement indicating what was to come as other decisions were handed down. Moreover, these actions in Washington were directly responsible for an increasingly hostile attitude toward workers on the part of railroad management, particularly local subordinates, who appeared to adopt a manner of treatment calculated to stir the workers to drastic action.
The Pennsy Yard in Terre Haute was then one of the largest repair sites in the country. The workers there joined in the strike on June 30, 1922. The management decided they could then replace the union workers with non-union men. After all, they would work cheaper and did not have the benefits prescribed for the union workers under their contract.
This use of “replacement workers” was an insidious part of management’s treatment of workers. They knew that interchangeable human parts were available and eager for work. In effect they were setting worker against worker. There were always men who would be “scabs.” I use scabs because it was the accepted term in those days. Others might say “strikebreakers.” But strikebreakers were really those who were brought in the physically break the strikers. Owners hired private armies of desperate men who thuggishly arrived on the scene to break a few strikers’ heads, or backs or knees. But often owners did not have to resort to that. The governments, particular state governors, feared that strikes. Often beholden to owners for their political support, and fearful of damaging the economy, governors would call out the state militia, supposedly to maintain order. Often the militia’s guns were turned on the strikers.
So the Pennsy yard began to hire scabs. Many men were eager to hire on.
Frank Easterday was a thirty-year man from Marshall, Illinois, with a wife and young son to support. He had spent most of his life as a farm laborer around Clark County. He knew there might be difficulties take a job at the yard, but working for the railroad was a coveted job. He hired on.
Easterday drove the 20 miles to Terre Haute along the National Road with a fellow laborers including Ralph Beabout and Russel Hill. They could thus share expenses and did not have to travel alone. If trouble happened you always felt a bit safer to have friends with you, and if you carried a little protection under the seat. Each day as they drove into the huge yard they faced a picket of strikers. Jeers were shouted, perhaps stones or decaying vegetables at their car. It was an intimidating scene to start, and end, your workday. But it was worth it to Easterday to have a steady job that paid more working on a farm.
Seeing the scabs take their jobs infuriated the strikers. During long days on the picket line the strikers talked angrily among themselves. Those scabs were taking food out of the strikers’ families mouths. Bastards. Something should be done about them. They were as bad as the big shots that ran the railroad.
On Tuesday, September 5th Easterday and his buddy hurried to their car at the end of their shift. Another day of work over they wanted to get home. They headed south to Wabash Avenue to head home to Marshall.
As Easterday drove out of the yard, five strikers in two cars watched them leave. Let’s follow the bastards. Put a scare in the son-of-a-bitches. In the lead strikers’ car were Lawrence Huffman, Herman Clugston and George Huebel. They tailed Easterday’s car until they reached 14th and Wabash where they passed it. They knew where he lived and the route he would take home. They kept just ahead of Easterday’s car as they drove west on Wabash Avenue and crossed the bridge. At the end of the grade east of West Terre Haute the strikers slowed down and let Easterday pass them. They wound slowly along National Avenue.
Seeing the strikers’ car, Easterday, who must have been suspicious now had his fears realized. Leaving West Terre Haute he hit the accelerator pushing his car up Larimer Hill. Seeing that Huffman also sped up. The cars were abreast as they neared the top of the hill. Shots rang out from both cars. The cars veered off the road in the mayhem. Residents reported they heard at least ten shots. It was like a shootout from the movies.
It was over in minutes. Two strikers, Huffman and Clugston, were slightly wounded. Three bullets pierced Easterday’s side and legs. Blood filled the front seat. His buddies, who were uninjured, watched in horror. The strikers fled, running through a field to reach the tile plant Huffman and Clugston stopped there to get a drink of water and await the police.
Ambulances arrived. Easterday was immediately taken back across the grade to St. Anthony Hospital. It did not look good.
Huffman was taken to Dr. Kunkler’s office in West Terre Haute where the good doctor dressed his wound. Clugston was taken to Terre Haute, was fixed up and went to one of his haunts, a pool room at 15th and Locust. It was there he was later arrested.
One of Easterday’s companions drove his car home to Marshall after talking to the police. Easterday’s wife Cora and 5 year-old Eugene were waiting for Frank to get home, When the car finally pulled up to their rented house and their husband and father did not step out as usual, their world changed. Frank Easterday died the following day.
Six strikers were charged with murder after Easterday’s death. Easterday’s five companions were charged with shooting with intent to kill. Ultimately, with both sides saying the other started the shootout, the Vigo Circuit Court did not bring in indictments. All eleven were set free. The railroad, which had pushed hard for the strikers to be tried and convicted of murder, got a little bit of revenge afterwards. They pushed for a federal judge to charge Huffman, Clugston and the others for violating a court ordering strikers not to harass the replacement workers. They spent a few weeks in Jail in Indianapolis.

There is no evidence that any of the strikers returned to the railroad shop they once worked. They found other jobs. They weren’t missed by the railroad. Like the dead Frank Easterday, who was one of 11 people nationwide to die in the strike, it was easy to find replacement parts.


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