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Daniel Zent

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Daniel Zent

Posted: 9 Mar 2003 6:37PM GMT
Classification: Biography
Surnames: Zent, Koon, Back, Hammer
From Biographical Memoirs of Huntington County, 1901, pages 420-423

Among the old pioneers of Huntington county whose efforts have brought this section of the state from its primitive wilderness to the present advanced condition, and whose lives speak in emphatic terms of the value of industry, economy and frugality, none living command the respect and admiration of the generation of to-day to a larger extent than does he whose name introduces this article,--Daniel Zent. He was born in Richland county, Ohio, March 16, 1819, and has consequently just reached his eighty-second year, still retaining in a large degree the vigor of mind and body that has characterized him in every juncture of life. His parents were Jacob and Sallie (Koon) Zent, both of whom were natives of Pennsylvania, and both were descendants of the early Dutch emigrants whose strength of body and virility have done so much toward placing that great commonwealth far toward the head of the great states of the nation. In the year 1837 the family came to Salamonie, his father entering land some four miles east of Warren. The first seven years of his residence here was on leased land, near Warren, but he began the clearing of his own tract, to which he devoted the remainder of an industrious life, though some years later he secured a second farm and resided upon that as long as he lived, dying at the age of ninety-four. He had the old qualities of his ancestors well developed, and was competent to withstand the greatest amount of severe and trying labor, his vigor carrying him some ten years past the death of his wife, with whom he had lived for more than sixty years. Of thirteen children born to this estimable couple, Daniel was the eldest; ten of them reached mature years, and five were still living in the year 1901. John served through the war, going in at the start, and is now an inmate of the Soldiers' Home at Marion. Al the others are still living in the vicinity of Warren. When Daniel was seventeen his father consented to let him do for himself, and he set to work at such employment as the time afforded, mainly clearing land. When he had obtained something of a start he decided to pass through life with the assistance and co-operation of the woman of his choice, Miss Mary Back, to whom he was married December 16, 1838, just three months before reaching his twentieth year. She was the daughter of Aaron and Elizabeth (Hammer) Back, who had settled near Warren, and entered a half-section of land. He had come from Preble county, Ohio, where Mary was born, she being some three years his senior. Her father presented her with eighty acres of wild land, and upon this they soon began to develop a farm. He made a small round-log cabin, with puncheon floor, clapboard roof, wooden hinges to the door, and all of the most simple and primitive nature, but it gave shelter. He had but an ax and a mattock, no team nor wagon; in fact, not even a gun. He cleared five acres the first winter, getting it ready to plant to corn. Getting in shape to plow, the question was how to secure a horse. He started out, and, after walking the greater part of two days, found a man who said he had some colts in the woods, and if he would find them he could have his pick for forty-five dollars, and would take his notes, knowing he had no money to pay for it. After a good deal of travel and hard work he found the colts and got them into a pen where he could catch one, which he took home and broke, so that he could scratch his ground over with a shovel plow sufficient to get his corn planted. The crop proved a good one, and he was able to sell about forty dollars worth of corn, which placed him in easy circumstances. The first year a neighbor--James Morrison--allowed him to plant ten acres of wheat on his land, he going to Ohio for the seed. He jumped at this chance and had a very good crop of wheat, harvesting one hundred and fifty-six bushels. At harvest he secured nine men with sickles, and in one day the crop was placed in shock. It was threshed by tramping and was cleaned by one man letting the grain fall through wind made by the other with a sheet, one end of which was tied to a stake, while the other was skillfully shaken in such a manner to create quite a breeze. Wheat was so scarce that all of this was kept for seed, men coming many miles to get some to sow the next fall. One man came from near Ft. Wayne, having heard of it, but had no money for the two bushels he wanted, so he left his gun, saying he would come the next year for it, but he never showed up and that gun afforded means for many a feast for the little family.

Salt was a most difficult article to obtain in those early days, and Zent recalls that once, having some shoats, he butchered them, and packing the meat into the bed of a wagon struck out for Muncie, thinking to get salt there and preserve the meat, but there was no salt to be had, though he was able to sell the pork. Being determined to secure salt, he went on to Easton, Preble county, Ohio, where he managed to get four barrels at four dollars per barrel, and this he brought home, being gone about three weeks on the trip. He sold two barrels at twelve dollars on his return, and felt well repaid for the journey, during which time he had lived on corn bread and venison. He later secured another eighty acres, making him a valuable farm of one hundred and sixty acres, upon which he lived until some five years since, when he removed to the village and is now living in the ease from hard labor made possible by the many years of close application and constant energy that has characterized his life. His wife's father, Aaron Back, had passed the latter years of his life in the home of Zent, finally falling from his chair, dead, while in the act of reading his Bible, his last thought being of the world beyond, to which he was called so suddenly. Her sister Harriet also made her home with them for some years, reaching rather advanced years herself, and finally answering the summons which none can escape. The amount of work necessary to clear up a farm in the woods is almost incalculable, but with good health and hearts undaunted they held persistently to the course they had mapped out, knowing that the result would insure a handsome competence for their declining years. Too much credit cannot be accorded the brave men and no less determined women who settled down with a determination to win, realizing that each year meant a continuance of the labor they had before them. Being stout of body and willing of hand, he availed himself of every means to make an advancement, often having jobs of clearing some miles from home. He speaks of one instance when he had taken a job of Samuel Jones, some three miles distant, and thought at first he would build a log pen and remain there over night rather than to make the long walk, but one or two nights' experience satisfied him, the wolves howling about all night to such an extent that no sleep could be secured, and from that time he walked the long distance night and morning. He recalls that at one time he secured the job of cutting and splitting thirty-six hundred rails, for which he received a horse, and that but a few weeks later the animal was stolen from him. In the clearing of land, such men as were favored with sufficient teams to give the power, all saplings the size of a man's leg were cut some distance above the ground and then pulled out by the roots. Few could do this, so that in most cases the saplings that could be spanned by the hand at shoulder height were dug out with the mattock, and he so cleared about one hundred and forty-five acres for himself. He worked at sixty cents per day while clearing a great deal of land for others, and was glad of the chance. After living twelve years in the original cabin he erected a hewed-log house, which was finished up in good shape, making a very comfortable home, and is still in use as a residence. While Mr. Zent and his estimable wife have not been blessed with children of their own, they have ever been ready to supply a home to others who needed the ministrations of friends. At one time they took into their home a poor cripple boy, knowing that there never would be any financial recompense, and made his life as pleasant as it were possible, only, however, to see the boy gradually losing vitality and finally pass away from his hard lot in life, but made somewhat easier by this respected couple who had observed the injunction to "do it unto the least of these." Another boy of six years was supplied with a comfortable home, and grew nicely toward a brilliant youth, when, having arrived at the age of ten, he met with a mishap by falling into a kettle of boiling lard, and was so injured that death came to end his misery. While Mr. Zent has ever adhered to the faith of the Democratic party, he has never aspired to public position, realizing the importance of education that was denied him, but, despite all that, his neighbors insisted on placing him in some of the township positions, where he made a good record. In looking back over the history of the past sixty years he feels that no mistake was made when he came to Salamonie, and in proof of the fertility of the soil calls attention to the fact that the first piece of land that he placed in cultivation, and which has been tilled for sixty years, one thousand and forty bushels of corn were harvested from twenty acres in the year 1900.

The neighborly relations that were so essential in those early days have ever been adhered to by him through life, and he feels that it would have been difficult to have found a more agreeable class of people to live among than those who settled this region. He was never sued but once, and that was by a doctor for a twenty-five-cent fee for pulling a tooth. It was at a barn raising, and the doctor, not having his instruments said if he would go to his office for the instrument he would then pull the tooth. Pay was offered at the time, and it was about a year before suit was brought. Zent put in a counter claim of thirty cents for going after the instrument, and the matter never came to trial. He has made it a point to keep out of debt, not having given a note for forty years. He recalls the time when but one cabin, that of the Souers family, was on the line of road between Warren and Huntington. But one other person, Mrs. Matilda Morrison, widow of Leander Morrison, is still living among all those who were here when he came sixty-four years ago. At that time some seven hundred Indians were still camped below Huntington, and they would frequently be met in the woods while out on some hunting expedition, though no trouble ever arose between them and the settlers. Born a few weeks earlier than the noble queen who has just passed to the shadowy Kingdom, he came to this region before she had been proclaimed the ruler of England, and long before the "Fatherland" of his own ancestors had been even dreamed of as a great empire. He has seen the greatest of revolutions in the commerce and civilization of the world, remaining one of the thousands who helped make this country and live to see the twentieth century. For more than sixty-two years has he and his beloved companion traveled the pathway of life, the vicissitudes of those years ever finding them working in harmony, the union of hands and hearts having become cemented into a union of souls and spirits as well. Well may they take pride in the part they have taken in developing one of the finest sections of a most excellent state, and when time to them shall be no more may they receive that welcome plaudit as they pass to the other shore--"well done, thou good and faithful servant."

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