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Wolves and Indians Everywhere
By Mrs. James McDonald, Chatham Daily Planet, March 5, 1904


I was born in Scotland almost eighty-nine years ago, and it was there that I met and was married to James McDonald. Sixty-two years ago we decided to come to Canada and establish a home and this we did, bringing the family which then consisted of two children, with us. We were accompanied by my brothers. We settled downfirst in New York State, but shortly afterwards we came to Canada accompanied by one brother, Duncan, who died two years after arriving in Kent while my other brother remained in New York State.

We arrived here in the morning and the whole of that day was taken in building a hut to live in. By the time the night came the house was completed. This remarkable house was situated on the same site where our brick home now stands in Harwich, four miles from Chatham but now not a trace of it remains. Our present house is the third of which has stood on this site. It might be interesting for the present generation to know that we built this house of basswood logs piled together as there were no nails to bind them together. Instead of lumber for flooring, a long basswood log was procured and split into lumber and nailed down with wooden pins.

Our first crop consisted of a few potatoes and a small amount of wheat. Both myself and my husband worked in the bush. Of course, the work of clearing the farm was done very slowly as the ground was very swampy. Our farm consisted of forty-five acres and Duncan McDonald took up the adjoining forty-five acres. There were no roads then and the only guide at night to a personís home was the shining of a light from the personís hut, through the trees.

I notice a great change in the county now. There was not quite as much style then as there is now. If a person had a good big bowl of mush and milk and a biscuit they were exceedingly well off. Food was very scarce, and added to that the work was far harder than it is now.

We were two or three years working here before we could get a team of oxen and ten years before we had a span of horses, and when we wished to draw anything to town through the bush we were forced to borrow a wagon from a man named Donald McQuarrie, who owned the only wagon and most of our hauling was done with a home-made sleigh.

I tell you we had potatoes then, far better than the ones grown today! The way they were planted was to dig a big hole, then throw in the potatoes then cover them up with earth. Corn and wheat were planted with a hoe and cut with a cycle or scythe, and later on cradles came in. I remember the first reaper I ever saw, and it was a nine dayís wonder. It took ten or twelve men to run it. The first threshing machine I ever saw just separated the grain from the stalks and it took three or four men a week to clean a good dayís threshing. Of course there were no barns and we were here two years without stock. Then we got one cow, and my husband chopped wood for another man and got another cow.

When the gravel road between Charing Cross and Blenheim was put through my husband was for two months working on it.

Wolves and Indians were everywhere, although I did not see many wolves. They would not come near any place where there were human beings. The Indians, however, were different. They would camp any place in the woods, and often they would come to your door and ask for food. They generally got it, as they were dangerous enemies, and the people were very hospitable. The Indians were not dangerous except when they had too much whiskey - and there was lots of that going around. They would get intoxicated and whoop around through the woods all night. I never heard of anyone being injured by them, but it was not very comforting to hear them yelling at night.

I got lost in the bush twice. When a person went for a walk it was necessary to leave a trail of branches behind you so that you could trace your way back. My brother, when he was building his house, walked for half a day around through the bush and could not find his way out. People were very hospitable then and we considered people in Dover our next door neighbours.

I remember distinctly the first brick house that was built in Chatham. It was owned by a man named Eberts and served as a residence and general store. It was situated on King Street. The first grist mill was known as Holmesí (McGregorís) and was situated on McGregorís Creek and run by water power. It was located near the Pere Marquette bridge. Some of the farmers near here used to skid on the ice to Windsor with their grist and in the open season they went in huge canoes. The first Hotel was Taylorís Tavern. It was a large frame and log structure and many a dance was held there.

You never saw white sugar then. You made your own out of maple syrup. Tea was made out of coffee, oats and burnt bread. Bears were scarce where the settlers were and I did not see many. There were lots of turkey and deer but they soon disappeared when the settlers began to come in.

It was a surprising thing to see a man putting up a frame house. In the houses we lived in you could see the stars blinking in through the roof. Still it was not cold in winter as the bush tended to keep the atmosphere warm. Of course I spun all of the clothing we wore. After the yarn was spun we took it to a weaver, brought back the cloth, and made our clothing. There was not much money then and all of our shopping was taken out in trade. Six shillings paid for a cord of wood, and we made money by selling wood at $1.00 per cord.

Everything was done by bees then - and jolly good times we had at those bees. They generally ended up with a dance and I donít think people ever enjoyed themselves more than we did at those bees.

Yes, we had to work hard in those days. Many a time I put my children to bed and then worked with Mr. McDonald until midnight burning brush and clearing off a home, and then I would come into our old log house just as happy as a queen.

My husband died about sixteen years ago and I have a brother in Australia and a brother and sister in Scotland. Iíve enjoyed the best of health and am quite lively for my age even though Iíve not been out of the house since last October. I love to sit here in my favourite chair by the window. Every Christmas we hold a reunion and last Christmas there were twenty-six present! There is always dancing and two years ago I surprised everyone when I danced the Highland Fling!


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