Reuel Custer of Bellview
Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
Published in the Madison Courier – April 25, 1913
West of the unnamed village of a few houses, strung out along the newly opened Michigan Road, in an early day there was a famous deer lick, and to this deer lick hunters would go and lie in wait for deer. Many of them would stop at the tavern to drink and play cards, and in compliment to the muddy conditions of the over-traveled Michigan Road, they named the village “Mud Lick.” All those living within a distance of a mile north or south were counted as residents of “Mud Lick.”
The first settlers were Zeph Freeman and his brothers Owen and Doc. Then we counted in the Custers, “Guy” Moore, and Raborn, who started the tavern. Zeph Freeman built five or six houses and rented them to men who came and went. Most of them worked for him in the timber. His principal business was getting out hewn timbers, which were hauled to Madison for building purposes as there were no saw mills in those days, and joists were cut out by whip-sawing.
Saturdays the people would gather from near and far for Saturday’s sporting, such as the turkey match, which we sometimes have at Thanksgiving or Christmas times. Also for political meetings in election years when Old Joe Marshall, Milton Stapp, and others would address the assemblies. Politics drew lines sharply then as now.
Samuel Humphreys did the blacksmithing. Zeph Freeman was a little later elected “Squire”. He built him himself and office, the likes of which had never before been seen, nor since. He first set posts12 feet in length and on top of those posts he placed his office building, a room probably 18 × 20 feet. A stairway led up to the room through a trap door, and when the Squire called “Oh, Yes, Oh Yes, court is now open”, he closed the trap door, placed his chair upon it, and took his seat thereon so that whilst court was open, the court room was fast shut. On the outside of this queer looking office, he had painted in large letters “Office of the Fool-killer” because as he explained, if a man was fool enough to go to law, he soon lost his money and that would kill him of going to law. That was more than 79 years ago.
Others had settled in and around Mud Lick as follows: on the North, Thomas Jimison, Robert New, Squire Steel, Reuel Custer, and William Vincent. On the South, James Denny, George Myers, Isaac Custer, Owen Freeman, Guv. Moore, Louis Trinkle, and Robinson, the saloon-keeper.
A fine schoolhouse for those days was built under the direction of Zeph Freeman, and later he, with others, built a church where they had Sunday school and church services whenever a traveling preacher happened along, and we always had a fine large crowd at our meetings.
After Zeph Freeman’s death, things and people began to change. Uncle “Ike” Custer sold out to Enos Miles, Joe Willoughby moved down on the property and later bought out Billy Vincent. Then two of the Vawter men, Milton and Holman, came and set up a saw mill, built a brick house and opened a general store. Near the same time, John King bought out Robinson and started in to keep hotel and saloon. His place was known for many years as “Eight-mile House.” Miles then bought out the Vawters, they moving the store and saw-mill to Rexville. Mr. Miles also bought the Trinkle farm. William Turner bought the Patten farm, now the Thomas Denny farm. Harrison Humphrey owned the Carl farm.
Hauling in those days was a fearsome undertaking. Deep mud was said to be the way of the Michigan Road, 13 months in the year. Father drove the horses and I drove the oxen hauling to Madison. There were but three houses between Mud Lick and John Pea Inn. There were many travelers passing constantly, bound for the interior parts of the State. It was a common sight to see a six horse team hitched to a freighters wagon hauling goods from Madison (then a port of entry) to Greensburg, Indianapolis, Lafayette and the interior parts of Indiana.
In the fall, the Michigan Road would be pretty well filled with drovers driving hogs to Madison slaughterhouses. Finally it was decided to change the name of the post office (which was kept by Mike Aller), and the name of Custer was sent to Washington, but there were already post offices of that name in Indiana. Samuel Baker then suggested the name Bellvue, after a town he had visited in Kentucky which was accepted by the authorities at Washington. Counting the territory which was formerly known as Mud Lick, Bellview now has some 25 houses, one general store kept by Willy Denny, a farmer’s free telephone exchange and one resident physician, Dr. Charles Denny, doctor, farmer, and stockman
William Edward Ryker