Raccoon Township, Parke County Indiana
"From the History of Vigo and Parke Counties, together with Historic Notes on the Wabash Valley, Gleaned from early authors, old maps and manuscripts, private and official correspondence, and other authentic, though for the most part, out-of-the-way sources. By H. W. Beckwith, of the Danville Bar; Corresponding Member of the Historical Societies of Wisconsin and Chicago. Chicago: H. H. Hill and N. Iddings, Publishers. 1880." (Pages 225 - 233)
The two streams that cross this township were called by the Indians the Big Coon and Little Coon; but when the whites settled the country they gave them the correct name of Raccoon. From these the township derived its name. This township is six miles square and contains 20,040 acres. It is situated in the southern tier of townships, and is bounded on the east, north and west by Jackson, Adams and Florida townships, and on the south by Clay county. The land was formerly densely covered with timber, which had to be cut down by the “woodman’s axe “before it could be cultivated. The land consists of the creek bottoms and uplands. Little Raccoon enters the township in Sec. 5, and leaves it in Sec. 7; Big Raccoon enters it in Sec. 13, and passes out in the northwest corner of Sec. 31, both flowing in a southwesterly direction. The land in the Raccoon bottoms is a rich alluvial soil, yielding large crops of corn and wheat. The other portions of the township have tolerably good land, but does not produce so abundantly. It is not sufficiently drained, especially in the southeastern part, and the soil being of a very argillaceous nature, cannot endure the extremes of wet and dry weather. All kinds of cereals common to this climate are raised in Raccoon township, and much of the timber land is used for grazing. The Ten O'clock Line, which is the dividing line between the old and new purchases, crosses the township from Secs. 36 to 6.
There are many conflicting statements as to the first settlements in this township. Man is mortal, and his memory is weak and uncertain, hence much of the early history of this township is buried in oblivion of the past. James Kerr and Dempsey Seybold came into the township and selected land in 1816, but we have no authentic account of any permanent settlements until about the year 1818. At this time Dempsey Seybold came with his family from Kentucky, and settled on Sec. 20, now the Jeffries property. Mr. Seybold brought his wife and at least one child, Thomas K., born 1816, who afterward married and became the father of a family, among whom are W. H. H., Dempsey C., John N. and James H., now residents of Raccoon township. Mr. Seybold was the second settler in the township north of the Big Raccoon creek, there being only one other in that vicinity at that time, and only three families in the (now) county north of the Big Raccoon. Mr. Seybold became very active in the public affairs of his region of country. He helped locate the county-seat and court-house square of Vigo county, in Terre Haute. He was afterward judge in the associate court. He always played well his part as a pioneer in the improvement and development of the country. He died June 3, 1835, leaving at least two sons, Thomas K. and Dempsey, to perpetuate his history. Thomas K. was murdered at Terre Haute April 9, 1850, and the foul hand that perpetrated the crime was not known for several years, when at last a man in Illinois, when on his deathbed, confessed the deed. Before the Seybolds could reach the whereabouts of the sick man death had removed the criminal, so that the mystery was never satisfactorily unveiled. Dempsey Jr. has followed in the footsteps of usefulness, deviating only for wider scope. The Mitchells must have come about this time also, as William D. Mitchell was born in Raccoon township February 22, 1818. The Millers settled in the township about 1818 or 1819, for John B. Miller was born here August 25, 1819. It is said that the first log cabin built in the township was by one Richardson, just east of where James Kerr now lives. John C. Gilkison says that the Adamses — Samuel Adams Sr., William Adams, Andrew Adams, James Adams, John Adams, Samuel Adams,—William Nevins, and some others, settled in Raccoon township in 1818 or 1819. Samuel Adams settled on the N. W. 1/4 of Sec. 32. James Adams settled on the N.E. 1/4 of Sec. 31, and in 1821 sold out to Reuben Webster and settled in what is now Adams township. In 1819 Nathaniel Bliss Kalley, a youth of nineteen years, came from Ohio to Raccoon township, and leased a farm from David Hansel, — the farm on which Jacob Miller now lives. Then there were not white men enough to raise Dickson’s mills, so Indians were called in to assist. Nathaniel used to wrestle and have other sports with Indian Bill. He raised a crop and returned to Ohio in 1820, and in 1821 or 1822 came back with his father, mother, and family of wife and one child, Ruth, having been married to Rebecca Hansel in Ohio. He rented till 1831, when he entered the W. ½ of N. E. ¼ of Sec. 11, T. 14 N., R. 7 W., and his patent was signed by Andrew Jackson. In 1838 he entered the S. 1/2 of S.E. 1/4 of Sec. 2, Van Buren signing this instrument. He, too, was one of the township's best men. He served many years as township inspector, which then included all of the public business of the township. His father, David, entered 120 acres east of Nathaniel’s, where he lived till his death. Among the settlers who came about this time, and a little later, were Jacob Bell, John Blue, John Morrow, James Barnes, John Robinson, Joseph Ralston, John Prince and Vincent Jackman.
In 1820 William Rea, father of the first clerk of Parke county, came, in company with James Boyd and James Fannin, from Chillicothe. Ohio, and settled on the S.W. 1/4 of Sec. 7, in Raccoon town-ship, and built a log cabin, which still stands there and is used for a dwelling house, and has always been since its erection. He was the first settler on Little Raccoon. In the fall of 1820, or spring of 1821, John Sunderland Sr. and his son John Jr. came from Ohio and settled on the N.E. 1/4 of Sec. 6 and a son-in-law of Mr. Sunderland, Henry Green, settled on the E.1/2 of the N.W. 1/4 of Sec. 5. In the fall of 1820 Thomas Gilkison, in company with James Buchanan, came to what is now Raccoon township, and entered land. In the spring of 1821 Thomas Gilkison came to the S.W.1/4 of Sec. 5, built a cabin, cleared off a few acres of land and tended it in corn, and in the fall of that year brought his wife and live children from Kentucky, and settled in what was then a wilderness of wood and wild animals. In 1821 Jeptha Garrigus moved to Raccoon township, bringing his family in a boat down the Ohio river, up the Wabash river and Big Raccoon, into the southwest part of Raccoon township, where he settled. Jeptha is said to have brought the first rats to this region in his baggage. He had thirteen children, and had been a colonel in the war of 1812. A rather peculiar marriage ceremony took place when Jeptha was married — probably his second marriage. The following is the ceremony, which was administered at Jeptha’s request: “I, Tobias Miller, justice of the peace for the county of Parke, do hereby certify that Jeptha Garrigus and Polly Kratdzer are joined together in marriage as long as they could agree, by me on the 29th day of August, 1834—Tobias Miller” Recorded October 24, 1834, John G. Danis, clerk. It is evident that Mr. Garrigus did not believe in caging the lion and panther in one cage without a way of escape. At about this time there were three general settlements in Raccoon township. There was the Bell and Garrigus settlement in the southern part; the settlement around “Sodom” so called on account of its distillery and the general wickedness of the place: it is now Bridgeton: and the settlement in the northwestern part, called the Pleasant Valley settlement.
From 1820 to 1830 James Hopper, the Hartmans Charles Beacham, Samuel Crooks, William Rea and Robert Martin appear among the prominent settlers.
The early settlers of Raccoon township were men of the sturdy, honest yeomanry of the eastern and southern states who desired homes of their own. They went undaunted through hardships and trials that their children could not now endure, nor can they even imagine. We have traced the history of the township from its first settlements to the time when nearly all those who now reside in the township came upon the scene of action. The three oldest men living in the township who were born in it are John B. Miller, Jacob B. Miller and Abraham Kalley.
The Bridgeton mills were first called the Lockwood mills. They were built by Lockwood and Silliman in about 1823, but were owned by Oniel and Wasson. The last named gentlemen bought the land where the mill was built; Daniel Kalley now has the deed for the land where the mill was built. They sold the mill to James Searing, who began to improve it. He operated it a few years and it burned down. The next fall the people made a “frolic” got out the logs and built a log mill. The property after this changed hands a number of times, and is now in possession of Ralph Sprague since 1862. During his possession it was again burned in 1869, and replaced with a fine large structure 36x50 feet, four stories high costing $14,000.
The first saw-mill on Little Raccoon was built by Thomas Gilkison in about 1823.
Away back in the early days, when the surrounding country was almost all a wilderness, and the old stage routes connected the principal points of civilization, there began on the banks of Big Raccoon what is now the pleasant and prosperous village of Bridgeton. The first industry was a mill that cracked corn. This was in about the year 1821. The first man who kept store there was Nathaniel Smock. Afterward there was a distillery started and kept here for a good many years. From this the settlement derived its principal support. The place was appropriately named "Sodom." But it has improved in morals and character until it is now apparently safe from the doom of the ancient city whose destruction is recorded in holy writ. Another store kept in early times was by James M. Mulligan & Ketchum. They continued together a short time, then Searing bought out Ketchum. These kept store together for about two years, when Mulligan bought Searing's share in the store. In the meantime the town was laid out by Searing, and another store owned by “Smock & McFarland." Mr. Smock has kept store at different times in Bridgeton during nearly all of its history.
In 1856 Dr. James Crooks settled in Bridgeton, and has ever since been identified with its history. His father, William B. Crooks, was the first physician in Raccoon township. He was very successful, especially in his treatment of “milk-sick.” In the early days the people suffered much from this mysterious and dread disease. But with the cultivation of the soil and advance of civilization it has disappeared, and the people are left to wonder “whence it came and whither it goeth.”
Bridgeton was so named from the bridge that was built across Big Raccoon about the time the town was laid out. It is a nice little town of about 120 inhabitants, and has one mill, one drug store, two blacksmith and wagon maker shops, one grocery store, two churches, a township graded school, and a district public school.
In 1835 Rev. William H. Smith, for many years one of the most active and successful Methodist preachers of Indiana, came to Parke county and bought the land in the northwest corner of Raccoon township. Here Mr. Smith lived till 1859. In 1861 there stood three farm buildings on the land which Catlin now occupies. These were owned by Hiram Catlin, Mr. Montgomery and Henry Miller. In that same year, 1861, the Evansville and Crawfordsville railroad, since known as the Logansport division of the Terre Haute & Indianapolis railroad, was built. Thomas Catlin and Thomas Harsh-man immediately built the warehouse now occupied by Catlin & Puett. In this they bought grain and also kept a general stock of merchandise. This was the nucleus of the future town. In 1861 James Sanderson built the first blacksmith shop, and Joseph Terry soon built a wagon shop. J. Sullivan also built a blacksmith shop in 1861, which he has run ever since. In 1862 James Geller built two or three dwellings. The early growth of Catlin was due more to the progressive spirit of James Ray, who came from Ohio to Vigo county in 1820, and in 1861 came to Catlin. Here, in 1862, he built a saw-mill, and in 1865 a grist-mill, which formerly did a large business but is now idle and belongs to the Harshman heirs. In the same year Mr. Ray built a store-room with a hall above. The Masonic lodge has occupied this hall since its organization. Mr. Ray has built seven of the better class of buildings in Catlin.
In 1862 or 1863 a post-office was secured and Thomas Catlin made postmaster, the office and town receiving that gentleman's name. In 1868 W. H. Elson and father built the commodious building now occupied by Mr. Elson. In this store has been done the principal business of the town in general merchandising.
Catlin is the depot of the stave trade, and has two saw-mills in its immediate vicinity, owned by M. Hamilton and H. C. Wakefield.
CHURCHES AND SCHOOLS
There are two churches in Catlin, Methodist and Christian; the former is in Florida township. Rev. J. B. Demott is the Methodist preacher, and Revs. G. C. Price and D. W. Woody are the Christian preachers, all residents here. There are also three resident teachers in Catlin.
The first preaching in this township was by the Methodists, at so early a time that its exact date cannot be determined. Daniel Kalley says the first preaching was held at the residence of James Crabb. They organized a society there in about 1825, though they had preaching before that time. In the same year they organized a society in the neighborhood of James Strange, brother of the noted Rev. John Strange. These two societies were in the same circuit. Several years afterward the Big Raccoon was made the dividing line between them, and Pleasant Valley was made a part of the Russelsville circuit. There was a church built on the farm of James Crabb some time afterward. The first preacher in Pleasant Valley was William Taylor. The church was quite successful for a long time. There was a revival in about 1859, by Jacob Cozadd and J. C. Stringer. It lasted about twenty-one days, and a large number joined the church. The present church at Pleasant Valley was built about 1855. At one time there were 113 members in this church, but it was weakened during 1861 to 1865 by so many going to the war, moving away, etc. The church in the Crabb neighborhood was not very successful. The society in Bridgeton was organized in about 1866. They first held meetings in the Union Baptist church. Their first preacher was the Rev. John Adell. There were quite a number of United Brethren in the community, and they united with the Methodists in a successful revival. The present church building was erected in 1868. It is a large, nice church building. The society had at first about thirty-six members. The first preacher was Rev. Thomas Buck. The present preacher is the Rev. T. C. Webster. There has always been a Sunday-school connected with the church until this year, when it united with the Baptist church Sunday-school. Situated in the northeastern part of the township is Salem Methodist Episcopal church. Its history is rather obscure, as the old members have mostly passed away. The church was built somewhere about 1836, and the organization numbered between thirty and forty members. Stewart Webster, Robert Catlin, William Jackman, Dempsey Seybold and Azariah Hopper were prime movers in the erection of the church and its early history. This society has been prosperous, and done much for the good of the community. Rev. Mr. Demotte is minister in charge.
For the history of the Baptist church in Bridgeton we are indebted to Dr. J. W. P. Seller, who has the records of the church and is its present secretary. In about 1850 Elder P. Swaim came from the New Discovery church and held meetings in private houses around Bridgeton. After him came Rev. P. T. Palmer. At this time the members all belonged at New Discovery. In about 1853 a committee appointed by the New Discovery church made arrangements and built a church. It cost $900 and was about 36x50 feet. June 3, 1853, there convened at Bridgeton a council which represented the churches of New Discovery. Freedom, Goshen and Liberty, and organized a society. Elder P. T. Palmer was moderator, R. Davis, clerk. A joint letter of forty-two members from New Discovery church was presented, asking to be organized into a church, and were so recognized by the council. They adopted a church covenant and declaration of faith. Their first pastor was Peter M- Swaim. The first moderator was Jeremiah Kirk, and the first clerk, Jacob Smock. The membership has been about fifty or sixty. There have been 300 or 400 different persons taken into the church since its organization. This church has licensed and ordained four ministers, C. B. Alien, Jacob Smock, James N. Steward and James M. Crooks. As the first Baptist church was built by all classes, the other denominations held services in it. In 1879 they erected a fine church, 30x45, costing over $900. The present membership of the church is about forty. At present the other denominations are united with them in Sunday-school work. Dr. J. W. P. Seller is superintendent.
On Sec. 32, Raccoon township, there is a regular Baptist church, which was organized in about 1835, with a membership of twenty-five or thirty. The first preacher was Isaac W. Denman, who preached there for about forty years, or until August 31, 1875, when he met his death by being run over by the cars. The present church building was erected in 1858 and cost $500, one half of which Mr. Denman paid. The old members of the church are nearly all dead. Mrs. Denman is the oldest living member, and is eighty-two years old; Mr. Denman, when living, was the life and support of the church.
The Christian church is represented in Raccoon township by the Catlin organization. In 1867 there were quite a number of the Christian faith in Catlin and vicinity. Bro. Dailey had held a successful series of meetings, and it became necessary to have some permanent organization. Accordingly G. C. Price issued a call rallying all of that belief, and an organization was effected with a membership of forty-two. J. W. Jarvis and Mr. Price were chosen elders, and John Pence and James Nutgrass, deacons. A house of worship 52x41 was erected at a cost of about $1,600, in the little village. Here Jacob Wright, Theodore C. Marshall and William Holt have preached and taught the truth as they understood the bible. In 1871 to 1872 Jacob Wright held quite a revival. The church has experienced a somewhat checkered career, and at present has a membership of about twenty-five.
From the times of the log school-house, with its slab benches, dismal appearance, and antiquated teacher, whose physical powers were kept well exercised, and whose mental ability was able to grasp the profundities of the three R's— Reading 'Ritin' and 'Ritlimetic, — Raccoon township has acquired as good school advantages, and has as well an educated class of citizens, as any rural township in the county. Besides the regular schools in each district, there is the township graded school in Bridgeton.
The Catlin Masonic Lodge, No. 402, was chartered May 25, 1869, with a membership of sixteen. The charter members were S. T. Catlin, Thomas Harshman, Marshall Gray, A. S. Alden, Thomas Akers, John Pence, Asal Riggs, John Lollis, S. R. Beal, Price Hawkins, Ira Jones, John Thomas, Harvey Gray, Uriah E. Thomas, J. W. Puett, and Dr. George M. Knight. The first officers were Marshall Gray, W.M.; John Lollis, S.W.; and S. R, Beal, J.W. This society has held its meetings ever since its organization in the Ray hall, which they have fairly furnished. There are now twenty members. The present officers are John Lollis, W.M.; S. M. Hutzel, S.W.; H. B. Pendergast, J.W.; S. H. Marshall, secretary; J. H. Overpeck, treasurer; W. H. Elson, S.D.; James Logan, J.D.; John Sullivan, tyler.
Bridgeton Lodge, No. 169, A. F. and A. M., was organized in The petitioners for the dispensation were M. G. Wilkinson, Mahlon Wilkinson, R. C. Alien, N. B. Smock, John Briggs, Jr., James A. Cole, and Jeptha Garrigus, all except the last named being members of Parke Lodge, 'No. 8. The petition was granted with the title of Whitcomb Lodge. M. G. Wilkinson was first master, and Mahlon Wilkinson and R. C. Alien were wardens. A charter was issued May .30, 1855, and the title of Bridgeton, No. 169, was given it. The meetings were held in the second story of R. C. Alien's wagon-shop for eight years, when, in 1863, the limited room and increased membership made it necessary to provide other quarters. These were found in the upper story of Dr. Crook's drug store. In 1868 the store, with its contents, including the lodge room, library and other valuables, was totally destroyed by fire. After traveling from one place of meeting to another for some time, James Crooks, whose zeal for the institution was here called into requisition, rebuilt his store, adding a third story expressly for a lodge room. From the organization the following brethren have filled the east: M. G. Wilkinson, two years; James Crook, present master, seventeen years; Linus Deneline, one year; R. C. Alien, six and a half years.
In the spring of 1860 Abel Mitchell and some others offered a premium for the best colt that would be shown in Bridgeton in June. At the appointed time there were twenty colts brought, and about 500 persons were present. This gave the idea of a fair. So June 16, 1860, was organized what is now the Bridgeton Union Agricultural Society. It is now a joint stock company, incorporated under the laws of the state. The fair grounds consist of about twenty acres and has a good trotting course. Extensive improvements have been made, and the company is in a very prosperous condition.
If you have any information you would like to add, please send it to my attention. Thank you. James D. VanDerMark