Pioneer Days by Melinda Eberhardt Kemberling

This is a copy of a story that Alma Everhart (Eberhard) sent to her cousin, Violet Ray, who is a distant cousin of mine, Lois (Yeatter) Wattles. It seems to have been told at one of the Everhart reunions. Violet received this story in 1961.

Some Memories of Pioneer Days in Michigan

By

Melinda Everhardt Kemberling

Michigan was made a state in 1837. One year before this, in the spring of 1836, a party of people traveled by long and slow stages in covered wagons, drawn by oxen, from a place in Pennsylvania, near Lewiston, called “Black Oak Ridge”. It took three months to come through the wilderness, at last reaching their destination on the banks of Little Swan Creek about half a mile from this spot. The party was composed of John Eberhardt and his ten children as follows: Solomon, the oldest, with his wife (parents of the writer), Jacob, Daniel, Jonathan, Susan, John, Elizabeth, Reuben, Katherine, and Mary. Most of these grew to maturity and live in this vicinity, and are familiar to many here.

John Eberhardt, the oldest one, and those of his time spelled the name as follows: Eberhardt. He had four brothers, and one sister, Jonathan, who settled later in Burr Oak township, David and Barney, who settled in Cass County, George in Ohio, and Martha in Pennsylvania.

After two years in this new country, becoming ill and homesick, John E. and family, with the exception of Solomon, all returned to Pennsylvania, where they remained about eight years, then coming again to Michigan, where most of the spent the rest of their lives. John bought 80 acres of land from the government, joining 40 of my fathers (this is the place occupied by Mr. Will Evarts), (who was LeRoy Evarts father). My grandfather’s land was just north of this, and my kinsman, Will Danberry, Bud Danberry now, lives on a part of the original tract. At that time there were no roads or lines. The ground which we now occupy on this pleasant occasion, was a part of his original purchase, He bought it for $7.00 an acre, and from his hands it passed into the possession of one of the elder Tellers. (Wendell

Snook’s grandmother was Ella (Teller) Peters.

My father, as a cooper by trade, brought with him his tools, and with these to assist, they built log cabins as best they could. They had no nails, so bored holes and pegged everything together. Kalamazoo was the nearest town, where they walked for their necessities. There were no sawmills, and, of course, no lumber, and the houses had to be built from the trees. They lived in these crude homes for a year with no windows or doors. Our house was scantily furnished with two splint bottom chairs, brought from Pennsylvania, and benches for the rest of the seats. Homemade beds and table, shelves, a kettle, for cooking, swinging before the fire. Iron knives with bone handles, and two tined forks. Young people now-a-days sometimes poke fun at old folks who eat with their knives, but in 1840, the forks were so small and short and the tines so far apart, that it would have taken longer to eat a meal of buckwheat cakes then, with one of those forks, then it would in 1914 for a ten course dinner, so don’t forget when you catch an old person sometimes, slipping a nice mouthful in with his knife, that feels to him like olden times, and he likes it best that way. A few blue dishes, and a blue chest that contained all our scanty treasures, constituted about all of our household goods.

They cleaned a little ground the first summer and planted the few seeds they brought with them from Pennsylvania, corn and buckwheat. In the fall wheat was planted, and during the winter they cleared more ground. They had meal for mush and Johnnycake, and buckwheat cakes, plenty of wild game, such as deer, pheasants, squirrels, wild hogs, and as they were good with the rifle, they had meat in abundance. The next year they had wheat to harvest. The nearest mill was at Mottville, which is west of Constantine. There was no town of Colon at that time, and Coldwater had not been heard of.

The first summer must have been a busy one. Other settlers came about this time, one being my father’s cousin, Uncle David, and settled within a half mile, and with the help of a few, at once began to build a sawmill, which stood just north of where now stand the Brick Chu8rch (St. Paul Reformed Church), and soon there were logs to saw and lumber to be had. There were only four or five families scattered about within a radius of ten miles. By the next spring the little homes all had doors and floors. Before there was a door to my father’s house, and while he was away from home, by mother told me often of a little experience she had. It was a bright moonlight night and out of the woods, just beyond the little clearing about the house, stepped a visitor, who came and sat upon her doorstep, where he spent the night and guarded her home and baby and in the early morning the visitor, who was a huge black bear, took his leave.

Mother spent many nights alone with but the forest about her, and the only the wolves and bears and wildcats for neighbors. It was a dangerous and lonely life. Settlers were often sick and in want. On one occasion it was my father’s turn at making a tour on inspection as to the health and safety of the people. My father found one family five miles from any neighbor, who were all sick and the mother, when she could talk, said that her husband had been sick and died for want of food, there being no one able to attend to him when his fever left him. Neighbors came, and rolling the dead man in a blanker, buried him nearby, under a tree, near Hog Creek bridge, on the road to Burr Oak. The mother and children were assisted to the nearest stage route and sent back East. At another time, my father and mother became sick of a fever, and unable to leave their beds. Indians living on this very ground where we are today, were their nearest neighbors, and noticing no smoke coming from the chimney, came, and found the sick and delirious. These Indians came for many years and camped in this grove, and they were my father’s fast friends, hunting and fishing together and engaging in games such as were the custom of the times.

The third year became a little easier. Enough was raised to eat. Flax for their thread and linen and sheep for wool. The sheep were penned close to the house to protect them from the wolves. When they became too fierce, my father would build huge firs of logs to keep them away. Every year they made maple sugar and with the honey from wild bees they had plenty of sweets, and with game and fish, they did not suffer for food. Close to where now stands the stone schoolhouse, (not even the red brick Eberhard school stand there now) my father was fortunate enough one morning to kill five deer, and a neighbor, one deer, which made six hanging in a row. This fine butchering made enough meat for the winter.

Money was scarce. In fact we needed little, and almost everything was in trade. The taxes had to be paid in money, and when letters came, which was seldom, it cost five cents in money to get the letter, and if there was no five cents to be had, the letter would stay in the Post Office until I could be procured, and sometimes that would take months. What money we did have was realized from the sale of fur. Of all the Eberhardts, my father was perhaps the best woodsman, saving the wildlife of forest and streams, knowing the little secrets of the woods and habits of animals, and enjoying life in the open. He was a good reader, and I remember long delightful evenings by the big fireplace., with my father reading aloud sometimes in English and sometimes in German. You may be certain that books were precious things in those days, and the children were glad to be quiet and listen. Once a year, father would take a boat and his gun and hunt and trap along the St. Joseph River, spending weeks in getting his supply of furs, which he could sell at St. Joseph and Chicago. Disposing of his boat and outfit, he would walk back home with what money he could realize for his skins. The most valuable were the beaver, otter, mink and silver fox. These latter were very scarce, and he counted himself fortunate, He built a cooper shop adjoining our home, and during the winter he made barrels and all of us children helped, and I believe today, if I had the strength, I could make a barrel as good as anyone.

He was fond of having his children with him, and many a time be took his rifle and stood on a runway, sending sister Caroline and me through the woods, each having two shingles which we would clap together making a loud report, on a cold and frosty morning, scaring up the deer who would run toward a small outlet that connected Lepley’s Lake and Long Lake. This was a favorite spot of his, and here he would seldom miss bringing down a deer.

Our schooling consisted of three months and we were usually glad to avail ourselves of it. Many times deer would jump up as we came along this road to the schoolhouse which stood where the stone schoolhouse now stands. (Where it used to stand).

Big blue racers and black snakes were plentiful, and we always carried a big stick, and when one of these snakes would chase us, and they sometimes did, we would give them a good whack in the middle, and disable them, and then hit them on the head and kill them.

Finally the days came, when my good and brave mother’s health began to fail. She was sick about eight years. It was hard to give her the care and comforts she needed for we were very poor. At last she left us, and then the saddest days of all came, when we were left alone with my father, and the care of the two smaller ones. After many struggles, we grew to be men and women.

There are two of my immediate family left, my brother George E. of Union City (and, I believe, he became Dawn Eberhard’s father) and myself and two half sisters.

After living in many place for fifty years, I have come back again to my childhook home, where I hope to spend my remaining days and trust we may all meet for many years to come in celebrating the Eberhardt family reunion.

A descendant of the original Eberhardt family first settling in Michigan has consented to tell a few recollections of those early times.

The writer has had no access to any records or manuscripts and only has recorded what she herself remembers and what has been told her by older members of her family.

 

The following are the children of Reuben Eberhard:

 

William Eberhard was born in 1851

Calvin          “          “      “    “ 1853

Frank            “          “      “    “ 1855

Eldoras         “          “      “    “ 1857

Homer          “          “      “    “ 1859 (His son, LeVerne lived in Colon)

Elmer            “          “      “    “ 1860

McDonald    “          “      “    “ 1862

Grant            “          “      “    “ 1866 (Son, Ernest-Niobrara, Nebr. Son, Charles

Eernest         “          “      “    “ 1868                                               Denver, Col.)

Edith            “          “      “    “ 1870 (Lived in Colon, Husband, Orrin Shane Sr.

Children: Dorothy Shane Franks (deceased)

Doreen Shane Milliman- Burr oak

 

Reuben Eberhard’s wife’s name was Jane McCormick, and it was her brother who invented the McCormick Binder.