Source: NMHS Newsletter, May 1997

Local Pioneer History in Perry Township Featuring The Squirrel Indian Village

Gilead School Beulah Smith H.S. Graduate 1933

The following is an essay required for graduation from Gilead High School in 1933. It was written by Beulah (Smith) Ewing (Mrs. James O.), daughter of Asa and Clara Eldora (Baker) Smith and aunt of Barbara Amiss. It was hand written, of course, with careful margins of l 3/4 inch on one side and 3/4 inch on the other side of each page. The first part of it was included in the February newsletter. The entire essay is printed here for clarity.

It was after the coming of the white people, that our great grandparents who settled here, cleared the land and built the first dam across Squirrel Creek to furnish power for the grist mill, which was built by Benjamin Musselman in 1836, one could get a sack of corn ground by leaving it long enough, but if one needed a load of corn or wheat made into meal or flour, he would have to go a great distance to some other mill. The mill at Niconza was only a corn cracker with bowlders taken from a nearby quarry for mill stones. Later the mill was designed for the milling of wheat. This mill like many, other backwoods mills in early days required a hand-bolt to sift the bran out; moreover, in some instances the people at home had a sieve made out of a deer skin, punched full of fine holes with which to further refine the flour. However, many biscuits have been made out of the flour which was ground at this private establishment. How long it stood and performed its humble service we do not know. In 1841, the mill was sold to H. Carington. There had been many revival meetings held in this mill, as there was no church near by at that time.

One of the first industries of this humble little village was the cabinet shops of Joseph Miller. Mr. Miller also made coffins for a number of the pioneers, one of which was made for Mr. Mathias Moyers wife, in 1836 by splitting puncheons from a white, walnut log and then hewing them down into boards - there being no saw mill here at that time. Her burial was the first that took place in the Moyer cemetery which was situated south of Niconza. At the present time it is known as the Baker cemetery. Mr. Moyer was one of the first settlers in Miami county.

In 1838, a pottery was founded by Elias Slagle, who discovered a deposit of clay which was suitable for the making of earthen ware. The first saw mill, being of the upright type, was built by John Bowers and was run by water power. The grist mill and saw mill utilized the same dam.

The village of Niconza had a postoffice and only one general-store. We are not able to obtain exact data about the date when the postoffice and store started. The history of Wabash county shows a postoffice there as far back as 1837, but no name as to who the first postmaster was. A man by the name of Ream, as we are told, was for some time, one of the first postmasters; later, he sold out to David Smith, who managed both the postoffice and the store. After Smith had built a new house, the work of the postoffice was carried on in one of the front rooms of the new house, and any one who wished to send a letter could drop it thru a slot in the weather boarding into the mail bag in side for immediate delivery. This building stands today and you may yet see how the mail was slipped thru the slot into the inside of the building. The building is used as a farm storage house. The mail was carried from Wabash on horseback to Stockdale, then to Niconza, and on to Harrisburgh - now called Disko. After the Eel River Railroad - now named the Pennsylvania was built and Roann, in 1860, became a town, the mail was carried from there every other day. The mail route has been, until recently, far away from any railroad track, the nearest point having been Roann, which was some eight or ten miles distance. However, the people of this vicinity were amazed to learn that another railroad company was starting to build a line directly from Chicago, thru Harrisburgh and on to New York. The postoffice was removed from Niconza to Disko in 1876. Henry Clingerman, who is now sixty nine years old, was the last one that carried the mail. Mr. Clingerman owns the land on which the quaint Squirrel Indian Village - later called Niconza, stood. But in the march of progress the village failed to keep up with the procession and has perished entirely, or remains only as a shadow of what it once was.

During the month of March, 1842, in the days of log cabins and hard cider where the only public places of note were barns, school houses and the sawmill to worship in, with a membership of nine, which proceeded to draw up and adopt a constitution for a Baptist church and also determined or selected a name for the church. They derived its name from the Indian Village called Squirrel Village or Squirrel Town - the name of its chief, "Squirrel," which in the Indian tongue is called "Niconza".

On July 16, 1840, there was a remarkable meeting at Musselman's saw-mill which proved the beginning of a work of grace throughout the whole region, the membership growing from nine to thirty two. But it seems as yet they were not quite ready to organize, fearing that they were not able financially.

On March 25, 1853, an acre lot was deeded to this organization by Andrew Onstott. The church which was built during that year was a frame structure. Many a protracted meeting has been held within this church in past years, and cherished seasons of grace and revival have been enjoyed.

A new house erected in the summer of 1899, and dedicated on December seventeenth, of the same year. The house itself is a frame structure with a seating capacity of three hundred. The church enjoys the very best of leadership and a more generous and wide awake type of people cannot be found elsewhere.

(copied without corrections)