Volume V, Number 2 (May 1988)

By Orpha Weimer

If you want to hunt a needle in the haystack, try researching your family genealogical line.  Time consuming yes, but so interesting.  Gradually the gaps, bits and pieces come together like a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s really hard not to wander off on an interesting tangent.  I certainly know a lot more about Wabash County than I did.  Some of it is almost like a fairy tale, yet the people are very real.  They command respect, sympathy and admiration.

A good friend, Naomi Oldfather Floor, loaned me a precious old historical Atlas of 1845 which had belonged to her mother.  This record was not a drybone account at all but was brim full of meaty pioneer lore.  I have found nothing like it anywhere else.  It is far more enjoyable reading than the revised account.

I am also indebted to Mrs. Warby Clinker for information from her research of the South Pleasant Church records, and to a host of library personnel, friends and State records.

The object of my search was a record of the Thomas Gamble family, my mother-in-law’s stepfather’s family.  They settled on an estate of over 340 acres in Pleasant Township, the southwest part of Section #19 and northwest part of a quarter of Section #30.  They were three generations of staunch Methodists.  The S. Pleasant Church and cemetery grounds on Highway 15 were deeded to the State by them.  One early record states that Rev. Ancel Beach, an early circuit rider who held “classes” in that area, often used the Gamble barn to hold protracted meetings.  A young second generation Henry Gamble, who was the first Wabash County soldier to die in the Civil War, deeded a small plot of his government land for a church house just before he left for service.  The people gathered together to build a 125 ft. log building in his memory.

Material was hard to come by at the time so it was not chinked.  Many of the parishioners complained that it was too cold for meetings but Rev. Beach insisted it was God’s house and here meetings would be held.  Shame-faced and sheepish, they quietly found the materials and time to finish the first Methodist Church in the county.

Thomas Gamble, Sr. was a native of Pennsylvania (birth date unknown).  He had moved about several times before coming into Wabash County from Kosciusko County on February 19, 1835, along with his wife, Elizabeth Miller Gamble, and five children, John, Steven, Henry, Susanna, and Jane.  A sixth child, Thomas, Jr., was born in 1840.  Only three of the children survived beyond teen age.

Mr. Gamble, being of a roving nature, had learned to know both the land and the local Indians well.  The family came by a two-ox-team wagon with their baggage, skirting the treacherous Black Bear Swamp which stretched fifteen miles in an easterly direction toward Fort Wayne.  This swamp had already taken a heavy toll on travelers.

They arrived during a freak spring storm which dumped two feet of snow on the ground.  Having no shelter, they tramped down the snow under some brambles, placed brush and blankets overhead and spread skins and blankets on the ground.  Here the young children stayed while the father and his two older sons worked to construct a cabin.  A record states that the father had to drive an ox cart to Elkhart Prairie for food stuffs and that Mrs. Gamble suffered severely from Ague.  They were often cold and hungry that first year.  Before the cabin was finished one of the children died and the mother had to care for the body alone.

No one seemed to have money or much food at the time.  They lived mostly by barter.  A Mrs. Horace Tucker of Warsaw recalled that she had brought $2.00 worth of palm leaves with her and that she wove it all into hats to exchange for food.  Mrs. Sammuel Ruckel told that her husband sold some harnesses for a little corn, which he carried on horseback to Goshen to have ground.  She wove wild grasses into baskets which he peddled around for a little container of lard so that they could make cornbread.

Mr. Gamble and his two sons managed to clear ten acres for a corn patch by June that summer and although it was late, luckily it ripened. 

While the major portion of Wabash County was mostly settled by 1822, that to the north of Eel River was not.  Due to Indian legation and speculators who bought or reserved great tracts of land for the government price of $1.25 per acre, then held it as unimproved for a higher price, settlement was slow.  Also the Fort Wayne land office had it listed as swamp.  Many would-be settlers of the stalwart newly-wedded type simply drove on farther west.

In those days settlement was pretty much by squatter’s rights.  Later, the government made these legal.  There was one cabin four miles north of the Gambles’ and a second one fourteen miles away near the present Warsaw.  Only a short time went by before a Mr. Thurston settled over near the present town of Laketon.

Years later, Uncle Orville (Orrie), a third generation Gamble, pointed out to me a much bent tree along Highway 15, east of the S. Pleasant Church and yet another one like it growing on the Gamble land, which he called Indian trailmarkers.  These followed along a high clay ridge skirting low spots.  The low places had once been treacherous bogs and hard to cross.  The trail led in the general direction of Fort Wayne to Logansport.  A sizable Indian village had at one time been back of the Gamble land toward Akron.  They were peaceful and caused no trouble.  The Gamble dog, Tige, who didn’t approve of Indians, was a good watchdog.  Another story told of a party of twenty settlers who were belated after getting around Black Bear Swamp.  They found they were being followed by Indians.  Much alarmed, they saw the Gamble cabin and light.  They sought shelter and got it.  This was a pioneer trait, but one that remained with the Gambles as long as any of them lived.

Gamble Travelled With John Comstock?
Here my chain of facts breaks down a bit.  It is known that Mr. Gamble knew John Tipton, Indian Overseer and manager of the land office in Fort Wayne.  He also knew John Comstock.  Comstock had purchased reserve landrights for the area around the west side of Liberty Mills, in 1835, but he had not yet brought his family west.

I found one record saying that Mr. Comstock went back east and drove through with his family in a light horsedrawn wagon while a Mr. Gamble drove two team of oxen and a wagon with the baggage.  Also he looked after some pigs and three cows.  Was this our Thomas Gamble?  I have found no other by this name in the area.  Another coincidence is that the cabin which Mr. Comstock had thought was his was now occupied by a family and it was not on Comstock land at all.  To remedy the situation, Mr. Comstock purchased a partly-cleared tract with a house on it from a Mr. McBride who wished to sell and go farther west.  The earlier track held for Comstock was divided, part in his name and a large section going to our Thomas Gamble.  Later T. Gamble bought another tract of land adjacent to his first claim but not on the river.  He had seven years to improve and pay for this which a man with two growing sons could easily do.  We have the two deeds, 1836, signed by President Van Buren.

Thomas Gamble only lived ten years after the farms were acquired.  His wife, Elizabeth, survived him 35 years.  She added land for the present S. Pleasant Church year and cemetery to that which her son, Henry, had deeded.  These records and deeds are in the church lockbox and church history. 

The next record concerns the second generation Gambles.  The widowed mother continued to live on the farm with her youngest son, Thomas, Jr. (1840-1922).  Daughter Susanna had married, a Mr. Eichholtz (Marriage Records 1830-1853).  Later, widowed she remarried a Robert H. Hitzler of Warsaw.  Daughter Jane married S.J. Stevenson, moved west and I have no further trace of them. 

Thomas, Jr. was noted as being a very eccentric individual.  He married late in life, a widow with four children.  Mrs. Eliza Wertenburger (Hill) Gamble.  Mrs. C. C. Weimer was the youngest of the Hill children.  There were four Gamble children, Lulu, Rosella, Roscoe and Orville.  Only Roscoe ever married, but he left no heirs.  The land passed out of the Gamble family with this third generation.  I have heard it said, “They are the salt of the earth but queer as the Lord ever made!”

One interesting story which came down in the Weimer family concerned Grandpa Thomas Gamble (Jr.) who was an inveterate eavesdropper on the telephone.  While listening in during an electrical storm (which he had been told not to do), a spark flew out of the mouth piece.  He dropped the receiver, broke it, turned about quite dazed and said, “The durn thing nye singed my whiskers!”  He would never go near the phone after that.

Another action concerned the estate management after the death of Thomas’ mother, Elizabeth.  He absolutely refused to divide it with a sister although he carefully and religiously divided the farm income.  He never farmed but let that to his three young stepsons.  His income came from the periodic sale of choice timber.

The Third Generation
The older of the Gamble sisters, Lulu, trained as a nurse, became a Methodist Deaconness and spent many years as head of the Florence Crittenden House for Girls in Detroit, Michigan.  She contracted tuberculosis and was sent west to Bingham Canyon, Utah, for her health.  Here again, she served as a nurse and became engaged to a widowed missionary doctor.  Later she gave up all her plans to come home and help her sister, Rosa, take care of “Poppa.”  Mr. Gamble had developed a bad habit of running off and getting lost in their big woods.  Lulu also did a lot of voluntary nursing throughout the county.  She was an unusually good children’s nurse and did occasionally take on a case.  One of her last few jobs was caring for Mrs. Mark Honeywell’s son in Wabash

After Lulu’s death I found by way of some old letters, that she had been supporting two missionary families in India.  Quite a coincidence, one of these young men had the same name as the missionary doctor she had been engaged to years earlier.

The second daughter, Rosa, was a hard working farm woman who loved the out of doors.  She was housekeeper for the aging father and an ailing younger brother.  Also, there was always someone living with them who needed a home and a bit of assistance.

Brother Roscoe was the only one who ever married.  He and his wife, Blanche East Gamble, lived on a part of the original farm.  They had no children.

All are now deceased.  The second and third generation Gambles are buried in the S. Pleasant Cemetery.

Threading the atlases and records for the area and times are other interesting facts and stories.  The land from North Manchester, Laketon, Warsaw and LaGro was known as an Oak Thinning and was popular with settlers.  Indians had kept much of it burned over for years as grazing for wild life.  There were some trees but not the heavy dense forests so hard to penetrate.  There were small streams for mills and gentle rolling hillsides meant spring water for homesteads.  Clearing was not difficult and patches of well watered rich soil grew good corn.

After Paradise Springs opened up the Eel River section, settlers raced in.  One unique incident caught my attention about a lady and her cow.  Mrs. Lukens was much disgusted when the three cows did not come up for milking.  She and the dog had to go after them.  They found them after a bit but the cows were contrary and the dog bothersome, so she sent him home.  Soon after she realized she didn’t know which way home was among the tall grasses.  Not relishing the idea of spending the night in a tree, out of reach of the wolves, she hunted for a substantial stick, grabbed the lead cow firmly by the tail and gave it a good whack on the rump.  The cow took off with her holding on to the tail for dear life.  It threw mud, briars and brush.  She made it home in a very exhausted state much battered, scratched and bruised.  Her worried husband had lighted a signal fire and was pounding vigorously over a barrel, the boom-booming of which was the usual direction finder which they knew how to use.  It was estimated the Mrs. Lukens had ridden her tail-wind express a good three miles.  But no joking, getting lost and the hideous wolves were two very real problems at that time.

Wolf hunts were a very necessary sport.  A record tells of seven wolves taken one November afternoon in 1849 in the vicinity of Akron.

Another incident concerned a four year old boy, Joe Penrod, of near Laketon.  He wandered off one afternoon and could not be found.  The much worried parents and neighbors hunted and called during the night.  They were aided by a party of wolf hunters.  The child was found unhurt the next morning.  He had cried himself to sleep in a corn patch his father had planted.  Apparently the noise and moving lights of the searchers had discouraged a wolf attack.

In Orrie Gamble’s diary he tells of a muck fire which lasted three years about 1887.  He said it was very difficult to see for days because of the smoke.  One could see funnels of smoke coming up through the snow in winter and there wasn’t enough rain in the summers to put it out.  After the chaffy weeds and grass had smoldered and burned away, great pits were left which soon became marshes.  According to his account, several newly constructed roads had to be changed.

I still don’t know where the first generation Gambles are buried even after three years of work.  I don’t know whether to persist or give up.  But I’m curious about those broken spots---wish they had written family histories.  Some folks are doing so now.  I have mine pretty well along.  Come on and join in the crowd.  It is rather fun.