Old Settlers' Tales by F.F. Crevecoeur

In the matter of education, the Swiss nation is not behind any of Europe, and the settlers were not here long, until they began to agitate the question of a school for their children, who were beginning to grow up. A meeting to see about the erection of a school house, was called for the 21st of March, 1863. The matter of funds troubled the pioneers more, perhaps, than anything else. There had not been money enough raised by taxes to build a schoolhouse and to have a school taught, so a subscription list was passed around, to which $41 was subscribed, and as their being able to carry on a school, they held another meeting on the 14th of May following, when district number 14 was organized, with Fred Bonjour, director, Alfred Bonjour, clerk, and Aime Bonjour, treasurer. James Cooper was hired to teach a three months' term of school, commencing the end of June, the same year. He received the munificent sum of $9 per month, or $27 for the term, for his services. The school was held in Louis C. Simon's house, southwest of where Zelim Bonjour lives, there being a spring near, which furnished water for the use of the school. Mr. Simon's mother, who was the head of the family, received a dollar as rent for her room. The same fall the old log school house, which stood on the hill a little north and across the road from where Tom Kelly lives, was built. Most of the work was done by donation, some hauling the logs, others helping in the erection of the building. Among the teachers who taught in this school house were: Mrs. Hal, now Mrs. Brat, of near Centralia; Mrs. John Irwin, Peter Leroux, Clara Utzy, Miss Ensign, and Flora Preston, afterwards Mrs. Rev. Hogbrin, of the Sabetha Congregational church. In 1871 the district was changed by cutting off district No. 46, and the school site of the Neuchatel district was changed to its present one, and the present stone structure was built. The district then became joint district No. 5, of Nemaha and Pottawatomie counties.

When district No. 46, the Vautravers district, was formed, they held a term of school in Ami Bonjour's house. The seats consisted of boards laid around the room on blocks of wood, while the desks were boards laid on pins driven in the wall. Mary Todd taught this term. The first school house was the present frame one, and Miss Ellsworth taught the first term in it about 1872. The next teacher was Miss Francis Harth. James Summerfield was the first director; George Thomas, clerk; and Fred Vautravers, treasurer.

Early in 1864 Alfred Bonjour sent the government a petition to have a postoffice (sic) established, which was done the same year. As all the early Swiss colonists had come from the canton of Neuchatel, the request was made that the new postoffice (sic) should bear the name of their old home. Alfred Bonjour was appointed the postmaster, he keeping the office in his house. He was then living where Scheve lived and in 1869, when he bought out John Schneider, he moved into the house vacated by Mr. Schneider, but still kept the postoffice (sic) at his old place. A postoffice (sic) inspector came around soon after this and ordered the removal of the office to his new residence, where he could give it better attention and protection. When he moved to his stone house in 1872, where Ephraim lives, the office was again transferred to his new residence, where he held it quite a number of years, having held the office 15 years altogether.

P. Zimmerman moved his sawmill to Neuchatel in 1863, and had it set up where Alfred A. Bonjour lives. Then James Colyer took his mill there, setting it in the timber southwest of where B. Perrussel lives.

The history of the Neuchatel store--the French store--as near as we can unravel it, is as follows: Alfred and Charles Bonjour, Henry Labbe, and August Seigneur formed a partnership to carry on a general merchandise business, some say in 1867, while other authorities say 1868, but the former date seems to be the correct one. Store was kept in an old log house which stood on the site of the one where August Scheve lived. The partnership did not continue long, Charles Bonjour selling his interest to August Mouton, and August Seigneur to Armand Dehay. Later Fred Bonjour bought out Mouton and Dehay, and not long after (about 1870) also got control of Alfred Bonjour's interest, leaving the store in possession of Mr. Labbe, one of the original owners, and Fred Bonjour. They then built a frame building on the site of the present store building, and it burned down in 1875. Mr. Labbe then sold his interest to his partner, who became sole owner, and with his children, kept it running for several years after. When it burned, in 1875, Mr. Bonjour built the frame building, recently occupied by Mr. Scheve, in which he kept store until he put up the present building, which was not long after the accident. He then sold the small building to Charles Bonjour for $200, and the latter moved into it and made it his home for several years. We are told that calico was 40c a yard, thread 10c a spool, nails 10c a pound, and 4 inch and 5 inch bolts 10c each, when the store was first started. Kentucky jeans was sold at a profit of 25c a yard, but the loss through selling indiscriminately on credit ate up about all the profit. In 1867 flour sold for $9 per hundred, and potatoes at $2 a bushel. About everything used by the pioneers, such as wagons, plows, and hardware, as well as groceries, dry goods, and medicine, was kept, and the store drew trade from a large territory. The first goods were hauled from here from Seneca, then from the end of the Central Branch railroad between Corning and Centralia, and lastly from the latter point. In the 70's Messrs. Labbe and Bonjour employed Noel Lefebvre, who made weekly trips to Leavenworth, taking out butter and eggs and bringing back goods for the store, received in exchange for the produce.

In 1873 some one had occasion to go to Seneca, where he fell in with Louis Kirsch, who was running a grist mill at that place. Mr. Kirsch, who thought he saw an opening at Neuchatel for a big-paying business in the grist mill line, came back with our Neuchatel friend and induced a number of the best-to-do farmers of this locality to go into a scheme for the building of a large water mill at this place. Those who backed the project were: Fred, Aime, Ami, and Alfred Bonjour, Louis C. Simon, and Henry Labbe, who mortgaged their farms to secure the funds to go on with the enterprise. Accordingly work was started that fall on the mill, which was built on Mrs. Julia A. Bonjour's farm, the structure being a massive stone building, which was made to contain three sets of burrs, though it was large enough to hold more. Men from all directions were employed, some to dig the mill race, others to quarry rock and some to haul them, others to get sand, while several masons found lucrative work there. Many of the men boarded with Louis Simon, who thus got back some of the money he invested, while Fred Bonjour and Henry Labbe paid many of them off with goods from their store. The building was finished the following summer, but the mill was not furnished for running for about a year more. When it finally did start to running there was but little wheat raised in the neighborhood to keep it going, and at other times the water supply fell short. It had cost about $15,000, and the money that had been borrowed brought 15 per cent interest, and the returns from the mill being practically nothing, it ruined several of those who had invested in it, and the others were badly crippled financially. All but Fred Bonjour lost a farm or more through the investment, but some afterwards redeemed the land they had lost. Ami and Aime Bonjour and Louis Simon each lost a quarter of land which they were unable to redeem. Mr. Kirsch, who was given a half interest in the mill for supervising the erection and running it, lived in the mill in a suite of rooms one side for the purpose. When it was seen that the mill would not remunerate its promoters, those who were in partnership sold their interest in it to Mr. Kirsch and Fred Bonjour, who then sold the machinery to Mr. Barrett of Barrett, Marshall county. About this time Mr. Kirsch tried to get away with a load of machinery, when John Labbe, who was constable then, was in pursuit of him. Mr. Kirsch, with his family, had started east with the booty, and Mr. Labbe caught up with the wagon near Mrs. Mary Kelly's, but Mr. Kirsch was no where to be seen. Looking around, he saw a man dive into the timber half a mile or so up the creek, and, thinking this might be the man, otherwise he could see no reason for his getting out of sight, so he hastily rode up to where he had seen the man disappear, and found Mr. Kirsch, as he expected to do, who was brought back and made to give an account of his action. The mill was finally altogether dismantled, nothing hardly remaining to show where it stood.

When Mrs. Melaine Simon died, in 1865, a cemetery was laid out where Emile Bonjour lives, and she and others who died before 1861 were buried there. When the church was built in the above year, the cemetery adjoining it was set apart, and the old one was forgotten and neglected. It grew up to grass and the site of the graves was practically lost, so that when Emile moved to the place, traces of it were gone. An apple orchard now marks the spot, so that living monuments, instead of marble, mark the last resting place of some of those who found a home in a wild and untried country, but their rest is as sweet and sleep as deep as of those whose graves are marked by the tallest shaft or dust embalmed in the costliest mausoleum, and their hope to arise, when Gabriel sounds his trumpet at the last day, is as strong as any, though their mortal bodies are resting in the humblest and most primitive surroundings.

In the fall of 1874, a branch of the Grange, or Patrons of Husbandry, was organized at Neuchatel, which it was promised it would assist its members, many of whom were in straitened circumstances at that time, but so far as learned there were only Henry Hastings and Casimir Stiennon who received any benefit from the order, and this, little enough, though each member paid in a sum sufficient to help more. So it is a question what finally became of all the money that the order received from many who could ill afford to lose what they paid in as initiation fee. The branch at this place only lasted about a year.

The first Fourth of July celebration held at Neuchatel, that we can learn of, was in front of the Neuchatel school house, in 1871. Thomas Points made the address. The next was in 1874, and was held in the new mill, which was just finished. A grand supper was served, and dancing was carried on in the afternoon and evening in the basement of the building. The Dodds boys had a stand in the mill, where refreshments and condiments as lemonade, candies, raisins, and cigars were sold. There was a notice stuck up, forbidding smoking a cigar inside the building, but towards evening a young man was seen smoking a cigar inside, when Mr. Kirsch promptly knocked it from his mouth. The young man then struck him a severe blow in the face, from which the blood flowed freely. The young man stepped out of doors, where he was later hunted up by Mr. Kirsch, who was discovered to have a bowie or butcher knife about his person, which was taken away from him by Sam Taylor, who was constable of Mill Creek township then. After considerable blustering by Mr. Kirsch, the young man was induced to leave, thus settling the affair.

In 1875, the Forth of July was celebrated under the auspices of the local Grange, and the festivities were again conducted in front of the school house and church.

The earthquake of 1868, was noticed by several parties at Neuchatel. J. A. Bonjour, who was a boy then, had been fishing and was on his way home. He was going along one of the old-fashioned Virginia rail worm fences, when he saw the fence begin to squirm as if it were alive. Most anyone can imagine the effect it had on him. James Summerville was hauling a load of corn and was riding upon it, when he noticed a motion that seemed unnatural to him and knew that it was not due to the natural motion of the wagon.

The people of Neuchatel had their share of experiences with home- made coffees and native tea as substitutes for these beverages. For coffee, roasted barley, wheat, corn, and crusts of bread were used; for tea, some used the leaves of what was called cat's-foot (Antennaria plantaginifolio), while others took the blossoms of the common mullein. The leaves of the tall clover (Lespedeza capitata) were also used.

The following reminiscences were told us by some of the earliest settlers of this community:

In 1857, Ami Bonjour bought at Leavenworth, an 18-inch breaking plow, paying $25 for it. It had levers for regulating the depth, and wheels to keep it from upsetting , as it was made to run by itself, the driver having to give all his attention to the three yoke of oxen required to pull it. There were also 24-inch plows, which took four yoke of oxen to pull them. The first reaper brought to this place was a Cayuga, or Ohio Chief. This was bought by Fred and Aime Bonjour and two others, in partnership, in about 1865. It required a man to ride on it to rake the grain to one side. It cost over $200. Ami Bonjour got it after all the rest were through with it. Aime Bonjour bought a Buckeye, handraker, (sic) also in 1868, paying $200 for it in Leavenworth. Wagons, during the war, sold for $150, and Aime Bonjour bought one, that had been made over, at P. Zimmerman's sale, for $105. Aime Bonjour bought a corn planter about 1870, which cost him $70. It was purchased of Mr. Manchester, the first to keep a hardware store in Centralia.

The early settlers had a habit of calling each other by their first or given name, or by the name of the profession to which the man belonged. Fred Bonjour was known by the name of "The Shoemaker," while Mr. Vautravers went, and still does, by the name of "The Tailor. " Noel Lefebvre (Le fafe) had his name translated into English to "Christmas Beaps," by which name he was known by some of the English- speaking people. Mr. Perrod's name was changed to "Pearod," which was easily changed to "Peasick," by which cognomen he and the boys were for a long time known.

The writer had the curiosity to inquire of two of the very first settlers what had induced them to leave civilization to cast their fortunes in a wild country. The answer in both cases was practically the same. The spirit that inspired Horace Greeley to write, "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country," was the prime factor which caused our early pioneers to come here. Aime Bonjour tells us that he found Indiana a comparatively old-settled country when he came here from Switzerland, and friends told him they had found a raw, uninhabited country when country when they came there, and now they were well off and in easy circumstances (the land was then worth $30 per acre), and that if he would go west, where land was cheap, he might do as well. Henry Hoover had also come from the same state with his parents, and on the same purpose, but at Osawkie, his first settling place, he, being a Freesoiler (sic), had found the pro- slavery element too strong for him he came here.

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