Local History and Genealogy

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


By Harriet Collins Saxton

Barton Collins and Annah Chaffee were married in 1820 and lived in Rutland County, Vermont.  They were blessed with eleven children, making just a baker's dozen in the family, thirteen.

In June 1835, when I was four years old, father caught the Western fever and nothing but trying the experiment would do for him.  There were nine children, the youngest being a baby, six months old. We gave up a comfortable home and started in a covered wagon to make a home in what was then the far West.  The wagon was drawn by two horses, their names were Dick and Nig.  It took some little time to prepare for the this journey, for we all had to have an outfit for traveling which consisted of a calico dress and sunbonnet.  I forgot to say that Grandfather Collins came with us as far as Buffalo.  He was old and childless,  our noise, singing, and laughter disturbed him terribly and we were not sorry, I can tell you, when he made up his mind to return to Vermont.

Well, on we went up hill and down, hungry and tired.  When we arrived in Buffalo, where we took the boat to cross Lake Erie, the lake was rough.  The waves rolled high and some of us were pretty sick.  I remember how we were put to bed in berths one above another.  Some were crying, some seasick, and I guess all were homesick, so we did not get much sleep.  I remember of walking on the pier.  This was built out over the water and we stepped very light for fear we would fall through the into the water.

We landed in Detroit.  Father got us some crackers and cheese.  Nothing ever tasted so good for we were very hungry.  I have never eaten any crackers since that tasted as those did to me.

We all got aboard the wagon again and went on our way rejoicing.  I do not remember very much that happened only that we were very tired and hungry.  When night came we would generally stop at a house and Mother would get supper for us all, then make up beds on the floor.  We did not sleep very much, for it was very warm.

After journeying on for many days, we came to the promised land.  Father bought a section of land of the Government in Jamestown Twp., Steuben County, Indiana.  It was a dense forest, no roads, only Indian trails.  The next thing was to clear a place large enough to build a cabin.  This took some time but finally it was completed except the windows and doors.  Not having any lumber, had to go back to Detroit to get some and the rest of our goods.  There was one thing about our cabin which was strictly up to date, we had natural wood finish inside and out,but it was not quarter sawed  While busy building, one of the horses wandered off.  Father searched the woods far and near and when he finally located it in a bog, it had nearly been eaten up by wolves.  He bought a team of oxen and hitched the remaining horse ahead of them.  This is what they called a "spike" team.

In this way he went to Detroit after the goods, windows and doors.  This took two weeks.  Just think of the courage and nerve Mother must have had to stay alone with nine small children, nothing but blankets at the doors and windows.  The nearest neighbors were six and seven miles away.  The woods was full of Indians and wolves.  The wolves would come at night, bark and howl, and their eyes looked like balls of fire. 

Then the Indians would come in the daytime. Father had been gone only three of four hours when a great Indian came stalking in.  I tell you it made all of us tremble.  Father had a fine rifle, of course that caught his eye.  He took it down, drew it up and took aim.  Mother thought, of course, that he was going to shoot her.  He wanted to know when "Smoke" man would be home.  Mother told him, as best as she could by counting her fingers.  When father got home the Indian came and traded rifles with him.

Now we had some doors and windows.  The doors and casings were made out of the boxes that the goods were packed in.  The door had a wooden latch with a sting which hung out except at night when we pulled it in to lock the door.  You see it was burglar proof.  Anyway we felt perfectly safe. We did not have any tramps in those days, for it was all we could do to get enough to eat ourselves.  Had to go   to Ft. Wayne to the mill, about forty miles through the wilderness, had plenty of meat as the woods were full of deer and all kinds of wild game; plenty of berries in their season, and wild flowers of every description; so you see nature provided in a measure for us until we could get enough ground cleared to raise grain and vegetables and get some fruit trees to growing.

As the older children were girls, they helped to do what they could until the boys were old enough to help.  Mother would  get homesick and discouraged at times, especially when we all be sick at once and could hardly wait on one another.

As time sped on we all grew to be men and women.  Of course the girls had to have a "best fellow" then the same as they do now, only they did not have any parlor to entertain them in.  They used to hang up blankets to make a cozy room especially in the winter time.  A big cracking fire in the fireplace added to the comfort and cheer as well as the "cricket" swinging on the hearth and the old car sitting in the corner waiting for a mouse to peep out so she could have an evening meal.

We had our joys and sorrows but were a a happy family nevertheless.  Always had a family gathering either at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Our mince pies were made of pumpkin sauce and cranberries, the spareribs were hung by a cord before the fireplace, first one side and then the other turned to the fire until it was brown as you please, and other good things too numerous to mention.  Oh, how hungry we would get and how good everything tasted and all seemed so happy.  Such was the pioneer's life, way out west upon the farm.

Taken from "The Collins Genealogy" and read at the 1904 Collins Family Reunion
Located in the Genealogy and Local History Archives - Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County