MEMOIRS OF MICHAEL HILEMAN
1820 - 1915
The purpose of this biography is to give the descendants and friends of Michael Hileman a history of his life, as he was able to tell it, after he was past his ninety-third year of life. All the neighbors and friends who have known him intimately for many years declare with much emphasis that he is the most remarkably preserved man, mentally and physically, whom they have ever known. So in view of his extraordinary life and marvelous vitality at this time, we feel prompted to record some of his history.
Thomas Pirnie Sr., 1914
1 - THE EARLY YEARS
Michael Hileman's ancestors were German on his paternal side and Scottish/Irish on the maternal side of the family. They all immigrated to America long before the colonies began their struggle for independence. They settled in York County, not far from where now is the city of York, Pennsylvania.
When the French and Indian War commenced, his Grandfather Milligan was a very young man. His activities in this war were chiefly as a scout. He went through with some very terrifying experiences, but escaped any very severe injury.
The Hileman's and the Milligan's were all fully possessed of the strongest enthusiasm for the independence of the colonies when that spirit moved the colonies, and readily offered their services to help free them from the oppression of Great Britain.
As far back as I can remember Grandfather Edward Milligan held me spellbound in relating his experiences about the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest of the family that he so patiently told me more of these experiences than he did to the other children. He said that while he was scouting in York State, Grandfather Hileman was along the Delaware River with General Washington. My father well remembered going with provisions for father and some of the neighbor friends with his yoke of young oxen. The journey required two days. The condition of his father with cold and hunger was pitiful, as were all the others. His return home from these expeditions was always an occasion of great interest to the neighborhood for miles around.
Upon one of these occasions Father had a most trying time. It was while the troopers were starving that he made his way to headquarters with many good things to eat and underclothing for Grandfather. The sight of the oxen was more than the troopers could stand, so they immediately prepared to get a hold of them to have a good feast in short order. Father was in a pitiful state with fright and anxiety, and the officers of the regiment quickly came to his rescue, saving the oxen. The supply of food and clothing was taken from Father before the officers could prevent it. All of this trouble was hard enough for the boy, but when he was gently and kindly told by some of the neighbor men, whom he saw later, that Grandfather was one of the few killed at the Battle of Trenton, his grief and worry was almost more than he could stand. His home going before had always been intended as so much joy in knowing that he had succeeded in taking a little of the comforts of home to the cold and hungry Patriots who were so loyally supporting their brave and noble commander, George Washington.
Grandfather Milligan was sent up the Delaware River to warn some of the colonial troops who were stationed there at this time of the expected advance of the British in that way after the Battle of Trenton. During the Revolution Grandfather was wounded in his thigh and always caused him some trouble. Grandmother Hileman died on the old homestead near Little York.
It was sometime later when Grandfather's brothers moved to Hollidaysburg, a prosperous little village in Huntingdon County, several toilsome days journey to the northwest, situated close beside the beautiful Juniata River. Father went with them to make a home for himself in this new country. His uncles took land from the state. He went to work at his trade in Frankstown. Most of his work was in the house building and furniture making. He received about one dollar per day for his work, but he soon succeeded in doing more contract work than days work. His uncles got their land for a nominal price. At this time George Washington was guiding the affairs of the young nation as its President.
About six miles from Hollidaysburg there was a Scottish settlement and it was here that Grandfather Milligan's farm was situated. In the course of the affairs Father became acquainted with one of the belles of the neighborhood. Polly was her name, as she was popularly known, her real name being Mary. The courtship soon ended in a very happy wedding.
Grandmother Milligan had been dead for many years so Grandfather desired that the newly wedded pair should remain on the farm, and he would make his home with them as long as he lived. With this understanding he deeded them the farm. The house was a three-room log house which Grandfather built shortly after the close of the revolution. He was one of the earliest settlers in Huntingdon County.
So after Father and Mother were married, Father continued at the carpentry work using the tenants house for his carpentry shop. In the course of time he also engaged young men as apprentices to help him, as he had plenty of work to make this necessary. The neighborhood supplied him with plenty of work such as trunks, bureaus, bedsteads, four-leaf tables, chairs to be made.
The first saw mill in the country was nearly sixty miles distant, which was reached with six-horse teams. Later a sawmill was built on Spruce Creek much nearer to us, and still later, one was built only a mile and a half from our home. The forest abounded in white pine, yellow poplar, shell black hickory and black mollen. The required sizes were all sawed for the various uses they were to be put to. Most of the country houses were built of hewn logs for many years after Father and Mother were married, or until about 1820.
Father employed from four to six boys and men the year round in his shop. During the winter season they were kept busy at making up stock and furniture. He paid the journeymen fifty cents with board per day. The foreman received seventy-five cents per day and board. He could go out with some of the men and have the work done as well with Father to supervise the work. The wages paid were considered good, at one dollar per day, and the workers to find their own board.
Mother being a farmer's daughter, she fulfilled the greatest expectations of Father in the management of the farm - as this he left for her to do. Wheat, and oats, and rye, were the chief crops raised. The grain was shipped in arks down the Juniata River to Harrisburg in Lewistown. Father always gave Mother full credit for running the farm better than he could have done it himself.
Mother had studied medicine with Dr. Rolf of Hollidaysburg, both before and after her marriage so she was also a doctor besides her manifold duties of the home. In her practice of medicine she attended patients both far and near, all of the her calls being made by horseback. There was no such thing as a buggy in the whole of Huntingdon County at that time.
Those who could afford a Dearborn wagon were considered well off indeed. This vehicle was a four wheeled carriage, without springs, a straight board seat which rested on a knee consisting of tough strips of hickory or elm, fastened to the bottom at each end of the box, and so bent as to be attached to the seat in a way to give it a strong, springy support. This vehicle was the most comfortable means of riding other than horseback.
Mother's patients lived as far as twenty miles distance from home, but she preferred to keep within range of ten or twelve miles of Hollidaysburg. Doctors fees at that time were very reasonable. Mother's being one dollar for services with medicine, where the patient lived within a distance of ten miles. Quinine, Calomel and Jalap were the chief medicines used, but Mother avoided the use of Calomel as much as possible and used Herb's in its stead. Mustard plasters were used very extensively. Bean oil was used a great deal especially in the treatment of putrid sore throat, or diphtheria, as known today. It was a specific for this disease, and where mortification had not started, it was almost a sure cure for this terrible disease.
One case I shall always remember Mother telling of - she was very urgently summoned to farmer Dunkleberg's, where Doctor Johnson desired to hold consultation over the case of the father of the family, who was suffering intense agony with an inflammation of the bowels, or what most likely would be pronounced appendicitis today. Mother was allowed to proceed with her treatments, which consisted of an application of a poultice of sliced bread, covered with charcoal, hops, and yeast, soaked in whiskey. This was promptly applied and within two hours the poultices were completely dried by the heat of the inflammation. In ordinary cases it would require about six hours to cause the same condition of the poultice. Mr. Dunkleberg's life was saved. Dr. Johnson said, "Mrs. Hileman, you saved his life. Good God you're a woman and I have studied in the best medical colleges in the country! But you have saved this man with full credit to yourself. Here is five dollars. Had I had twenty-five dollars I would as freely give it. It is a slight material reward for what you have done!" It is needless to say that Mothers heart swelled with joy in the realization that she had saved the man's life, and she was also very happy to get the material reward.
On the 22nd of June, 1820, I was born in the log cabin which Grandfather Milligan had built when the country was almost a wilderness. I was the youngest of nine children. When grandparents established their residence in this three room log cabin, the Indians occasionally made raids on the settlement from their hunting grounds on the head waters of the Susquehanna River, beyond the Alleghenies. One of the worst of the raids of which Grandfather told me, was attended with the massacre of the Howser and Olray families. Only two of the Howser families escaping the tomahawk and scalping knife, and these two were taken captive. They were very young children. They remained with the Potawatomies until forty years later, when the government in removing a tribe to the western reserve where what is now the state of Ohio, discovered Joachim and Rachel Howser who were now grown to middle age. Rachel was the wife of a Chief; Joachim, who had refused to marry a squaw, though he was made a chief by virtue of his bravery in the fight with the York State Indians in which the chief was killed by Joachim.
When told of the massacre of their parents and friends by the Potawatomies, when they were taken capture so long before, they were dazed and almost unable to comprehend the situation. However, their liberators prevailed upon them to return to their homeland, and scenes of their childhood, in the hope of that memory, when upon the scenes of their childhood, they would recall something to their minds of the time before the terrible time of their capture. Can we realize the feelings of these two unfortunate people as they were liberated from the Indians? Rachel being the mother of several papooses. Of course she was in the most trying of situation, for she had a mothers love for her children while they were plainly of Indian blood.
They returned to the beautiful and peaceful Juniata valley amidst the splendid mammoth oaks, the shell bark hickory, the sycamore and the gigantic black walnuts. The swallows flitted over the stream, and the brownthirst sang in the midst of the bough just as they did forty years before, while this man and woman were barefoot children rollicking in their childish glee. In the presence of this scene much of it remained as it was in their childhood, but nothing was distinctly recalled to their memory, though they thought they could recall some glimpses of the past.
What a sad situation, the memories which might have heaved their bosom of motion, and pained their hearts, are not manifested in their beholding the scenes of their childhood. There remain in the neighborhood a few who will always remember the terrible ordeal, when these two were so cruelly taken from them; and these people tried to suggest things to their memory, but nature had almost sealed the past of that day to them. They remained but a little while until they returned to Potawatomies, to live and to die with them, far beyond the Alleghenies, in what is now the state of Ohio.
Father said that several attempts had been made to find the captives but without success. The greatest attempt to do so was when a band of the strongest and the bravest of Huntingdon County ventured into the country of the Potawatomies at Cherry Tree, and while reconnoitering there one, of the strongest and the bravest of the party was suddenly surprised and taken captive by the very Indians whom they were hunting for.
Fortunate it was for Jake Confare that he was so cool headed and brave. His companions soon discovered footprints in the forest and immediately decided that they were those of Jake's captures or slayers. They redoubled their efforts now to overtake them, if possible, but the wile red men escaped their pursuers without allowing themselves to be seen by the white men. They took their captive to their tribe on their hunting grounds in the pine groves of Kittatinny, and here Jake awaited his fate or a chance to escape.
He lived with them for a year and a half without once events any desire to escape. But some traders came along with some ice skates, and they traded them to the Indians without the Indians having any idea how to use them, and Jake also pretended not to know. So one day while out wobbling about on his skates, he took a chance, and took off skating down the river. Obviously the Indians couldn't catch him, and so he made his escape.
The joy throughout the neighborhood was unbounded when the word was sent around of Jake's escape. The whole community had been in despair after the return of his companions without him. His account of his life while in captivity among the Potawatomie gave intense interest to young and old for many a day. At the time of the return of Rachel and Joachim, Jake Confare and Grandpa were old men. When the brother and his sister returned to the Indians to live the remainder of their lives, it was almost more than Jake and Grandfather could stand. They hated the Potawatomies, and in fact, all of the Indians so intensely.
Our little log schoolhouse was situated near the pike road which connected Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and over which many thousands tons of provisions were transported every day by large wagons which were drawn by six horse teams. This road was built and maintained by the state. A toll of eleven penny bits every ten miles for a wide tired wagon, and a narrow tired wagon was charged twice that much. The toll keeper was usually an old man or a cripple, and sometimes a woman occupied the position. During fair weather the traffic was such that it was seldom we could not see a wagon upon this great highway.
Our school was not so small as might be imagined in that period in our country's history. The dimensions of the structure, as nearly as I can remember, were 18 by 30 feet. One door in the south end supplied the means of exit and entrance. A window in each side extended the entire length of the building. Each window was made of eight sashes. The panes were about 10 by 20 inches, and the two panes being only puttied together in the center of the sash. The sash could be raised and lowered - this was a real luxury. In the north end of the building was the only one that could so manipulated. It was destined for the special use of the schoolmaster whose platform was placed beside it. On this platform a split bottom chair and a black walnut desk, which father had made many years before, were arranged for the teacher's use.
The pupils' desks consisted of pine boards fastened to the side wall by wooden pegs driven between the logs. The seats were planks which had been somewhat smoothed by the jackplane. The smaller children, whom was deemed did not require instruction in penmanship, sat upon plank seats without the desks before them.
There were no receptacles for books of any but the teacher's. Usually two studied from one book. Our books were very limited in number. The United States Speller was the chief textbook. For reading we first used the Testament, or Bible, but later used the English Preceptor, which was really a reader. It was considered extremely difficult, and when one could read this book correctly and un-hesitatingly, it was considered sufficiently evident that the pupil could pass.
Our first schoolmaster, when I was of school age, whose name was Elwin who was hailed from the Emerald Isle. He was fully possessed of the qualifications necessary for the duties he was to assume. He was quite enterprising as evidenced by the promptness in securing scholars in a surprisingly short time. The noble scholars he secured had guaranteed him a salary of eighteen dollars per month, without board. He lived at the Tavern which was about a quarter mile down the pike. He proved to be a very efficient instructor and strong with a rod, the most important part of the schoolmaster's duties of that day. And in this he was very economical of his time; passing up one side and down the other, laying a spruce or birch sapling across two backs at one stroke. The boy at the extreme end of the sapling getting the worse of the punishment. The sting of the rod was always more sharp when he had been indulging to freely in rye at the tavern, which could be bought at that time for twenty five cents a gallon - the very best Monongahela whiskey. He was an excellent quill maker which was a very important qualification for a schoolmaster.
He was unanimously agreed upon for teacher again the following year, and during the year he was married to one of the belles of the neighborhood, Elizabeth Walsh. The bride's woes commenced in their married life early by his intemperance. Again, the third year he was selected for master in the same school but before the term had expired the Trustees were compelled to discharge him on account of his intemperance. The whole committee deplored the cause of the action taken. He soon got a position as bookkeeper, or clerk, in the neighboring town but this too he had soon lost for the same reason he had lost his schoolmaster-ship. His wife's family, and himself, then went to settle in the wilderness of Ohio. Some years later many of the Irish in the community emigrated to the same county where a canal was being dug from the Ohio River to Lake Erie.
In 1835 the country was organized into school districts. It was about this time that we left the old homestead and moved to the northwest, about forty miles, to Clearfield County and the forest region beside the Susquehanna River, where father had bought four hundred acres of this timberland of a man who gotten it of the State for a nominal price. Father paid only four hundred dollars for the whole tract. There was only four acres which was cleared; this surrounded the house. The remainder of the tract was covered with timber that would make the lumber man of today thrill with delight. But what a task confronted us. To clear the land of those gigantic pines, before we could have enough land to produce wheat sufficient for bread and vegetables for the family, meant much hard work. However, we were thankful to have even the four acres cleared which could soon be made ready for potatoes and garden truck.
I had four brothers and two sisters living at this time, two brothers being married and also sisters were married. One of our married brothers went with us to our new home as also did the other two single ones. I was the youngest of the family and fourteen years of age at this time.
After getting the four acres planted to wheat, potatoes and garden, we proceeded to chop down trees till we had about five acres chopped over. After that being done, we planted this ground into corn, amongst the stumps, with the exception of two acres which we planted to turnips. Part of this ground had been chopped over by the original owner which helped us to get a large space cleared. At first our nearest neighbors were about three miles distance, but many settlers came during the summer and became nearer neighbors than our first were. Most of the settlers were from the eastern and southern parts of the country and generally were quite poor and had come to this region for cheap land.
The first season was fairly productive, but owing to the scanty crop of the previous season, due to the severity of the winter season, flour was very expensive - thirty dollars a barrel at the Manner Settlement, of about thirty miles distant towards Pittsburgh, in Brier County. We had a sow that did her duty splendidly in raising her brood of nine pigs. Our corn matured well and produced a very good crop for Pennsylvania. During the summer the only food we supplied the pigs was with the slops from the table, being merely an inducement to the mother to return home at times. Excluding this little nourishment, they foraged their living in the forest. When the pigs were nine months old they were of excellent condition and size for the winter and the following summers meat. Late in the fall I succeeded in securing fifteen bushels of buckwheat at a settlement forty miles away. This grain I paid for in deerskins mostly, the balance in cash. This buckwheat together with pork, potatoes, cornbread and venison afforded us quite a substantial diet.
The first winter we were occupied the greater part of the time in making shingles, which we marketed in Hollidaysburg, forty miles distance. The hauling was done on sleighs, we received from five and one-half to seven dollars per thousand. They were similar in shape to our present day shingles only they were 26 inches in length. We found that our earnings in the shingle manufacturing business was about seventy five cents a day each. The first operation in that work was to select a pine tree about three feet in diameter and saw it into blocks 26 inches in length, the length of the shingles. These blocks were subdivided into many blocks, then they were hauled home and put into a log cabin where at night we shrove the blocks into shingles. The evening steady work of two strong men produced about five hundred shingles.
The next season we made a valuable discovery upon Chestnut Ridge. While I was out seeking the cows, having wandered farther than usual from home, I came upon a clearing in the light timber on the ridge. Someone had recently lived in this lonely woods but now the rude log cabin was deserted. The aspect of the place suggested the lazy jerkless nature of its owner. Here was a clearing, of much greater extent than that of our own place, and a happy thought struck me - why could we not make good use of this deserted place? There was rejoicing at home when this good news was confided to them. We all soon agreed that there would be no wrong in us to proceed to plow and plant this convenient land. Corn and buckwheat was in due time planted and we were very much elated over our luck.
One of the notable experiences I had of that year was in the narrow escape of a tornado. While on my way to our State Senators home, twenty miles distance, with legal papers pertaining to our land which required to be made record at Harrisburg, the state Capitol. The first evidence I had of the storm of extraordinary nature approaching us, was the terrifying darkness and the thunderous roar. I anxiously put the whip to my beautiful riding horse and did all in my power to urge him forward with greatest possible speed. But the gentle and fleet footed mare instinctively knew more than her master - for suddenly turning, she retreated from the oncoming storm at a speed that took my breath.
The storm passed within a few minutes, the way it was accompanied with hail stones as large as turkey eggs. When the storm was over, and my horse and myself had recovered of our terror enough to resume my journey onward, we soon came upon the path of the tornado which was three or four hundred feet wide. The trees in the roadway were piled many feet high twisted and torn. Many oaks laid pile upon each other which were three feet in diameter. It was with a great deal of difficulty that I finally succeeded in getting over the mass of debris which was strewn the entire width of the storm.
The first freak of the storm I saw was a large cow lying in the fork of a large oak tree about twenty feet above the ground, lying there as if asleep. But she had been dead before reaching that position - for upon examination by men who afterwards climbed the tree, they found that there was scarcely a bone in the cow's body that was unbroken. The only cow that answered the description of this one exactly, was the one that disappeared in the same storm from a place sixty miles away. Incredible as it may seem, that cow probably had a sixty mile ride through the air.
I had a short distance to go when I reached the destination of my journey. I looked for Senator Walter's large log house near Chest Falls, but there was not a vestige of it remained where it had been. Upon its former site, there to my utter amazement, sat a woman upon a little old fashioned split-bottom rocking chair. When I approached her, she seemed to be in a stunned condition, and when I spoke to her, she was startled and frightened. As soon as she could speak, she said, "What? What is the matter? What has happened? and I answered her abruptly, "It was a cyclone, ma'am. It nearly took me and my horse away". She comprehended the situation when I had related to her the situation I was in when her home taken from over her head. As we talked of the awful experience we had been through, Mr. Walter returned from Old Town, the county seat, where he had been upon official business. He was delighted beyond expression when he saw that his beloved wife was unharmed by the terrific storm. Their home was of little concern to him since his wife was saved to him.
And as we talked over the miraculous escape, we saw a sight which convulsed us with laughter. Old Biddy, an old pet hen that had been setting under the bake oven came stupidly for us, entirely stripped of her feathers, but otherwise uninjured. Old Biddy was much deserving of sympathy, but her appearance was enough to provoke laughter in a stoical red man.
Biddy's condition was due to the tornado's freakishness. This section of the country had been visited by such storms many years before, as evidenced by the prostrated trees in the forest, cut in swaths about the same width, though they were now overgrown by other trees and bushes. But there never was such a terrifying storm in Clearfield County again. Near Beaverdam Creek, thousands of feet of lumber was made from pine trees which were cut down by a cyclone that had cut a swath through the forest long before a white man had lived near the headwaters of the Susquehanna. The pine tree which when felled in a certain season, will long remain without becoming rotten, even after the bark is rotted away.
A misfortune came upon the family during the first year we were in our new home. My eldest brother cut his knee while chopping wood - cut it so badly that it left him with a stiff knee. For over two years he was unable to do a day's work. The following year our married brother did the same thing only he cut the other side of his knee, and to make matters worse our other brother left us to make his fortune elsewhere.
So it evolved upon myself to do most of the work. On account of the slowness of getting the farm cleared, we all had to do much work for others, to get enough money to keep up with our expenses. At thirteen years of age I was compelled to discontinue my attendance at school. Being ambitious to have more education, I studied Daybils Arithmetic also Pikes. Besides these school books, we had a history of the colonies up to the close of the Revolution and an old English reader, Our Preceptorus, as it was named. These books constituted our library.
Our newspaper was the Harrisburg News, a Whig organ, which was brought to the mitt by the mail carrier, horseback, from Hollidaysburg once a week. From there to Harrisburg it was carried by stagecoach in relays of fifteen miles, the journey being made day and night. The horses nearly always trotted all the way. The distance by drygap, the only passable way, was sixty miles. The pike road passed through Sugartree Gap on the way to Pittsburgh. The arrival of the news was an occasion of deep interest to some of the neighbors who would either too poor, or stingy, to afford such a luxury, and consequently we were not lacking in company at such a time. The pleasure thus afforded some of our neighbors was also shared by ourselves. Mother was quite talented in reading, which was much appreciated by all as she read aloud the news. Father could not read in English, though he was a good German scholar.
The next newspaper we subscribed to was the Hollidaysburg Whig, a weekly - at this time championing the candidacy of Henry Clay the anti-slavery candidate, against James J. Polk, the pro-slavery candidate. Anti-slavery sentiments strongly prevailed throughout our country. Though there were several old Scotsmen who had been slave owners many years previously, and still had colored people in their households who were children of their slaves. But since their freedom had been given to them, were according to the law of the state, rearing the children to maturity and also to take care of aged ones until the ends of their lives. It was related of some of the pioneers, who had been slave owners, that when they became aware of the outcome of the anti-slavery sentiment, which was so vigorously prosecuted by the Quakers, not having strong conscientious scruples against the sale of slaves, took them across the border to Maryland and Virginia. But there were a few of the Scots Presbyterians and others who were influenced much by their religion against such a proceeding.