Interesting Reminiscences of an Old Pioneer

Within the past month or so, one of the original pioneer settlers of Andrew county, whose name heads this article, took up his residence in Savannah, with his son, Jeff. Boyles, having lived on the same piece of land, one mile south of Flag Springs, which he bought as a claim from the Government in 1841, until he came to Savannah, a few weeks ago. He is still cheerful and buoyant of spirits, and would be in excellent physical condition were it not for an accident he met with while riding in a stage, but a few years ago, which broke several ribs, dislocated his shoulder, and injured him to such an extent that it was thought he could not recover, but his iron constitution brought him through it. He is quite deaf, and suffers from a cancer on the neck, which he has had since 1845.

Mr. Boyles was born in Athens county, Ohio, on the 7th day of June, 1795, and is therefore in his eighty-fourth year. He enjoys the distinction of being the first white child born in Athens county. He says people were poor, those days, and they could only afford to give their children one name. He grew up to manhood in the usual custom on the frontier of civilization, endured hard times and was well hardened. He thinks people in these days who talk of hard times should have a little experience of those earlier days. He started in the world with nothing but his hard muscles, a willing heart and a determination to get along. He earned enough by copping wood for salt works in Virginia to buy a little piece of land. He remembers with distinctness, and relates with considerable feeling, how, about this time, winter was coming on, and he had no shoes; he made a sharp horse trade, and got some leather as "boot," from which he made shoes for some time. His wife, who stood by him in all his early sufferings and privations and toil, lived until February, 1869, nearly ten years ago.

Mr. Boyles lived in Ohio until his family consisted of six children, when they removed to Elkhart county, Indiana, where they remained for several years, and from which place they removed to Andrew county. He came in August, 1841, on a tour of inspection, and camped about three miles east of where Rochester now stands, for about a month, while hunting up a location. He finally bought the claim of another man: Mr. Joseph Snyder, who had made some improvements, and who turned over to him, on the 14th of October, 1841, the crop, hogs, cow and calf, chickens, plow, and everything as it stood. This afforded him a very comfortable start, for those days. On the 13th of October of that year he was in Savannah-- as laid out in lots. There were plenty of building sites in this city, then, but no buildings. He remembers a splendid field of wheat, which stood between where the Courthouse now stands and Captain Caldwell's residence-- what has since been popularly termed "hell's half acre." The nearest post-office, then, was Jimtown, sixteen miles from his place. His first neighbors were Henry Meek and his father, old Sammy Meek, the latter living immediately north, and Henry about a mile. Henry is still living and still here. Henry came about the same time with Mr. Boyles; had, indeed, taken his place, and gone to Platte county for his family. When Mr. Boyles selected his place, he felt sure he would have sufficient range on the broad prairies for all the cattle he could keep, during his lifeime; yet for years he has seen the "range" disappearing rapidly in farms, and last year witnessed the last "forty" fenced, and the range has entirely disappeared. The nearest stores were in Platte City and Weston. The country was unbroken and wild, and there were no roads. On one occasion, his plow needing to be sharpened, he started out on Monday morning to have it sharpened. He was compelled to go to Weston to get the job done, and did not get back until Saturday night; but he adds, he got it sharpened. Wheat was about all the cereal which could be sold; took that to Roubidoux's little mill, above where St. Joe now stands, which did about all the grinding for the country north of it, and was not started for some time after Mr. Boyles came. For two years he did not go to mill at all, but beat out the corn, on a block, into meal for mush and bread during that time; the nearest mill being at the falls of Platte-- about fifty miles. He says the first time he saw St. Joe it was a "solid frog pond, overgrown with flags and frogs." On one of his trips to Roubidoux's mill he bought some land warrants from soldiers in the Mexican war, on which he made good speculations. One section of land in Iowa, for which he paid $400, became afterwards worth forty dollars and acres, the town of Winterset growing up adjoining it. In all, he bought 1,600 acres in these warrants, which, with other land purchased from time to time, has afforded him sufficient to give each of his children a good farm. In those early days the currency was mainly gold and silver, but little paper being in circulation until the land sales became more numerous, when paper money became more common. Indians from west of the Missouri frequently passed by on their way to the Grand River country to hunt, but he never heard of their molesting anybody.

The children of Mr. Boyles are as follows, commencing with the oldest: Clayton M., who died a few years ago; Philip M.; Thomas McDonough and Martha Ann, deceased; Cynthia, married James Meek, and lives in Platte county; Martin D., the well-known citizen of Empire township; Andrew J., deceased; Francis M., who lives between the Platte and Hundred-and-two, northwest of Savannah; George Jefferson; Frank and Jeff being twins, who has occupied the old homestead until recently, and now lives in Savannah; Erasmus D., living about three miles north of Rochester; Diantha, who married Mr. Bradford and lives in Randolph county; and Oliver H., at present living a mile and a half north of Flag Springs. Thomas took a farm in Iowa, but sold and bought a farm in Texas before the war. The war coming on, he was asked to go into the rebel army, but refused. For a long time he was chained to a stump to compel him to go. Finally a court martial decided that if he did not decide to go inside of five days, he would be shot. He went, lost his property, his health, and as a result, died.

After selling his farm in Indiana on time, the six brothers who whom he sold determined they would not pay, and would not permit any one to buy it in [sic], swearing they would kill the first man that did. George Boyles bid on it, in defiance of them, and sold to another man.

The cancer which is eating into Mr. Boyles' neck commenced in 1845. He has had it cut out three times, but each time it grew again, and is now eating in under his ear, and must eventually reach his throat or mouth.

Mr. Boyles says the evils of the country are caused by going in debt. He carefully avoided that pit-fall; never going in debt but twice, and then had the money at home to pay it. He says after the war of 1812, when the Government sold land, one-fourth down, balance in yearly payments, thousands of people bought land, paying every cent they had down on the cash payment, and trust to luck to pay the balance. They failed to pay the balance, and much distress was the consequence, and the Government had to take extra measures to relieve the hard times. He says if there was no credit system, there would be no hard times.

It must be a source of wonder for Mr. Boyles to compare the present great improvements throughout the country with the primeval days when he started out in the world to carve a name and a fortune. It should be a congratulation to the old gentleman to know, also, that the name of Boyles, wherever known, is a synonym for honor, integrity, and strict compliance with contract, and is doubtless largely owing to the early teaching and principles inculcated at home.

Source: Savannah Reporter, 22 Nov 1878
Submitted: Monica Schirmer Eshelman