Title Reviewed:
Annals of Benton County

Author Reviewed:
Elmore Barce

Author:
Geo. S. Cottman

Date:
1925

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 340-342

Article Type:
Book Review

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Annals of Benton County, By Elmore Barce. The Benton Review Shop, Fowler, Indiana, 1925, pp. 134.

Readers of this magazine know of Elmore Barce as a painstaking delver in local history whose offerings in this field for the last ten years prove his interest to be more than ephemeral. Some of his productions during that period have been contributed to these pages, and others have taken the book form. His latest is the Annals of Benton County, a neat little volume of 119 pages, which is announced as the first one of a series to follow on the same theme.

The first expression of appreciation of the work of Mr. Barce and of a very few others like him (notably Mr. J. W. Whickcar, of Attica) should, I take it, be of that abiding love for historical inquiry that persists regardless of its thanklessness, so far as the public is concerned. The county history which is frankly that and nothing else does well if it pays the printer, hence the great majority of such productions are hooked up with cheap commercial ventures which use history as a peg on which to hang biographical puffs that are of little interest to anybody except those puffed. Shelves of books of this character prove that history compiled under these conditions is apt to be of limited value, and they are but an aggravation to the person who goes to them in search of worthwhile information.

From such superficial manifestations of the history exploiters one turns with a feeling of thankfulness to a sincere piece of work like the Annals of Benton County. Obviously, the author's foot is on his native heath, or at any rate he betrays a familiarity with his subject equivalent to that, and he handles his material with a zest that shows it inspires him. Every section of Indiana (as of every other place) has its distinctive features—it is a separate environment that more or less modifies the history of which it is a part. Whoever penetrates to the spirit and character of a community through the facts of its history and physical environment is making a genuine contribution to history in the sociological sense, and I think Mr. Barce apprehends this inner meaning of his theme. The physical surroundings with which he has to deal were markedly different from those of a forested country. Benton was a prairie county, so devoid of natural drainage that spots dry enough to be cultivated were little better than islands in the swamps, and ofttimes the farmer could not get into his fields for the wetness. The prairie soil, from lack of aeration, baked hard when it was dry, and broke up in great clods, yielding poor crops in spite of the great fertility locked up in it; the sod was tough and hard to work. One of the standing menaces to the pioneer in the dry weather of early autumn was the dreaded prairie fire, which might on short notice sweep away his home and garnered crops, and even imperil human lives. The art of fighting those fires was one he had to acquire. Thus, the plainsman, like the woodsman, had to adapt himself to his own peculiar problems, and in this case he did it so well that Benton County was, in time, converted from a bog where every crop was of doubtful growth to the richest agricultural section in all Indiana. This inherent agricultural value has given a character to the county, which is largely rural and homogeneous, and various other modifications arising from the same source may be traced through Mr. Barce's text, either directly or indirectly.

The author is aware of the picturesque aspects of his subject and gives some graphic descriptions of the face of the county as visible from its few elevations, with its wide exhibit of growing crops, and also, by contrast with these, of the old-time sea of waving prairie grass which grew so rank that it would hide from view a horse and its rider. The prairie fires and the curious "tumble weeds" that could be seen rolling across the plains by tens of thousands after the first frosts of fall, also make good reading. Not least interesting is the account of some seven hundred acres of primeval forest, presenting gigantic specimens of Indiana's typical trees, which, by some strange ordainment of nature, stood in the midst of these wide prairie spaces.

Having given us thus much of Benton County as a beginning, it is to be hoped Mr. Barce will continue his intensive study and complete the proposed series. In the writing of our county histories, generally considered, much remains to be desired, and every one that aims at a higher standard should be accorded an appreciative welcome.

GEO. S. COTTMAN.



Published by the Indiana University Department of History.