Source: Clarkson W. Weesner, History of Wabash County Indiana (1914), Vol. II, pp. 605-611.
[Ed. Note--Weesner was indebted to Gene Stratton-Porter for this memorial sketch of her father, Mark Stratton.]
MARK STRATTON. No one man was a larger factor for good in the making of Wabash county, than Mark Stratton. All his mental force and physical vigor were devoted to upbuilding and establishing a high Christian and educational standard in his county; and toward the building of good churches, school houses, bridges and roads. As an ordained minister of the gospel, as School Director and County Commissioner, he served his friends and neighbors with all his heart. He delighted in educated children, sleek stock, and clean fields. He believed in beautiful homes, gardens and orchards, and worked always toward making his farm an example of what he considered all country homes should be. He was never too busy with harvesting and garnering outstanding crops to include in his day's work mowing a lawn or hauling woods dirt to fertilize a flower bed. He never gave an order for fruit trees for his orchards, that did not include bulbs, vines and bushes for his dooryard. Unfailingly he lived in his daily life, with scrupulous exactitude, each tenet and precept he preached to others. His word was his bond, and no man can point out an instance in which he ever broke it.
His lineage as traced by himself for me, is as follows: "All Strattons are descended from ancient titled British families, one Duke Robert Stratton having been a famous warrior during the reign of William and Mary of Orange. Burke's Peerage gives eight different families in England and Foster's eleven. Each of these has its crest and all American Strattons are descended from one of these lines. The Early of Northbrook of Stratton House, Hampshire, is the present head of our branch of the family. The crest is a warrior's shield bearing three shells, each of which stands for a crusade to the Holy City, and a perching falcon, which is a bird of prey, the motto, 'surgere tento,' we strive to conquer; this indicates that the heads of the family were warriors, but the heads of all British families of rank were fighters in those days. I was named for an ancestor Mark Stratton, who came from England in early day and settled on Stratton Island, which was later corrupted to Staten Island; afterward he moved to northern New Jersey. He married a woman named Ann Hancock, traditions of whose wonderful beauty were constantly repeated in my childhood. She also had two sisters who were considered equally as lovely. They were always spoken of as 'the beautiful Hancock sisters.' Said Stratton had three sons, named Daniel, David and Thomas. Daniel, your great-grandfather, settled in Vernon Township, Sussex County, northern New Jersey, about fifty miles west of New York. He was a New Jersey coastguard from Sussex County during the Revolution. It was he, who about the year 1758 made from black walnut lumber the dove-tailed chest he bequeathed to your grandfather, who gave it to me, and which I have given to you. He always proudly referred to it as having been made, 'without a hammer or nail.'
"In the early history of the country, your great-grandfather's brothers, David and Thomas settled in Beaver Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, where both reared large families. Thomas was a soldier during the Revolutionary War and was on a Pennsylvania pension list. Your great-grandfather, Daniel, had three sons, John, David and Joseph, who later settled respectively in Richland, Huron and Wayne Counties, Ohio. The youngest, Joseph, was born in 1788; he was married and lived for a time in Sussex County, Vernon Township, north New Jersey, where I was born. Afterward he moved to Canaan Township, Wayne County, where he reared a family of twelve children. He died in 1836. He was a schoolmaster in winter and a carpenter in summer. He used especial care in the drilling of his own children. One of his daughters was a poet of some local fame, and another twice in her life before a committee performed the wonderful mental feat of repeating the entire Bible from memory." Mark Stratton could do the same with the exception of the Book of Generations. He always said he considered learning this a "waste of grey matter." One instance of his Biblical knowledge will perhaps be recalled by Dr. Charles Little, who was present. At a meeting of the Presbyterian Synod of Wabash, the Moderator was delivering a sermon before an audience of ministers from all parts of the country. My father was present. During his discourse the Moderator, who was an elderly man, started a Biblical quotation and his memory failed. He appealed to his audience to give him the chapter and verse that he might make the quotation correctly. No one spoke. "Brethren," said the Moderator, "This is worse on you than it is on me. Once I knew; I am now an old man and my memory is treacherous. I can be excused; but most of you are young men; you should know. Can none of you help me?" No one answered. "Then," said the Moderator, "I appeal to the audience. Is there a man in this church who can direct me?"
In telling me of the occurrence afterward, my father said, "I could have told him the instant he asked, but it was not my place to speak when he made his appeal to the ministers of his own denomination. When they failed and he called on the audience, I waited what I considered a reasonable and modest time on the others, and then I said: "You will find the lines in Isaiah, first chapter and seventeenth verse." "Thank you!" said the Moderator, and finished his discourse. After the services Dr. Little came to me and said the Moderator desired to meet me, and I have just come from dining with him at the Tremont. We had a glorious time."
His face was radiant. I was so proud and so pleased, with the thoughtlessness of a school girl, I threw my arms around his neck and cried: "Oh, Father, you were the smartest man there!" Instantly all the light went from his face, he put me from him and turned away saying: "Child! Child! If I have produced any such impression, I have told my story very badly." Then I would have given anything to have recalled my hasty words, for I had spoiled his joy in his great day.
He was born in Sussex County, Vernon Township, north new Jersey, September twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred twelve, and at an early age moved from there to Wayne County, Ohio, settling north of Wooster. There he met and married Mary Shellenbarger, who was born in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, march eleventh, eighteen hundred sixteen. Their wedding took place on Christmas Day, eighteen hundred thirty-five. In eighteen hundred thirty-eight they moved to Kosciusko County on the northern boundary of Wabash, purchasing two hundred and forty acres in what was known as the Eel River section. In eighteen hundred forty-eight they sold this land and moved to Lagro Township, Wabash County, where they purchased two hundred and forty acres from Daniel Sayre. There they build a commodious country home and lived for twenty-six years in as full joy as is ever had on land. To them were born twelve children of whom seven are still living.
Mark Stratton joined the Methodist Episcopal Church at the age of fifteen, and became an ordained minister in eighteen hundred fifty-seven. After a week of hard work in the fields he would ride from five to twenty miles on Sunday to preach at some settlement not having a minister. He also found time to hold and to give his best efforts to such offices as County Trustee and Commissioner; refusing, however, to allow his name to be used for any office that would require his absence from home. He said it was the duty of any man who had fathered twelve children to remain at home and do his best to rear them properly; then if any strayed in later life, he need not feel that it was his fault.
He gave enough land from a cross roads corner of his farm for the site of a combined church and schoolhouse, and a cemetery; and assisted with material and labor in building. This church he named "Hopewell," after the home of his British ancestors, the same name having been used by settlements of his kinsmen in New Jersey and Virginia. In this church, as Sunday School Superintendent, as Steward, Trustee and Ordained Minister, he worked with all his mind and heart for the upbuilding of his chosen home. Later, as the community grew and prospered, a brick school house was built on a diagonal corner on the land of Christian Hipp, and then a commodious brick church was erected on the Stratton land, where the cemetery was enlarged, surveyed and laid off in regularly platted lots. This was an innovation, as up to that time the dead had been laid in rows with small effort to keep families together.
Mrs. Stratton was a devoted wife and mother, a fine housekeeper and a famous cook. She delighted in having a crowd of friends around her and heaping her table with choice food. She was an earnest church worker, generous with those less prosperous than she; and a neighbor who never failed to answer a call for assistance in times of sickness or trouble, often riding long distances at night through snow and rain, to help comfort those in distress. She had a joyous heart; she met her world with a serene and smiling face. Her own troubles she kept between closed lips, and told them only in her closet. Always, with stout heart she stood shoulder to shoulder with her husband, and helped his every effort to live the life he deemed suitable for a strong, manly man. In September of eighteen hundred seventy-four, they moved to Wabash, where Mrs. Stratton lived only a few months. Part of the family have resided there ever since. She died February third, eighteen hundred seventy-five, from the results of nursing several of her children through typhoid fever, contracted by one of her sons studying law in a distant city.
Mark Stratton joined his wife fifteen years later, January tenth, eighteen hundred ninety. He lived from the days of trackless forests, log cabins, where food was cooked over open fires; to steam heated residences with the modern conveniences of gas and electricity. Surrounded by many of these comforts in his latest days he loved to talk of pioneer experiences.
One early day incident that my father often recalled always amused me very much. The Wabash Railway was in the course of construction; word had been sent out that at a certain hour the first passenger train would be run over the line, not many miles from our home. Father took his gun and crossed the woods to where the line ran closest to us, east of LaGro. On the way he met an old hunter he knew, who spent his life in the woods. This man had been for months on a hunting trip in the wilds of Michigan and had not heard of the railway. Father invited him to accompany him to see the first train. "After we had waited perhaps an hour, there came a curious, rumbling, humming sound; this grew and swelled in volume; the big black engine came tearing down the track; the headlight was glaring in the sun. We were sitting on the embankment; but as the train neared us, old Joe leaped to his feet and started to run, but I cried to him to wait and see the train, so he stopped and stood while it roared and thundered past. As it vanished, I turned to Joe. 'God, Stratton,' he said earnestly, 'If you hadn't been here to tell me what that thing was, I'd have shot it!"
His own sketch of some early incidents strongly impressed upon his memory, and written out for a former Wabash County history cannot fail to be of interest.
"When I came to the region, Eel River Valley was almost an utter wilderness. I traveled through portions of it east of Manchester for fourteen miles without seeing a solitary cabin or a single settler, the wild and trackless forest being wholly unbroken. Turkeys and deer and black and gray wolves and bears were very plenty. Rattlesnakes had been exceedingly abundant in dens among the rocks in the bluffs of the rivers and creeks. One den was near Rattlesnake Springs, half a mile above the town of La Gro, in the bluff on the north side of the river and the canal. There was one also on the Salimony River, near Dora, in South La Gro. Michael Minnick, the first settler (perhaps), when he first drove into that neighborhood with his wife and children and wagons, containing his household goods, with also some other men in company, undertook to fix a camp for themselves, but they found the rattlesnakes so numerous that they moved forward again; but, trying once more to make a camping place, they still found the rattlesnakes in possession, and this time they began the warfare of human against reptile life, and resolutely killed eighteen; sleeping finally in their wagons, instead of making, as had been their custom, a resting place upon the surface of Mother Earth. West of La Gro, where the canal bends round the point of rocks, John Russell, who was and is one of the earliest pioneers of La Gro Township, and who worked for years upon the canal during its construction, says that in blasting the bluff there during the winter they came upon an immense den of rattlesnakes, and that they loaded them, stiffened and benumbed with the severe cold as they then were, with the rocks and dirt, and dumped them 'by cart-loads' into the embankment of the canal." (In Pennsylvania, at one time, where was an entrance and a place of exit for an incredible number of these fearful and venomous monsters, the people built a huge fence around the mouth of the den, thus enabling the settlers both to confine and to destroy the hideous creatures. See also the account of the "rattlesnakes' den," in the bluffs of Rush Creek, near New Holland, in South La Gro.) Mr. Stratton says further: "I never was a hunter; I never shot at a deer but once in my life, killing that, however, instantly. I once chased a young fawn for a long time, catching it at last when nearly worried down. I came upon the little creature suddenly, when it sprang nimbly and started to run, and I after it. It ran in circles, and I followed in pursuit, when at last it sprang against a log and stumbled and fell, and before the frightened little thing could recover itself, I seized it and held the creature fast.
"One morning early, I left my cabin north of Manchester, in company with
Joseph Noftsker and John Shellenbarger, my wife's oldes brother, to show them
We passed on through the forest, some three and one-half miles, to the place where now stands the Butterbaugh Schoolhouse, then however, all heavy woods being on the Wabash and Kosciusko county line. While standing and viewing the forest, we heard a rustling, and looking in that direction saw four bears, an old she bear and three cubs, or young bears (as large as middling-sized dogs); passing along in a course which would bring them within a short distance of where we were standing, but southward from the spot at which we were, they came on until they were perhaps fifty yards away; we had no gun, and might well enough have let the group pass unmolested, on the principle of 'Laissez faire,' 'you let us alone, we let you alone.' But not so; we sprang toward the bears, yelling with all our might, suddenly the old mother bear turned her face toward us and squatting upon her haunches and throwing up her fore paws, she sat thus, with her mouth open; as much as to say, 'Come on if you dare.' Her cubs meanwhile 'treed' instanter, all climbing the same tree; this done, the old bear trotted off as fast as she could waddle. Well, we wished to kill the bears, so, leaving the other two men to watch the game, I went, mostly 'on the run,' to Samuel Bussard's, who lived (and still lives) about a mile distant, for a gun and for more help. I found Mr. Bussard, as also Samuel Hammond, a neighbor, there, the latter on horseback, and they were greatly elated by my story. Mr. B. snatched his gun, ready loaded, and his ammunition. Mr. H. giving me his horse because I had become exhausted by running, started with his neighbor, and together they hurried, running like scampering school boys, skipping and bounding over logs as they went, eager to reach the spot. The two who had been watching the bears said that the old one had come back once to find and rescue her cubs, but had been frightened off again. Our plan was to shoot and cripple one of the young fellows in the tree, and having brought him down to pinch and tease him to make him squeal, and thus cause the mother to come to his relief, so as to get her, too, within range and reach of the gun. That part of the plan however, did not succeed. Mr. Bussard took the first shot, because he was the owner of the gun; Noftsker shot the second time, because he wished to be able to tell his neighbors when he got back to Ohio that he killed a bear; and Hammond drew trigger the third and last time, and every shot killed a bear. Mr. Buzzard's shot killed one of the cubs dead--dead--dead. It did not even struggle nor move a particle after it struck the ground. Noftzker, taking the rifle, drew up, and he, too, made a sure shot, and his game fell lifeless to the earth. Hammond took a slow and cautious aim, and drawing trigger, down came the third also, and he, too, was dead. None of them made any noise, and we saw no more of the old bear. The hides of the young cubs were quickly stripped from the dead bodies, and the carcasses were left to rot upon the ground, or for the poor old mother to drag away, and we went on and finished looking at the land.
"When I came first from Ohio to look for land in Indiana in the winter of 1838 (January), I traveled during the trip on foot 700 miles; starting from Wayne County, Ohio, north of Wooster, I came on through Central and Northwestern Ohio to Perrysburg, on the Maumee River, above Toledo, Ohio; thence to Fort Wayne and Huntington and westward, selecting finally the land which I afterward entered. Returning to Fort Wayne, I passed on to St. Mary's and onward through Western Ohio to Twin Creek, below Dayton; thence to Lewisburg and so to Piqua and Wapakoneta and Fort Findlay, and thence home to Wayne County, Ohio. The jaunt took something more than a month, being performed on foot of course, since (as the Irishman said) that was decidedly the 'natest and chapest' way of getting about."