07 Dec Pioneer Kids- Joseph Ross
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
Hamilton County is fortunate in that it has several accounts of the pioneer settlement of the area that were written by people who were children at the time. It gives us a unique view of people and events. One such account was written by Joseph W. Ross (1821-1899), who was later known as “Uncle Joseph”. He published his writing in articles in the Noblesville Democrat newspaper on December 13, 20, and 27 of 1895 when he was 74 years old. There were further articles, but they have unfortunately been lost. The series was partially reprinted in the Noblesville Times in October 1923.
He begins the series by asking the reader to imagine that it is September 18th, 1830. (It’s not known why he picked that date.) Ross was born on August 18 and would have been just nine years old. He describes sitting on a sycamore log south along Stony Creek and then walking up the road towards town. This would have been along present-day Eighth Street. The causeway and bridge on Tenth Street was not built until 1925. He lists the names of the people who lived in the houses and farms along the road, including the Hillerys and the Goes, and pointing out Curtis Mallery in particular as “considered by all who knew him to be one of the best of men”.
When he reaches the intersection with Conner Street, he describes the buildings around the square. He says this is partly in response to another writer who had claimed to have visited Noblesville in 1830 and had seen only one house in the town. During this description, Ross makes many digressions to talk about the people that he knew. One of them was Dr. Haymond W. Clark, (who was discussed in the blog a few weeks ago). Dr. Clark fixed Joseph’s arm after it was broken very badly and Ross was “thankful that he made as good an arm as I have got”. Ross says that Clark could be very stubborn about things and was nicknamed “Old Bothersome”. Another person that Ross talks about was his friend Charlie Ketchum, a Delaware Indian whose father had chosen to stay behind when the other members of the tribe left in 1820.
Ross talks about some of the businesses, such as the Cogswell tannery and a whiskey shop called “Shiner Booz Alley”. He talks extensively about a two story frame building constructed on the east corner of Conner and Polk (8th) Streets. It was built by John D. Stephenson and used as a store when Stephenson and William Conner were business partners. The Masonic lodge, of which Conner was a member, used the upper story as a meeting room. Some of the main goods traded at the store were raccoon skins and ginseng. The ginseng was purchased green and washed and dried, hundreds of pounds at a time. The raccoon skins were also dealt with in bulk. Ross said that in 1836, he saw a cellar 20’ X 40’ and seven feet high completely filled with skins. The ginseng and skins were common enough to be considered a legal tender since cash was hard to come by on the frontier, a prime skin being worth 25 cents.
If you would like to read Ross’s reminiscences for yourself, photocopied clippings are available in the Indiana Room vertical file.