Saturday, April 4, 2015

Reuben Williams Remembers 'Bellings' in Kosciusko County

While researching Rachel Saul Fawley, sister to my great, great, great-grandfather Edward Saul, and her life in Kosciusko Co, Indiana, I came upon an article written by General Reuben Williams (1831-1905) called 'Early Times in Kosciusko - Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region' written in 1901.  General Reuben Williams had served in the Civil War and afterwards, established the "Northern Indianian" newspaper now known as the "Warsaw Times-Union."  Rachel had married Rev. David Fawley in 1846.

Reub Williams had been writing about what the young 'pioneer' lads did for amusement in their early years and remembered that he had neglected to mention 'belling.'
"In some of the earliest of these sketches, I alluded to several of the amusements that were fashionable in the early days, if, indeed, such a word would apply to anything the pioneers did at all.  Whatever amusement they enjoyed was always of home manufacture, or invention, for the reason that, unlike the present day, nothing came to them to enlighten the ceaseless round of hard labor.............In enumerating some of them a few weeks ago, I omitted to mention the 'charivari' or the celebrating of a newly wedded pair by "belling" - a feature that has almost ceased, only sporadic cases coming to light in these times now and then,  Usually "bellings" were participated in to a great extent by the uninvited to the wedding proper, and while in early days there was an occasional groom, or a father of the bride who resented the oft times too rough and too hilarious proceedings, yet there were many principals in the wedding of sixty years ago who would have felt slighted did not a "belling" follow.  In fact, "bellings" in early days were participated in, not only because it was the custom of the pioneers, but in order to work off the surplus of good spirits common to the young people of the period and I remember a good many 'charivaris' that myself and Marion Warner participated in.  I went with him on many occasions, but he would go even though the parties lived ten miles away.  I have known a number of these "bellings" to end in a racket, a fight or two, some black eyes, and even one occasion an enraged bride's father went so far as to send a bullet from his squirrel rifle into the crowd, very fortunately only slightly wounding one of the belling party in the arm.  
We must remember that most weddings took place at the bride's home.  This was Indiana back in the early 1800s and there weren't the big churches that could hold a large party of people.  The people that actually attended the marriage ceremony were the immediate family and back then, the family size was usually quite large.  There just wasn't the room for friends and neighbors of the bride and groom.  Reub Williams went on to describe his first "belling."
"I remember when one of the Fawley boys was married - - David, if I remember correctly, and now a man considerably older than the writer -- and of course the party had to be belled.  I accompanied as a lad the detachment that represented the then village of Warsaw to the place of the wedding -- a log house about five miles west of this city -- where we were to be joined by all of the country boys for miles around.  The late Elijah Tusing -- a whole-souled, jolly young man of that period -- was selected as 'captain' of the combined forces, and as this was one of the first "bellings" I had ever participated in, it was a novelty to me.   
 Anything that would make a noise -- the louder and the most dismal, the better -- was used, and I remember cow bells of all sizes, home-made triangles, sleigh bells, horns of all sizes and even to "mother's" six-foot dinner horn, (I wonder if there are any of my readers who can remember how some women could make that old dinner horn sound the signal for meals so melodiously and so loud -- that it could be heard on all the adjoining farms?) horse-fiddles, shot-guns, single-barreled pistols -- it was before the revolver had appeared -- but of all the inventions for making a noise so loud and so hideous that even its memory still grates on my nerves at this late day!  
The box sat on its bottom and a man at each end of the rail would pull and push backward and forward, the resined edge of the rail coming in contact with the edges of the box, similarly treated, and as the two box edges gave out a different tone as the rail was drawn back and forth, the screeching was not only heard miles away int the night time, but it certainly was the most discordant, dismal, hideous sound conceivable."
Wait, did he say his first 'belling' was for a David Fawley's wedding?  Now, there were a lot of Fawleys around....remember that our Rev. David Fawley first came to Kosciusko County, IN with his parents and siblings in 1844.  David was 20, the oldest and had 8 brothers; maybe 9.  But, our David married Rachel in Ohio and not Kosciusko County so I don't think it could have been 'David' and must have been one of his brothers.  And since Reub Williams was born in 1831, he could have been a teenager or young adult when any of the brothers married.  All I can say is that I am sure glad that this tradition is no longer practiced.

Here is a link to the complete article by Reub Williams published December 21, 1901: Early Times in Kosciusko County  I really enjoyed reading his articles - Reuben Williams seemed quite a character himself.