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Oliver Johnson’s Woods

August 6, 2012 by Reader's Connection

If you’ve ever looked at the Google map on the College Avenue Branch’s webpage and wondered why it said “Oliver Johnson’s Woods” somewhere north of 44th Street, then I have the book for you. My sons are reading this one at their book discussion group, and I’m enjoying it.

A Home in the Woods : Pioneer Life in Indiana : Oliver Johnson’s Reminiscences of Early Marion County was in fact written not by Oliver Johnson (1821 – 1907) but by his grandson Howard Johnson (1873 – 1970). Howard attempted, though, to faithfully relate the stories that he had loved to hear from Oliver, and he tried to write them in the manner that his grandfather spoke them. 

A Home in the Woods : Pioneer Life in Indiana : Oliver Johnson's Reminiscences of Early Marion County

It’s fun to think of Oliver fording  the White River–it wasn’t fun for him–on the back of a “long-legged black horse we called Black Jack . . . a tricky old rascal,” carrying bags of corn to a grist mill on Crooked Creek. He made use of an island, which is (I think) the island you see from the 38th Street Bridge when crossing the river. “I’d have what I called mill pains, I dreaded it so.”

We learn about shooting different kinds of game with a flintlock, going to school when there weren’t any schools (which for a while meant classes at the Hawkins cabin, located where School 70 is now at 46th & Central), and the dangers of malaria–which was somehow caused by dampness in the woods, people figured, but they hadn’t caught on to the involvement of  mosquitos.

It’s obvious that part of my reason for enjoying the book is its having been set near landmarks familiar to me, and I’m sorry if that’s unimaginative; but the idea of looking out the door of a cabin in what are now the State Fairgrounds, and seeing nothing but forest, is something I want my sons to  ponder.

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