"A Pioneer Boyhood. Recollections of the
West in the Forties."
James Burton Pond, The Century Magazine, Vol. LVIII, No. 6, 1899.
Published in October, 1899, in The Century Magazine, Vol. LVIII, No. 6, pp. 929-37, the narrative offers James Pond's recollections about his early life in Lake County, Illinois and Alto Township, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, in the 1840's and 1850's. Pond's family lived in the northeast corner of section 8 in the town of Alto, two miles south of the village of Fairwater, 4 miles northwest of the current village of Alto. Pond himself would go on to fight with John Brown in Kansas, edit The Markesan Journal, recruit and lead Company C of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry regiment during the Civil War (for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor along with brother George), and become the premier lecture booking agent in the country, with clients including Mark Twain, P. T. Barnum, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Nast, and Henry Ward Beecher. For additional information, see the James B. Pond papers in the collection of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, the history of the 3rd Wi Cav Company C, and the Pond family biographies on the Alto biographies page.
In the autumn of 1843 I was four years old and living in a log house in the town of Hector, Tompkins (now Schuyler) County, New York. One of my earliest recollections is of a conversation between my father and mother regarding the expected visit of an uncle and his family, who were coming to bid us good-by before moving to Illinois. My uncle had the "Illinois fever"; he had just returned from a "land-looking" in Illinois, where he had preempted a new farm. I remember listening to my uncle's glowing description of the new country out in the far West beyond the Great Lakes, where he was going to make a new home. When he had gone my father talked constantly of Illinois, and the neighbors said he had Illinois fever.
We passed the long winter in our log house adjoining my grandfather's farm. All the clothing and bedding people had in those days was home-made, and every household had its loom. In our home, in the single room on the first floor were father's and mother's bed, the trundle-bed, where four of us children slept (lying crosswise), the loom, the spinning-wheel for wool and tow, the flax-wheel, the swiffs, reeling-bars, and the quill-wheel, besides the table and chairs. We had two rooms in the attic, one a spare room and the other for the hired help. Frequently during the long evenings my grandmother and other neighbors would come in with their knitting and their tow-cards, and either knit or card tow or heckle flax, talking about Illinois, where my uncle had gone. That mysterious word was unfathomable to me. It was finally decided that we should go there too, and all our furniture, with bedding, spinning-wheels, loom, and crockery, was packed up, and on Monday morning, March 20, 1844, we started for the new country. At Ithaca our goods were put on board a canal-boat, and the next morning I awoke to find myself on Cayuga Lake, in tow of a steamer. For days we traveled slowly on the Erie Canal, with no memorable incidents except an occasional "low bridge," one of which swept our provision-chest nearly the length of the deck. At Lockport we passed through the great locks, and at Buffalo father took steerage passage for his family in the propeller Republic, passing through Mackinaw Strait, and landing at Southport, Wisconsin (now Kenosha), on the evening of April 6, 1844.
That evening my uncle, he of the Illinois fever, met us with his horses and farm-wagon. Father hired another team, and we started for my uncle's new home near Libertyville, Lake County, Illinois, where we arrived the following morning. The house was a log hut with one room and an attic. We found my aunt sick with the fever and ague. She was wrapped in thick shawls and blankets, sitting by the fireplace, and shaking like a leaf. Before supper was over, mother had a chill and a shake which lasted nearly half the night. The next day it rained hard, and we all had chills, and my father and uncle went to town, two miles, for some medicine. They returned with a large bundle of thoroughwort weed, or boneset, a tea made from which was the order of the day. It was very bitter, and I used to feel more like taking the consequences of the ague than the remedy.
It was too late for father to secure a farm during that first summer in Illinois, and he obtained work in the blacksmith's shop in Libertyville, hiring two rooms for his family in the frame court-house, a half-finished building on a high spot of ground. It was neither plastered nor sided, only rough boards being nailed on the frame, and when it rained and the wind blew we might as well have been out of doors. Here our first summer and winter in Illinois were spent.
As father had a shake every other day, he could work only half the time, and we were very poor. The ague was in the entire family, my sister and I invariably shaking at the same hour every alternate day, and my mother's and father's shakes coming at about the same time. I have known the whole family to shake together; nor did the neighbors escape. There were few comfortable homes and few well people. Boneset tea was a fixture on every stove fireplace. When my morning to shake arrived, I used to lie down on the floor behind the cook-stove and almost hug the old salamander, even on the warmest summer days, my sister on the opposite side, my younger brothers snuggling up close to me, and my mother sitting as near the fire as she could get, all of us with our teeth chattering together.
So the long, dreary, rainy, ague summer passed away. Father's scanty earnings were out only support, and my uncle and his family, and my uncle and his family, who were on a new farm two miles away, were even poorer; for my father occasionally had a few dollars in money, while uncle had nothing but what a farm of "new breaking" produced the first year, and with no market for even the slightest product. My aunt, who was broken down and discouraged, would occasionally walk the two miles to see us, and my mother and she would talk about the false hopes and glittering inducements that had led to their husbands to become victims to the Illinois fever.
The spring came early, and father rented a farm with ten acres already plowed and a log house, about three miles east of the village, and there we moved. He had the use of a yoke of oxen, farm-utensils, one cow, seed-grain, and he was to work the farm for half of all it could be made to produce. He filled in odd moments by splitting rails and fencing the ten acres with a seven-rail staked and ridered fence.
The farm was in the heavy woods near the shores of Lake Michigan. A stream of water ran through a deep gully near the house, and there father caught an abundance of fish, while there was plenty of game in the woods. One day he came in and said he had found a deer-lick, and that night he prepared a bundle of hickory bark for a torch-light, and with that and his rifle he left us for the night, and came in early in the morning with a deer. It was the first venison I had ever eaten, and the best/ My father's gun supplied our table with venison, wild duck, and squirrel in abundance. Mother, who had brought a collection of garden seeds from the East, managed the garden, and we had corn, beans, cucumbers, and pease, while tomatoes we raided as ornamental plants and called "love-apples." They were then considered poisonous, and it was some years later before we found out that they were a wholesome table delicacy.
We spent only one summer in this place, and then my father rented a farm on the prairie, in the township of Brooklyn, Lake County, about five miles west of Little Fort (now Waukegan, Illinois), and we went there early in the autumn of 1845. It was a happy day for my mother when we moved from our ague-stricken gully, for she prophesied that out on the prairie, where there was pure air, we might possibly escape fever and ague. Only two years before, mother had come from a refined home in western New York, and she had been shut up in there dreary woods in a log house all summer, living on game and boneset tea. Scarlet fever, chicken-pox, and the itch had gone through the family, and I do not believe she had experienced many happy hours during the summer, except in her garden. We had no church, no neighbors, and no team, and she had an infant in her arms almost constantly. The children were more or less ill, and all the duties of housekeeping were upon her.
We were up early, and started at sunrise for the eight-mile ride to our new home. Father had come the day before with two teams and a hired man. The chickens had been caught and put into coops that were fastened on the rear end of the wagon, the "garden sauce" was gathered, and two pigs were put into one of the packing-boxes originally brought from the East. The new home was another log house, but a good one, built of hewn logs, and a story and a half high. The owner had built a tavern and was not going to work his farm any longer, so he rented it to father and kept his tavern across the way.
The minister from Little Fort called, and arrangements were made for a church home, and we used to drive five miles every Sunday to "meeting." There was a school for the children, and surrounded as we were by intelligent and thrifty neighbors, my mother began to wear a cheerful look. At this time the family consisted of six children, of whom I was the second, and the eldest son.
Here father began to utilize me, and I saved him many steps; for he seemed to have something for me to do all the time, both when he was at work and when he was resting. On Mondays I was allowed to stay about the place and help mother, pounding clothes, tending baby, and bringing wood and water. I was able to carry only about a third of the pail of water, but my young legs were expected to make frequent journeys to and from the spring, which was over in the cow-pasture, about thirty rods from the house. It was protected from encroachment of cattle and hogs by a three-cornered rail fence, which I had to climb and lift my pail over every time I went for water.
My brother Home was my constant companion, and he used to help me with my work. Once I had lifted him over the fence to dip up the water for me, when he lost his balance, and fell into the spring. The water was about up to his chin, and very cold. He screamed, and mother ran to help him out, dripping with water and dreadfully frightened. We got into the house as father came in to dinner. I was so sorry and frightened over what had happened that I was already severely punished; but father began to scold, and then decided to give me a whipping. He went out to the pasture near the spring and cut some willow switches, and after giving me a severe talking to, began laying the switches on my back and legs. I feared my father ever afterward. Nothing that I could do to please him was left undone, but it was always through fear.
We lived on a public thoroughfare where hundreds, and I may say thousands, passed on their way to take up new homes in Wisconsin, then the extreme outskirt of civilization in the Northwest. There was not a day in which several wagon-loads of emigrants did not pass our door, and the road was a cloud of dust as far as one could see over the level prairie country. The usual emigrant wagon contained an entire family, with all its earthly possessions, and in some of them families had lived for many weeks. Occasionally a length of stovepipe protruded through the canvas cover, and it was known that this wagon belonged to an aristocratic family, such a one usually having two wagons, one being used as a living-room. Nearly every family had from one to four cows, a coop of chickens attached to the tail-gate, from two to five pigs traveling under the wagon, and occasionally a drove of sheep and a loose colt near by. There was sometimes a rich caravan, or association of families, which had entered a large tract of land and was moving in a body, with horse-teams, droves of cattle, and horses.
As we lived near the road, people usually stopped at our house, either for a drink of fresh spring-water (a scarcity in those days), or to purchase milk, butter, garden-stuff, or anything that we could spare. These were the pioneers of Wisconsin, and were mostly from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. They were the second generation of pioneers of their native States. In asking where they were from we generally asked, "What are you?" If from New York, it was "Empire State"; if from Pennsylvania, "Keystones"; if from Ohio, "Buckeyes." Many more Illinois pioneers moved on to Wisconsin in those days than remained, owing to the dread if fever and ague. In this endless train of "movers" it was not uncommon for my mother to meet people whose families she had known in western New York.
The land-looker was as much an occupant of the road as the emigrant. He was the advance-picket who had preceded on foot every family that passed, and had located his quarter-section, built his preemption shanty, and inhabited it three days, which allowed him to hold it one year, while he could return for his family. These men were passing daily, winter and summer, and the tavern near us was crowded nightly with them and with emigrants. Our house, too, was a shelter for many. Father saw the enterprising home-seekers daily, and heard the accounts of those who were returning from their prospective homes after having located; and their glowing descriptions of the country, the climate, and its freedom from ague, gave him the "Wisconsin fever." Mother, however, looked distrustfully on the favorable reports brought back daily, and she pitied the people moving north.
Father had provided a fair living for his large family--sumptuous, indeed, compared with that of our first year in the West. We had friends and neighbors and schools. The owner of the farm wished my father to hire it for two years more, but father would argue that this was his chance to get a home, and here was an opportunity for his boys; he could make nothing on rented land, and he had only been able to keep his family alive for three years. Mother said: "Supposing we do preempt, it is only for a year or two, and then the land must be entered and paid for at one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre. Where is the money coming from?" Father told her that many of the emigrants who had no money got friends or speculators to furnish it for half the land. Mother was not enthusiastic, but she finally consented to go if father could get his sister in Connecticut to enter the land for him when due, and to hold it in her name until father could, at some future time, pay for it.
My aunt consented to this, and in February there came a letter from her inclosing a draft for one hundred dollars, with which to buy a yoke of oxen and a wagon with which to work the farm.
So my father was fitted out as a land-looker, and mother worked all day and all night to make his knapsack. It was about the same as all the men wore who had passed out door. It was made of bedticking, larger than an ordinary pillow cover, with a lapel over the top fastened with a large button. Wide straps of the same material went from the top over the shoulder, around under the arm, and were made fast at the bottom of the sack. In this knapsack mother packed a change of clothing, with all the provisions it would hold, and early one morning father started for Wisconsin to look for a home of our own, carrying besides his knapsack an ax, an auger, and a window-sash with four panes of glass, eight by ten, which all land-lookers carried.
Father had been gone three weeks when a letter came telling us that he had located a farm in the town of Alto, the southwest-corner township in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin; that it had a log house on it, twelve by fourteen, which he had bought; that ten acres had already been broken by the man of whom he had bought the claim, and that he would return at once with his wagon and oxen for the family.
In March, 1847, we started for the new home. Father had hired one of our neighbors who had a team to take mother, my eldest sister, and the three younger children, with a load of household goods, to the new claim, which was one hundred and fifty miles away in the wilderness. Comfortable seats were arranged on the wagon for mother and the children. There was no shelter from the rain or sun, but not a drop of rain fell during the journey.
The day of our starting was an eventful one in the neighborhood. People came from the neighboring villages, and work was suspended on all the adjoining farms that the neighbors might bid us good-by. The women and children embraced my mother, and many a tear was shed, and many a shout and good wish went up for her safe journey and log life of usefulness. The pastor of the church said he had lost the most useful member of his congregation, and that our going would almost cripple the Sabbath-school. Father, my brother, and I were to follow with the oxen and a wagon-load containing the remainder of the household effects. We drove two milch-cows and five pigs, and in a coop on the end of the wagon were eight chickens.
We were soon in the long line of dust, making our proportion of what we had been accustomed to see for two years. I was to help drive the cows and pigs. Whoever has attempted to drive a hog knows the discouragements with which I met. Whoever has never attempted it can never know. It seemed that if we had wanted them to go the other way it would have been all right. They scattered in different directions several times and some of them succeeded in getting back home. My chagrin was increased by passing or meeting other emigrant boys whose pigs and cattle kept quietly near the wagons and walked gently along.
It took all day to go about six miles. We stopped overnight near a farm-house, and father, after getting the cattle and pigs in the barn, built a fire by the roadside and prepared our supper. He made tea, and with the cold chicken and bread and butter which mother had given us for the journey, we fared sumptuously. Father brought an armful of hay from the barn near by, and with plenty of coverlets he made up a bed under the wagon, where we three slept soundly. This was my first camping out.
We passed through Whitewater, Wisconsin, and stayed overnight at the public tavern--there were not hotels in those days. It was a great experience for my brother and me, sitting at a long table, having our supper and breakfast served to us.
At Fort Atkinson we met the first band of Indians I had ever seen. There was a chief and three or four young buck Indians, as many squaws, and a number of children, all of the Black Hawk tribe. They were on ponies, riding in single file into the town as we were going out. I was so frightened that I cried., and as the chief kept putting his hand to his mouth, saying, "Bread--hungry--bread--hungry," father gave him a loaf of bread. It was not enough, but it was all father would let him have. Homer and I were in favor of giving him everything we had if he would only move on.
After leaving Watertown we came out on what is known as rolling prairie--for miles in every direction a green, wavy sheet of land. No ornamental gardener could make so lovely and charming a lawn, gently rolling, and sloping just enough to relieve the monotony of the flatness of the long stretches of prairie and openings we had passed through. Father told us that these great prairies would always be pasture-land for herds of cattle, as the farmers could not live where there was no limber. To-day the finest farms I know of in America are on these great prairie-lands, but at that time the prospectors avoided such claims and preempted only the quarter-sections skirting the prairies, where the oak openings supplied timber for log houses, fences, and fuel.
Trails were now branching in every direction, and after five days of this travel it seemed as though we had been wandering for months without a home. That day we had started at sunrise, resting for three hours at noon, the usual custom at that time. It was ten o'clock when we reached our home.
We were in another log cabin, twelve by fourteen feet square, with hewn log floor, one door, and one window containing the sash with its four panes of glass which father had brought on his journey.
We boys slept in the low garret, climbing a ladder to go to bed. Owing to the exhaustion and excitement of the night before, we were allowed to rest undisturbed, and the sun was well up and shining through the chink-holes in our garret when we awoke. Father had gone with the team to a spring a mile west for a barrel of water. There was no water on our claim, and we were obliged to haul it on a "crotch," a vehicle build from the crotch of a tree, about six by eight inches thick and six feet long, on which a cross-rail is laid, where a barrel can be fastened. The oxen were hitched to it, and they dragged it to and from the spring.
Two beds were fitted across one side of the single down-stairs room in our cabin, and father had to shorted the rails of one bedstead to get it into place. Under it was the trundle-bed on which the babies slept, and when this was pulled out, and with the cook-stove, table, four chairs, wood-box, and the ladder in place, there was very little spare room. By father's order, the lower round of the ladder was always my seat.
THE FIRST SCHOOL AT ALTO.
There were neighbors from a half mile to three and five miles away, and they called and offered their assistance to contribute to our comfort. It was found that there were seventeen children within a radius of five miles, and the subject of starting a school was discussed. Mr. Boardman, who lived just two miles west of us, had moved into his new log house, and offered his old preemption house for a school-house. Mr. Wilbur had a maiden sister who could teach. It was arranged that the school should begin the following Monday, and the men in the neighborhood, with the pupils, were to meet at the school-house at eight o'clock, an hour before school-time, and put the house in order. On Monday morning we were up early, and four of us children started with my father to school. There was no road or trail in the direction of Mr. Boardman's house, so father took his ax and blazed the trees along the line on both sides so that we could find our way back. After a mile and a half we came to a marsh through which ran a deep stream of clear water. None of us could go across until father and I returned to the wood and cut two long poles, which were hewed on one side and then thrown across the stream. They formed a pedestrian bridge which was used for several years.
The school-house was a log shanty six logs high, with holes for a window and a door, which had been removed and were now a part of Mr. Boardman's new house. Trees were cut down and the trunks split open and holes bored in the ends of each half of the log; legs were put in, and then they were hewed as smooth as an ax could make them, and placed on the ground for benches. Four of these "puncheon" benches were made, and at half-past nine the teacher took her place on a chair, which had been brought especially for her, and called the school to order.
The first thing to do was to get an idea of what books the pupils had. Mother had sent all her children had ever owned, and so had others, and there were Cobb's Spelling-book, Dayball's Arithmetic, Parley's Geography, McGuffey's Reader, Saunders's Spelling-book, Ray's Arithmetic, Spencer's Spelling-book, Adams's Arithmetic, and Saunders's Reader, gathered from all parts of America. There were no duplicates. The school opened with a prayer by Mr. Wilbur.
We were not long in wearing a well-beaten path between our house and the school, which for a number of years was a thoroughfare for pedestrians.
My chief duty after school was to hunt up the cows and drive them home in time for milking, and I came to know every foot of country within a radius of ten miles. No boy's country life can be complete without having hunted cows. "Old Red" wore the bell. Every neighbor in the country had a bell-cow and a cow-bell, and my friend Matt Wood and I always arranged that our cattle should herd together, and they were invariably driven to the same range in the morning. Each of us boys owned dogs, and we knew not only every cow-bell, but every woodchuck-hole and every gopher-hole, and many a time, I fear, father used to milk after dark because our dog had found a deep gopher-hole, and that gopher must be had, milk or no milk, supper or no supper.
We had some hard experiences hunting cows, especially after midsummer, when the grass was dried up and the cattle strayed to the green edges of the marshes, or the green stubble where the wild hay had been mown and gathered by the settlers, or when the frost had killed the grass, and the cows wandered into far-away regions looking for fresher fields. There were few familiar landmarks among these great ranges of uninhabited country, and once, while following some imaginary cow-bell, the darkness came on, and I finally became so discouraged as to give up the hunt and turn back. Finding no trail to follow, I was lost and frightened, for to lie out in the woods, on the prairies or marshes, overnight in those days was not safe. There were wolves, lynxes, bears, and wildcats--wolves in abundance. I do not believe that I was ever a coward, but I had imagination, and there were shadowy forms in every thicket, and the wind said strange things, and in the air I could hear flitting spirits. I was alone, with no one to speak to me. Now I stood near a tree the lower branches of which would enable me to climb quickly if there was immediate danger. I knew a wolf could not climb an ordinary tree, but a bear or wild-cat could, and I must find a strong club with which to keep at bay any bear that might approach. But there was no club or any possibility of obtaining one, and my study was how to protect myself in that tree in the dark, for the animals could see as well in the dark as in daylight. My imaginative mind and cautious vigil kept me awake near the tree, and as nothing appeared to attempt to devour me, the tree finally became my friend. Imaginary objects were less frightful, and I felt that by keeping watch on all sides I commanded the situation.
The gray of the morning came, and I began to feel secure: with light there is nothing to fear. But where was I? It had not occurred to me that I could not easily return home as soon as daylight came, but I found myself looking forth upon a new country. In the darkness I had walked to an unknown land. I did not know which way to go; nevertheless, I started on a run, crossing cow-paths that I had never seen before, hills, ravines, and marshes. The sun was up, but I recognized nothing. I kept on crossing unfamiliar roads, and becoming weary and dizzy, sat down and cried. I did not fear my father's whipping if I could only see home. At midday I was still going on, and at last come out on a hilltop in sight of a log house. I must stop and ask for something to eat, and possibly I would learn the way to Alto. I walked slowly toward the house, which seemed new to me. It looked lonely. There was not a human being in sight, and the door stood open. I cautiously approached and quietly looked in. A woman sat on a chair, with her back to me, holding a child. I withdrew, for I dared not disturb her, nor did I dare go away. What should I do? I hesitated and went back. Finally I made a noise in my throat. The woman jumped, and, looking around, sprang for me. I was in the arms of my mother.
I had got home without the slightest knowledge of where I was, not even seeing a foot-path or a road, or recognizing anything until my mother spoke. All the people had been looking for me during the morning, and were then out. Dinner-horns were being blown, and the settlers were scouring the country; and it was not until darkness drove them home that the news of my having found myself became known. The cows were out over a week, and were found twenty miles away, nearly dried up, which meant almost starvation to us for the winter.
The first summer father planted and raised two acres of potatoes, with some cabbages, onions, beets, carrots, and five acres of corn, and he succeeded in splitting rails and putting a fence around ten acres of land. I was trained to all branches of usefulness on a new farm. Once in two weeks I went for the mail to the nearest village, eleven miles away, often returning to tell father that there was a letter in the office with sixpence postage to pay. In those days there was no compulsory prepayment on letters, and it was sometimes months before a turn of any kind would bring the money to get the letter out of the post-office. The New York "Weekly Tribune" was always a member of our family, and our copy was read by everybody in the settlement. For three years I walked to the village every week for that paper. We children had to listen to my father read it every Sunday afternoon, as it was wicked to play out of doors, and we had only morning church to attend.
A PIONEER CHRISTMAS.
Father came home from Milwaukee at Christmas-time, bringing the flour of a few bushels of wheat, a pair of shoes for my brother and me, a new pair of boots for himself, and some unbleached muslin. Were n't [sic] we happy! It was a day of rejoicing. I remember father's going to the woodpile and in a few moments cutting a pile of wood, which gave us the first hot fire of the season. That afternoon mother made bread, and we had salt, pepper, tea, and fresh meat, for father had bought a quarter of beef.
MY FIRST FOURTH OF JULY.
I was very tall for my age, and overgrown. I suffered from growing pains, and the boys called me lazy. Our nearest neighbor, Eli Farnham, did not like me. One day he was passing our house with his oxen and wagon; father was standing in thedoor, and Farnham stopped, I supposed to see father, but he came up to me, and said:
"James, when did you get into my cellar and steal raw turnips to eat?"
"Never," I relied. "I was only joking with Matt Wood the other day when we went by your house, and just in fun I said, 'Let's go into Farnham's cellar and get some raw turnips. I got some there once.' He knew as well as I did that I was joking, for there ain't any turnips this time of the year."
"You told him you pried open my cellar door and got a lot of turnips. He told me you said so."
Father heard the conversation, stepped up to me, and asked if I had ever been in Mr. Farnham's cellar.
"No, sir," I said. "I was only joking with 'Bub' Wood."
"Did you tell Matthias Wood that you broke into Mr. Farnham's cellar when you did not?"
"Yes, sir," I replied; "but it was only in fun."
Father turned to Mr. Farnham, and said: "Mr. Farnham, I do not believe my boy would break into a neighbor's house and steal, but he has acknowledged that he told a lie, and I shall punish him for it."
He was a man who kept his word under such circumstances always. It was late in June when this occurred. Mr. Farnham had been away somewhere for a few days, and his house and cellar had been securely locked.
Squire Carpenter and Mr. Munson and one or two neighbors came to the field one day, where we were hoeing corn, and told father they wished to get up a celebration, as Independence day would come the next week. This interested father, and he was very enthusiastic about it. They had decided to have a celebration on the school section (about the center section in each township), where there was a grove with a sort of marsh meadow all about it. They proposed to mow a swarth around this grove for the procession to march in. They would have a picnic dinner and an oration in the grove, and father was to read the Declaration of Independence. Squire Carpenter was to deliver the oration, and Smith (I never knew him by any other name than "Gassy" Smith) was to be toast-master. It was all wonderful to Homer and me. We had no idea what it all meant. I did not care to speak to father, but Homer asked him what Independence Day was, and father explained to us all about it, and here we got our first inkling of this national holiday.
When we got home to dinner mother was told all about it. The plans were soon made. The neighbors were coming from ten and fifteen miles round. The Declaration of Independence was brought out at dinner-time and studied. We heard father read it day after day until we all knew it by heart. The celebration was the talk of the country. Everybody we met was on the qui vive for the event. Bub wood told me that Uriah was going to get Yerty's blacksmith anvil, and John Graves was coming with a lot of powder, and they were going to fire a salute. Bub's mother was baking crackers and making cake for the picnic, and Mrs. Sleeper was going to bring a roast pig. The Talcott ladies called to know what mother was going to supply for the dinner. Poor mother! The spirit was willing, but the material for luxuries was not forthcoming. We had no sugar, and cake was the necessity. Father let me off from hoeing, and I carried four dozen eggs to Waupun, and exchanged them for a very small quantity of sugar, not more than two pounds. This was made into cake and was mother's offering.
It was Friday, July 3, 1848, and we were hoeing corn, when father said:
"To-morrow is the celebration. Some one will have to stay at home and watch the field. It would n't [sic] do for stray cattle to get into the corn now. Who will volunteer?
Remembering father's unfulfilled promise, I at once said, "I will."
Father told me I was a good boy and that he would not require me to hoe all day. He would give me a stint; I might hoe six rows. I can never describe my disappointment. I was to be deprived of the great celebration; but I did not care if father had only forgotten his promise.
The nex day everybody was up at daylight. I had the cows in the pen early, and the children were cleaned up as for Sunday. Father was cheering and reciting the Declaration. Mother and the children were joyous, but I was not; it seemed too hard to bear. "Stub" and "Brin" had been having a vacation during corn-hoeing, and were sleek and fat. By the time they were hitched up, teams began to appear--all ox-teams; there was not a horse in that settlement then. Ox-teams and wagons loaded with entire families were seen in every direction, north, west, and east--everybody I had ever seen in the country. They were all joyous and shouting "Hurrah! Hurrah!" Father joined in the cheers, mother kissing me and promising to bring me something from the celebration. I was soon left alone on the farm, and there had been so much excitement that even my dinner had not been provided for. I went to the field and began to hoe out my stint. I knew I could do it in two hours, and here was a chance to please father and so win his favor as to get him entirely out of the notion of the promised whipping. I hoed about fifteen rows of corn. I went early and found the cows, and got them into the pen long before night.
It was about sunset when the loaded teams came passing back. I stood at the bars (we had no gates then) watching everybody pass. They were all in high glee, and many were calling backward and forward from one wagon to another. I heard father's voice and cheers, and his sharp orders to Stub and Brin to go faster.
When they drove up to the bars and found me waiting, I overheard mother say to father, "There, I have not brought a thing for James. I could n't [sic] get anything, as there was nothing left." It came hard to hear mother say this, and as she got out of the wagon I saw a tear roll down her cheek, and knew how sorry she was, and I did not care then. If she would only feel happy, I could do without anything. Father saw that she was feeling bad, and spoke up sharply: "I owe James something, and I guess I will attend to it now before I forget it." Mother knew what it meant as well as I did. I do not believe a murderer waiting to be led to a gallows ever dreaded the fatal moment more than I did this whipping. Father milked the cows, and it was just dark when he called me out back of the house, holding a young seasoned oak whip in his hand, and began to moralize and tell me how he dreaded this moment; how he had suffered and prayed over it, and the more he thought about it the more he was convinced that if he broke his promise he would be as bad as I who told the lie. He told me the story of Ananias and Sapphira, and quoted proverbs; and then he whipped me.
A WINTER STORM.
The winter of 1848-49 was a very severe one. Father went to Illinois to try to get work to bring in a little money, and he was employed in a blacksmith's shop in Rockford, at a dollar a day. There was no school that winter, for we could go nowhere, owing to the deep snow, and for weeks we were huddled up in our own house, destitute of comforts. Our only light was a cotton-rag string in a saucer of lard.
One night when the snow was driving under the door and through the chinks of the wall, mother, as she sat knitting, while we were all fairly trembling with cold and fear, told me to set the light in the window. "It would be dreadful," she said, "if someone were caught out in this storm."
I did as she directed, and in a few moments we heard a cry of "Hello! Hello-o-o!"
I pushed away the pile of snow against the door and ran out, to find three men in a sleigh drawn by a pair of horses. They were covered with snow and frost, and greatly excited. They asked me the road and the distance to Fox Lake, a village sixteen miles southwest of us. They had been driving since dark (it was now nine o'clock) on a full run, with a pack of wolves after them. A wolf had caught one of the horses by the hamstrings, and they had killed him with a sledge-stake. Other wolves had seized hold of a buffalo robe, and the men had been obliged to let the ravenous beasts take it, in order to save their lives. They had seen the light in our window, and the wolves had pursued them until they were close to it.
Mother bade them welcome and told them to stay if they could manage to find a place for their horses. We had only a low straw shed for our cattle, but they propped up the roof-poles of it, so that the horses could stand beneath it, and, pulling plenty of hay out of the stack, left them for the night. We could hear the howling of the wolves in the distance, and the men took with them an ax and a corn-cutter for protection while they were taking care of the horses. Then one of them found a dry oak fence-rail and cutting it up, he made a roaring fire in the old stove, and we all got warm. Mother packed the children into the trundle-bed, putting one or two extra in our bunk in the attic; then she gave up her own bed to the strangers. I can never forget the happiness of those three men that night. They were crowded three in a bed and so excited that they could not sleep, and all night they told stories, and their talk was so new and interesting that none of the family wanted to sleep. I remember hearing the men say that gold had just been discovered in California, and that thousands of men would go there and get rich.
The horses were all right in the morning, and in the afternoon the men went on their journey, leaving a large pile of wood cut for us in return for our entertainment. This was a delight for me, for I had to furnish the wood, and at nine years of age it was hard work.
Father came home at Christmas, and he and all the men in the settlement were greatly excited over the gold in California. It seemed as if every young man in the country was going there. Many a time my father wished that I were old enough to run the farm, so that he too could go to California and make his fortune.
A NEW LIFE.
We lived in Alto until 1853, and then the farm was abandoned, and my parents, with all the children except myself, moved to the neighboring city of Fond du Lac, where father could work by the day and earn enough to support the family. I was left to work for a neighbor; but I grew so homesick after a lonely Sabbath in a household where there were no children and it was considered wrong to take a walk on Sunday afternoon, that on Monday I took my other shirt from the clothes-line and started for Fond du Lac. I knew the stage-driver, and he gave me a lift.
As we approached the city the driver made me get down, and he told me to follow the sidewalk along the main street until I came to a foundry, next to which was father's house. I followed close behind the stage, keeping in the middle of the road. Soon I found myself in the city, where there were houses and stores on each side of the street, and board walks for pedestrians. I feared to walk on the sidewalks, for I was barefooted, and my feet were muddy and the sidewalks very clean. The people seemed to be dressed up as if for Sunday, and all the boys wore shoes, which excited my pity, for I knew how hot their poor feet must be.
As I groped my way along Main Street, I noticed a sign that stretched nearly across the entire building over three stores. In large wooden letters, at least six feet long, were the words "Darling's Block." It was the largest building I had ever seen, three stories high, and I ventured to step on to the sidewalk; and while gazing in awe upon the mighty structure my attention was attracted by a noise inside. I walked in and found myself in a printing-office.
As I was taking in the wonderful scene the pressman spoke to me in a gruff voice, asking me what I wanted. "Nothing," I said, tembling, and starting for the door. "Don't you want to learn the trade?" he shouted. "The editor wants an apprentice."
Just then the editor appeared in the doorway of his sanctum. He was a pleasant-faced man, and he asked me in a kindly tone whose boy I was and where I belonged.
"Why, your father is one of my subscribers. I want an apprentice to learn the printer's trade. I can give you twenty-five dollars for the first year, thirty for the second, and fifty dollars and the carrier's address for the third year, with your board and washing."
"All right." In less time than it takes to write it I was behind the press, and in five minutes I was covered with printer's ink from head to foot.
My pioneer days were over.