Township Histories & Biographies
Union Township, Vanderburgh County, Indiana
History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Brant & Fuller. 1889
Union Township was organized May 10, 1819. It lies in the southwest corner of the County, and is really at times an island, being surrounded by the bayou and the Ohio River. Here the River makes a bend like a horseshoe, there being one place where it is scarcely three miles across the Township. Its surface is very low, being almost entirely composed of "River bottom" lands. In 1884 the entire Township was submerged, with the exception of two or three very small spots of land. The soil in the lower part of the Township is sandy and very productive. Its yield of corn, tobacco and potatoes is exceedingly great. In the northern part there is more of a clay soil, and wheat, hay, and clover are more generally grown. Its surface, as is usual in the alluvial lands along the River, is much cut up by ponds and sloughs. When cleared and drained, the beds of these water reservoirs furnish the richest and most productive soil to be found.
Early Settlers. Being on the River border, and thus easy of access, Union Township was one of the first to invite the adventurous pioneer. As early as 1806 or 1807, a number of settlers had invaded its limits. The settlement most widely known in early times, and probably among the first in the Township, was that of William Anthony, opposite Henderson or Red Banks, as it was then called. William Anthony was a sturdy, independent, manly character, a farmer, hunter and ferryman. For years his place was known as Anthony's ferry. His sons, James and Frank, were honorable men. James went to the front with the Union armies in 1861, rose to the rank of captain, made a bright record, and died in the service. The Anthonys were Kentuckians, possessed some means, and became influential in local political matters.
Another of the earlier settlements was that made in section 15 and thereabouts, some five miles below Evansville, by George Sirkle, Nicholas Long, Jonathan Jones, and others. George Edmond and John Stoner afterward, but in early times, came into this neighborhood from the adjoining Township of Perry. George Sirkle, a Virginian, was a man of character and influence. He had proved his patriotism in the country's early wars, and became a valuable citizen. He served on the first board of commissioners for Vanderburgh county, and occupied other positions of trust and honor in the community, always with credit to himself and profit to the public, whose confidence he had won. His sons, Lewis and Andrew, were useful citizens in their day. Nicholas Long was a German, who came to the west from Virginia. He was industrious and thrifty, and accumulated considerable property, considering the limited advantages of his times. His family, large in numbers, was eminently respectable, and his sons attained local prominence. Jonathan Jones, an upright, sterling character, was the father of Judge James G. Jones, a brilliant lawyer and prominent man in his day. George Edmond was a sturdy pioneer, who raised a respectable family, one of whom, Michael, still lives in Union Township, and is, perhaps, the oldest resident native born citizen in the County. Between the Sirkle and Anthony settlements there were many cabins. Along the old Red Bank trail many favorite spots for the building of a cabin presented themselves to the pioneers. The Kings, Neals, and Chapmans were tolerably early settlers, though not among the first. Subsequently these names represented large and influential families. Jacob Sprinkle came into the Township before 1817, and afterward became well-known.
One of the most prominent and most widely known of the early settlers in this neighborhood was Joseph M. McDowell. He lived about four miles above Henderson, and his house early became a favorite stopping place for the weary hunter or traveler. It became a public tavern, and the genuine hospitality found there gave the host an enviable reputation in all the country round. His sons, Joseph P. and William G., became well-known and useful citizens.
Below Henderson ferry, the Strouds, Damons, Gerards, Aliens, Chisenhalls, Wrights, and Williamsons were among the early settlers. These people of simple habits and manners were never drawn aside from the pioneer customs. They dealt fairly with their fellow men, lived uneventful lives, but were good and valuable citizens. In this same strip of territory lived in early times, Fred Ensley, of German descent, a thrifty, economical, God-fearing man, who gave to the community a good family, supporters of the church and one a Baptist minister. By great industry this pioneer cleared a farm, and accumulated a very comfortable estate. Still further up on the western side of the Township, following the River in its curve, in or near section 20, lived William Greathouse, whose name was well-known in early days though now, his descendants having gone to other lands, it is unknown in these parts.
The farmers of Union and other Townships immediately on the River had a better source of revenue than the ordinary work of the farmer. The as yet almost unbroken forests were in demand for the fuel of the steamers then passing up and down at frequent intervals. The use of coal had not then been commenced. Many farmers engaged in chopping wood, and the wood yards established along the River were well-known points. That of William Greathouse was the chief factor in his property accumulations. Another industry common among the farmers of that day, and engaged in prominently by Mr. Greathouse, was pork-raising. The mast furnished excellent food, and at times the woods were full of hogs. Many of the Union Township farmers got their start on the road to wealth by the prosecution of these industries, and not by a strict application to tilling the soil.
Among the first settlers in the interior of the Township were Chapman Carter, Lewis F. Ragar, and the Chapmans. Owing to the low and at times inundated nature of this locality, there were no particularly large settlements. A single cabin on some high point was generally surrounded for miles by an unbroken forest. This condition remained until long after the entire settlement of the other more favorable parts of the Township. A sturdy settler who came as early as 1818 or 1819, was John Shaffner, a hardworking, honest German, who was not known out of his Township, but was respected by all his neighbors as a quiet, good man. He was industrious enough to buy his land; there he lived and died; his sons, worthy people, grew to manhood, lived and died on the same place; but there are now no survivors of the name in the Township. Among the early settlers not elsewhere mentioned, were Lewis Rouse, the head of a large family of eleven people, the Darnels, Asas, Slovers, and Harmons. James J. Sanders was an old settler, a farmer and blacksmith. He had a shop in early times about a mile from the Henderson road and three miles from Henderson, which was a well-known smithy and one of the first in the Township.
The early settlers used the mortar and pestle for crushing corn, and later went to mill at Red Banks, or that favorite place, Negley's, on Pigeon Creek. Andrew Sirkle built a horse-mill about 1830, and operated it for ten or twelve years. William Grayson, of Kentucky, bought the mill and moved it over the River. There were no saw-mills in the Township until thirty or thirty-five years ago. Mat Burns constructed the first stationary mill, though previously many portable mills had worked in the Township, and in early days many logs were taken from here to Audubon's mill at Red Banks. As late as 1840, it was common to use the whip-saw. The logs were first hewed to the desired size, lines were struck, it was elevated to a scaffold and with one man above and another below, the saw was slowly worked through it.
Thus brief mention has been made of the earliest settlement of the various parts of the Township. The names of many of the pioneers, well worthy of honorable mention, are forever lost. The development of this Township its growth following the settlement was very gradual. In 1828 there were but twenty-three voters in the Township. There was never any rush of foreigners or colonists. The lands were taken by settlers that drifted in singly, mostly from Kentucky, and by the descendants of the first settlers. Much of the land in the Township is held by non-residents, who purchased it from the government or from the unfortunate or reckless descendants of the pioneers. Of those who came in afterward, not as earliest settlers, but still what may now be called an early day, there were the Asterholts, the father and his sons Frank and Joseph, Andrew Hoppe, Charles Kamp, Christian Schneller, John Gerloch, John Roth, and many other well-to-do, good citizens. Carroll Saunders and his descendants and relatives have occupied a leading place in the Township. Samuel Barker, one of the wealthiest and most prominent men of the County, has been since 1832 a resident of the Township. He is a man of great worth, intellect, character and influence. He served the public as County commissioner, and in all the walks of life has commanded the esteem of his contemporaries.
A Squatter. One of the most typical representatives of that class of easy-going, free-from-care pioneers, who rejoiced in the excitement of the chase, and ever loved to recount their exploits, was "old man Flat, the yarn-teller," as the settlers often spoke of him. His chief delight was to pass away time in spinning yarns, many of which had not a grain of truth in them. He was a hunter in the woods most of the time, and the owner of a vivid imagination. He kept many a fire-side circle laughing with good humor at his unreasonable stories, and thus served a useful purpose. To this day the young folks of Union Township are amused at the stories of old Flat, which have lost nothing in all these years, though told so often. Some of them surpass, in their portrayal of desperate hunts, and the wonderful achievements of the narrator, the most thrilling recitals of Baron Munchausen. There were many of these squatters who lived in the woods and went away when the game was thinned out. They lived for the day, and did nothing to perpetuate their names. A generation passed and they were forgotten.
Incidents. The trying experience of Philip Cheaney and Harvey Wheeler during the high water of 1884, was equal to any which might have beset the path of the pioneer. In that year the water was higher than it had been since 1832, and caused great destruction to property and stock as well as much suffering among the families in the low lands. These two men were in a house dangerously situated, and making up their minds that the house was bound to be swept from its foundation and probably dashed to pieces by the swift current, the the wind and waves5 they put out in a skiff in the darkness and storm, and at length reached a small pine tree into which they climbed for safety. Here they remained all night through intense suffering. The night was so cold that hogs in some parts of the Township were frozen to death. Though almost exhausted they were rescued soon after the dawn of the day following their terrible exposure. Their miraculous escape was attributed in part to the fact that the rolling waves frequently dashed entirely over them and kept them so actively engaged that freezing was avoided. About the same time three men saved themselves from death by climbing into a pecan tree near the Henderson ferry, and remaining over night.
Churches. In early times the Baptists and Methodists predominated in this Township. Early meetings were held at the houses of members, and such men as John Schraeder, Richard and Joseph Wheeler, Robert Parrett, for the Methodists, and Benoni Stinson, for the Baptists, preached to the peoples As results of the faithful labors of these men, two churches were built. Zion Baptist church was near the Henderson ferry, and flourished for a number of years, doing much good, being the scene of many large meetings and good revivals. It has long since passed away.
Victor Chapel, a Methodist Episcopal church, was a mile or more above Zion. It continued from early times, until swept away by the high water of 1884, to be a favorite meeting place. It was supported by circuit riders, had a good congregation, among whom as its chief supporters, perhaps, were Samuel Barker and John Walden.
About three miles below the Henderson ferry there were a Baptist church and a Methodist church. The high water of 1884 swept both of these away. Since the disasters wrought by this high water, there has not been a church kept up by these old-time denominations. The people worship at various places outside of the Township.
About fifteen years ago a neat frame church 25x15 feet, and comfortably furnished, was built on section 16, on the old Sirkle farm, by the Catholics of that neighborhood. There were about fifteen families under charge of Father Sondermann, and services were held regularly, though in late years the congregation has been without a priest. The membership is not large, but efforts are now being made to have frequent service and to build up the church. Joseph Shenck, Adam Shenck, and Andrew Hoppe have been among the faithful and influential supporters of this church. The church was dedicated to the Sacred Heart and blessed in June, 1874, by Rev. P. McDermott, of Evansville.
The German Lutherans about ten years ago, built a neat country church on the old Schaffner place, afterward the Kamp farm. Leopold Kamp, Conrad Burgdorf, John Garloch, and John Roth, and their wives, were among the most active in bringing the church into existence. There is a large congregation now under the charge of Rev. Veay, of Henderson, Ky., and a prosperous Sabbath school, with Leopold Kamp, as superintendent.
Towns. There is not a town worthy of that name in Union Township. Cypress has a postoffice, a blacksmith shop, and a small store. Joseph Shenck is postmaster and proprietor of the store. At two or three of the road-crossings there are a few shops, and places of refreshment, but none boast Of themselves as towns. On March 1, 1820, Joseph M. McDowell laid out a town in the southeast quarter of section 21, Township 7 south, range 11 west, and called it Unionville. The village passed out of existence before the coming of the present generation.
Township Histories & Biographies
Return to A Little Vanderburgh County History
Christopher D. Myers
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April 10, 2004