This gripping account of a tense encounter in the wilderness of Clinton County is given in Chapter 13 of Recollections of the early settlement of the Wabash Valley by Sanford C. Cox, published in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1860. It takes up four of the five-and-a-half pages devoted to Clinton County. The only editing I have done is to add paragraph breaks for readability.
While making mention of the Twelve Mile prairies and its early settlers, it reminds me of an incident which a young friend of mine related to me on his return from Eaton, Ohio, during the Summer of 1838, which I will give as nearly in the words of the narrator as possible:
“I left Lafayette after breakfast, with a single horse and buggy, carrying my saddle and riding bridle with me in the buggy, to use in case I might need them on the road, or after arriving in Ohio. I drove leisurely, and stopped at Sims’ store in Jefferson, Clinton county, and wrote a letter back containing some business directions I had forgotten to give before leaving in the morning. During my short stay in the store, various customers passed in and out, as usual, and among them were two or three suspicious looking individuals, who examined my horse and buggy as closely as if they contemplated buying them. Of their conduct, however, I thought but little until the next morning.
Soon after I left Shoemaker’s tavern, which stood near the middle of the Twelve Mile prairie, I overtook a young man dressed in a blue surtout cloth coat, black pants and white hat, riding a fine looking bay mare, apparently five or six years old. After passing the ordinary salutations, he asked me if I was traveling far on that road. I replied that I expected to go beyond Indianapolis. He said we would be company–that he was going to Ohio, and as he had never traveled the road before, he was glad to fall in with company. I was surprised at this announcement, for I supposed he lived in the neighborhood, as he carried no port-manteau, overcoat, nor umbrella, had no girth to his saddle, nor were there any shoes on the animal he was riding. There was nothing about himself nor the beast he was riding, that indicated travel. I thought at times that he looked like one of the young men I saw in Jefferson the previous evening. He denied, however, being there when I passed through, and said he had stayed all night with an old acquaintance a few miles east of that town.
We had not proceeded over a mile or two together until we overtook an old acquaintance of mine, who lived in the neighborhood, walking the same direction we were traveling. I invited him to ride with me in the buggy, and he readily accepted my invitation. The first private opportunity he had, he asked me if I knew the person who was riding the animal, then a few rods in advance of us. I answered in the negative.
‘Where does he say he is going?’ enquired my friend. I told him that he said he was going to Ohio. ‘He is not going to Ohio,’ continued my friend; ‘beware of him, for he is a suspicious fellow, who has been loitering around here for several weeks, for no good, I fear.’
I told him that I had been sounding him for the last half hour, and had come to the conclusion, from the account he gave of himself, that he was altogether right. He was either very fond of gasconade, or was a villain. My friend then cautioned me again to beware of him–that he thought he had some design upon me, or upon my horse and buggy–that likely he would follow me into the wilderness, and there attack me, assisted by confederates, who, perhaps, were to meet him in the Black swamp, a desolate region lying between Kirklin and the village of Boxley, on the Strawtown road. I told my friend that I had no weapons. He advised me to get a pistol, or knife, or both, before I attempted to cross the wilderness; and that, if he were in my place, under the circumstances, he would change the route, and take the Michigan road through Indianapolis, rather than go through the wilderness alone, or in company with this stranger.
After my friend left us, the man on horseback related his horse-racing exploits in Missouri. He said the mare he was riding was a singe cat. That within three previous years he had won large sums of money by running her against some of the swiftest race nags of Missouri and Illinois. I told him I had no doubt but that she was swift, but that I thought my old buggy horse, Proctor, could beat her on a race of one mile; and if he was willing, we would stop right there in the prairie, and I would take him out of the harness and run him against his mare one mile, and whoever won the race was to have both animals. I made this banter merely to bluff him, and check his vaunting, which it did in short order.
On arriving at Wynkoop’s tavern in Kirklin, I stopped awhile, in order to avoid the company of my fellow traveler, but he also stopped, and appeared determined to stick with me. I told Mr. Wynkoop, privately, that I did not fancy the company of my new acquaintance–that I had been cautioned to beware of him, and would be glad to purchase, or borrow, a pair of pistols to protect myself in case he should attack me on the way. Mr. W. had no weapons that would suit my purpose.
The stranger said the wilderness route by Strawtown was much nearer, and a better road, than we would have if we went round by Indianapolis. I knew it to be the nearest and best route to where I was going, besides I had business near Strawtown that called me that way, but I did not like my company. The thought of being driven out of my course by that impudent fellow, annoyed me very much. I finally concluded to run the risk of danger on the wilderness road, thinking that in a rough-and-tumble combat, if any such thing should happen, I would be a full match for my fellow traveler.
We had not got three miles in the wilderness before there was a marked change in the demeanor of the horseman, whose bearing became more insolent and imperious. It was evident that he intended mischief. I detected him casting glances at the horse and buggy, and then at me, as if in doubt in what manner to make an attack. He occasionally checked up his horse and reined it over towards the side of the road occupied by me. I told him to trot ahead, and I would keep up with him. He would trot along for a few rods briskly, but soon showed a disposition to lag back, and try again to get behind me, which I was determined he should not do, if I could prevent it. After my speaking several times earnestly and rather sharply, for him to keep ahead, he at length dashed off some distance along the road, evincing by his manner that he was at an ill humor.
I saw him take something from the breast pocket of his coat, the shadow of which upon the ground resembled a pistol, upon which I saw him, as I thought, put a percussion cap. He placed it back in his pocket, and drew out another instrument of some kind, which he examined and then placed back again. I dashed ahead of him in a brisk trot, watching him as I passed. After stopping until I had got some hundred yards in advance of him, he raised himself in his stirrups, adjusted his coat skirts around him, then clenching the reins and mane firmly with his left hand, he came dashing up behind me at full gallop. I checked up my horse suddenly and turned round, facing him, at the same time I unwound the blanket from around the horn of my Spanish saddle, which I intended to grasp and hold up before me as a shield to ward off his bullets in case he fired at me. His eye caught sight of the black crooked horn or knob of my saddle, as it protruded above the blanket, which he took for the butt of a horseman’s pistol, and instantly dashed off on the opposite side of the road, and sped by me at full speed, looking as black in the face as a thunder cloud. I saw the magical effect of the saddle knob, and hurriedly covered it over with the blanket, to keep up the impression that I had a pair of horseman’s pistols wrapped in the blanket.
From that time his ferocity seemed to abate, and he was more docile and civil in his language and manners. When we arrived at the town of Boxley, I stopped for dinner, and invited him to stop, but he declined, saying that he would press on, as he was anxious to get beyond Strawtown that night. I did not insist, and he passed on. On resuming my journey, I was on the look out, lest my forenoon companion might be secreted behind some large tree near the road, and might fire upon me from ambush. I enquired of the travelers and movers whom I met, if they had seen a man answering the description of him, who I described minutely. I found that he had passed along the road for about three or four miles east of Boxley, and then turned out into the woods. I continued to enquire for him until I reached White river, but never afterwards heard of him. I do not know, nor pretend to say, whether he really had any intention to try to rob me in the Black swamp, or whether he acted as he did to increase my fears, which I doubt not he plainly perceived. Be that as it may, I think in the end he was full as fearful of me as I was of him, and he was willing to quit, and call it a draw game.”