The Herald Bulletin

November 9, 2013

Pioneer life

Historical society exhibit looks at Madison County 1820 to 1850s

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

---- —

ANDERSON — They came on foot, on horseback, in wagons and on flatboats. The lands that the tribes like the Miami, Delaware, Kickapoo, Potawatomi and Ottawa Indians had long called home in Indiana transformed in the early 1800s as pioneers moved in and settled.

“Indians moved out of Madison County in 1821. As soon as they left, the pioneers moved in behind them,” said local historian Bill Knepp. He explained that it was the signing of the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1818 that spurred the departure of the native Americans. Indeed, period maps included in the display call out the changing Indian territory.

It’s that period of 1820 to the 1850s that the Madison County Historical Society’s current exhibit explores. It’s an exhibit that goes beyond the hand-hewn tools and butter churns we might expect to some surprising niceties that pioneers brought along or created.

Some of those finer things include a wide variety of glassware, china, and redware pottery of which the current exhibit has an ample display. There's even an ocarina bird, a musical instrument otherwise known as a sweet potato.

MCHS volunteer Emilie Isenhour pointed out that some of the fragile items might have come to the pioneer frontier in a barrel packed with straw.

“They enjoyed having these things,” said Knepp. “As soon as they got here, they started organizing schools, churches. They started changing things as soon as they could.”

At the same time, the life of the pioneers demanded the basics including tools with which to build a home or work the land. Knepp’s collection includes items like axes, adzes, shingle froes, wooden pegs and augers with which pioneers crafted their early homes.

Knepp has even built a large diorama showing what an early pioneer cabin and surrounding property looked like – right down to the tiny stalks of corn and the pumpkin patch. The roof of the cabin lifts off to expose the interior of the sparsely furnished pioneer life.

“It’s just my idea of what a typical little log cabin would have looked like in the 1830s,” said Knepp.

The current exhibit is almost entirely from Knepp’s personal collection. He’s been acquiring the period items since 1968. Knepp’s avid interest in history drove him to haunt flea markets, yard sales and antique stores. He’s even an old hand at privy digging, having learned the skill of locating old privy sites and excavating them. That’s one of the ways he amassed his extensive collection of antique bottles.

Knepp’s favorite piece among the four full rooms of artifacts is a large bowl exhibiting some unique, almost primitive-looking decoration. It’s the largest piece of what’s known as Mochaware that Knepp has ever come across. Dating to somewhere in the 1820-1830 range, Knepp explained,“It’s a type of pottery that was done with soft paste earthenware. ... It’s a neat piece. There’s nothing like it.”

The collection also includes whale oil lamps, kerosene lamps and Betty lamps. Look for a display of whimsical figurines from the day. Visitors will find a rich display of colorful Gaudyware, blue Staffordshire, sprigware, spatterware, redware and more.

“Quite often, redware was the first manufactured item made in a community,” said Knepp. He has several pieces that were made locally, in Perkinsville. Knepp noted that materials, like clay and wood to burn in the kiln, were readily available for the manufacture of pottery.

“These were probably the first things manufactured in Madison County. ... People needed pottery. It was too heavy to transport very far.”

Check out these items and plenty more in the exhibit that is open for viewing Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Historical Society is located at 15 W. 11th St.

Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.

If you go What: Pioneer Era in Madison County exhibit Where: Madison County Historical Society, 15 W. 11th St., Anderson When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday through July 24. Also 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16 Cost: Free, donations are welcome. More info: Check out the website at or call 765-683-0052.