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Shunk_John


John Shunk was the first man that ever attempted in this place to manufacture a "wild varmint" into something, and call it a "hat."

He built a log cabin on the bank of the river south of the ravine and woolen-mill, and near where Kingan's pork-house is now located.

His cabin was about fifteen by eighteen feet square, which served the energetic proprietor as parlor, kitchen, chamber, hall and shop.  The kettle used for boiling or stewing the various kinds of skins into hats was placed on a stone furnace in the middle of the room, or dirt floor.

His bed stood in the northeast corner.  The bedstead was made by boring two holes in the third log from the floor of the house, about seven feet apart.  In these holes were driven two poles about four feet in length.  The other ends of the poles were fastened to other poles bout the same length, and, standing upright, thus formed the framework of the bedstead.

On this frame was laid lengthwise other poles, sufficient in number and size to form the bottom.  On this structure was a bed-tick (the original color I can't tell) filled with a combination of leaves and straw.  The "kivering" consisted of a very dirty horse or saddle-blanket, and a few dilapidated deer and other kinds of skins.  On this couch Mr. Shunk could repose his weary limbs, and at the same time watch and feel the increase of his stock of fleas.

In the southwest corner of the cabin was the fireplace, which was made by building a stone wall on each side of the corner, about four feet high, to protect the logs from the fire.  It was of a two-angle shape.  A hole in the roof of the cabin was left for the escape of smoke.  This of course, was the culinary part of the establishment, where the potatoes were roasted, the venison broiled on the coals, wild turkeys stewed, fish fried, and spicewood tea boiled.  Mr. Shunk (being a widower) was his own cook, and a cook is generally supposed to select such articles of diet and cook them as best suits his own taste.

In the northwest corner of the house was a broad table, about four feet high and six in length.  Over this table, and suspended by a rope (fastened to the rib-pole above), hung a thing that looked something in shape like the bow of a base viol, only much larger.  On this bow was a large cat gut string, which he would pull in such a way that it would strike and cut to pieces the combination of hair and fur. 

The southeast, and last, corner of the cabin was used as a receptacle or depot for miscellaneous articles.

Mr. Shunk required his customers to furnish their own coon.  He would receive them in animate or inanimate comdition, as best suited the convenience of the customer, and was not slow in manufacturing them into something that looked more like the old-fashioned hollow-log bee-gums of that day than they would like one of Mr. Bamberger's fashionable hats of the present.  

On one occasion Luke Walpole had employed Mr. Shunk to make him a hat.  Whether Mr. W. furnished the coon or not I am not aware.  However, the hat was finished and taken to the customer.  On close examination Mr. W. thought the animal not quite dead, and wished to know of the worthy hatter if he thought there would be any danger of the hat disturbing his chickens.

In closing this description of the first hatter's shop in Indianapolis, I must say something of the close of the worthy proprietor.  He was a large, fleshy man, would weigh over two hundred and twenty-five pounds, was very fond of grog, and often indulged to such an extent as to render him incapable of taking care of himself. 


JOHN SHUNK.

He was found one morning in front of his furnace, completely baked brown.  The skin was cracked open, and the grease or fat was oozing out.

All that could be done to alleviate his suffering (as recovery was impossible) was done by his neighbors and the citizens, but he was beyond the reach of human aid, and suffered a few days and closed his earthly as well as his hatatorial career.  He was a relative of the late Governor Shunk, of Pennsylvania, and, I believe, otherwise highly connected in that State.

I will now pass from the first hatter-shop of Indianapolis, 1821, to that of Herman Bamberger, of 1870.  A few days since I called in at Mr. B.'s, and was invited by the gentlemanly and polite proprietor to look through his extensive establishment.  Although I had heard and read a great deal about his as well as other establishments of the kind in the city, I was entirely unprepared to see so large and extensive an assortment as he keeps on hand.

Although Mr. Bamberger is not an "old settler" in the strict senses of the word, or in the sense I generally use the term, yet he ha been here sufficiently long, and his establishment is one of that kind I wish to use to draw a comparison between the first hatter of Indianapolis and those of the present day.

I can hardly realize that even the forty-eight years that have elapsed since the existence of the shop of which I have  een writing could have brought such a change.

In Mr. B.'s store is found every conceivable shape, form, pattern, style and fashion that could be thought of, with perhaps the exceptio of John Shunk's style.

I am told by many of his patrons he never suffers a customer to leave his establishment dissatisfied in either price or quality.

Indeed, the very appearance of the store indicates success; and success means fair dealing.  I am told he has the bulk of the German trade, both in this and adjoining counties.

If a large stock, polite and gentlemanly bearng and accommodating disposition are requisite in trde all those qulities will be found in Herman Bamberger.  But I am digressing from my purpose to show the difference between the first hatter-shop of Indianapolis and those of the present.  Could it be possible for John Shunk to awake from his forty-eight years' sleep on the banks of White River, and step into one of these fine establishments, he would hardly take it to be a hatter's shop , or that he, while in the flesh, was anything less than a hatter.


Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 49-52

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