Wednesday, April 7, 1948
Crops could not be raised in such a forest, nor could homes be built amid the depths of swamps and wild animal refuges. It is intriguing to imagine how it was before our pioneer fore-fathers, men "with the bark on," ventured fearlessly into the dark wilds of those ancient woods.
The forests were not wholly untrodden by the feet of men, for they were interlaced by Indian trailsprobably of some antiquity. The Algonquins in Canada crossed the St. Lawrence in their canoes, on the ice in winter, and contacted the Iroquois in Central New York. Here dwelt the Five Nations, later the Six Nations, now dispersed to various places.
The Iroquois were a great confederacy which spread to many states. So where our homes now stand the Red Man, the First Americans, swiftly and silently may have made his way to a neighboring tribe for a friendly visit or, perchance, on the warpath.
Can you see with the imagination a graceful canoe resting on the bank of Jo Indian, Sterling or Ozonia? Can you see a tepee beside our little river, smoke ascending from an Indian's campfire and smell the fragrance of venison or trout? I am afraid we would not partake of the stew as prepared by our Red predecessors as they were liable to cook a rabbit or partridge whole, hide, feathers or what have you.
While I am about it, I am going to air a grievance about a matter which concerns me, and that is the name "Ozonia." It is not fitting. It is too commonplace and commercial sounding. It should bear an Indian name befitting its beauty and location. However, it is not becoming in me to re-name Lake Ozonia.
But I must return to the forest. However big and fine the trees, and however ruthless the pioneers seemed, they could not do otherwise than to cut them down. In clearing their lands they generally worked in companies and began by underbrushing. That is, they first cut the small trees and brushwood and piled them in heaps. They then cut the larger trees so that they fell one upon another and in the same location. Smaller ones were piled in between. They helped each other pile up logs and burned them until nothing but ashes remained. They cleared two or more acres in this way, and if not too late, they then put in crops of corn and potatoes. It was time then to build their log shanty as previously described.
What to do with the heaps of ashes which were all that remained of those marvelous forests of hardwood so sorely needed now? They were clever, our forebears. And they were poor. Ready money was almost non-existent. So it occurred to them to make use of the ashes they themselves had created. They religiously saved much of them. Even up to 30 years ago there were many ash-houses in this village which had been used years ago for the storage of ashes. In fact there was an old ash-house at one site of our own old house for many years. It was made, like most of them, of fieldstone put together with little, if any, mortar between. The bottom was a beautiful flat stone over a yard square. It became a favorite target for hallowe'en pranks as the old roof could be tipped off easily. Finally it was ruined, much to my regret.
These were for small collections of ashes, of course, but great piles of them were all about in the early days. Are you not proud to be the descendant of a pioneer of St. Lawrence County? For they all had similar hardships. Perhaps they were unaware of their hard life 25 or 30 years ago. No one had the conveniences and luxuries we have to-day. They all went through the hard labor and deprivations together. You can imagine what it would be like to have no money for shopping trips, or for fresh fruits or out-of-season vegetables.
Months on end our grandmothers saw no money at all, to say nothing of the privilege of indulging in more up-to-date gowns or bonnets. How they would have reveled even of a shopping trip to Woolworths. Such trinkets were out of this world as far as they were concerned. For they made their own clothes and bed and table linen from the very beginning, down to the last stitch with their own hands.
Have you a piece of their old hand-linen made from their own flax and made into cloth by their own efforts? If so, cherish it as a precious thing. Have you an old counterpaine or hooked rug? If you scorn them, pass them on to the county museum we shall have.
But they had to have some money for taxes, postage and some with which to pay an occasional doctor's bill. Their trading consisted in bartering during the first years. If one had some meal, he traded it for seeds for the next crops. If a woman had goose feathers and another had a daughter about to be married, then they bartered some fine woolen sheets already made for feathers for a feather bed or pillow. And so it went, but there were no shopping trips for monogrammed sterling silver or precious china.
The taxes, however, just like to-day, had to be paid in money. In another column we will see where the house and field ashes came in.