Coffinberry's Reminiscences

Richland Co., Ohio


Historical Records

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Coffinberry's Reminiscences

Source:  THE MANSFIELD HERALD:  08 January 1885, Vol. 35, No. 8


Submitted by Amy


A few months ago Col. Wright L. Coffinberry gave a reception at the residence of Hon. Henry C. Hedges, on West Market Street, and during the evening was called upon to relate his early experience in Mansfield.  During his entertaining talk a drizzling rain began, and much to the displeasure of his friends he was forced to desist.  He was then asked by THE HERALD to continue his narrative in the columns of this paper, to which he consented and we, as follows, give the first installment of his reminiscences:

When my parents moved from Lancaster to Mansfield in 1809 my mother rode on horseback all the way and carried my brother Salathiel in her lap the whole distance.  I was two years old at that time, but remember one circumstance which happened on the journey.  I was very thirsty and my brother George took me on his back and carried me to a spring where I had a drink of water.  While on this journey the horse my mother rode stirred up a nest of ground hornets, which in return for this rude invasion of their home, stung him 'till he was frantic, and stamped and pranced about in such a manner as to nearly throw mother and baby to the ground, and baby's back was black and blue from bruises caused by coming in too close contact with the pommel of the saddle.

At the time my parents came to Mansfield there was but one house, or log cabin, and it stood on what used to be called the old Sturges corner, being near the northwest corner of the Public Square, built by a man named Martin.  My father built a brush camp on the square very near where the fountain now stands, and we lived in that until father built a cabin on the lot nearest the south-west corner of the square, where we lived during the war of 1812.

I have a distinct remembrance of the old brush tent, or camp.  I was then but a little more than two years old, and it was there that I upset my mother's old-fashioned, long-handled frying pan, by knocking the prop from under the handle, thus throwing the meat for the family meal "from the frying pan into the fire." for which I received a box on my ears, not a severe punishment, however, for my mother, peace to her ashes, never chastised her children severely.

The next event that was strongly impressed on my mind was to see my father and older brother work with a cross-cut saw cutting a doorway in the new log cabin.  The saw looked so bright and shining and seemed to work so easily in their experienced hands that I thought I could saw as well as they, and asked my father to let me try.  He stepped aside and told me to take hold of the handle, which I did.  My brother gave the opposite and a quick pull which send me headlong into the saw-dust.  Father picked me up but I told him I did not care to saw any more that day.

My next remembrance is of an old Indian whom they called Toby.  He brought us what was called whortleberry cake.  The berries were partly dried in the sun then pressed into a cake and thoroughly dried in a compact mass.  In that condition it can be kept a long time, and is ready to eat without any further preparation.  I still seem to taste that "fruit cake" whenever I think of it.  Toby's boy, a little larger and older than I, had a bow and arrows, and to me it was astonishing to see him shoot an arrow through a knot-hole in a wagon-box, a feat which I could not master.  Another Indian came one day and brought some strained wild honey in a novel kind of vessel which it may be interesting to describe.  It was made of a fresh deer skin, taking from the animal without ripping, with thongs tied around the foreskin of the legs and neck, and the hind legs tied together at the feet so as to make a bail or shoulder strap.  Thus constructed and hung over the shoulder and under the opposite arm it made a very convenient load to carry.  This bag contained five or six gallons of honey.  The Indian hung it on a projecting log at the corner of our cabin.  My brother Salathiel and I discovered that the honey was leaking out.  Distressed at seeing so much sweetness going to waste, we exercised ideas of economy by licking up what otherwise would have been lost.  When it did not leak fast enough to satisfy our desire we would help it a little by shaking and squeezing the bag.  The name of the Indian who brought the honey was Quilapatoxy, if I remember rightly.  

About this same time there was in the neighborhood an old Indian whose name interpreted into English was Big-tree.  He had been a great chief.  His ears were trimmed by cutting the rim of the ear loose from the cartilaginous portion and leaving it fast to the had at the top and lower part of the ear;  he had worn heavy weights in the loops until they had attained great length and hung down on his shoulders.  In the chase he had caught the loop of his left ear on the branch of a tree and torn it off at the top of his ear leaving it dangling down over his shoulder like an overgrown angle-worm.  He used to boast that he could put his arm through this loop bringing it entirely under his arm.  I saw him try it once, but he failed partially, though he got the loop within three inches of his elbow. 

Another Indian whose name was Billy Montour, was a fine specimen of the aboriginee, and a great favorite with me in my childhood.  He found a tree in the woods with a swarm of bees in it, and reported the fact to our family, and proposed that some one go with him, and proposed that some one go with him to cut the tree and secure the honey.  Brother George started with him.  On the way to the tree there was a brook to cross, and Billy, a little vain of his ability to jump well, said to George, "You hold my gun me show you how flog (frog) go" but most unfortunately for his pride in making the leap the moccasin on the foot from which he intended to spring, caught on a snag, holding his foot, throwing his whole length into the water, causing a great deal of merriment at the expense of Billy, who, however, took it all in good part.  So much for my early Indian associates.

I remember very well seeing Jacob Newman and wife frequently in my early days and thinking he wore the prettiest hat of any man in Mansfield;  it was a white fur hat, and he being a large, portly man of fine bearing, made a strong impression on my youthful mind.  Gen. James Hedges was the proprietor of Mansfield, and his brother Ellzey acted for many years as County Clerk.  He also served as Justice of the Peace.  On one occasion at a military training, I saw a great crowd assembled about his office, and curiosity led me to find out what was going on.  A man had been arrested for assault and battery and there was an effort to raise a mob to go in and release the prisoner, but when I entered the office, I saw there Mr. Joseph Cairns, Mr. Pritchard, and several other persons;  their conversation was concerning the threatened mob.  Cairns said, "which will you do, knock them down as they come in, or pile them up?  Say which you will do and I will do the other."  Seeing those two Herculean men, either of whom would weigh two hundred and fifty pounds, and hearing such a proposition satisfied me that the office was not in much danger, and the mob evidently came to the same conclusion for it soon dispersed.

Among my early playmates were Eliza, Washington and Cyrus Wallace, James Middleton and brother, the Brubaker children, and a boy who lived with Win Winship, I can not recall his name, but his fire-red hair is in my memory still as bright as ever.  Jacob Newman's sons, Andrew and Joseph, I was well acquainted with.  Andrew went with a party as surveyor, in which I acted as rodman.  We went under the direction of E.A. Hathon, of Detroit, who had lost one eye and one hand, but was able to perform his duties as engineer.  With this party we made surveys on the Blackfork, Clearfork and Owl Creek, in the winter of 1834-35.  Joseph Newman turned his attention to the law.

Once upon a time S.C. and myself were sent away from home and staid all night at Mr. Winship's house.  On our return next day we found our mother in bed with a young baby with her.  I asked her where the baby came from and she told me Granny Gardner brought it.  That baby proved to be our youngest brother, Abraham B.

When I was about four years old and brother S.C. two, like all children we were fond of playing out of doors.  As there was but little clear land in town there was danger of our straying beyond the clearing and being lost, and that we might be more easily traced in such an event my mother put a bell on Salathial.  That same bell had been worn by a mare which was now dead, but a two years old colt of hers was living which ran with the mare while she wore the bell.  On hearing the bell the colt came cantering through the forest presumably anticipating a meeting with the long lost mother.  He followed the sound of the bell, came up and smelled of my brother, and in token of his disappointment raised his forefoot to stamp Salathiel on his head.  I caught hold of brother and pulled him from under the colt's foot which made him angry and he screamed like a young panther.  The colt repeated his effort several times and I as often jerked my brother out of reach of his foot, until my mother heard the screaming and came to the rescue.  On seeing the situation of affairs, she screamed, and if I remember correctly, I screamed too, so we had a screaming time of it.

Soon after Fisher moved into his new cabin he and brother George went back to Lancaster with a team for another load of household furniture.  His cabin had no door, as there was no sawmills or boards in the country, but mother had hung a coverlet at the opening to keep out night air and burglars.  One night during father's absence mother heard some noise outside the house.  Soon she saw the curtain of the door moving and a bear put his head in and helped himself to a beef bone that was on a table near the door.

My father kept a tavern in those early days and sometimes entertained not "angels unawares" but friendly Indians.  On one occasion one stopped there whose name I do not recollect;  he had a very fine mare for which he had traded a few days before, and which he wished to put in pasture for the night.  Next morning he went for the mare, but soon came in very much excited and began cleaning his gun.  Father inquired what the matter was, the Indian very hurriedly replied "hoss got colt, shoot him, devil got d-d great long ears, long as butcher knife."  Father explained what the long-eared animal was, that it would make the best kind of a horse, and thereby saved the life of the young mule.

Father was a Justice of the Peace and a young Indian saw him swear a man and give him a certificate for a bounty on the scalp of a wolf he had killed.  The Indian thought that he would play a joke on father and perhaps get a bounty also, so be brought a fox scalp and laid before father, saying, "Wolse" but father told him there was no bounty on foxes.  Then the Indian brought a wolf scalp from which the ears had been chopped off to denote that a certificate had been drawn on it.  Father laughingly told him he must bring a scalp with ears on then he could get his bounty.

I have a distinct remembrance of seeing an army of forty or fifty Indians on horseback, all dressed alike, with weapons and war-paint, rifles on shoulder, and tomahawk and scalping knife in belt.  They came cantering their ponies into the clearing of the village, over what was then known as the Sandusky trail, a path well worn and sunk deep into the ground, which lead from Greentown to Sandusky.  The last of that trail that I ever saw that was recognizable was in a wood lot on the road leading out on Fourth Street, toward the Beach and Condon settlement.  It was still quite visible when I was looking through that piece of woods in 1836, under the superintendence of Samuel R. Curtis.  But to return to the Indian story.  The fright the first sight of the gallant troop gave us was soon turned to joy, when we learned they were friendly and were going to join Gen. Harrison's army.

This article was continued in THE MANSFIELD HERALD:  15 January 1885, Vol. 35, No. 9

John C. Gilkison moved to Mansfield from St. Clairsville in 1810, and on February 2, 1811, his son Mansfield Hedges was born;  being the first child born in the village he was named after the village and the founder.  J.C.G. was the possessor of a pocket compass, and understanding the land-marks which were fresh and plain on the trees, he acted as land hunter, by following the lines and showing the land to those who were desirous of purchasing, who were, perhaps, not "legions" but so numerous as to fill all the beds in father's cabin hotel, and cover the floor.  On one occasion when the house was thus filled, "Uncle Samuel Jaquis" as he was called, was one of the crowd.  At an early hour he was up going around the room stabbing a large jack knife into the puncheons of which the floor was made, and when asked his object he replied that he was trying to find a soft plank, the one he had lain on was so hard he could not sleep on it.

In one corner of our cabin was an improvised tailors' board made of a hewed puncheon, and seated upon it sat John Jacob Foos, engaged in making mens' clothes.  He was the pioneer tailor of Mansfield, and his cross-legged attitude when at work, made a picture which is still vivid in my mind.

In the History of Richland County, Miss Eliza Wolfe is credited with having taught the first school in Mansfield, which is incorrect, her school having been taught in the block house, after the war of 1812.  Before that time my brother Andrew taught school in the village, which I attended.  Miss Wolfe's school was kept in the upper story of the block house, while the lower story was occupied as a jail.  A man named Pyatt was kept there in durance vile, and used to make us children laugh by putting a stick up through a hole in the floor.  The stairs went up on the south end of the building, and several cannon, with the carriages taken to pieces, were piled up under the stairs.  This same room was also used as a court house and when the building was taken down my brother Andrew bought the logs and built a stable of them on his lot, corner of East Diamond and Fourth street, which stood there for many years.

One of the most vivid pictures of those early times is of Frederic Habel, as he appeared in his coat made of a Mackinaw blanket.  It was cut so as to have one black stripe go horizontally around the skirt of the coat, and the other stripe over the shoulder, from front to rear, and the old man always wore it "all buttoned up before" after the fashion of "Old Grimes."  In imagination I see him yet, carrying a pale of water in each hand as was his habit in years long gone.

The foregoing brings up in my recollections to the beginning of the war of 1812.  I heard a great deal of war talk but was too young to realize what it was all bout;  but while Gen. Crook's army lay at Mansfield one winter I learned considerable about the manuel of arms, and to beat a small drum which by brother Jacob had made me;  like every six years old boy, I was able to make considerable noise.  My parents wanted me to do most of my drumming out of doors, but when winter came I could not go out because I had no shoes.  Finally the old drum major of Crook's army took a fancy to me, and having also a fancy for the ardent, would come to our hotel for an occasional nip, and on such visits he would give me lessons in drawing, and through my boyish desire to learn and his frequent desire for the nip we made fine progress.  At one time in the winter as I stood out on a bank of clay from which the snow had melted, and which felt warm and dry to my bare feet, I was exhibiting my greatest skill when a soldier came straggling by and asked if I would go into camp with him, to which I replied that I had no shoes and could not barefoot.  He said he would carry me, and suiting the action to the word, placed me on his shoulder, and without the knowledge of my parents took me into camp, which was on the Public Square.  In the camp were large fires built of logs, and the soldier who had taken me under his care, placed me on a log near a fire where my feet would not get cold, and invited me to drum.  Soon a fifer came and stood beside me and fifed a familiar air which I accompanied with my drum;  at the close of which the soldier boys around began to throw pennies on the drumhead, and son the old fashioned silver "cut money" began to be thrown on also.  This kept up for a time, and when business grew dull my "omnibus" picked me up and went for another log fire, and the same thing was repeated several times until finally we arrived at Gen. Crook's tent.  The General had been lying down resting but the noise aroused him and he came out asking "what is all this parade about?" and some one replied "come and see for yourself" upon which he approached the music and stood listening for a few minutes then threw a round dollar on the drum head.  In a few minutes more he turned to an officer standing near and said "Major, lend me a dollar" which he also threw on the drum.  This business continued until my fingers were so blistered with the drumsticks that I begged off, and my "omnibus" man shouldered me again and returned me to my parents.  As the avails of this excursion, my soldier gave to my father $8.87, and I soon had a pair of shoes and other new clothes. Perhaps some of our younger friends may not know what "cut money" was, if such would ask our venerable James Purdy or Dr. Bushnell, either of these gentlemen would tell them that in order to make fractional change a dollar of silver would frequently be cut in halves, and each half would pass for fifty cents;  the half dollar would be cut in the same manner, and so on down to the smaller coins.

During the same winter a soldier had violated some army regulations, was court-martialed and sentenced to be drummed out of camp with his head shaved and uncovered, all of which was executed with military precision.  When the regiment passed our house, a soldier came in and picked up me and my drum and joined the ranks of the drummers, so I assisted to drum a man out of camp in the war of 1812, when a little less than six years old.  Don't you think I deserve a pension, eh?

I have heard my parents relate one circumstance which occurred during the time of Indian troubles that had a less disastrous termination than was at that time anticipated.  It appeared from evidence afterwards developed that a body of Indians were prepared to capture the entire village, and were camped in a deep ravine west of Mansfield, just a little north of where Fourth Street now runs.  The remains of about fifty camp fires were discovered in that ravine, and it was ascertained that a large body of warriors encamped there one night with the intention of slaughtering the whole community the next night.  But fortunately, the day before the massacre was to occur, Gen. Beal marched through the village with a detachment of soldiers, and as they reached town the band played a march which the Indians heard, and thinking the soldiers had come to stay concluded to go thinking no doubt, that "discretion was the better part of valor."

Immediately after the war father sold his town property to a man named Samuel Williams, who was once sued for slander, but brought witnesses enough into court to prove that he was go good a liar that he could not slander a person to any damaging extent and was thereupon acquitted.  Father seemed to have inherited an inclination for pioneering, and hearing what fine land there was north-west of Mansfield entered and moved onto the land on which he made his farm, on which he lived the most of the balance of his life, and died there.  He was the first man to settle in Springfield Township, there being but one house between his and Mansfield and that was Mordacai Bartley's.  A track was opened from town to Bartley's place, and from there father cut his own road.  But soon neighbors flocked in fast;  the Condons, Welches, Trimbles, Beaches, Casebears, Currans, Whitstones, Keiths, Clines, Millers and Youngs, and a little later on the Miller place and two Crooks families, and then there was a demand for a schoolhouse.  Father donated the use of the land for a time, and James Gilkison moved out and taught the first school.  

The school-house had not one bit of sawed board, or one nail nor a light of glass in it, from foundation to eaves.  It was made of unhewn logs with a puncheon floor, and ceiling made of round poles laid close together covered with a thick coating of rye straw, and on top of that about a foot of clay was spread to keep out the cold.  Above this a roof of clapboards to keep out the rain.  The windows were made by cutting out one log of the wall, about fifteen feet long on three sides of the room, and putting small split sticks vertically between the logs about a foot apart which answered for the window sash;  instead of glass, old newspapers were pasted on those sticks and greased to make them as transparent as possible.  Our writing desks were made of long puncheons about fifteen inches wide, hewed quite smooth on the upper side, resting on brackets made by boring an auger hole in the log immediately under the window by putting a strong stick into the log, a little slanting so as to make the desk slope a little toward the occupant of the seat.  Our seats were made of a log one foot in diameter, split in halves, legs put into the round side, and the flat side hewn smooth.  The door was made of clapboards split thin and shaved with a drawing knife and pinned on a frame of wooden pins.  There was a large fire-place in the east of the building, made by sawing out the logs about eight feet wide by six feet high, and filling this opening by a fire-place and chimney built on the outside of the house of the material like that the beaver uses in constructing his dam "mud and sticks".  In that house were our "young ideas taught to shoot";  there all the children within two miles were gathered and instructed;  some of whom became quite distinguished in afterlife, and filled high places of trust and honor, and among them was Thomas Wells Bartley, who has since filled the gubernatorial chair of the great State of Ohio.

This article was continued in THE MANSFIELD HERALD:  22 January 1885, Vol. 35, No. 10

About this time in my youthful career, I discovered that though blest with two eyes like the rest of my companions, I was not able to see as well as they did, and on informing my parents they became alarmed and consulted a physician, who examined my eyes thoroughly and then prescribed the following treatment:  First, keep me out of school;  that nearly broke my heart, for I was completely in love with learning and was making good progress for my age, and it broke me down to stop there, and even reading at home was forbidden.  Next, I must take three full doses of calomel, after which two or three blisters on the back of my neck one after the other as fast as the skin healed, then my ears must be pierced, and green silk thread drawn through them to keep them from healing, and I must use snuff constantly, and wear a pair of spectacles, and wear a string of beads made of burdock root, and be careful not to get wet in rainy weather.  Now, how is that for a healthy, rugged, near-sighted boy of ten, with high aspirations, and a reasonable ability to acquire book and practical knowledge?  Virtually my school days ended here.  When I was about twelve years old, Jacob Lindley came to Mansfield and started a cabinet shop.  My mother being a little high-spirited for those days wanted a bureau and a cupboard and arrangements were made with Mr. Lindley for the articles.  I hauled lumber enough from Cruson's sawmill, three miles southeast of town to pay for both pieces of furniture.  The bureau is still in use in my family, a proof of the good work done in those pioneer days.

Later in the history of Mansfield we had a band of music, improvised it may have been, still it was the best the town afforded.  Not always the same in numbers of persons, it generally consisted of John Antibus, with violin, Judge McCullough and S.C. Coffinberry with flutes, John H. Hoffman with flute or fife, T.M. Cook with fife, Harvey Cook with bass drum, and myself with clarionette or drum as occasion demanded.  Previous to the organization of this band a strange personage used to go about the streets, usually followed by a lot of boys;  he always had his violin with him and would often stop on a corner or in some shop and play some strange, weird air, or sing a song.  A description of the early days of Mansfield without some allusion to "Old Ferris" would be incomplete.  I have a photograph of him and when I look upon it I feel myself a boy again in my old home.

Another strange person was "Johnny Appleseed" who was famous for his inflexible integrity, but the last time I saw him he made a statement that I doubted in spite of his reputation for veracity.  He staid all night at our house and at supper mother offered an apology for her bread, which was not as good as usual, but he said he liked poor bread the best.  I could not understand how any person could prefer a poor article to a good one.  Father's orchard was planted from trees from one of his nurseries in Sandusky Township.

I will here relate a little incident which may not be of general interest now, but which was of great interest to our family at the time it transpired.  About the time of the massacre of the Copus and Zimmer families, mother became very uneasy in regard to our situation, fearing the Indians might give us a call and treat us in the same way, and for our greater safety she proposed that father take Salathiel and myself to Clinton, a little village two miles north of where Mt. Vernon now stands.  It was the peer, if not a little head of Mt. Vernon.  My brother-in-law lived there and printed a paper.  Father made the journey in one day, carrying both us boys on horseback.  There was a gentleman in Clinton who had been elected captain of a company and was preparing to go into the army.  His name was Ichabod Nye.  Himself and family lived near J.C. Gilkinson's.  One Sunday when all the adult citizens were at the little church, the boys of the village were together and proposed playing war, and for that purpose divided into two parties, one were white people and the other Indians.  The largest boy of the party was Capt. Nye's son Ebinezer, who was captain of the white party, to which my brother and I belonged.  In the street fight, with clubs and stones for weapons, we were overpowered and vanquished and obliged to retreat to Mr. Nye's house.  The Indian party began to stone the fort and our leader, young Nye, threatened them with his father's "horse pistols" at the same time exhibiting one of them at the door, which immediately drove back the enemy and left us in peaceable possession of our house-fort.  After the Indians were scared off, our young captain took us into the house to initiate us in the use of firearms.  He laid the pistol across his lap and began to show how it opened by cocking and letting it down carefully several times.  I was anxious to see the hole where the bullet had to be put in so walked around to a spot where I could see the hole in the gun.  Just when I came in line with my brother and the gun it was fired unexpectedly and set fire to the little ruffle which my brother wore on his neck.  The blaze burned him and frightened all of us.  He ran into the garden and I after him, slapping the blaze until I extinguished it.  By the time we got back into the house all the meeting folks were there.  Hearing the report of the pistol and the cries of my brother the minister stopped short and told the congregation to run and see what was the trouble.  Our brother-in-law and sister were there and took us home with them, and made many inquiries in regard to the matter.  After telling all I knew about it, he asked where I stood at the time of the firing.  I assured him I had not been in any danger and was not hurt a particle.  He told me to let him pin my shirt collar, and when about to do so, discovered that the pistol ball had cut half the size of the bullet out of my collar, but had not touched the skin, so I had not known how narrow an escape I had.  The same ball made a hole through my brother's coat collar, so it was considered that we had a very narrow escape.  The news soon reached Mansfield and made mother almost frantic.  She decided we would be as safe with her, so we soon returned home.  On our way we staid all night at the house of James McClure, where I first saw the wild crabapple.

I remember the first election that took place in Mansfield.  It seems to me now that the whole country met and elected a representative to the State Legislature;  and Mordacai Bartley was the man.  My father and two brothers, George and Jacob, were in Mansfield on that occasion and when they returned home they had a great story to relate about a fight that occurred that day between Joseph Curren and Mr. Hardenbrook in which Mr. C. was victorious.  It was said that when he got his antagonist on the ground his blows could be heard full thirty rods away.

With a little anecdote that I frequently have heard about Gen. Hedges, I will close these reminiscences.  He raised a company of men for the war and held a Captain's commission, and was at the battle of the Thames, in Canada.  In the battle of his company happened to be a very hard part of the fight, and many of his men had fallen around him, and he was beginning to think they had better get out of that place, when a General rode up and inquired where all of his men were, "Well" was his cool reply "they are nearly all lying around here, and I was just thinking I had better get out of this".  The General said "O, never mind Captain, take a quid of tobacco" at the same time offering his box.  The cool liberation of the General dispelled every vestige of fear from Capt. Hedges, and the General then informed him that he had ordered up a relief, which came promptly and the fight was soon ended.

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