Mill Creek School Reunion
a chicken to get in. We'd bring blackberries," says Ruth Hibner Klepzig, whose parents ran a general store next to the school from 1919 to 1923. "We'd be as quiet as can be. There was no music, just silence as best as I remember."
Jig and square dances brought friends together in each other's homes. "We just invited the neighbors who wouldn't drink or fuss," Ruth says. The ones who made home brew were left out of the Hibners' parties.
The school house served as the church on Sunday and was always ready for a revival. Ruth remembers a time when her brother Buster Hibner and her nephew Jackie Klepzig stopped to hunt on the way and left their day's bounty outside. After they sat on the front row, an odor slowly permeated the room. "I smell a pole cat," said the preacher, "but I kind of like to smell it." The preacher wasn't going to let a little skunk scent get in the way of saving some souls.
Hunting pole cats, however, was serious business. "Skunk was never thrown away," says Willard Osburn. His grandmother Clarcia Osburn was a midwife and herbal doctor. She is credited with saving many people licensed doctors had given up on.
Willard remembers having gobs of pole cat grease smeared on him. "The skin would absorb it," he says. "When it was mixed with other things like kerosene or turpentine, it would break up phlegm in the lungs. "I guess it worked," Willard says. "I'm still here."
"The woods are full of remedies if you know what you are looking for," Clarcia would tell her grandson. Witch hazel was gathered to treat skin diseases. Slippery elm bark was used for poultices for skinned up knees and elbows, and sassafras tea was a spring tonic.
The old ways ended in the early 1950s. The land at Peck Ranch exchanged hands several times in the 1940s and was finally sold to the Con servation Department. The residents were given time to move and allowed to take their improvements with them. Although many bought land nearby, it was often harder to give up the tight-knit community than it was to tear down the fences and buildings.
The houses and outbuildings were carefully taken apart so the lumber could be used to rebuild. For example, a 72-foot barn made of hand-hewn pine logs was moved piece by piece to Winona more than 20 miles away and reassembled, says Crandell Clark. He worked for the Conservation Depart-ment building roads and trails on Peck Ranch.
Orville Norris was another former resident who joined the Conservation Department. In 1953, he helped fence 11,000 acres to protect about a dozen wild turkeys that remained. The population quickly grew, and the young were used to stock other areas.
The turkey program was a success. Orville remembers the day they caught 83 at one time. Now more than 380,000 wild turkeys live throughout the state.
Even though the land is now back to turkeys, deer, woods and glades, the people are not forgotten. "Every spring branch had a homestead by it and was named after the family who lived there," says Mitch Miller, wildlife management biologist at Peck Ranch. Mitch is keeping this history alive by maintaining a map of the homesteads. At the reunion last year, Mitch asked each family to indicate where they used to live. He encourages others to stop by the Peck Ranch headquarters and help him fill in missing information.
Descendants and former residents enjoy coming back, he says. "There's a lot of history tucked away in the hills and hollows, we don't want to lose it."