CHAPTER I. THE START
CHAPTER II. THE
MOVE ON TO THE
CHAPTER III. WE
CHAPTER VI. I
BACK TO THE
CHAPTER IX. More
ON Lord Mayor's Day, the 9th of November, 1870, there started from
my native town of Blanxton, in the south of England, a party of six
persons, bound as emigrants for the far west of America. It consisted
of my father, brother, three young men, and myself. My father had been
an upholsterer, doing a very good business, but having always had a
great wish to go abroad, thought it, I suppose, a good opportunity,
when his place was burned down in June of the same year;
had been a shorthand clerk; on the London and North Western Railway,
but for some time past had been in my father's office; Walter Woods was
a printer by trade, but had also studied engineering a little; Will
Humphrey was the son of a Sussex farmer, and consequently the most
useful man of the bunch, as we were going farming and cattle-raising;
while my brother Jack and I were schoolboys of the tender ages of
twelve and ten years respectively. With the exception of Humphrey, none
of us knew anything whatever of farming; I might say that we scarcely
knew a plough from a harrow (I remember one of our party speaking very
enthusiastically of churning cheese), and we had certainly never
done a day's work on a farm. To be sure Jack had been sent to a farm a
few miles from Blanxton for a couple of months before we left, to learn
what he could; but I did not observe, when we arrived on our land in
America, that he had much more knowledge than the rest of us. We took with us about enough luggage to stock a colony, all packed in
ten great cases, four feet long by two feet six square, painted of a
bright vermilion colour, and with our names and destination on. The
latter was "Junction City, Kansas."
Upon our arrival at Junction we put up at the Empire Hotel, and had
a jolly time; for while the elder members of the party were looking
about for land and shooting all the game they could, we two boys amused
ourselves with sleigh-riding down the Bluffs, as the hills on the other
side of the Smoky River were called, and with making divers excursions
into the surrounding country. Sometimes we went to see the stone
quarries a little way out of town, where very fine building material is
obtained. when again we used to watch the men sawing and pulling ice
out of the river ready for packing away for summer. One day we went
down to the slaughter-house, and we got a couple of cow's horns, which
we made to blow, by sawing the ends off and cutting a small hole, and
then we made the hills re-echo with the music (?).
At that time Junction was quite a small place, with a very few
hundred inhabitants, but was growing rapidly. It is situated on rather
high land at the junction of the Smoky and Republican Rivers, whence
its name. It is also now the junction of two railways, the Kansas
Pacific, and the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. Three miles distant, on a
bluff overhanging the Kansas River (as it is called after the union of
the two rivers just named), stands Fort Riley, a garrison for light
cavalry and artillery, as a guard against Indians. These are getting
rather scarce, however, by this time, as the country is too thickly
settled by the whites. One day, when Jack and I were out on one of our
expeditions, we met three Indians, and, as they were the first that we
had seen, we were rather scared. We were a long way off, and so we hid
in some bushes. Little stupids! We might have saved ourselves the
trouble, for they probably saw us long before we saw them. But they
passed by without molesting us. While we were staying at Junction we
had some very cold weather, and one night three soldiers going home
drunk to Fort Riley were frozen to death. One day we boys went out with
the others when they were shooting, and feeling rather thirsty, I think
that we astonished a farmer up on the prairie by going to ask for some
beer. He must have taken us for lunatics, for no one keeps beer or
anything of the kind in the house as they do in England; and when we
asked if he had no cider he just shut the door. He did not seem to know
what was meant. Certainly there were no apple trees about, so that
perhaps they were strange questions to ask.
Game was very plentiful, and we used to bring home lots for the
landlady at the Empire Hotel, to make "sparing-pie" as she called it.
One day we saw "Wild desperado" or "border ruffian," shooting quails in
a stable yard in the city (they were so plentiful and tame). Wild Bill
was a fine-looking fellow, with long curly hair hanging down his back,
and was dressed in rather a dandified fashion. He was said to have
twenty-seven nicks cut on the handle of his revolver, each signifying a
man whose life had been taken by him. And yet he walked the streets as
free as any man, and perhaps with more security than a less desperate
criminal would, for he would have to be a plucky man to arrest "Wild
Bill." He was afterwards actually elected "sheriff" of Wichita, a town
down south, which was frequented by the Texas "cow-boys," and he was
killed at last in some saloon brawl.
"Sheriff" there is another word for head policeman, and has not much
connection with a city official such as we have in England. While
staying at the Empire Hotel there was a young man lodging there who was
suffering from a crushed arm. He was employed on the railway, and was
hurt while shunting some trucks. The doctor used to come every day, and
we boys took considerable interest in the dressing and painting with
iodine, etc. The doctor was a very nice man, and having no children
wanted to adopt me, but I did not particularly want to go with him, and
my father did not particularly care about letting me, so we did not
come to terms. The doctor was quite in.earnest about it, and offered my
father one hundred and sixty acres of the best land on the river if he
would let me come to him. I was to be brought up as a doctor, and
should be free to go or stay with him on arriving at the age of
twenty-one years. Of course, boy-like, I was looking forward to our
life on the prairie as being all play or adventure, and hardly liked to
give up the idea of it for good hard studying, such as I should have
had to go in for. I have often since thought over it, and wondered how
my life would have gone if I had accepted his offer.
After we had stayed in Junction for six weeks we removed to
Parkersville, a town some twenty-five miles distant, near where our
party had taken land. Here we lived for a fortnight at a
boarding-house, spending our time pretty much as before. The town,
which at that time consisted of about nineteen houses, a drug store, a
post-office, and a general store, is situated in Morris County, on the
river Neosho, sometimes called "No-show," as in summer it goes dry
occasionally. The drug store was the rendezvous for all the farmers
coming to town, for apart from its being also the post-office, it was
the only place where "medicine" could be obtained. There was no regular
saloon or drinking bar in the place, but every one that wanted a drink
went to the drug store, and got a little whisky "medicinally." His
Worship, the Mayor, ran the place, and I guess he (lid a good business.
Another much frequented place was the general store, run by Captain
Brown; we had about the usual number of captains in that town,-about
three out of every five persons. Here the loafers congregated in good
force, sitting round the roaring, red-hot stove, with their heels high
up, and chewing tobacco, talking politics, whittling sticks, and eating
crackers and cheese. Captain Brown was a man of considerable
importance, -anyhow in his own eyes,-but I guess my father kinder took
the starch out of him once. Captain Brown offered him two fingers to
shake, and my father immediately hooked into them with one-the little
one. The next time they met it was a whole-handed job. One man staying
at the boarding-house was a cattle dealer, and had a number of wild
Texas animals wintering near at hand. We went to see them at the
corral, and found several so weak that they could not stand. We
assisted some to their feet only to get ourselves run after by the
ungrateful brutes until they tumbled down again. Cattle frequently get
like that during the cold winter, especially those from the south for
the first time. My father bought one or two cows in the neighbourhood
ready for when we should go up on the prairie, but not having had any
experience in such matters, I am afraid that he was rather taken in. He
also bought a couple of town lots as a speculation in case the town
took to growing. Some money belonging to Jack and me he invested for us
in a piece of timber land on the river, so that when up on the prairie,
we might have some wood to burn or for fences, and not be entirely
dependent upon "~jay-hawking," which is the term for stealing wood off
CHAPTER II. THE MOVE ON TO THE
Our shanty.—Baking bread.—A wild cat.—A revolver
accident.—Our shanty is built on the wrong land.—Moving.—The house
built.—The furniture.—Breaking prairie.—Parker's cellar.—Planting
beans.—Skunks.—A dark night.—Animals, insects, and reptiles.—Duck
keeping.—Jack's geese.—My Pig
ON the I8th of February, I871, having hired a couple of waggons, we
moved up on the prairie with all our luggage, and boards to build our
house with. On arriving at our destination, seven miles from town, the
large boxes were piled up, and the boards laid slanting from the top to
the ground for a roof, and thus we made a very comfortable shanty. It
was certainly none too large, though, for six of us (Humphrey having
rejoined us at Junction), and it was so low that no one could stand
upright in it at the highest part. However, with the exception of the
cook, we did not spend much time indoors-there was no door, though. We
had an iron stove for cooking in one corner, with the flue running
through the top, which once set fire to the building; but as we
had plenty of water handy we were able to extinguish it before it did
much damage. We were very well off for provisions, having a good supply
of bacon, biscuits, eggs, cheese, coffee, sugar, flour, rice, etc. The
cook, Harry Parker, made his first attempt at bread-baking before we
had been here many days, but was not over successful. The bread was
baked in a great iron pan, and was as hard as a well-done brick, and
about as digestible. The outside could not be cut with a knife, we were
obliged to use a hatchet to make any impression. However, a few more
trials soon improved the baking. For fuel we had to go about a mile
down a little creek "~ jay-hawking." There were some small trees
growing which we chopped down and dragged up to the shanty on
wheelbarrows, not having any horses as yet. On one of these excursions
Walter Woods shot a wild cat, and was fortunate in getting away
without injury, as it attacks man when provoked. An old settler, who
saw the brute afterwards, said that he would not like to tackle one
with a gun only; he would want a good knife or an axe to finish him
with. But Walter saw some animal's eyes glaring at him from some
bushes, and blazed away, shooting the creature dead. It was then
brought home in triumph on the barrow, and after being duly admired was
skinned and buried. It was a good-sized animal, about twice the size of
a large domestic cat, or larger Its fur was very nice and thick, and
made a couple of good caps.
While living in this mansion we had our first sight of a prairie
fire, but as it was on high ground, where the grass was not rank, and
there was very little wind, it was not particularly fierce. While
living here we almost had an accident. We had amongst our collection an
old pepper-box revolver, a stupid thing, with six barrels the full
length of the machine, and not six chambers and one long barrel as
usual. Well, this old thing was loaded, and some of the party, who had
been practising shooting at a shingle target, were standing about
trying to make the pepper-box go off, but it would not. They snapped
and snapped, but without effect, until presently I took it up and
pulled the trigger; it hung there for an instant, and then gave such a
kick as to almost knock me over, and the bullets went flying just over
the heads of my friends. All six chambers went off at once for some
inscrutable reason, but fortunately no one was hurt.
The country around had all been surveyed by Government previous to
our settling, and divided into square miles,-sections, they are
called,-marked with a stone set in the ground. They may then be cut up
easily into the required lots-viz., eighty acres for an ordinary
settler, and one hundred and sixty X for any man who has been a soldier
in the Federal Army. When we began to look around us, we found that our
goods were all dropped upon land belonging to Parker instead of to my
father, and as the house was to be built upon land belonging to the
latter, all the boards, etc., had to be moved about half a mile upon
the wheelbarrows. As we had a stream to cross on the way it was no easy
task, but with one to push the barrow and another in front with a rope,
we managed very well, getting stuck; in the mud a few times, though,
when it took all the available hands to pull the vehicle out.
We had been, up to this time, favoured with remarkably mild weather;
in fact, it was so warm, that on the Eighth of February, the day
following our arrival on the prairie, we went and bathed in a stream a
little way from the shanty. In after years I never saw it warm enough
to do that with any comfort before May, and I verily believe that had
we had. such weather as we experienced in following winters, that we
should have all been frozen to death in our shanty. Of course we had a
few cold snaps. For instance, after the house was completed, with the
exception of the roof and we had moved in, we awoke one morning with
eighteen inches of snow on the top of our blankets, but there was no
very hard frost with it.
It may seem rather a funny thing to do, to go into a house before
the roof is on; but you see, as we built the house we robbed the boards
which formed the top of the box shanty, so that we were bound to sleep
without a roof in any case. We did all the work ourselves, having a
carpenter's bench and plenty of tools, and made quite a comfortable
little house. Certainly it was not very large, having only one room,
fourteen feet by twelve, with an attic above, but it was large enough,
especially in cold weather, and in hot weather we lived out of doors
mostly. The attic was reached by a series of holes cut in the wall for
hands and feet, which led to a trap-door in the ceiling, so that no
room was lost by having a flight of stairs.
For a table we used the carpenter's bench, and for beds we had the
large boxes ranged round the room, which also, when the blankets were
rolled up, served us as seats.
Almost in the centre of the room stood the cooking stove with an
iron pipe through the end of the house, so that with a row of drawers
and shelves for the crockery, our room was pretty full of furniture.
After the house was completed we had to set to work to improve the land
in all ways, and horses and oxen were bought to plough with. Our first
purchase was a yoke of oxen They were not long from Texas, and not more
than half broken in, and were a funny couple. To begin with, they did
not at all match in colour, nor were they much alike in other respects.
We called them "Broad" and "Pretty"-queer names for oxen you will say.
Broad was about as fat as a slate and Pretty-well, he was not named
according to his looks anyhow, nor was his temper of the best
description. He was a most vicious and obstinate old brute. Broad was a
decent old chap, but awfully lazy, and would let us ride on his back,
being too lazy to trouble about the matter; he could easily have
fetched us off with his tremendous horns.
These animals were often a fearful bother to yoke up, as you might
get one in, and dodge around with the other for half an hour before
getting him under the yoke. When properly broken the oxen should walk
up when called. I guess we did not improve them, for we did not know
much about bullocks. I know once Walter was driving them, and when he
wanted them to stop he shouted out "Whoa!" and at the same time hit
them with a big stick. Whether they were supposed to go on or to stop,
would, I am sure, have puzzled wiser creatures than the oxen.
They were mostly used for ploughing, and mighty hard work it is,
too, the first ploughing, or "breaking," as it is called; as of course
the land that has been growing grass for centuries is one mass of
roots, and the plough goes pop! pop! pop! cutting through them,
sometimes coming to a dead stop at some extra thick bunch of roots.
Every now and then the share has to be sharpened with a big file. It is
very hard work for the animals, too, if they have much to do. For a
small plough with a twelve-inch share, two oxen or three horses are
generally used; but a good deal of breaking is done with a large plough
of about twenty or twenty-four inch share, and from three to six yoke
of oxen. Of course everybody does not own these things, and
considerable business is done in breaking prairie by the acre. After we
had broken a considerable piece of land the various crops were put in.
These consisted principally of Indian corn, spring wheat, oats, barley,
potatoes, sorghum, or sugar cane, and a good number of different seeds
in a patch of ground appropriated to garden uses. After this was all
done fences had to be built to protect the crops from stray cattle and
horses. Vast herds, belonging to people living miles away perhaps,
wandered about at their own sweet will, and as we had very good spring
water on our land it was rather a favourite pasture ground. Since that
time, however, a herd law has been passed, so that no cattle are
allowed to go about without a herder to keep them out of mischief
during six months- viz., May to November. Fences are, therefore, no
longer necessary, but still almost every one is trying to grow an
osage-orange hedge. This is a prickly shrub that grows very rapidly,
and bears a good deal of resemblance to an orange tree, including the
fruit, though that is not edible.
We bought several head of cattle soon after settling, and as they
were mostly cows with young calves, there was no difficulty in keeping
them-at home; all we had to do was to fasten the calves up. The oxen
and horses when not at work were picketed out on the prairie by a long
rope and a stake driven in the ground, until they were accustomed to
the place. The land where we had settled was very undulating, being on
the head of a creek; and to an inexperienced eye all the little valleys
or ravines, as they are called, were strangely alike, being only
distinguishable one from another by a few bushes, or some large stones,
or perhaps a little stream. For some time, then, it was hardly
advisable to go far from the house without a compass. I know on one
occasion my father and I started to walk to Junction City, which lay to
the north-west of us some seventeen miles, but the country being
divided into sections, we thought it better to go straight west at
first until we should strike a creek about six miles away, and then
turn to the north, and follow it until it fell into the Smoky River.
Well, we started all right, and proceeded for a few miles as we thought
in a westerly direction, but as the sun was overclouded, we presently
looked at the compass? and found, to our astonishment, that we were
travelling as fast as we could just south-east. We altered our course
at once, and after some time struck Clarke's creek, from whence it was
an easy matter to find our way to Junction. As my father had some
business at the bank, he hurried forward and left me to follow. When
nearing the town, while passing along the railroad track, I captured a
wild duck. It was sitting still, and I threw a big stone at it and
broke its wing. As I did. not then know how to wring its neck, I
carried it along to the Empire Hotel, where we were to put up, and
there asked the proprietor to do it for me. This he did with a
vengeance, for he took the unfortunate bird by the head, and swung it
round and round till the neck broke, and the body flew across the room,
scattering blood and feathers in all directions. The proprietor did not
seem very well pleased with the mess he had made, and kicked the dead
duck out in the snow; but I could not see that it mattered much, as the
floor was always pretty wet with tobacco juice.
We returned home by another route, buying some cows on the way. Soon
after the house was finished Parker set to work to dig a cellar in the
side of a hill near by. I don't know exactly what he in tended to make
of it, but he commenced very enthusiastically, and soon made a bit of a
show. Presently, though, he struck rock, and his progress was not so
fast, and it really took him several weeks off and on before he got it
to look much like a cellar. By this time the sun was scorching hot, and
as he was working with nothing on his back but a thin shirt, and once
not even that, his back became so burned that it was a mass of
blisters, and for a fortnight he could do nothing. He never finished
his undertaking, and ever since, although it has half fallen in, the
big hole has been known as "Parker's Cellar."
I am afraid that we boys at first looked upon life on the prairie as
being all fun and adventure, and could hardly see it in its right
light; hence when we got some real work to do we were apt to shirk it,
as being hardly what we had expected. Quite early in the spring after
we had got some land broken, we were sent to plant about a bushel of
haricot beans in one part of the field. We were not to plant a piece of
land of any particular size, but to keep on planting until all the
beans were used up. We started all right, putting in two or three beans
every foot or so all along the furrow, but soon got tired of it, and so
finding that we were using up the beans but slowly we began planting
them a handful at a time. In this way we soon finished our task, but
when the beans began to grow and came up a dozen times too thick, that
let the cat out of the bag, and didn't we catch it hot then! We hadn't
calculated on that.
Upon first settling we were greatly troubled with skunks, which used
to kill our fowls and steal our eggs. Our first acquaintance was made
in this way. One day there was a great commotion among the chickens,
and upon my looking under a small corn-crib to see what was the cause,
a skunk snapped at my nose. Fortunately for me, though, he did not
reach it, so I made for the house, and called Humphrey, who came and
shot him with 'his revolver Jack and I then dragged it out and skinned
it, but the stench was so awful, that after having salted the pelt and
nailed it to the side of the house, we could stand it no longer, and
had to take it down and bury it. Those who have never seen, or rather
smelled, a skunk can form no idea of the power of the perfume. The
smell is quite unique, but has a flavour of onions about it, but its
pungency nothing can describe.
I have myself seen dogs after attacking one go away coughing and
gasping for breath; in fact, it has to be a mighty good dog to tackle
One day we found a skunk in the milk-house, but were fortunately
able to shoot him quite dead before he had time to guard himself with
his noxious defence, otherwise I don't know what we should have done
with the house.
As we had several cows, and consequently plenty of milk and butter,
we had made a very nice cool house by digging out a spring and lining
it with flat stones. The clear cold water ran over the floor, and a few
stones we left a little higher to step on. A roof was made, and the
whole covered with earth, thus making a beautifully cool place, which
we should have been sorry to have had spoiled. Walter Woods once rode
over a skunk in the dark on horseback, and for months the smell of the
saddle was almost unbearable. The only way to get rid of the smell from
clothing, etc., is to bury it; water is no good at all. There is a
little story of the skunk as follows:-Sambo (a slave) had been whipped
for stealing his master's onions. One day he appeared with a skunk in
his arms, "Massa," said he, "here's de chap what steal de onions! Whew!
Smell him bref!"
After we had been settled a while we purchased a waggon and a team
of horses, and so occasionally went to town, and also hauled wood from
On one of our journeys we had a fine spill. We were returning with a
big load of wood piled up on the waggon frame, and were proceeding
along very quietly, when the whole thing collapsed. Humphrey and I were
sitting up on the top of the load, and were suddenly deposited on the
grass, much to our surprise. For a while we could not make out the
cause, until we found that the linch-pin which connects the two parts
of a waggon together had jumped out. Thus the horses went on with the
two front wheels, and left the two hind wheels standing still, and of
course down went the whole load. Fortunately we were neither of us
hurt, and after a little delay we rigged the waggon up again and
proceeded on our journey.
One stormy, wet night during the early spring my father and Humphrey
were very late returning from town in the waggon, and got lost. It was
so dreadfully dark that Walter, who had gone out to look for a cow, had
got lost too, and as Harry Parker was away somewhere, we two boys were
left alone in the house. Well, we got our supper ready, and waited
about for some few hours after dark,-and it was pitch dark, too,-and
then, feeling rather anxious, we lighted a lantern, and took it to the
top of the hill behind the house.
We then shouted as loud as we could, and waved our lamp in the hope
that it might guide some of our friends home should they be in sight,
but we heard no reply. Unfortunately, almost as we got to the top of
the hill, our lamp blew out, though we heard afterwards that those in
the waggon had just seen a glimmer of it. We were then in a little
danger of losing ourselves, it was so terribly dark; but knowing the
lay of the land very well, and being on our bare feet, we managed to
keep our track all right. As we could do nothing else, we turned into
bed after shouting a bit more, and in another couple of hours all our
friends turned up. It appeared that my father came to the conclusion
that they were not going right, and declared to Humphrey, who was
driving, that they were going round and round. This Humphrey
indignantly denied, so to prove it, my father got out and stood still
in the dark, while Humphrey described a complete circle, and declared
that he had been going straight all the time.
After this conclusive evidence they unhitched the horses from the
waggon, and getting on their backs allowed them to go as they chose,
and were brought straight home.
On the way they stumbled over Walter, who had laid down on the wet
grass under an umbrella to pass the night, within a few hundred yards
of the house. In the morning they went to look for the waggon, and
found it all safe, and could see by the tracks that they had described
several circles. I believe that this will happen to any one walking in
absolute darkness or with eyes shut.
We used to come across some queer things sometimes when we boys were
wandering about. One day Jack and I found a great turtle, about two
feet across, in a pond, but we did not know what to do with him, till
presently a neighbour,-for we had some after a while,-who had to come
down to haul water from our spring, came along, and he soon fetched him
out and took him home to make soup.
Once when we were at work hoeing the Indian corn, our dog began
making a great noise, and upon our going to see what was the matter, we
found him very busy with a big badger, although not daring to attack
it, as it was a large animal, and displayed a good set of teeth. After
ho]ding a council of war we set to ourselves, and the dog and I engaged
his attention in front with divers false attacks, I brandishing a hoe
This gave Tack an opportunity to make a detour, and attack in the
rear. On the way he procured a big fence rail, and getting in position,
he brought it down with all his strength on the brute, and as
he-perhaps more forcibly than elegantly-expressed it, "knocked the
stuffing out of him."
Tortoises were very common. I had one for a pet, and made him quite
tame, so that I could open his mouth and put my finger inside without
him biting. I used to amuse myself by getting him to draw a little
sledge that I made. I bored two small holes in the shell at the back
and put in some wire loops, and hitched him to the sledge with string.
FIe used then to pull a little load of wood or anything else I put upon
it. In the autumn he ran away to go torpid for the winter, as their
manner is, but I found him again next spring, and of course recognised
him by his wires.
I also had another queer" critter" for a pet. It was a sort of
lizard, quite harmless, but decidedly ferocious in appearance. It was
commonly called a "horned toad," though why I do not know; for although
it had plenty of horns, it hadn't much toad about it.
We had also a good many queer things in the way of insects. There
was one called the "Devil's darning needle," a long narrow thing about
like a twig of wood; another, who always seemed to be in an attitude of
prayer, with his front legs held up like arms supplicating; then there
was a thing just like a leaf, so that one could scarcely believe there
was life in it; and then there were great over-grown grasshoppers,
which seemed almost too fat to hop, with queer sorts of swords behind
In the evening we could hear some great insects drumming away very
noisily, something like the rattlesnake's rattle, which we took it to
be for some time; but we found that it proceeded from a creature like a
tremendous blowfly or blue-bottle, but of brilliant colours. There was
also the "Katy-did," an insect that keeps on making a noise which, with
a little imagination, can be made into" Katy-did, Katy-did!"
Among other insects apparently indigenous to the soil were regular
bed bugs, which were to be found in the woods, and, together with
sheepticks, would drop from the trees on to the unwary traveller. The
bugs seemed to prefer the black walnut trees more particularly, and
were often found on fence posts and rails under the bark. The Colorado
beetle, about which there was such a scare in England a few years
since, was always to be found with us, but seldom did much damage,
though sometimes present in large quantities. There was another kind of
potato bug which did much more harm-a long slate-coloured insect. These
we used to try and get rid of as much as we possibly could. They were
generally to be found on the top of the haulm, and so we walked along
with a pail and brushed the bugs in with a stick, and afterwards
An insect much more dreaded than either, though not on account of
the potato, was the chinch-bug, a little black thing about the size of
a big flea, but which sometimes infested the Indian corn, and sucked
all the juice out of it, so that it withered and died. Owing to their
small size one could not do much to check them.
There were several kinds of large spiders, some with bodies as large
as hazel-nuts, and legs two or three inches long, of a brilliant
velvety black, with gold or red spots. They were exceedingly repulsive,
and I should think that a bite would be dangerous. They used to stretch
their nets right across paths, in the trees, or long grass, several
feet wide. We amused ourselves by snapping at them with our cattle
Centipedes and scorpions were occasionally found, but I never heard
of any one getting hurt by them.
Sometimes, when bathing, we boys used to get stung by a peculiar
kind of caterpillar that was to be found upon the bushes lining the
pond. For a long time we could not make out what was the matter, when
brushing by the bushes it seemed almost as if the leaves stung us; but,
upon further examination, we found that there were little hairy
caterpillars on the bushes that, when touched, stung us rather sharply.
The after effect was about like a mosquito bite.
Of beetles there was an infinite variety, some of them of most
brilliant hues. Mosquitoes, too, abounded, and proved exceedingly
troublesome, both to ourselves and the cattle.
The latter were worried a good deal by big black flies,-fat things
an inch or more long,- which used to settle along the backs of the
cattle out of reach of their tails, and deposit eggs under their skin.
Here they remained till spring, when they had changed to great grubs or
chrysalises, and we boys used to go among the cattle and squeeze them
out with our thumbs. This is so universal an occurrence that prices of
skins are usually quoted in two ways—ordinary, and free from grubs.
Besides the noisy insects, the bull-frogs and the small frogs kept
up a continual roar or croaking, so that music was not unknown on the
prairie. The bull-frogs were tremendous creatures, measuring from nose
to toes a foot to eighteen inches; their roar can he heard a mile or
more. Fortunately they were not very numerous, but the small frogs were
in every pond in myriads, but by degrees they got thinned out around us
by our ducks.
In very wet weather the toads used to croak; at night, and they were
so plentiful in places as to be almost deafening. Snakes I will speak
of presently; but besides these we had a great variety of lizards, and
even chameleons. It was very funny to see these latter change their
colour. We would see one perhaps of a green or violet colour, sitting
on a big rock, and would throw a stone at him, when in an instant he
was almost invisible, having changed to a dull grey like the rock.
Besides all these things there were a good many wolves about us for
some time, as our first attempts at duck-keeping well proved. Ducks are
rather silly birds, and will not go into a house at night like hens,
but prefer to take their repose either on the water or else on the
banks. Hence they fall an easy prey to the coyotes, as the small
prairie wolves are called. We bought a few ducks when we first moved
up, and after losing most of them built a small sod house, and by
careful attention managed to keep them for some time, driving them in
every evening. But one night a stray pig broke the door down, and they
were all carried away, save one old drake. We had the pleasure of
seeing a wolf disappear over the hill in the morning, with the last
duck on his shoulder. However, the pig kindly left us eighteen eggs,
and by rare good luck we hatched them all under hens, and so got a good
start again, much to the old drake's satisfaction. It was very amusing
to see the fuss he made with the young ones.
Besides the coyotes, which we could hear barking almost every night,
there were a few grey wolves in the neighbourhood, but both are getting
scarce now, as they are hunted a good deal. An arrangement is made,
that on a certain day all the young men for some miles around shall
start from the outer edge of a large tract of country and ride towards
an agreed centre, driving in any wolves they may come across. By the
time all the horsemen are in sight of one another they may perhaps have
six or eight wolves surrounded, which are then shot and killed.
The grey wolves are considered rather dangerous, but rarely attack a
man unless in company, and goaded by hunger to desperation. The coyotes
are arrant cowards.
Besides our ducks Jack had three geese, but was not verysuccessful
with them; for one was carried off by a wolf, the old gander was killed
by a stray dog, and the other stupid old goose took to sitting, and
there she " sot and sot " till she died-literally of starvation,
despite all our efforts to make her feed. Thus ended Jack's speculation.
I was equally fortunate with my live stock. I had a little pig given
me, and a very fine pig it grew; it was so long and so thin that we
called it " the greyhound." It was a very intelligent animal though,
and was a good one at a fence; in fact, it was impossible to keep it in
a pen at all, and really became so knowing, that if upon finding it in
the garden we called the dogs, it would immediately rush away and jump
back into the pen before a dog had time to get it by the ear. After a
while, when it had got pretty big, or rather long and tall, my father
proposed to make pork of it, though more with the idea of getting rid
of the mischievous thing than anything else, and so I traded him away,
with a little to boot, for a heifer calf. The latter grew till she was
two years old, and then laid down and died, and thus stopped my
CHAPTER III. WE MEET SOME NEIGHBOURS
"Prairie" Wilson.—George Dyson.—A young
grandmother.—"Dutch Jake."—The Quinns.—Gathering wild grapes and
"tearing around."—Sleeping sixteen in one room.—Bill Harper and his
ring.—John Tumey's "'ot potatoes."—A prairie fire.—The pet
antelope.—The Garretts.—An evening party
WHEN we moved up we were the only settlers on the prairie for some
miles round, but a few months afterwards several emigrants took land. I
will introduce you to a few of them. About the first was one who was
soon known by the name of "Prairie" Wilson, having a farm on the
highest land in the district. He was very poor when he first started,
having only a wife, one child, and his bedclothes, but by dint of hard
work he soon had a comfortable place.
Another family was that of George Dyson, who settled about a mile
from our house. They were of rather a better class than some of the
emigrants who followed.
Mrs. Dyson had been married before, at the mature age of thirteen
years, and had been left a widow with two children at nineteen. The
first husband was a great friend of Mr. Dyson's, and when he died he
asked him to look after his wife and children, and he did so in the
most practical way.
Living with the Dysons was one Will Hopkins, who used to do a good
deal of prairie breaking, having a twenty-four inch plough and six yoke
of oxen. His land joined my father's, and he eventually built a house
on it, and married Mrs. Dyson's daughter when she was fifteen years
old. A year or so afterwards, and Mrs. Dyson was a proud grandmother,
aged thirty-one. Go-ahead people the Americans, are they not?
Living near them was old Anthony Prauss, a Dutchman, who could
speak about twelve words in English; but he was a decent old chap, and
we got along very well with him.
Another of our neighbours was a man called "Dutch Jake." He had a
farm a few miles from us, and professedly lived with his
"sister," though there was little doubt but that she was his
wife.It was simply a trick to get more land, as an unmarried woman can
have eighty acres of Government land free, the same as a man, but a
married woman cannot. A widow may also take a piece of land, and, in
fact, any one who is the head of a family, if even a boy or girl under
age. There is no charge for land, except a nominal fee of about
fourteen dollars. Jake was rather a queer customer, and we thought
none too particular; for the "sister" used at one time to do Harry
Parker's washing, and once when he went over after it unexpectedly, he
found Jake wearing his shirt and trowsers. After that he changed his
laundress. There were several Swedish families round about, who seemed
good, thrifty people. One peculiar characteristic of them seemed to
be that they could nearly all work well in stone, and, as a
consequence, they all erected good solid-built stone houses.
They seemed to be very hardy and industrious. I knew one, Olaf
Swainson, who was one day quarrying rock, and cut one of his fingers
clean off. He made very little fuss about it, but picked it up, rolled
it in some grass, and put it in his pocket, and then went to the house
to tie up his hand.
Then there were the Quinns, a large family of Irish-Americans, who
also arrived with nothing save one or two horses and a few tools; but
as there were several boys large enough to work, they soon got along
swimmingly. We became acquainted in a very short time, and used to go
over there very frequently. They broke some prairie and built a house
with the sods, with a few boards for the roof, and then set to work in
earnest with the crops, and they were soon able to live on the
products of the farm and garden. As they had no cows we supplied them
with milk, which they much wanted, there being several small children
among them; and so they undertook to do our washing in exchange for
half-a-gallon of milk a day.
Jack or I used to carry the milk over in a covered pail every
morning on horseback, and we soon had quite a path worn across the
prairie. There were three streams to cross on the way, and by always
crossing at the same place the banks became trodden down into a
regular quagmire, several feet wide and difficult to get over. On one
occasion I got a nasty fall. I was riding a young filly, and after
trying to make her walk across she suddenly jumped, but not far
enough. She landed all of a heap on the opposite bank, and I and the
milk went clean over her head and came down in the long grass. The
filly ran away a few yards, and then came back to where I was picking
myself up, and allowed me to catch her and mount again.
Fortunately I was none the worse for my shaking, but the Quinns had
to do without milk on that day, as I rode up and told them what had
happened. Jack and I used to have rather a jolly time at this house.
The old lady would tell us to "come over and tear around with the
boys," and we used to be fond of "tearing around."
In the warm weather we went swimming in the stream a little distance
from the house, and fine fun it was, too, though once I was nearly
drowned. I could not swim very far then, and in going the length of
the pond my strength or courage gave out, and down I went. I had
fortunately got beyond the deepest part though, and was just able to
touch ground with my toes, after getting my mouth full of water two
or three times. With continued practice, however, we could soon all
swim a good distance.
Sometimes we took our pony Barney in the water with us, and had
some rare fun, for it was deep enough to swim a horse; two or three
boys would get on his back, and one or two more have hold of his
tail, and sail around the pond. Sometimes we used him for a diving
board, standing on the bank.
Now and then we practised swimming with all our clothes on; old
hat, old boots, and everything-and jolly good practice it is, too. Of
course our clothing was not particularly fine, and was not much
damaged by being wetted and dried in the sun. Our usual summer
clothing consisted of a hat,-a good wide-brimmed one,-shirt, and
canvas trowsers, or over-alls, with occasionally a pair of boots.
Such superfluities as waistcoats, collars, and socks we had
discarded long ago. Even in the winter, when every one wore nearly his
whole wardrobe, waistcoats and collars were not used, but about three
shirts and three pairs of trowsers were worn. I knew one man who had
not worn a pair of socks for years. Of course he always wore high
In the winter we used to catch a great many prairie
fowls in traps. We would put a big box on top of a figure 4 piece, and
throw some Indian corn under for bait, and would sometimes catch as
many as three or four of these large birds at one time.
One year we had a small patch of land sown with buckwheat, but as it
was not very good, it was never carried, and the prairie fowls used to
come there in swarms when the snow was on the ground. As we had four
traps, we nearly lived on prairie fowls that winter.
They seemed very simple in that respect, although wary enough as
regards shooting them, for when feeding thus in a field there was
usually a sentinel perched upon the fence.
Quails are very easily caught in traps also, and as they always keep
close together in a covey, we sometimes caught nine or ten at once. I
remember Humphrey killing eighteen at one shot with a gun when in the
woods. A figure 4 trap is made in this way. A stout stick, sharpened
like a chisel at the top end, is placed upright on the ground with a
notched stick resting upon it in a sloping position. This second stick
is also sharpened chisel-wise at one end, and it catches in a notch in
a third and longer stick. This one has another notch cut in its side,
which catches on the first stick. The trap-box or tub, or whatever it
may be-rests on the top of No. 2 stick, and binds all together. The
bait is placed on or near the end of the long stick, and a very slight
touch is suffficient to drop the trap. This arrangement is said to have
been invented by Daniel Boone, the old Kentucky settler, when his
ammunition was all used up. He used to apply the principle to
tremendous heavy logs to fall on and kill bears and deer.
There are several kinds of wild plants growing on the prairie which
are edible, or at least useful medicinally. Wild onions, or shallots,
were very plentiful. They grew encased in woody, fibrous coverings,
which, when stripped off, disclosed a little kind of spring onion which
was very nice.
Artichokes, too, were abundant, and another plant tasting exactly
like celery. Then there was the wild tea-plant, a small bushy shrub
with white flowers and crisp, bright green leaves, which, when picked
and dried in the sun, made very good tea. Tea can also be made of the
leaves of the raspberry canes, quite as good to my taste as the
ordinary Chinese beverage.
Then there was also a herb which we used as medicine for any little
disorder inside. Besides these there was a peculiar plant known as
rosin weed, from which exuded a gum which the girls and boys used to
gather for chewing. Chewing gum is much sold in the towns, but it is of
a different material to this.
Another plant was known as "snakeweed." One was popularly supposed
to find a snake under it, but this rule did not always hold good,
though we certainly found snakes near the weeds sometimes. It was
rather a peculiar weed, something like a broad bean, with flowers of
the lupin kind. Sensitive plants also abounded on the rocky upland, the
leaves of which all closed up upon being touched. They had beautiful
pink flowers with a most lovely scent.
CHAPTER V. FARMING AND HERDING
Our crops.—Pig killing.—First Christmas on the
prairie.—Losing cattle.—Visited by Indians.—Cold weather.—Moving
our house.—Building stone.—Our mule and pony.—Soap-making.—Indian
corn.—Our family party gets smaller.—The blue bird.—The Prices.—Our
herd.—Sleeping out of doors.—Cooking frogs.—Bad water.—Breaking
up.—The prairie fire
ALTHOUGH the first year crops are never expected to be so good as
those grown on older land, owing to the sods being so full of roots
that it takes some time to decay, we still got in a very fair quantity
of seed, more particularly of small grain-wheat, oats, and rye. Indian
corn does not grow so well as these on sod land.
We had a big patch of sorghum, and that grew first-rate. The "garden
truck," too, was very prolific, as of course on a small patch of land
we were better able to pulverise the soil than on a whole field. Some
pumpkins grew to a tremendous size, one measuring about two feet by
eighteen inches, and turning the scale at sixty-eight pounds. Melons,
squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and hosts of other things grew without
any attention, and in such quantities that we used them to feed the
The pigs were easily maintained through the summer; for even if corn
was scarce the produce of the garden and field was soon available for
them, and in addition to this there were several kinds of weeds which
grew close to hand, which formed very good food for them.
There were great bushy plants called "pigweeds," which grew five or
six feet high, which it was impossible for any one to pull up. We used,
therefore, to cut them down with hatchets, and as they sprouted again
and grew with great rapidity, we had a practically inexhaustible
supply. These weeds form the usual summer food for pigs all about the
There was another kind very similar, called "Lamb's quarter," from
the shape of its leaf, which in the spring, when young, was cooked and
eaten like spinach.
In the winter we had a lively time pig killing. Humphrey always
stuck the pigs, but we all helped at the scalding and scraping off of
the bristles. Big hogs we always shot first to save the trouble of
holding. On one occasion Parker wished to try his hand at sticking
pigs, but after one was caught and got in position, he backed out,
saying that he did not like to.
We used to keep a pig in the house during the winter to cut from-a
dead one. It used to hang in one corner of the room over the flour
barrel, and was frozen as hard as a board. We used just to take a
hatchet and cut off as much as we wanted to fry.
Time ran on, and Christmas soon came round, the first we had spent
on the prairie, though not in the States-that one we had spent at
We had a very quiet time, but managed to get up a very good spread,
with a regular Christmas pudding. For the latter a special journey had
been made to town for the various ingredients, all of which we obtained
without much trouble, with the exception of suet. As our staple food
was pork, and there were no butchers in town, we were rather in a fix,
and thought our pudding would suffer, until at last we got hold of
some buffalo suet from a hunter returning from the west. Despite a few
minor accidents our pudding was a great success, and we had quite a
banquet with roast sucking-pig, wild ducks, and prairie fowls.
This winter was much more severe than the one we had spent in
Junction City, and the cattle suffered exceedingly. Of course we had
had no experience, and did not know what provision to make for the
winter either with regard to shelter or food. To begin with, our corral
was on the side of a hill facing the north, instead of the south, as it
ought to have done, and we built no sheds, except for the horses. Then,
although we had got in a good lot of hay, the cattle were just allowed
to help themselves, and the consequence was that they burrowed great
holes in the sides of the stack, and wasted it to a fearful extent.
We had some exceedingly cold weather and a late spring, and lost
nearly half of the cattle we started with.
One day we had two Indians come in to beg, and our frozen pig took
their fancy very much. We gave them quite a large piece, but it did
not seem to meet their views exactly, as one began to chop with his
hand at the place he would like it cut, and to tell us in pantomimic
language how many "papooses" (children) he had at home in his wigwam.
One was very anxious to know if the old plated forks which we had
brought from England were "siller." They took their departure after a
while with their pork and some flour, and after having a good feed.
They seemed to have spread a good report of our hospitality among
their brethren, for we were visited by a good many for some time, but
we told them that we had nothing for them, and then they ceased to come.
The Indians which were about here were a very mongrel lot; they ha*
very few of the supposed attributes of the "noble red man" of Fenimore
They went about hunting and fishing, and trying to beg, borrow, or
steal all they could, doing anything so as to live without working. If
there were any deer in the neighbourhood, they were sure to get them,
as they would follow them for days.
I spoke of frozen pork in the house just now. The winter there is
about cold enough to "freeze the hair off an Arctic dog," as the saying
goes. It was a matter of no small difficulty to write a letter to the
old country in the winter, as the ink was frozen a solid lump, and had
to be kept on the stove while in use. While sitting round the red-hot
stove at breakfast, one's coffee would freeze in a very short time if
placed on the table a few feet from the fire.
If by chance we left our tin pail full of water when we went to bed,
we could hear it popping away during the night like a pistol, as it
expanded with the frost, and in the morning the water would have
changed into a solid block of ice.
Hot water thrown into the air out of doors would come down as hail.
During weather like this we had to be mighty careful how we handled
iron or steel; for the frost in an axe or hammer would cause it to
cling to a damp hand.
Once Humphrey was driving in some nails in the stable, and
thoughtlessly put some in his mouth. He was obliged to go to the house
and get some hot water before he could remove them. If he had
attempted to pull them out the skin and flesh would have come too.
What a treat it was to sit down and milk a cow in such weather! It
was as much as the milk was worth. We never kept more than one in milk
through the winter, and not always that, so that butter was rather
scarce, unless we had enough salted down.
It was quite a matter of discussion, too, as to who should get up
and light the fire, as no one liked to turn out first on a cold
morning. There was a sort of general watching and waiting all round to
see if some one else would not make a start. Our blankets were a sight
in the morning. A person's form would be outlined in hoar frost, and
around the head the clothes were frequently frozen quite hard, where
the breath had come through; for it was almost impossible to keep one's
head from under the cover.
Our house being only of boards, it was not very warm, for the wind
would come whistling through like a knife; but we managed to improve it
after a while, putting dry earth in between the two boards-the outer
feather edge and the inside match-boards-for a few feet up all round,
and by degrees we papered nearly all the walls with pictures from the
English illustrated papers, which were sent to us by friends at home in
the old country.
Cooking was about the nicest occupation in winter, especially as
most of our food was fried; we lived principally on fried pork and
flapjacks,-the latter a kind of pancake,- varied occasionally with
Johnny cake and fried mush, both made from Indian corn meal.
Wood-chopping was about the best out-of-door work to get on to, as
one could manage to keep warm at that. I do not know quite what the
thermometer stood at during the coldest weather, as ours got broken,
but 1 saw it once in town showing thirty degrees below zero, or
sixty-two degrees of frost,-Fahrenheit,-but I have no doubt that it was
colder than that sometimes up on the open prairie where we lived. I
have often known a pond to freeze over sufficiently in one night to
bear any number of persons or cattle on it. But our springs never froze
over; the water came out of the warm earth, and would run for a few
yards down the stream before freezing. They sometimes, in a storm, were
completely hidden by drifts. when it was a fine treat to have to find
them, going probing about with a pole, and sometimes finding ourselves
going through the crust of snow up to our boot-tops in the water which
we were trying to find. We were bound to keep them open both for
ourselves and the cattle. After one heavy fall that we had, we boys had
some fine fun in the drifts. There was a slight thaw, and then the hard
frost again, so that the snow was pretty well bound together, and we
carved in a big drift a regular cave or house with several partitions,
and a roof over all-which lasted nearly all winter.
When once the winter begins in earnest there are very few changes
for four or five months. The poor cattle and other stock suffer a great
deal from the cold. Cows are often seen with their ears and tails
frozen off, and dogs and cats the same, while the combs and feet of
poultry get rather badly used up, too. The pigs seem to be able to take
care of themselves pretty well.
Our house was built on the side of a hill facing the north, and as
just across the ravine there was another hill, the view was rather
contracted, although we could look down the ravine a good distance to
the head of Davis' Creek. After a while, therefore, we began to get
tired of the position, and so moved the house to the top of the hill at
the back of us.
We got Will Hopkins and his six yoke of oxen and another neighbour
to come and help us. We smoothed the hill a little, pulling up the
stones which cropped out, and cut down the little sumac bushes, and
then, having prepared several small wooden rollers, we hitched a
log-chain around the edifice and started the bullocks. Of course the
progress was rather slow, as the rollers had to be kept carried to the
front, but still we sailed along in safety, Parker remaining inside the
whole time cooking the dinner. The new position was a decided
improvement as regards the view, but, if possible, it was rather more
bleak in the wintertime, perched up on top of the hill.
We commanded a most extensive view of the prairie, and before I left
we could see about seven houses, although at the time of moving there
were none in sight. The country is now settling up very fast.
We had splendid stone about our place, which was quarried without much
difficulty, and was easily worked up. There was also plenty of flat
surface rock, which was most useful for rough walls for stables or
cowsheds, and from the sides of the ravines great blocks of limestone,
mostly about three feet thick, cropped out. This could be split up into
convenient sizes, and faced up to any degree of smoothness for
Near at hand, by digging a little way, we came upon soap-stone, but
it was in small flaky pieces, and of no use except for filling in
rough walls. It was quite soft, almost like cheese, and could be cut
with a knife, or bitten through with the teeth. There was a spot a mile
or so north of us though, where it was to be found in large blocks in
the side of a hill, and this we utilised a bit. It was remarkably soft
when first quarried, but when exposed to the air became almost as hard
as flint. At one time we were going to make a chimney pot of it, as it
was so easy to work, and had got it squared up and hollowed out a good
bit, when for some reason it was laid by for a few weeks. Upon going
to finish the job we found that it had got so hard that our tools would
scarcely touch it, so we used it for a pig-trough, and cut out a new
chimney pot while the stone was soft and fresh. We had to put a stone
pot to the chimney, because our iron stove-pipe had set fire to the
house once, and it had a narrow escape of being destroyed.
Amongst our various animals we had a queer couple-a mule that no one
could ride, and a pony that no one could work. The mule was a splendid
thing to pull, but there was only about one man in the country who
could ride him. My father bought him to work in harness, and he worked
first-rate; hitch him to anything, and he would pull his heart out, or
something had to go. His former owner was a tremendous Swede, and he
could manage to stick on his back somehow; I think his legs were about
long enough to tie in a knot round the mule. I never knew any one else
who could sit it out.
He lent him to a neighbour once to ride to town. They started all
right, but somehow, after going a very short distance, the man came
back leading the mule, and "guessed he'd walk." After we had him
Humphrey and Jack both tried to ride him, but although they could
usually keep a pretty firm seat, they could not stick to that mule.
The pony was the exact reverse of this. He was an Indian pony,
captured by the soldiers during a skirmish, and had a great gap in his
withers from a sabre cut.
He was one of the nicest riding ponies I ever sat on; he could lope
along all day with an easy motion about like a rocking-chair. He was
very useful for driving cattle, as he would grab at them with his teeth
to hurry them on, and a movement of the body was enough to turn him in
any direction, almost without using the bridle.
But put him in harness, and then stand back! for there's going to be
a smash-up. His eye glances out an evil fire, his nostrils dilate, his
ears are thrown back, and in a second he bolts. He will not stop till
he gets free from all incumbrances, or gets into such a position that
he can go no more. One day we were going to hitch him to the waggon
with the mule, but before they were fastened to it-simply harnessed and
connected together with the pole-yoke-away he started. He dragged the
mule along until he got excited too, and together they rushed into a
wire fence. That stopped them, and if that was not a mix up I never saw
one. They both went down amid the ruins of the fence, where they
kicked, and struggled, and plunged until we thought we should never
But at last we got them out, and found them not so much hurt as we
expected, though the pony had a nasty cut in his leg, and the harness
was pretty badly used. One had rolled over the other, so that when at
last we got them on to their feet the pony was where the mule ought to
be, and vice versa.
Another time we were going to give them a trial, and had hitched the
pony to the waggon, and were bringing up the mule to him, when he
started off, broke loose from Jack who was holding him, and rushed away
down the hill with the waggon behind him. Of course the pole was almost
on the ground, but not quite low enough to catch in anything, and so
away he dashed, colliding with the pig-sty, and only just missing the
house; and was at length brought to a standstill by rushing into the
stream at the bottom of the ravine, where he stuck fast, the pole
breaking off short in the mud. After that we only used him for riding.
Soap-making was one of our occasional jobs, and was by no means a
nice one. The soap is made in the following manner. All the wood ashes
are saved from the stove (taking care, however, that there are no
walnut wood ashes amongst them, or they will spoil the lot), and put in
a dry wooden hopper. When this gets full, and the soap-boiling day is
near at hand, water is poured on the ashes and allowed to soak through
gradually to the bottom, where the now dark-brown liquid is caught in a
trough, and drained into a large pot or bucket. This is the lye or
potash, and it is boiled down with all kinds of fat, bacon rinds, etc.,
which have also been saved up by degrees for-this purpose. After
several hours' boiling this combination forms a slippery, slimy
mass-soft soap. It is usually kept in this condition ready for various
uses- washing, scrubbing, or scouring.
The addition of a little salt in the boiling transforms it into hard
soap of a dirty-grey colour.
During this, our second spring, the land being more suitable for it,
we planted a great quantity of Indian corn. It is planted in "hills,"
three or four seeds in each, about four feet each way. For marking the
places where the corn is to be planted, after the land is ploughed and
harrowed, a sort of sledge with four or five runners is drawn over the
field, which marks grooves at the required distance apart. It is then
driven across at right angles, and at the intersection of the grooves
the corn is planted, either by hand and covered with a hoe, or else
with a small machine. In a short time it is out of the ground, and,
growing very rapidly, is soon ready for "cultivating." This consists of
going over it twice at right angles with a horse-hoe or "cultivator,"
cutting up the weeds, and throwing the earth up to the roots.
"Cultivating" is rather pleasant work, not quite so heavy as
ploughing, and requires a little skill to avoid injuring the growing
corn. It always amuses me to contrast the method of ploughing in
England with that practised in the States. In the old country it
appears to be usual to take three horses, one behind another, a small
boy with a big whip to drive them! and a man to do the ploughing. Now
in America a boy can run the whole thing. The reins are round his neck,
the whip is fastened by a thong to his hand, the ploughs are made
lighter, the three horses are worked abreast, and a great saving of
labour is the result. I have ploughed acre after acre in this way from
when I was twelve years old.
A good lot of corn is cut as soon as it is nearly ripe, and shocked
for cattle food in winter, and makes first-rate fodder. Corn shocking
is done in the following way. Having settled where the shock shall be,
which is usually about every twelfth hill, you take two stalks at
opposite angles of a square of four hills, and bend them down and bind
them together securely. Then you take the other two stalks, and bind
them together and round the first two. This forms a kind of cross rack,
against which the other stalks may be placed when cut. Those first cut
are stood in the angles almost upright, and others placed around,
gradually sloping outwards until a regular cone is formed, which will
require a very strong wind to blow over, and a very heavy rain to wet
through. The outer stalks get discoloured, but those inside keep a nice
green colour, and are much relished by the cattle in the winter, when
the husking has been done.
Walter Woods, the printer, left us this spring, and obtained a good
situation at Lawrence, a town on the eastern borders of the State. He
stayed there awhile, and afterwards went to Colorado, and made
considerable money at his business. While out in the Rockies he met his
brother, who was on the way back from Australia, and so returned with
him to England. Some few months later Parker left our happy family, and
having heard of Walter's success in the printing line, he went into a
printing once down south, though quite ignorant of the work. He stayed
there some time, and then we heard that he had joined a Government
surveying party, but as his sight was very bad he had to give it up.
After trying several trades he eventually settled down to the printing
in a newspaper office, and the last I heard of him was that he was the
Editor of the Arkansas Gazette.
Parker was a very enthusiastic sportsman, but his shortsightedness
was rather a drawback to his success in this branch. Once he went with
Humphrey to shoot some wild ducks that were in the pond, and when the
ducks rose and Humphrey shot at them, Parker shot at the pond. At one
time he was very busy collecting birds for a friend in town, and we
boys finding a piece of blue paper, thought that we would help swell
the collection. We arranged the paper among the grass by the stream,
and went to the house and told Parker that there was a splendid blue
bird outside. He came out with his gun and carefully drew near while we
boys kept in the rear, so as not to frighten the bird, all the time
laughing fit to split.
Presently he fired, and rushed forward and secured-the piece of blue
paper. He did not seem to enjoy the joke half so much as we did.
Perhaps we ought to have been a little more considerate. But we were
boys, and could not help having some fun with him. One day, he mistook
a horse for a cow at a very short distance-he was so very shortsighted.
Walter Woods' land was taken by an old man named Price, and a queer
old stick he was, too. He brought with him his wife, and two sons,
Nathaniel and George. His other son, "Dan'l," he had left "back at the
Bluffs." (Council Bluffs in Iowa, from whence they had emigrated.) The
old man was an awful braggart, and the whole family were as ignorant as
savages, George being the only one who could read or write a little
bit. The old man was never tired of telling us how once he was out in
the forest cutting wood, and he saw a "painter" (panther) up a tree
just in the act of springing on him. As the beast came flying through
the air down on him, he stepped back with axe uplifted, and as the
"painter" reached the earth, with one fell swoop he cut his head clean
off. This tale we had on an average once a week. The family lived in a
"dug-out" just across the ravine facing our house, and were as poor as
church mice, having no stock, horses, or tools. Still they managed to
rub along somehow by working among the neighbours, and getting their
land ploughed for them in return.
Their dug-out was a wretched place to live in, as such places
usually are. A hole is dug in the side of a hill, a few forked posts
are put in the corners, poles are laid in the forks, brush and straw
are put on the poles, the earth dug out of the hole is thrown over the
straw as thick as will keep out rain, and with a door in front and a
chimney cut in the bank, the house is ready for occupation. They are
warm enough in the winter, but are miserably dirty, as there is no
floor but the earth, and the walls are of the same material; besides
which dirt is liable to shake down through the roof Still such are the
only kind of houses that can be built by poor emigrants on the prairie,
who have no money to spare for boards, and many live in them for a year
Very often on a winter morning Jack and I would go over to have a
talk, and the old lady always wanted to play a game of cards directly
she had washed the "brekster dishes." Sevenup, euchre, and poker were
the usual games.
While the "brekster dishes" were being washed the old man would
probably to on about his "painter," or would have us remember that his
"ineeshals" were E. B. P.-Edward Bates Price, which there was little
danger of us forgetting, as he seemed to take a peculiar pride in his
three names. Interspersed with this edifying information we would have
reminiscences of "Dan'l" and the "Bluffs," which seemed to comprise the
whole of his subjects of discourse.
They were a funny old couple, and afforded us a good deal of
amusement. The old man was a very tall, dried-up specimen, never to be
seen without a quid of tobacco in his cheek, while the old lady was
very short and very stout, and fond of a pipe. The Prices did not stay
very long on their land, but traded it off to a newcomer, and went back
to "Dan'l" and the "Bluffs."
Another winter passed over us, and having had some dear experience,
we were able to take better care of our cattle this year.
Although it was very cold during this winter, we had some heavy
falls of snow. One night before they left the Prices got snowed up
entirely in their dug-out.
Being rather low, the edifice was completely covered with snow, so
that nothing but a mound was visible. They had considerable trouble to
get out, for the door opened outwards, and the drift was so deep and
packed so tight that they could not push the door open at all. They
therefore had to cut the hinges,-they consisted simply of old bits of
leather,-and taking the door inside they burrowed their way out.
During this long, cold snap, the roads being impassable, we ran out
of firewood. We could not get down to our timber patch, and could not
even get down the creek to do a little "jay-hawking." We were obliged
to burn our fence posts and rails. Plenty of people who had no fences
used Indian corn for fuel.
Our house being moved, we also moved our corral over to the south
side of the hill, and we built a good stone wall on three sides of it;
with a roofed shed all along, and thus kept nearly all our cattle
through the winter. In the spring a herd law was passed, and so we boys
got up a herd. There were forty head of cattle of our own, and we took
in our neighbours' cattle at a quarter of a dollar a month per head,
and thus mustered quite a respectable number.
Jack being older than I, and consequently more useful on the farm,
the herding business generally fell to my lot. It was not particularly
easy work; up at four o'clock in the morning to bring the horses in
from the prairie, clean and saddle my pony, "Barney;" help milk a dozen
cows; and then get through breakfast, to be ready to let the cattle out
of the corral by seven o'clock. Then came the long hot day, often to be
seated in the saddle the whole time, twelve hours or more, checking the
restless brutes from straying; but at last the sun would work round to
the west, and sink beneath the horizon, which was the signal for
returning for the night to the corral; Then the same performances were
gone through again, the milling and the picketing out, and after that
came supper, by which time it was rather dark and late, and I was ready
to go to bed to prepare for the next day's round.
In the summer time, of which I am now speaking, the nights were not
always of the pleasantest, for although generally cool and fresh after
a hot day, the mosquitoes were enough to drive a man mad. As they were
as bad, or perhaps worse in the house, we generally preferred to sleep
out of doors-some in the waggon-bed, and some on the ground beneath.
We were frequently disturbed, though, during the night by
thunderstorms, and would have to gather up our traps and rush for the
house near by without a light, save for the vivid flashes of lightning,
and would then have to arrange ourselves again to sleep on the floor
for the remainder of the night. Still it was so much pleasanter out of
doors that we tried it every night, unless it was too decidedly
threatening. If we ever slept indoors the door was left open without
fear of intruders, except it might be stray pigs. There was not the
least danger to be sus- pected in leaving the door open at night. Such
a thing as a robber entering is never thought of, and the door could
not be locked if wanted, as it simply fastened by a latch. Honesty is,
I think, one of the leading features which must strike a stranger fresh
from the old country where tramps abound. Why, out here one takes his
mowing machine out on the prairie to cut hay, and at night unhitches
the team, leaving the machine out all night with his oil can, spanners,
and tools, without the slightest risk. The axe is left sticking in the
log in the woods, together with maul and wedges, as is the same with
other tools about the farm, and I never heard of any one losing things
We had lightning almost every night during the summer, but usually
so far away as not to deter us from making our beds out of doors. One
fearfully hot, sultry night, when we had thought it too stormy-looking
to try it, we had a fine treat.
Some eggs had been brought in in the evening and laid upon the
crockery shelves as usual, and in the middle of the night one,
doubtless a nest-egg, brought in by mistake burst with a report like a
pistol and a smell like-well, it was about "bad enough to knock a
nigger down." For awhile we could not make out whatever was the matter
until a light was struck and the cause explained. The remainder of the
night was passed out of doors despite the threatened storm.
The herding life was dreadfully monotonous. The romance of riding
about all day soon wears off if one has six months of it at a stretch
in all weathers, rain, blow, or shine, Sunday or weekdays. Occasionally
for days together I never saw a soul while out with the herd.
Sometimes; however, I had a companion in one of the Quinn boys, who had
two cows to attend to, and brought them to my herd and helped me. In
the hot summer months, before the grass was dried up much, the cattle
were not much trouble, but were glad, after feeding, to get in the
shade of a few trees that grew on a small creek where I often herded.
Sometimes they would stand in the water for hours together, and we
boys were able to go in swimming, or to catch fish or frogs, or
craw-fish, which we cooked on a forked stickover a little fire, and
thus made a welcome addition (frogs as well) to our cold dinner. I know
that many people look upon frogs as dreadful things to eat, but I can
recommend them as being very palatable. The legs are the only parts
eaten, and when skinned and cooked closely resemble the best parts of a
One day we had a big hunt after a bullfrog. We found him in a large
pond and gave chase; of course he dived, but had to come to the surface
every now and then, and presently came up quite close to where I was
watching, and I gave him a blow with the butt-end of my stock-whip
which killed him. We found him to be fifteen inches long from head to
foot, and his legs formed a good meal.
As the weather grew hotter and drier the water began to get scarce,
until at last, big ponds in which the water had been deep enough to
swim a horse, became so dry that we were able to catch the big fish
therein with our hands, and the water was so thick and nasty that it
was not fit for the cattle to drink. Nevertheless, the sun being so
fearfully hot, we boys were fain to drink this dirty cattlebestirred
water. One would say to the other, "I'll drink some if you will," and
"Right you are" would be the reply. I wonder we did not get awfully
ill. There was a nice fresh spring about a mile away, but too small to
be of any use to the cattle, and occasionally one of us would gallop up
there, drink all he could himself, and fill our dinner pail for the
other. It was too risky though to do this often, as the cattle were so
liable to stray, and we could not drive them up near the spring, as it
was close to an unprotected cornfield. .
If we had a shower we generally hid our clothes under a big rock,
and then jumped into the pond to keep dry. We sometimes found it
necessary, while in the water, to turn the cattle, and would then jump
on the pony, just as we were, and rush away after them, yelling and
popping the whip. A passer-by would have thought it a funny sight, no
doubt, to see a boy in a state of nature rushing about on horseback.
But we were not troubled with passers-by. It was very peculiar to feel
the apparent warmth of the water in the pond during rain. It seemed
several degrees warmer than the air or the rain falling.Sometimes on
Sundays the Quinn boys used to come down to where I was herding, and
bring their dinners, and, together with my brother Jack, we had a
regular picnic, fishing, swimming, eating wild grapes, etc.; but I was
more frequently alone, as young Dick Quinn did not always care to come
so far with his two cows, for sometimes I was away over north, as I
liked to change the feeding-ground.
As the season passed on the grass became very dead and dry, and the
herd was very hard to keep together; it was as much as one could do by
keeping the pony on the move the whole time. By November, which was the
time to break up the herd, the weather was cold and wet, and I was
mighty glad to stop. Several times it rained the whole day, so that I
was so wet that the water filled my boots, when I happened to be
wearing such luxuries, and ran over the tops as I sat in the saddle.
One day I borrowed my father's macintosh, but in galloping about I
split it right up the back, so that when it rained I just had to get
wet through, but I am pleased to say that I never suffered any ill
After all the cattle had been sent to theirrespective owners for the
winter, a prairie fire came along and pretty nearly wiped us out. It
did so much damage that we had to send our own cattle away. It was a
nice warm, bright day early in December, and I had the cattle in the
corn-stalks to pick up any stray ears that had been left, and to eat
the fodder, as the dry maize stalks are called.
Presently I became aware that there was a prairie fire sweeping down
on us from the north. I did not feel at all afraid, as we considered
our place to be safe from such attacks, as our house and sheds, etc.,
were built on land lying between two streams, north and south, which
met in the west, while the land to the east was in cultivation.
However, as there was a very strong north wind blowing, the fire
leaped the stream on the north side where the grass grew high, and was
amongst us in two seconds. A rush was made for the stables to cut the
horses loose, and then all hands were required to protect the house,
which was in imminent danger, owing to the wood pile having caught fire.
Fortunately, by pulling the pile down, and hurling the blazing logs
away, and aided bya good supply of water which was at hand, we were
able to save the house from destruction. Our great straw stack was
burned though, and nearly all our hay, together with a quantity of
wheat which lay in a crib, besides the cattle corral, and a quantity of
fencing, so that we had no place in which to keep the cattle, and
nothing on which to feed them. We drove them to a neighbour's corral
that night, and then made arrangements with a man on Thomas' Creek to
keep them through the winter on payment of one-fourth of the number
that survived. This plan is frequently adopted, as of course it is more
to the interest of the man to look after them well. As we had forty
head, he would have ten in the spring for his trouble, but several
died, amongst the number the heifer of which I spoke as being my own
We certainly had very bad luck with our cattle, several getting
drowned, or otherwise killed by accident at various times. One old cow
I remember in particular; "Old Bones" we called her. She went into a
miry place in the early spring to get some nice, green, tender grass,
her hind feet beingon solid ground. Well, her front feet were in the
mud, and they just sunk lower and lower, and her nose went into and
under the water, and sank deeper and deeper, and there she stuck, and
could not help herself, but just drowned as she stood. We did not find
her until too late.
Another cow, a fine one, called "Granny," was picketed out, and got
mixed up with the rope and strangled herself.
It was not an infrequent job to have to draw a cow out of the mud,
especially in the spring, when they were weak after the long, cold
winter. A rope was fastened round their horns or neck, and a team of
horses hitched to it. Unfortunately they did not always recover, and
then there was a skinning operation to be performed. I must confess
that this latter was a job to which I was rather partial, though to
some ideas not a pleasant occupation.
There is a good deal of attention and not a little skill required to
get a hide off without cutting it, and I used to flatter myself that I
could do it very cleanly.
CHAPTER VI. I LEAVE HOME
hunting.—The trapper.—A touch of earthquake.—A creek
accident.—Ague.—A touch of scurvy.—Scarcity of nutton.—A whisky
accident.—Maloy.—Council Grove.—How to make dogs hardy.—A
THIS winter, owing to our losses by the prairie fire, was rather a
rough one for our family party. We had none too much produce left, and
as regards cash-well, that always is a scarce article in the West,
where our clothing and groceries are mostly obtained by trading corn,
etc., in town. We therefore dispensed with a good many luxuries, such
as coffee, sugar, etc. For the first, we roasted rye to mix with
coffee, but eventually adopted it altogether, and it made a very decent
drink. To sweeten it we used molasses-home-made treacle, of which we
had about sixty gallons. This article is very much used. It is on
thetable at every meal, the Americans often pouring it over their pork
and beans. It is the produce of the sorghum-cane, a plant closely
allied to the regular sugar-cane, but the syrup is rather more fruity
than the regular treacle. Sugar can be made by boiling it down
sufficiently, but it is seldom done. The cane is cut about the middle
of September, the leaves and tops cut off, and then hauled to the mill.
This is turned by horse-power, and when the cane is passed between
rollers all the juice is squeezed out and caught in a trough. From here
it is removed to a great boiler and boiled down to syrup, being skimmed
from time to time. The canes, after being squeezed, are of no use save
for burning or covering the roofs of sheds, etc., and are not eaten by
cattle, although the leaves and seeds may be.
Broom-corn is a plant of very similar growth, but grows rather
higher, twelve or fourteen feet, as a rule; and it always seemed to me
that there was a dreadful waste of force somewhere, for the only part
that is of any use is just the top, where the seeds grow. The tops are
cut off about a foot long, and the seeds pulled off, leaving the stalks
upon which they grow, whichare used to make our regular carpet-brooms
and brushes of. All the rest of the stalk is burned.
We dispensed with oil during this winter, so that we could have no
light at night; therefore, before it was dark we had our supper, and
perhaps sat round the fire a little while, and then went to bed. I
escaped a lot of this, for, owing to the cattle being away, and there
being little to do for four persons, I went down to spend the winter
with an acquaintance on Monkre's Creek, some twenty miles south of our
Old Zedekiah Blake was a little shrivelled-up man with a big wife
and an only child, a daughter of five-and-twenty. The old people were
originally from England,-many years ago, in fact, before the daughter
was born,- and had travelled pretty well all over the States.
They lived in a little old log-house, with but one room, with a
small lean-to for a kitchen. The room served for all purposes save
cooking. The meals were taken in it, and there were three beds in the
corners (one being for any visitors or travellers that might happen to
come that way). My roosting-place was on the floorin the attic, which
was reached by a ladder through a trap-door in the ceiling of the room.
It was fearfully cold up there, with the wind and snow whistling
through the chinks between the logs, and under the home-made split-oak
shingles which formed the roof. I would often wake up to find my bed
covered with snow, and drifts all over the floor.
My father came with me to Blake's, and after spending a day or two
returned to the prairie, leaving me to help the old man through the
winter. My wages were board, clothes, and lodging, which is about all
one can reckon upon in winter, especially a boy. The old man was
wintering a lot of cattle fresh from Texas for a man in town, so that
there was plenty of work feeding and watering, and otherwise looking
after their welfare.
Being winter time the herd law was not enforced, and, in fact, it is
a dead letter down there, where all the farms are on the creek, where
timber for fences is plentiful, and prairie settlers are scarce, as the
high land is too poor. We were bothered a good deal by strange cattle,
which seemed to wish to become acquainted with ours, especially about
feeding-time.All through this winter I worked mighty hard, cutting
timber with the old man, and hauling it to town for sale. We used
between us to cut two cords or mote a day. A cord is a pile of wood six
feet long by three feet high, and three feet wide, and is a good load
for two horses over a rough country road. This quantity is a good day's
work; for a man,and as I guess that I cut as much as old Zedekiah, I
think that I quite earned my pay. It was pretty heavy work, swinging an
axe all day, or Using a heavy beetle and wedges to split up the trunks
of the trees after being felled. Still it was an agreeable change
after the herding, and the home was more comfortable, and living better
than up at the prairie, and there were some womenkind about.
On Sundays, too, I cleaned up a bit, and rode to meeting
occasionally at the school-house, a thing quite unknown before. Some
Sundays we would all go to spend the day with some friends of the
Blakes. The old people would drive over in the buggy, while Miss Blake
and I rode on horseback. Of course during my herding I had had
considerable practice in riding, and one of my first jobs was tobreak
in a three-year-old colt to ride. She was rather vicious, but I
managed all right, and did not get thrown at all. In fact, I do not
remember ever having been absolutely thrown. I came a cropper a few
times, owing to the horse falling under me, as when crossing the stream
with the milk pail; and on another occasion I was riding a pony at a
stone fence, when he caught his foot in the top and fell over. I went
right over his head; turned a somersault, and came down on my back, and
the pony stumbled over me, giving me a tread on the ribs as he passed
I was treated quite as one of the family, as is usual with farm
"helps" over there. Miss Blake and I belonged to a singing-class
conducted by Dick Utt, a neighbouring farmer, and we used to have a
fine time riding about to spend the evening at the various houses where
they met for practice. We used also to have spelling-bees and other
entertainments at the school-house.
Occasionally, when the snow was deep on the ground, and we could not
work well in the woods, I would take a couple of dogs and go
rabbit-hunting. I often caught a good many,as the dogs would run them
into hollow trees, from which I could easily dislodge them by cutting a
gap to insert a forked stick. This I twisted into their fur, and drew
them out, and then settled them with a blow of the hand across the
back of the neck.
I used to do a good deal of trapping also, catching quails, etc.,
besides martens and weasels, by the creek side in steel traps.
Sometimes rabbits got into the quail traps, but after eating the bait
they usually got out again, either by scratching away the earth, or by
biting through the boards of which the trap was made, much to my
When out on my excursions I used sometimes to meet a man who lived
in a cave in the woods-a trapper. He was a nice-looking fellow, with
long black hair, and was clad in buckskin. He was living entirely upon
the produce of his traps and rifle, and went about the creeks from
place to place as game became scarce in the district he was working. He
was a morose sort of man, and although I saw him several times in the
woods he never spoke.
As the spring grew on I heard nothingabout returning to the prairie,
and so I just continued on at work for the old man on the same terms. I
guess he had a good bargain, for I did a man's work without a man's
pay. Still I had not much cause to complain, for had I been up on the
prairie, I should not have been any better off in that respect, and a
good deal worse as regards comfort in living and clothing, for, of
course, I had no cooking, or washing and mending, to do at Blake's, as
was the case at home.
Miss Blake made me quite a fancy "boiled" shirt for Sundays, etc. It
was a blue check calico or something, with three rows of white frills
all down the front, and which, owing to the absence of a waistcoat,
showed off to fine advantage. The old lady made me some "bluejeans"
pants, so that with a pair of knee boots with red tops I guess I rather
took the shine out of my friends at home.
After ploughing the land and getting the crops planted, we had to
overhaul the fences, which was no slight job. There was a ring fence
enclosing about one hundred and twenty acres, and this had to be put in
repair for the summer, and kept proof against the hogs and cattle that
roamed about. It was a zigzag or snake fence, as is usually built where
wood is plentiful. Twelve-feet rails are laid on the ground in a series
of wide V shapes, and piled one on another until about eight deep, then
stakes are driven in the ground, crossing at the top rail, and then a
heavy log or "rider" is thrown into the V formed by the two stakes,
which binds it all together. The rider is usually heavy enough to
prevent cattle from lifting it off. This forms a good fence, but is
dreadfully extravagant with wood. With all this, when the crops grew
up we were often bothered by cattle, and more particularly by mules,
breaking in, when it was my job to mount a pony, take a big whip, and
chase them out with the dogs. Two of the dogs were very useful; they
would rush after the mules as they galloped away and bite their
fetlocks, and then crouch so low that the mules kicked clean over them;
or they would take a cow by the tail or ear, and hang on like grim
After the crops were all planted, there was little for me to do for
a couple of months, and so I was sent to school, which was twomiles
away. I guess I did not learn much, for I believe that I could have
taught the "school-marm" more than she taught me, though I improved
myself a bit in spelling, arithmetic, and United States geography.
By this time the Indian corn was pretty high, and had to be
One day, when at work in the fields driving a brush harrow, we had a
smart shock of earthquake. It did no damage, however, only making
everything tremble a bit, and rattling down some of the crockery in the
house. Slight shocks are not infrequent, but I have not heard of any at
Thunderstorms and high winds are rather prevalent, sometimes
accompanied with heavy rains, which cause the creeks to rise many feet
above their normal height in a very short time. At all the fords to the
creeks are marks cut on the trees, showing the depth of the water, and
when it is dangerous to cross. It often happens that a farmer will go
to town in the morning crossing a creek perhaps threefeet deep, and by
evening the water may be twelve or fifteen feet, and he must wait a day
or two to get home.
One of our neighbours lost three children at one time in the creek.
Four little ones had gone to school in the morning, crossing the stream
by stepping-stones, but a heavy rain having fallen, the water rose so
much that one of the boys was sent from home to carry them across in
the waggon. He passed the creek safely going to them, but on returning
the water had risen still further, and the current was so strong that
the waggon was overturned, and three of the five children were drowned
as well as the two horses. The other two children were washed against
some trees, to which they clung until rescued.
As we were near the main road, sometimes we had to entertain
travellers who were delayed by the water for a few days, if the rain
continued; but the creeks not being very long, they go down as quickly
as they rise.
Occasionally the people camped out in the woods, and came to the
house for hay, etc. Now and then they stuck in the mud in crossing, and
we were awakened in the night to go and lend them a hand with ropes and
poles to get them out.
Ague was rather prevalent in the summeron the creeks, but I never
had a fit of the "shakes" myself. It is confined pretty much to the
creeks, though occasionally there was a case up on the prairie. I
remember once that a neighbour's son was with us when we boys went
swimming, and would not go in the water, as his father had told him he
would get the ague. This did not deter us; we swam, and did not get
the "shakes," while he stopped out and did get them. None of our party
ever had them at all; in fact, we were never ill. Occasionally we got a
little out of order inside through errors in eating, but were never
laid up for a day, and never saw a doctor.
I must except one occasion though, and that was when I was staying
down at Blake's. I was troubled by my gums leaving my teeth during the
winter. This the doctor told Miss Blake (who was affected in the same
way) was caused by so much salt meat and so few. vegetables, and was in
reality a slight attack of scurvy. With the spring, however, it soon
passed away, though it left some of my teeth rather loose.
Pork was our usual food, fresh or frozen inwinter, and smoked or
salted in summer, though varied occasionally by our poultry or wild
fowl. Beef we did not often have,-we only killed once a year,-and as
for mutton- well, in six years I only tasted it twice, and that was off
the same sheep, a pet one killed by a neighbour of old Blake's. Sheep
are now, however, being raised in Kansas. In hot weather several
neighbours sometimes agreed together to take part of a pig killed by
one of them, so that there should be no danger of it not keeping.
We kept a bottle of "Pain-killer" in the house, and we also had a
demijohn of whisky for medicinal purposes. This was really got as a
cure for snake bites, but we never had occasion to use it for that
purpose. I knew a man who had been bitten twice by deadly snakes, one a
rattlesnake, and the other a copperhead. One he put his hand upon while
quarrying rock, and the other he sat upon. He drank lots of whisky and
recovered, but it does not always act. My father was once up at Salina,
a town some thirty-five miles west of us, and saw a man attempt for a
wager to carry a rattlesnake across the street andback in his bare
hand. He succeeded in taking it across, but upon returning it to the
box the snake bit him. Whisky was at once procured to any extent, but
all in vain. The poison was too strong for him, and in an hour he was a
As we were never called upon to tap our demijohn for this purpose,
we broached it one Christmas Day, and invited our neighbours to help
drink it. On one occasion I was a little queer, and my father gave me
about half a cupful, neat. It proved rather too strong for me, for
shortly afterwards I lay down on my back on a bench, kicked up my
heels, and laughed both loud and long, at nothing. I eventually fell
asleep, and was put to bed in my clothes. I awoke next morning knowing
nothing about it, but I had a splitting headache.
But I must return to Blake's.
There was a man living close to us named Maloy, a "squatter,"-that
is, a man who had no land of his own, but had built a shanty on
Government land. He was an emigrant from Tennessee, a "poor white," a
man that the niggers looked down upon, almost too proud to work, but
too poor to do without. Hesuffered a great deal from the "shakes,"
after a fit of which, in a sort of nigger dialect, he would describe
himself as feeling "powerful weak." His speech was certainly peculiar;
little things were "mighty tiny" or "tremendous small." He lived by
working about among the farmers.
On the 4th July we all went to celebrate Independence Day at Council
Grove, where a grand picnic was held in the woods. There were the usual
oratorical flights, bands of music, parades through the town, and a
general display of enthusiasm and Sunday clothes.
Council Grove is situated on the River Neosho, and is said to take
its name from a patch of timber, where, before the land was settled,
five men stopped on their travels, and held a council as to the
advisability of going further west. Three decided to keep on through
the Indian country, and were killed, while the other two returned in
safety to the settlements. It is also said that the Indians held their
councils in the same grove. It is now a large thriving town, with flour
and saw mills, schools, newspapers, and churches.I used often to go
fishing in the creek, which was well stocked with sun-fish, black bass,
suckers, cat-fish, etc. There were also plenty of turtles, and some big
gar-fish, a great ugly fish something like a pike, but not good for
As all the creek land had been settled for several years, "varmint"
was not so common as up on the prairie, but sometimes we came across
snakes, etc. One day I was ploughing, and tool; the top off a hole
where lay a big bull snake. I saw him just in time, and swung on the
plough handles to lift my feet clear, and was dragged by. Then I
stopped the horses, and went back and killed the vile thing.
Another day Miss Blake and I were out in the woods gathering wild
gooseberries, when she had a narrow escape of being bitten. A black
snake was coiled up in a bush, and she only just saw it in time to jump
back as it sprang. She called out to me, and I then rushed up and
We used to get a good deal of wild fruit here of various kinds,
living near the woods, Blackberries and wild grapes abounded, in
particular.Old Blake had some queer notions in his head, and one of
these was, that to bring up dogs to be of any use, they must be
severely treated and very sparingly fed to make them hardy. We had a
couple of nice young pups, and the old man determined to put his theory
into practice, so no one was allowed to feed them but himself. They
grew up by degrees very lean and thin, and at last got so ferocious
that they began to kill and eat the chickens. The old man would not
believe it when told, until at last one day, when he was chopping wood,
he saw them run down a fowl and tear it to pieces, and this, despite
all his cries to them to stop.
This so enraged him, that he rushed after them and caught first one
and then the other, and took them to the wood pile and cut off both
their heads with his axe.
During my stay here we had a "camp-meeting" and religious revival up
the creek. It was held in the woods beside the stream, and lasted for a
week. All the people in the neighbourhood who were members of the
Church flocked to the meeting, during which there were open-air
sermons, baptisms, prayermeetings, and psalm-singing, and a general
reclamation of backsliders. The crusade was headed by the Methodists,
and it is of periodical occurrence. At the different meetings there was
a row of seats in front for "mourners,"- that is, those mourning for
their sins and wishing to join the Church; and here a number of people
got very excited, and there was a lot of weeping and shouting when a
mourner "found glory."
Once or twice during each day, according to the number of converts,
they waded into the creek, and amid shouts of "glory" were baptized.
Lots of people went to the meetings who were not members of any Church,
and the whole thing partook very much of the nature of a week's picnic.
There was plenty to eat and drink, and considerable amusement was to be
found by the not too serious part of the community.
It seems rather a peculiar notion for parsons and elders of the
Church to spend their time travelling about the country in waggons and
camping out in the woods for weeks together, but it is frequent]y done
over here.When the revivalists had departed and the excitement had
abated a bit, the new members slacked down to their former level, and
but little effect remained in a short time of the enthusiastic revival.
CHAPTER VII. GRASSHOPPERS, ETC.
Arrival of the pest.—Attempted precautions.—Their
fearlessness.—How the corn vanished.—The orchard stripped.—Down the
well.—Their departure.—Their multitude.—The lost cow.—Indians.—The
IT was during this year that Kansas was visited with the dreadful
plague of grasshoppers, or, as they are perhaps more correctly called,
locusts, for there is no doubt but that they were closely allied to the
locust of the Bible. They are said to breed away up in the Rocky
Mountains of the north-west, and when they have increased to such an
extent that the grass is all eaten up, then they descend upon the
fertile prairies, and clear everything away as they go. This has
happened twice since the settlement of the country. They travel mostly
in a south-easterly direction, and are supposed to perish in the Gulf
of Mexico. They move but slowly, but in such myriads that the farmers
are powerless against them.
About a fortnight before they arrived with us, we heard that they
were at Junction City, so that it took them fourteen days to travel
about thirty-five miles. It was at the beginning of August, and the
small grains, such as wheat, etc., were carried and stacked, so that
these were secure. The maize, however, was as yet far from ripe, though
the ears were well formed. We cut a lot of it, and shocked it to make
fodder for the cattle, but it was destroyed with the other, after the
beastly things arrived. They came on gradually like a fall of snow. We
first saw a glittering cloud high in the sky, and all sparkling in the
sun, from which they fell one or two at a time. At first they came down
so slowly that the fowls could clear them up, but presently they began
to fall in earnest, and then nothing could check them.
They alighted on houses, people, animals, fences, crops, covering
everything, while the ground was strewn several inches thick, so that
it was impossible to walk about without killing dozens at each step,
while it was a hard job to keep them brushed off hands and face.They
seemed to have no fear, but alighted on any-thing. They continued
falling for several days, so that they did not decrease in any way. No
matter how many were killed, there were hundreds to take the place of
They began on the green corn and garden crops, and made a clean
sweep. In the morning the corn was waving in all its beauty-and it is
about the loveliest crop that grows-a splendid green, and so high and
dense that a man riding through it on horseback; would not be seen; in
the evening nothing remained but the bare, upright stalks, which were
rapidly blackening under the influence of their bites, and through
which one could see all over the field. Flowers, leaves, silk, ears,
all had vanished'' down their rapacious maws. They cleared off all the
apples, peaches, and grapes, of which fruits we had a splendid show;
but not a 'single' one of either escaped.
We could walk through the orchard and see perhaps twenty
grasshoppers at one apple, drilling right through and through.
Presently it would fall to the ground, and amongst the struggling mass
there it soon totally disappeared. They left a few things at first
whichdid not quite taste apparently to their satisfaction. These were
the haulm of the potato, the tomato, the sugar-cane or sorghum, and
tobacco. But these were all eventually cleared up after every other
green leaf had disappeared.
All the trees in the woods were divested of their leaves, and the
whole place looked as though there had been a fire raging in every
part. One of my daily jobs was to climb down the well to clear the
hoppers out to keep them from polluting the water. The windlass was not
strong enough to carry me, and so I had to go down without my boots on,
and hang on with fingers and toes in the crevices of the stones with
which the well was walled. I would then take a small dipper or gourd,
and skim all the hoppers into the bucket, which was drawn up and
emptied by some one at the top. It was perhaps a little dangerous, but
the well was only forty-five feet deep, so that I could not fall
farther than that, unless I knocked the bottom out. One of our
neighbour's sons was suffocated while on a similar job, the well being
full of foul gas. Ours was quite free from this, however. It was
awfully cold down at the bottom on a hot summer'sday; to feel the
sudden change from hot to cold was very queer. I wonder somewhat that
it did not give me a bad cold, but I think that this rough out-of-door
life kept us very healthy and hardy.
I remember my brother Jack was once riding across a creek on the ice
with a pair of horses, when it gave way, and all disappeared beneath
the water. After a bit of a struggle Jack managed to get out, and also
to save the horses. The latter were so cold and exhausted that they lay
down on the ground unable to stir, and so we covered them up with straw
for the night, after giving them a good feed; Jack's clothes were
frozen as hard as boards, so that he could hardly walk, but his cold
bath did not in the least interfere with his health; he did not catch
even a slight cold.
After the grasshoppers had finished every green thing, including
chewing the tobacco, they began to seek "fresh fields and pastures
new," and gradually departed, having remained about a month; during the
latter part of which they had been on starvation fare, eating twigs
and bark, and varying their diet with such of their number as were
injured and could notdefend themselves. When the main body went,
however, they still left swarms behind, who were engaged in laying eggs
in the earth ready to be hatched in the sun next spring, so that we had
trouble to look forward to, as well as to lament the present.
The fowls and ducks were quite bewildered by their bounteous
provision, and thrived and fattened wonderfully-the only things that
did during the hoppers' destructive visit. It was enough to make a
man's heart ache to stand and see every bit of vegetation destroyed as
it was, and at the same time to be utterly powerless to prevent it. All
sorts of experiments were tried, but in vain. Fire, of course,
destroyed them, but we could not have fire everywhere, among the trees
and growing crops. There was nothing to be done but grin and bear it.
The bulk of the army, after leaving us, travelled on right across
the State of Kansas, part of Missouri, and Arkansas, and even reached
into Texas; but by that time frost had set in, and I suppose that in
search of a warmer climate they took a long flight, and they are said
to have been lost-to sight, but not tomemory dear-in the sea, in the
Gulf of Mexico. Their numbers were something awful to contemplate. Some
little idea of them may be formed when I say that there was a band at
least two hundred and fifty miles wide, extending quite across the
State, and about twenty miles deep from vanguard to rear, an
ever-shifting mass, gradually moving on; and when I say that the
majority of this belt of land-five thousand square miles-was so covered
that each footstep killed dozens,-though of course they congregated
mostly about the cultivated fields,- enough will have been said to show
the utter impossibility of in any way destroying them. After they had
left us the weather kept remarkably warm, and all the trees, after
having their leaves stripped by the hoppers, began to sprout again, and
the apple and peach trees presented the peculiar sight of being covered
with blossom in November. But of course they were soon stripped again
by the frosts.
This winter was a hard one, for so many people had lost nearly
everything by the hoppers, such as had very little land in small grain,
and for prairie farmers who had nowood to cut and sell. I continued on
with old Zedekiah, chopping wood nearly all winter, and looking after
the cattle, a number of which he was again wintering. We were rather
unfortunate with the cattle, they used to get stuck in the mud so much.
It was a fearful job to get them out sometimes, wading in mud and water
up to ones waist to hitch a rope round their horns. Then when rescued
they did not always recover, but were so perished with the cold and wet
that they succumbed despite all our efforts to keep them alive with
pails of warm bran mash, boiled potatoes, and boiled corn.
At one time we lost a cow for four days. She went out one morning
with the others, but failed to turn up at night to be fed. They were
not housed at all, but spent the night in the woods, where it was
warmer than in the corral. Well, the next morning came, and as she was
still missing, I got on a pony and started to hunt for her. It was
almost a matter of certainty that she was stuck somewhere, but where?
That was the question. I rode carefully up and down the creek for miles
both sides to give no chance away, inspecting everybranch of the creek,
and travelling far beyond their usual feeding-ground, but all in vain.
The next day Miss Blake started off as well as myself in a different
direction, and kept up the search all day, but evening came, and the
cow was still gone. The third day the old man joined in the hunt, but
we were again unsuccessful, though we found another cow that had got
stuck that day. On the evening of the fourth day I was riding home
rather dejected at our ill luck, and was in sight of the house, when,
passing by a little bit of a pond in a hollow of the hills, I thought
that I detected in the long grass something more solid than reeds or
bushes. I rode up closer, and to my infinite surprise and joy found the
lost cow. She was so deep in the mud that only her head remained
exposed to view, and one might have passed within a few feet without
I could scarce believe my eyes upon finding her actually within
sight of the house after our most diligent search. Didn't I gallop home
in a hurry for a team to pull her out! It was a terrible job, and we
almost expected to pull her horns off or break her neck, so deeply
mired was she. But at last we got herout and fed her with a pail of
hot mash, and rubbed her down with dry hay, and then covered her up for
the night, for, of course, she was quite unable to stand. She lingered
a few days, and then died, the cold and exposure having proved too much
Old Zedekiah gave me a dollar for finding her, which he had offered
before as a reward. That was all the money I ever received from him
during my stay of fourteen months. But I think that cash was always
rather a scarce article with him. He and I together did all the work of
a one-hundred-and-sixty-acre farm, scarcely hiring a man for a day,
except in harvest time; and as old Zedekiah was over sixty and a little
shrivelled-up man, you may guess that I had plenty of hard word to get
through. I ran the mowing-machine and the horse-rake, during the haying
season-besides loading and stacking all the hay while the old man
pitched,-and the reaping-machine in harvest.
A lot of our haying was done at night by the light of the moon,
owing to the prevalence of high winds during the day time, which made
it impossible to load or stack. This was a little risky, as in carrying
hay snakes aresometimes thrown up with the hay-cock, and in the
semi-darkness this is not a pleasant experience.
Other heavy work I did my share in equal with the old man, such as
ploughing, etc., as we had two teams; so he ploughed with one and I
with the other. I was rather fond of this work when the ground was not
too heavy, and used to take a pride in getting a furrow as straight as
In setting out a piece of land to plough, one fastens two or three
stakes in the ground in a straight line across the field, and then
drives right at them with eyes fixed and scarcely troubling about the
depth or evenness of the furrow, so long as it is straight. Then the
horses are turned sharp round and driven back, the plough throwing the
next furrow on top of the first one. This forms a "ridge furrow."
Sometimes ploughing is started from the outside edge of a piece of
ground, and carried round and round until none remains to be done. This
forms a "dead furrow," almost a little ditch in the centre of the piece.
We were annoyed a good deal by the begging and stealing of the
Indians down here. Afew miles south of Council Grove there was a
reservation, a large piece of land several miles square, left entirely
for the Indians, and upon which no white man had a right to set foot.
Here they lived in their primitive style, hunting, fishing, and
trapping, despite all the efforts of the Government to civilise them.
Several nice stone houses had been built for them with this aim, but,
after trying them, the lndians went back to their wretched wigwams, and
used the houses to stable their miserable little ponies in the winter.
Although the whites were not allowed on their land, the Indians
still had the right of hunting as they thought fit all over the
country, and as a result of this practice, one day one of our pigs came
rushing in from the woods with an arrow through its body.
They have since been moved some two hundred miles further west, and
the reservation opened up for settlement.
One day I found an Indian's grave, and obtained a lot of relics,
which had been buried with him for his use in the happy hunting
grounds.There were a pair of bullet moulds, a brass thimble, several
arrow heads, and various other small articles. I think, though, that
someone else had been there before me, as the bones were very
disordered, and I did not see the skull at all. The grave was on the
top of a high bluff; whence lovely views of the Neosho Valley were
CHAPTER VIII. BACK TO THE PRAIRIE
A split in the camp.—Early rising.—The county
treasurer.—Living in a dug-out.—The Grasshopper Relief Fund.—The
old home again.—The sick cow.—The disappearance of the Quinns.—A
rifle accident.—Building a schoolhouse.—Road-making.—How the land is
AFTER working for old Zedekiah for the time mentioned, viz.,
fourteen months, I had a little flare-up with the old man and left him.
I don't know whether he had anything upon his mind, so that he could
not sleep, but he had contracted the habit of rising at three o'clock
every day, summer or winter, and I had to do the same. In the winter
the fire was kept alight all night on the big stone hearth covered up
with ashes, and it was an easy job for him to jump out of bed and start
it blazing again. But for me up in my loft, getting up was a harder
matter, and with the snow driftingthrough the chinks, the sensation was
not tropical. Still, I had to crawl out, and then feed, water, clean,
and harness the horses, though why this should be done at three o'clock
in the morning I never could make out. This work took me an hour or
more, after which I was at liberty to go in the house and sit by the
big log fire with the old man till breakfast at seven, burning, as Josh
Billings would say, a pound of wood and a cord of candles.
After breakfast Miss Blake and I milked the cows, and fed the pigs
and poultry, turkeys, geese, etc., by which time it was daylight, and
we could begin our regular work, wood-hauling, or whatever it might be.
Well, one fearfully cold morning I did all my work as usual, -except
the watering of the horses, which I never troubled myself about now, as
they would not drink so early in the morning,-and then returned to the
house. After a while the old man asked me if I had watered the horses.
I told him I had not, as they never drank so early.
"Well, have you tried?"
"No," said I, "not this morning; but Ihave dozens of times; I always
water them now when they go to work."
"But, confound it! I want them to have water the first thing."
"But they won't drink."
"Well, make them. Go out at once and water them."
"It's no use," said I.
"Will you do as I tell you?"
"Anything in reason."
Then the old gent thoroughly lost his temper and let loose, reviling
me up and down, and complaining of my ingratitude for his kindness in
feeding and clothing me for such a long time. When I got a chance to
put a word in edgeways, I said, "Well, if you are tired of keeping me,
I guess I am tired of being kept, so we had better part."
Great grounds he had to complain, I am sure; I was doing a man's
work for less than a boy's pay, and I had refused an offer in the
spring to go and herd cattle on the Blue River at ten dollars a month,
preferring to work away with the old man.
After the talk with him I had some breakfast, and then packed up all
my belongings,which made but a very small bundle, said "good-bye," and
started off to walk twenty miles to Parkersville, where I thought I
might get a lift up near our prairie home.
I left with some regret; for, despite the old man's peculiarities
and the amount of work required of me, I had spent some very pleasant
days on Monkres Creek. I left behind me a barrel of walnuts, which I
had gathered in the woods, and which I was going to sell. I also had to
go without saying "good-bye " to Miss Blake, who was away for a few
days. I was sorry for this, as we were very good friends.
She was engaged to a young farmer, and I afterwards heard that she
was married shortly after I left. It was rather a wonder that she had
not been married before, living in a country where fifteen or sixteen
is quite an ordinary marriageable age, and as she was an only child,
and would come in for a very good farm and a lot of stock. I believe
she had received several offers, however. One evening, while I was
there, a young man rode over from a neighbouring creek, and popped the
question while she was milking the cows.He was rather far gone, I
guess, and, upon her refusal, he pulled out a revolver and threatened
to shoot himself, and she told him to blaze away. He did not do it
though, but changed his mind, and, mounting his horse, rode away. He
occupied a very good position, being the county treasurer; but I guess
it was a fortunate escape for her, for he married some one else soon
afterwards, and then deserted her and fled the country with 30,000
dollars of the public money.
After leaving the old man, I struck out for Parkersville, which
thriving town I reached in good time without adventure of any sort.
Immediately upon my arrival I made for the drug store. When I began to
make inquiries as to whether any of my people or neighbours were -in
town, I heard that my father and brother were living down in the
timber, chopping wood and hauling it to town for sale. I was glad to
hear this, for it saved me a seven-mile walk beyond the twenty I had
already done, and I was mighty hungry. I soon found my way to our
timber patch, and I guess I rather took my people by surprise, for, of
course, they were not expecting to see me. I found them living in a
dug-out, a nice warm crib, but only just about big enough for two
people, and rather uncomfortably crowded with the addition of my
presence. Still, we stopped here for a month or more, working away at
It was very fortunate for us that we had this timber land to fall
back upon, as it was the only thing we had to keep us going during the
winter, after losing nearly everything by the grasshoppers. I here was
much distress all over the State, and a fund was organised, called the
"Grasshopper Fund," to relieve the destitute people. Contributions were
sent in in great numbers and from every State in the Union, consisting
of money, food, and clothes. These were sent into large head quarters
at Topeka, the State capital, and then distributed to different
branches for redistribution among the suffering farmers. Of course,
numbers of the settlers were new comers who were dependent entirely
upon their crops for a living, having no capital to fall back upon, so
that a bad year meant literal starvation. Therefore, in that respect,
we were better off than many of our neighbours; still, we were glad to
accept some of the relief. We got a coat each and some boots, and from
time to time some flour and haricot beans, etc.
After living down here in the woods for a few weeks, we all moved up
to our old prairie farm again, where Humphrey was living alone. I found
the old place looking just the same after my absence of more than a
year, and was glad to see the familiar cattle and horses again.
By this time the winter was nearly over, and we could set to work
again with our ploughing ready for the spring crops. We had great fears
concerning the grasshoppers when they should be hatched, but
fortunately they did not live to do much damage. We had a few hot days
early in the spring, which hatched them out in myriads, but they were
succeeded by some frosts which killed the majority. If it had not been
for that, the probability is that every green thing would have been
destroyed, for their numbers were so great that the ground was alive
with them, though at first only about the size of fleas. As it was,
they did considerable damage to the winter wheat.Upon my return from
Blake's, I found our best cow, or at least the one that had cost us
most money, in a very bad way. She had been stuck in the mud, and was
now so weak that she could not stand. She had been lying down so long
that her skin was worn through in some places, and so now they had hung
her to the roof of the rough temporary shed which had been erected for
her, near where she had been stuck. It was close against a steep bank,
which protected her from the north wind. She was suspended by sacks
round her body, held up by ropes that just allowed her feet to touch
the ground, though they did not take much weight. She was fearfully
weak though, and after keeping her alive for some weeks by feeding her
up well, she died at last as she stood.
Shortly after returning I heard that the Quinn family had left the
neighbourhood. The old lady and all the children cleared out during the
night, driving away with a pair of horses and a waggon, and leaving the
old man behind. Two or three days after the team and waggon were
returned, but nothing was ever heard of the family of eleven children
and their mother. It was a most remarkable disappearance. I know that
the old people did not agree at all well, and the children all took the
mother's side, but I certainly never expected that they would decamp en
masse. One day I was alone in the house with Humphrey, and came very
near putting a bullet through him by accident. He was looking at one of
my father's rifles, a long Enfield, which he thought was empty, and
presently asked me if I could hold it out in position. "Yes, I guess I
can; let's see!" said I. I tried and aimed it at him.
"Don't point it at me. Aim out of the window. Yes, that's all right.
Now, let's see you cock it and pull the trigger. There is an old cap
on, it won't hurt the nipple."
I pointed it out of the window, and pulled the trigger, when -bang
!- there was a tremendous explosion, a smashing of glass and wood-work,
and I was kicked by the recoil half across the room. The gun was not
only loaded, but the muzzle was plugged up to keep out the damp. I
wonder that the barrel did not burst and kill one or both of us. The
plug was of cork with a brass top to it, and this was blown to atoms.
The bullet went through the window sash frame, and the pieces of the
brass smashed five panes of glass, and several were also found embedded
in the wall on either side of the window and in a clock case near by.
Humphrey was struck in the forehead with a piece of cork, and was very
fortunate in getting nothing worse, as he was sitting near the window.
It was a narrow escape for him; for, if he had not called out, I should
certainly have pulled the trigger while aiming at him, and then nothing
could have saved him.
This only shows again the danger of playing with fire-arms. Of
course, we thought the gun empty, but evidently it had been loaded,
probably by my father, when neither of us was by.
My father was a splendid shot with a rifle. I saw him once shoot at
a prairie hen standing on top of a shed one hundred and fifty yards
away, and cut its head off with the bullet.
During this winter the farmers set to work amongst themselves to
build a school-house. A site was selected, and all set to work with a
will. One or two quarried the rock, others hauled it to the spot, some
of the Swedishfraternity dressed the stone into shape, while others dug
foundations, prepared the joists, and hauled the lime and sand for the
mortar I went with Samaurez to Council Grove to get lime, and on our
return journey we nearly lost it and the waggon also, for we had a
heavy shower of rain which might have slacked the lime and set fire to
the whole lot.
We passed a waggon on our way back which had taken fire from this
cause, and was being rapidly destroyed, the farmer standing by
powerless. Fortunately, we had plenty of coverings with us, and by
taking off our coats, too, we managed to keep the rain off the lime.
The house was completed during the winter, and opened shortly
afterwards; but I never got a chance to go, as I left home about the
It is a very good system in a new country where cash is scarce, that
of all hands combining together to do a job of this kind, as the work
is done sharply; and as al] the men know each other, it is quite a
friendly gathering. The roads were made in the same manner, the farmers
assembling and bringing teams, ploughs, scrapers, and other tools,
andsetting to work under an overseer appointed by themselves. In this
way hills are levelled, gullies filled up or bridged across with
culverts, swampy places made sound, and a good road to town thus
completed in a short time. The roads are supposed to be made around
each square mile, but at present the settlers only make those that are
really necessary to travel on; though anyone planting a hedge puts it a
certain distance within his line, so that there is a strip of land on
the outer edge of the section to be made good as opportunity arrives.
As I have before observed, the country is divided into square miles,
-six hundred and forty acres; and it is proposed that around each of
these, in course of time, there shall be a good road forty feet wide.
This, when carried into effect with a good hedge on either side, will
be a remarkable feature in the country.
This spirit of co-operation is practised even to the boarding of the
school-teachers, or "school-marms," engaged at the school-house when
built; he or she is "boarded around" amongst the neighbours week by
week.The State is divided up in the following way by the government
survey. There is a line through the middle, running north and south,
and another, running east and west; and starting from here all the land
is divided by straight lines into patches six miles square. Counting
north and south the squares are called townships, and counting east and
west they are called ranges. These squares are again divided into
square miles, of course, thirty-six to a six-mile square. The square
miles or sections, as they are called, are again divided as may be
required by the settler.
The description of my father's land in the government title was as
follows:-The west half of the south-east quarter of section four,
township fourteen, range seven east. This would show its position at
once on the map, irrespective of the county it was in, or of the
position it occupied at the head of a creek. One would know that it was
forty-two miles east of the centre, and eighty-four miles to the north.
Parker and Humphrey had the north-east quarter; Will Hopkins and my
father the south-east quarter; Walter Woods the piece parallel to my
father's, on the west; and the R signifies railroad land, H signifies
land available for home-steading. X shows the land occupied by us.
Township 14; or Range 7, east. (How the land is divided.) other parts
were not settled, as the land was rocky and much broken up.
We were almost half-way between New York and San Francisco, as close
to Fort Riley there stands a monument over the grave of an
officer,which is in the exact geographical centre of the United States.
The land is not all available for homesteading, because for a
distance of twenty miles on each side of the railway every alternate
square mile belongs to the railway company. This mass of
land-practically a strip of twenty miles wide and the length of the
track-is given by the Government for opening up the country, and a fine
reward it is too. It is by this time pretty well sold up, though when
we first settled, it was all quite open, and formed good grazing land
for our cattle. Beyond the twenty miles all the land was open for
settlement upon payment of the small homestead fee, and here the amount
of land one could take in this way was one hundred and sixty
acres,-just double the size of a homestead within twenty miles of a
Besides this, all over the State, there was one section in every
township-that is, one out of every thirty- six square miles put aside
for school purposes; its proceeds, when sold, going to the improvement
of school-houses, or the payment of the "marms."
CHAPTER IX. More Herding
Another engagement.—The Cromptons.—Helping on the
farm.—A fog.—Strayed horses.—Lost heifer.—Clearing Wilkinson's
melon patch.—Snakes.—The wild bees' nest.—Mud-daubers.—The
quarrel.—Bad weather.—My pony wears out
AS the weather grew warm we had to think about our cattle again.
Last year, while I was at Blake's, the cattle, which had dwindled down
in number from various causes, were sent out to herd; but, as I was
back again, we thought to get together a herd as before. I could
scarcely get enough though to make it pay, and so hearing of a man,
some few miles from home, who was in want of a herder, I went to offer
my services, and we soon came to terms. He was to pay me eight dollars
a month and board and lodging; but as our cattle were to be herded
also, there was to be a reduction of three and a half dollars a month,
leaving me four and a half. This arrangement was for six months, from
the 4th of May to the 4th of November. On the first named date Jack and
I drove our cattle over to the head of Wilson Creek, where lived the
Cromptons,-the people for whom I was going to work. Having found the
herd, I bade Jack's "good-bye" for six months, and he rode away,
leading the pony I had ridden over on, while I took over the charge of
the herd. The cattle soon became acquainted with one another, and in a
few hours were feeding quietly together, until by-and-bye evening came
on, and I drove them home to the corral for the night, when I was
introduced to the Crompton family. I had not as yet seen the house or
any of its inmates but Steve Crompton, the eldest son, whom I had met
out on the prairie, and we had made arrangements then and there.
I found that the family consisted of Mrs. Crompton, a very old lady,
a nice motherly sort; Steve and his wife; John, another son; and a
daughter, Kate. They were very nice agreeable people, and I got along
first ratewith them. They had a large farm, as the old lady, being the
head of a family, had taken a piece of land, and the two sons, being of
age, each had land as well.
They had a comfortable home and a good many horses and cattle, and I
had a very good pony for herding, which Steve had bought expressly.
Poor old Charlie! I guess that he had rather a rough time of it, as
sometimes the cattle were rather troublesome, as will be seen later on.
We were living just on the boundary of two counties, Morris and
Davis. In the latter there was no herd-law, and in the summer, when the
grass was good, I could sometimes drive the cattle over the border and
leave them for several hours. I was then able to help the Cromptons at
work on the farm. During the harvest I loaded all the wheat, and
stacked most of it. Harvest comes very early out there, in the latter
part of June or the beginning of July, much earlier than in England,
whereas haying is just the reverse, coming as late as September. This
is, of course, wild prairie hay. Anyone just takes his mowing machine
out and cuts away as much as helikes, wherever the grass is good
enough. It makes splendid hay if it is got in dry.
I had plenty of work all the time I was living here, up at four
o'clock to hunt for the horses, who were turned loose at night over the
border. They never came to the fields. I used to go on foot for my
pony, who was turned loose too, and always went barefooted, for the
grass being high and usually smothered with dew, a pair of boots would
be wet through in no time. As it was, with my canvas overalls rolled up
as high as they would go, they were frequently wringing wet before I
got home. One of the horses had a rope dragging, so that I could catch
him, and mounting drive the others in.
One morning I had found them, and was crossing a ravine on the way
home, when I came into a thick fog. It was so dense that, although
knowing the lay of the country pretty well, I could not find my way at
all, and for two hours I wandered about in almost absolute darkness. Of
course, the horses were not anxious to get home, or they would
doubtless have been able to find their way. At last I got on the top a
hill where the fog was notquite so thick, and was able to take my
Fogs are very scarce indeed out there, I think I can hardly remember
another; occasionally there was a little mist early in the morning, but
the rising sun soon dispelled it.
One morning I started out as usual to find the horses at four
o'clock, but after visiting all their usual feeding-places, and
tramping about through the wet grass for three hours, I could not find
them, and returned to the house. I had some breakfast, and then went to
a neighbour and borrowed a pony, while Steve let the cattle out of the
corral, and drove them into Davis County, where they could do no
damage. Having a mount I did not care so much, and I started along the
edge of all the fields anywhere near the county line to try if they had
got into the corn anyhow. I could find no signs of them, however, until
presently I struck their trail about three miles from home, and found
that they had passed through the little town of Skiddy, and had crossed
Clark's Creek. I followed them up for a time, until I at last came in
sight of them seven miles away, and still traveling from home. I cannot
under stand what possessed them to stray off in this way; they must
have got a fright somehow. I had my stock-whip with me, and didn't I
bring them home at a fine rate! I arrived back at the farm with them
at twelve o'clock. Ever after that my herding pony was picketed out at
night, so as to avoid a repetition of such pranks.
One day, when I left the cattle for a few hours as I often did, to
work on the farm, I lost a heifer. Perhaps a little before noon, when
the cattle had eaten their fill, and were ready to lie down and chew
the cud, I used to drive them up within sight of the house, round them
up a little, and wait for a short time, until presently every one of
them would be lying down half asleep. Then I could ride to the house,
get my dinner, and work away until the cattle got up and roamed away
out of sight over the hill, when I had to mount my pony and start after
them, and stop with them until the evening.
Well! on this occasion I rounded them up and counted them, and found
them all right; but, on returning to them in the afternoon, I found
them in rather a wild excited state, anddiscovered that there was a
heifer missing, as well as a young stray steer that did not belong to
the herd, but which had taken to it and fed with it for several weeks.
Of course, from time to time as I could leave the cattle for a little
while, I hunted around in all the little hollows and likely places, but
could not find her, and so took the herd home without her. The next day
John Crompton tended the herd while I spent all my time in searching
high and low for the missing heifer, but all to no purpose. We had been
able to find out to whom the stray steer belonged, and now came to the
conclusion that its owners had been after it, and possibly taken our
heifer along for some reason or other.
The next day Steve and I rode over to the owner, who lived ten miles
away, to see if we could get any information. We found their herd and
the steer with it, but no signs of the heifer, and as their house was
empty, they being but two bachelors, we were unable to gain any tidings
here. On our way back, hardly knowing what to do next, when passing
through my usual herding-ground, we -found the poor thing, lying down
in the long grassin a slight hollow, with a broken leg. It was evident
that while cutting out the stray steer, they had run the cattle about
over the rocks a good deal, which accounted for their being so excited
when I found them that afternoon, and the heifer had been injured in
this way. Still, as we could not prove anything, we had to let the
matter drop, and the heifer was killed. The loss fell upon the owner,
as Steve did not guarantee the well-being of cattle which he undertook
to herd. Of course, there was no blame attached to me, as I was absent
from the herd at the time, according to instructions, but I did not
half like losing the animal. It had the effect of keeping me entirely
with the herd afterwards.
We had very few neighbours about us. A few miles down the creek, in
Davis County, there lived an old man named Wilson, who had been there
very many years, in fact, so long that the creek was named after him.
He was pretty well off, had a fine herd of cattle and several good
horses, and, of course, having been the first settler, he had picked
out the best farm in the neighbourhood. He was an old bachelor, and
lived in a little log hut ina very primitive manner, and alone, save
for a boy about a year or two older than myself, who looked after his
cattle. He was not exactly a herder, as there was no herd-law, but,
having a number of cattle, he had to look them up every day to see that
they did not stray into the next county. He was not a nice youth, for
though often meeting him on the prairie, he seldom spoke. I guess he
was rather proud, for he used to come out sometimes in a collar and a
blue necktie,-articles rarely sported on the prairie. (I remember once
my brother Jack was going to have his photograph taken, and for the
life of us among the four we could not find a collar. He was taken with
a tie on though, one that my father had brought from England.) He was
always well dressed, and rode a splendid pony, while I had only canvas
overalls and a couple of hickory shirts, which were worn right along
Although living very comfortably with the Cromptons, money was
mighty scarce; I received no advance, and once kept a letter for two
months for want of a five-cent stamp, and was then ashamed to send it
to an oldschool-fellow back in England for whom it was intended.
Another neighbour was an Englishman, named Wilkinson. He had been a
windowdresser in a hosier's shop on Ludgate Hill Rather a change for
him, this quiet country life and farming, after the noise and bustle of
London. He had not got thoroughly Americanised when I knew him, and was
rather conservative on some points. For instance, he threatened to
shoot anybody who dared take a melon out of his patch without his
permission. It is quite a regular thing here for a traveller to enter a
field or an orchard and help himself to a water melon or a peach or
apple, and being universally allowed it falls no harder on one than
another. Any man that disapproved was quite at liberty to help himself
when out travelling, when he would find a nice ripe melon very
acceptable. It cannot be called stealing, for all is done openly; it is
simply a neighbourly action. Still Mr. Wilkinson did not like the
practice, and in our hearing threatened dire punishment on any one who
should rob his fruit. John Crompton and I resolved to give him a lesson.
One dark night, when there was no moon, we took a couple of horses
and two big sacks, and rode over near to his farm. We left the horses
in a hollow, out of sight of his house, and then taking the sacks,
crawled on hands and knees through the long grass and into his melon
patch. We cut a good many and ate the best parts, leaving the remainder
so that he could see that someone had been enjoying themselves, and
then filled our sacks with the finest in the patch. We rolled them down
the ravine to where we had left our horses, threw them across their
backs, and went home, without even having disturbed old Wilkinson's
dogs. We covered up the melons in the stable with a lot of hay in case
he should come around, which he did the next day, complaining bitterly;
but I don't think he had any suspicion as to who the culprits were. It
was perhaps rather rough on him, but if the stupid man had but borne
the loss of an occasional melon in a neighbourly manner, we should not
have cleared his patch for him.
The farmers, as a rule, are very hospitable, and one could ride
across country hunting up stray cattle or horses for days
together,without being asked to pay for his board and night's lodging,
or for his horse's provender. Of course, a man usually offered
something, but the almost invariable reply was, "Oh! that's all right,
stranger, just you do the same for me when I'm in your parts!" Where a
house was near a main road, running from town to town, such for
instance as old Blake's on Monkres Creek, one was bound to make some
charge for accommodation.
There being but few settlers in Crompton's neighbourhood, snakes
were pretty plentiful, and I used to kill lots of them when out on the
prairie with the herd. One day I had a big battle with a bull snake,
about the largest I had seen. After I had killed him, I held him up by
the tail, and reaching as high as I could, could scarcely get his head
off the ground. I settled him with my whip, which made a fine weapon
for the purpose. It was a regular stock whip, with a short stout handle
about a foot long, loaded at the end with lead, and had a lash fifteen
feet long, made of plaited raw hide, round and tapering like a snake.
It was enough to damp the ardour of any "rampagious" bullock, as when
properly handled it would pop like a pistol, and draw blood every time.
Sometimes I found snakes in such positions that I could not kill them.
I was riding through the brushwood one day, when I saw a nest of five
copperheads, all in a heap, but the trees were so thick that I could
not swing my whip, and as there were no rocks near at hand I was
reluctantly obliged to pass on.
Early one morning I had a high time with a wild bees' nest. It was
about half a mile from the house, and I had determined to take it for
the honey. This is how I set to work. The nest was a hole in the ground
out on the open prairie, an old burrow of some animal; and I went just
before daybreak with two small flat sticks of wood, and began to thump
on the ground to wake them up. I heard a big buzzing and humming, and
then two or three crawled slowly out to see what was the matter. They
came out gaping and rubbing their eyes, but before they discovered the
cause of their being awakened so early, I had smashed them between my
They continued coming up, and rather more quickly, but I managed
them all right bycovering the hole with one stick, and just letting
them out one at a time to be killed with the other. Things were going
on nicely for me, not for the bees,-when, to my alarm, I saw that there
was another exit,-a backdoor to their residence-quite beyond my reach,
and from there they began to fly out in great numbers, for by this time
they were wide awake, and angry at being disturbed; there was quite a
roar in the nest. Immediately I saw this I knew that I must give up the
job, so I took to my heels, and ran about a quarter of a mile, and then
dropping to a walk was just congratulating myself on my lucky escape,
when-buzz! like a bullet a bee was down on me. He lit on the back of my
neck, gave a sting, and then slid down my back under my shirt, and
began again; but I soon grabbed him and smashed him in my fingers. He
was alone fortunately, but I had quite enough from him, and serve me
right, too, some will say, for trying to rob their nest.
These bees are not like the regular honey bee, but large things,
more like the humble bee, and capable, like the wasp, of stinging
repeatedly. They build almost entirely inholes in the earth. Wasps are
plentiful, also another insect, very similar, but black, and termed
"mud-daubers," from their practice of building nests of mud all over
the place, indoors or under the eaves like swallows.
The nests are very peculiar in construction, and contain inside, in
a semi-torpid state, numbers of little spiders, which serve as food for
the young when hatched.
One morning I found that one of the work horses was very ill, and
had much difficulty in getting him home to the house, where he died
almost immediately. He was suffering from the colic, and when I found
him it was too late to save him. We dragged him down the ravine a
little way, and there was no danger of his body proving a source of
trouble at the house, for in a few hours his bones were stripped by the
buzzards and bleaching in the sun.
It is wonderful to see how soon these birds find out a dead body.
You might ride about the country for miles without seeing one, but let
a carcass be thrown out on the prairie, and in a short time you will
see first one black speck in the sky, and then another, and,another,
until soon there may be some dozens of the natural scavengers, the
ugly, baldheaded turkey-buzzards, engaged in tearing it to pieces.
About the first of October old Mrs. Crompton left us on a visit to
her old home in Iowa, and shortly afterwards Steve and John had a big
quarrel. John could not agree with Steve's wife, and, of course, Steve
had to take her part. Words came to blows, and there was a rush for
weapons; John got an axe, and Steve a pitch-fork, and there would
doubtless have been murder if the two women and myself had not parted
them. After this they could not live in the same house; so John built a
shanty on his own land, and his sister kept house for him.
Of course, I stopped with Steve, as I had been hired by him, but my
sympathies were entirely on the other side. I liked John firstrate.
Shortly after this the weather broke, and we had it very rough. Almost
every day it rained fearfully hard, and sometimes froze as it fell, so
that the cattle and myself were covered with ice. At such times it
required all my energy to prevent a general stampede. I had to gallop
continually up and down before the face of the cattle, using my whip as
they scuttled along before the bitter north wind. This continual strain
wore out my pony. He was quite sore where I had to keep spurring him,
and at last he got so used up, that when passing over a piece of rough
ground, if I was in a hurry, I was obliged to jump off and leave him,
and rush after the cattle on foot.
Of course, this could not last long, and the pony gave out
completely, and died two or three weeks before the end of the season,
and Steve had to get me another.
The last three weeks of the herding was terrible work; wet through
or half-frozen nearly every day, and kept in a chronic state of
anxiety, not knowing but that at any moment the brutes might make a
stampede which I should be powerless to stop. As it was I often had to
just let them go before the storm, keeping them together as well as I
could, until they struck some creek under cover of which I could work
them round by degrees towards home.
How I counted the days and even the hoursof the last two or three
weeks, looking forward to the 4th of November! I don't know that I was
ever more anxious for a time to come than I was for that date to
arrive; the anxiety and strain combined with the unpleasant wet and
cold work were so great. At last the long-looked-for day arrived, the
herd was broken up, the different cattle sent home to their respective
owners, and I returned home with ours, after receiving my pay.
CHAPTER X. LEAVING HOME AGAIN
Premature arrangements.—An unexpected
check.—Start for Junction.—A silent ride.—My note.—Down the
track.—Commence work for Anderson.—Shucking and hauling corn.—A
horse trading trial.—Tom Crofter.—Anderson moves.—A bad road.—The
mail carrier.—The new farm.—Rats.—Leave Anderson
BEFORE leaving I had made arrangements with John Crompton to go to a
good school at Junction during the coming winter. We were going to rent
a small place in town, and his sister was going to keep house for us. I
had got about enough money to keep me through the winter, as living is
very cheap, and the tuition at the school was free. But the old adage
says, "Never count your chickens before they are hatched," and I guess
that I was a little premature in my arrangements.
When I arrived home with our cattle and my twenty-seven dollars -
for I had not spent a cent as yet,-I learned to my surprise that I was
expected to share the money with my brother Jack. This, of course,
would upset all my plans for the winter, and so I was very loth to
part. Besides, I could not see the justice of it, for I had not only
been keeping myself through the summer, while food was scarce owing to
the hoppers' visit, but I had also herded the cattle free of charge,
when I might have been staying at Blake's all the time. Of course, they
claimed that if I had been at home, and got up a herd, that any profit
would have been divided; but I tried that in the spring, and could not
get enough cattle together; besides which there would have been my keep
through the summer, and the wear and tear of a pony.
Still, I failed to convince them of the justice of my views, and had
to shell out. This knocked over all my arrangements, and I felt it so
much that I declared that I would not stop at home; but I guess they
did not believe that I meant it, for Jack and I were sent to town the
next day to sell a load of wheat. Jack was to buy some clothes and
other things, while I was supposed to be going with theobject of buying
books for my schooling, but that was quite out of the question, as I
could not keep myself all through the winter on fourteen dollars.
We started for Junction at five o'clock in the morning, of course
long before daylight, as it was a good long day's journey, seventeen
miles either way, and we had a good heavy load to take over the rough
country road. I guess it was a pretty dull ride that, for I was kinder
sulky, and not a word I spoke all the time. As we were going along
after the sun had risen and it was broad daylight, Jack pulled the tail
off a buffalo's hide which we had over our knees, and, throwing it in
the grass beside the track, said, "I wonder if we shall see that when
we come back!" These were the only words spoken on our journey, for I
would not reply, but thought to myself, "Well, you may perhaps, but I
shan't. I guess I shall be several miles away by that time."
We arrived at Junction after a while, and sold our wheat. We then
hitched our team to a post, and Jack went to get his photograph taken.
He wanted me to come too, very much, but I would not. I did not feel in
I should not have looked very pleasant in a photo just then. I left
Jack ostensibly to get my books, but I went to another store, and
bought some good rough serviceable clothes, some crackers, and a
pencil. I had the clothes made in a parcel, then ate the biscuits, and
with the pencil wrote a short note to Jack on the paper bag. The note
was as follows: "Good-bye, Jack, I'm going away. Don't wait for me, for
I'm not coming home any more." This epistle I tied on the whip-handle,
and saying "good-bye" to the old horses, started off down the river
eastwards, my idea being to work my way along, gradually earning enough
money to enable me to return to England.
After travelling a mile or two along the railroad track, I went down
under a little bridge and changed my clothes, leaving the majority of
my old things there. This I did, not from any fear of detection,-for I
did not suppose for a minute that they would try to find me and bring
me back,-but simply because my old clothes were quite played out,
having been worn all summer.
By night I arrived at Ogden, a little townabout ten miles down the
river, below Fort Riley, and here I put up at a boarding-house. I
inquired about work, and could have obtained it close at hand, but
preferred to get further away. I travelled along on the railroad track
again next day for some miles. It is the recognised highway for all
foot travellers, as it is not only the nearest way from town to town,
but it is easier walking. The bridges were nasty things to cross
though, as they are only trestle-built structures. The metals are laid
on big square wooden logs, eighteen inches apart, and one had to step
from one to the other. It was not a very nice job; a false step would
have sent one headlong into the river, or on to the rocks a hundred
feet below. There was only a single track, so that it was best to make
sure that there was no train coming in either direction, because to
meet it on the bridge one would have to lie down or else hang on
underneath while the train passed over him. Still, as there were but
four trains a day, a passenger and a goods each way, there was not much
danger in that direction.
That afternoon I passed through Manhattan, thirty miles from
Junction, and when aboutfive miles beyond there, in Pottawattamie
county, I met a young man on a pony, who asked a question about some
stray horses. I inquired for work, and he told me that, if I went down
to his father-in-law's farm, a little farther on, I could no doubt get
some corn husking to do. I went on and soon found the place, and was
engaged at 75 cents a day during the time that the job should last. I
found the farmer was a Swede, named Anderson. He had a big family,
mostly young, and one daughter rather older, who was married to the
young man I had met, Tom Crofter, a Scotchman. They lived with the old
They had a big farm, though it was only rented, and there was work
for some few weeks, husking. The Indian corn ripens about the end of
September, or rather later, but, unlike most crops, it is not necessary
to gather it at once. The ears are covered by the shucks, and it can
stand out in the field for a long time without being damaged, so that
it can be gathered at the farmers' convenience.
There was another man in Anderson's employment, a German, Henry, and
we threeworked away husking corn for a good time. The usual plan of
work is like this. The corn having been planted in the usual way in
rows and hills, a waggon is driven straight along over one row. One man
takes three rows on one side of the waggon, and another three rows on
the other, while a third takes the "down row," that is, the row broken
down by the waggon, and assists a bit on either side as required.
The hand is armed with a "shucking-peg" -either of wood or iron
fastened on with a thong,-which tears open the shucks on the ears of
corn, which are then pulled off the stalks, and thrown into the waggon.
When this is full, it is driven to the corn crib and emptied by means
of a big scoop shovel, a slanting board having been previously put in
one end of the waggon, to form a surface for the shovel to work on.
The three of us could husk and unload about a hundred and
twenty-five bushels a day, five waggon loads. When this work was all
completed, we were nearly into the middle of winter, so I agreed to
stop on with Anderson for a while, for my board and lodging, andHenry
did the same, doing the "chores,"- that is, attending to the cattle,
and "hewing wood and drawing water," etc.
As spring drew near, and the price of corn was raised, Anderson
began to sell, and then we had plenty of work, hauling it to town,
where, after being weighed on a big "Fairbanks" scale, it had to be
unloaded into the immense cribs which the traders had built in town.
This was very hard work, using the big scoop, which held nearly half a
bushel, for the cribs were so high and full that it was as much as one
could do to throw the corn high enough. The waggons, when unloading,
were always surrounded by lots of pigs and cows belonging to the
townspeople, which picked up the stray ears which fell to the ground.
Old Anderson was very fond of his drops, and usually returned
partially drunk, for he and I generally came to town; and while I
unloaded the waggon, he paid a visit to the "saloon," as all
drinking-bars are there called. He used at first to try and get me to
drink with him, but after my little experiment with the neat whisky up
at home, I had forsworn all spirituous liquors; so he generally gave
mea quarter of a dollar, and told me to buy crackers or apples or candy
and take some home to the children.
Of course, I did not want a shilling's worth of sweets every day,
and, while generally taking some to the children, I saved a little
money during this period, although not in receipt of any regular wages.
Anderson, as a rule, was a very morose, surly sort of man, but, when a
little under the influence of whisky, became quite jolly and prodigal
with his money. Henry was just the reverse; he was usually a very
good-natured, lively individual, going about his work, singing and
whistling, but directly he got outside a few glasses of whisky, his
manner was very different. He was then exceedingly irritable, and went
about swearing and quarrelling with every one. He was by no means an
abstainer; he could not, in fact, wait until he got to town for his
liquor, but kept a bottle hidden away out in the stable or elsewhere.
Once Tom and I found a bottle of whisky in the side of a haystack,
and Tom made punch with the contents for himself and hiswife, and then
returned the empty bottle to its hiding-place, Henry did not say
anything about it, but was rather out of temper for some time. While I
was staying here, Anderson traded horses with a neighbour, and we had
rather an amusing time over it.
The neighbour, an old Englishman, named Hockley, proposed the
exchange, which was, his three-year-old filly, not broken in, for
Anderson's old blind mare, a steady-going old work-horse. Anderson,
having two or three teams, was nothing loth, and the "swop" was made,
but two days afterwards Hockley came over to say that the mare had died
during the night, and he wanted his filly back again. Of course,
Anderson could not see the force of this, and Hockley went to law to
The action came off before the "Squire" and twelve of the
neighbours, who assembled at his house to form the jury. The "Squire"
was a farmer like the rest of them, but a sort of justice of the peace.
In the meantime the filly was hidden away, for Anderson was
determined not to give her up, whether he lost or won.The action was
not for damages, but simply to recover the young mare; so one dark
night we put her in a little uninhabited log-house, which stood on
another man's farm, a long way from any other buildings, and we used to
go and feed and water her by night. It was well that we did hide her,
for one night we were awaked by the dogs, who found two men prowling
about the stable, evidently Hockley and his man, looking for the filly.
At last the day for the trial came round, and we all repaired to
"Squire" Dick Holt's house. He very seldom had anything to do in his
official capacity, as the county was but thinly settled, and, in fact,
they had to hunt rather wide for the jury. Amongst his other duties a
squire is authorised to perform the marriage ceremony, which is done in
a very off-hand and business-like manner. Here is a description, culled
from an American paper.
Squire. "Have him?"
Squire. "Have her?"
Squire. "Done. One dollar." This is perhaps rather shorter than
usual, but the "ceremony" is always very simple.
Squire Holt's residence was but a one-roomed log-house, and not of
the largest dimensions, so that with the jury and the witnesses on both
sides the "court" was rather closely packed.
There were no solicitors, or, as they there term themselves,
"attorneys at law," present, and the trial began by old Hockley stating
his case in person.
After being sworn, he said:-
"Mr. Squire, and gentlemen of the jury, with your leave, I guess
I'll jest tell you the facts of this here case. On the fourteenth of
December I went to see Anderson yonder, as I was a-wanting another
work-horse. I offered to swop my three-year-old filly, which ain't
broke, to him for a blind mare which he owned. The defendant comes over
to see the filly, and I goes over to see the mare, and I agreed to take
her on trial for a week. The defendant agrees, and I takes the mare
home, and then takes the filly to defendant's. She was worked the next
day and seemed pretty bully, but the next morning my littleDutchman
finds her dead as nails in the stable, with her head in a pool of
blood, and I guess I've got witnesses to prove all what I say. Now, I
claim that the mare was in a bad way when defendant got rid of her, and
he knew it, and I hold that he oughter return my filly. These are the
facts of the case, and I hope you'll see that my demands is just, and
give me my dues."
Cross-examined by the defendant.
A. "I believe you owned it was you and not me proposed the swop?"
H. "Yes, I wanted a work-horse at once, and didn't want to wait to
break the filly in."
A. "Jess so. Who did you make the arrangement with about taking the
mare on trial for a week? It wasn't me."
H. "Yes, it was; I told you I would try her for a week."
A. "You're a liar, man!"
"Order! order!" from the Squire.
H. "Why, if I'd only agreed to let you have the mare for a week, do
you think I'd have taken the filly to feed, and p'raps break in, and
all for nothing? That's enough!" The next witness, Antoine Prosser, a
little Dutchman, whom we always thought but halfwitted, was then
H. "You are in my employ, ain't you?"
Prosser. "Oh yes, I does works for you. Vat for you say so?"
H."To let the court know who you are. Now tell us all you can about
this swap. Did I have the mare on trial or not?"
P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."
H. "Which is so?"
P. "You trade ze horse."
H. " I guess you don't quite understand. Did I have the mare on
P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."
H. "And two days afterwards you found the mare dead in the stable?"
P. "Oh yaas, dat is so all."
H. "And there was a lot of blood?"
P. "Oh yaas, there was plenty bleed."
H. "How much?"
P. "Oh, much bleed."
H. "Yes, but how much."
P. "Big heaps."
H. "Very well, that will do."
P. "Oh yaas." Cross-examined by defendant.
"One minute, Mr. Prosser. You say that the plaintiff had the mare on
trial; who told you so? Was it the plaintiff, Mr. Hockley?"
P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."
A. (To the jury.) "Do you call that evidence, gentlemen?" (To the
witness.) "Did you hear the arrangement made between us?"
P. "Oh yaas."
H. "Oh, get out; why, man, you weren't there. You found the dead
mare in the stable, did you?"
P. "Oh, yaas, dat is so."
A. "How was she laying?"
P. "She laying on ze ground still."
A. "And there was blood? And where come from?"
P. "She have bleed of ze nose."
A. "How much was there?"
P. "There was much bleed."
A. "Yes, but how much? What sized pool was it? was it as big as
that?" opening his arms about a yard.
P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."
A. "And how deep was it?"
P. "There was much bleed." A. "Yes, but how deep was it? Was it as
deep as that?" holding one hand a foot above the other.
P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."
A. "There was a pile of ' bleed' three feet wide and a foot deep.
Sir, do you know that you are on your oath? Do you know what an oath
P. "Oh yaas, it is schwear; Mishter Hockley makes much schwear."
A. "Thank you; that's all I've got to ask you."
P. "Oh yaas."
The next witness, another man in Hockley's employment, was sworn,
and deposed to the mare being found dead in the stable; but, upon
cross-examination, he admitted that he did not hear that she was only
upon trial until after she was dead, and it was also elicited that the
mare had been very hard-worked the previous day, having travelled
nearly fifty miles. This closed the case for the prosecution.
The defendant Anderson then laid his statement before the jury.
"Mr. Squire and gentlemen, I guess it won'tbe necessary for me to
say much after the evidence we drew out just now. I can only say that
the plaintiff came to me of his own free will, and offered to swop his
filly for my mare. I went to see his filly and agreed to trade. Nothing
was said about taking my mare on trial. Lord knows, he knew the mare
well enough. If the mare was sick, I didn't know it; she seemed well
enough when I had her. I went to see her after she died, and found her
lying in the stable, with a little blood from her nose. I guess the
pool of 'bleed' had kind o' soaked up, for there wasn't much to be seen
when I got there. I guess she had overpulled the day before, as you
know blind horses sometimes will. There's nothing more for me to say,
except that the plaintiff and his little Dutchman seem to have agreed
to tell lies and swear to 'em."
Cross-examined by Hockley. "Do you mean to say that I didn't tell
you out by the corral that I wanted the mare on trial?"
A. "Ay, and you know it well enough."
H. "Well, as I had no witness there I can't prove it, but I guess my
word's as goodas yours. On your oath now, can you swear that the mare
was in good health when you saw her last?"
A. "No, I can't exactly swear that."
H. "Ah! I thought as much. What ailed her?"
H. "Why, when you traded her to me?"
H. "Why, you said just now that you couldn't swear that she was in
A. "No, I didn't."
H. "Well, what did you say then?"
A. "I said that I couldn't swear she was in good health when I saw
H. "Well, that's what I said. What was the matter with her?"
A. "Well, when I saw her last, she was dead." (Laughter.)
H. "Bah! I mean what was the matter with her when you traded her to
A. "Nothing. She has been overworked, that's what killed her."
The next witness, Tom Crofter, was called, and he swore that he was
present when the "swop" was made, and that the plaintiff did not
propose to have the mare on trial at all. This was corroborated by
Anderson's man Henry, and myself.
I had been over with Anderson to see the dead mare, and was
subjected to a close cross-examination by Hockley, but he failed to
shake my first statements. This concluded the defence, and the jury
were called upon for their verdict.
They stepped out of doors into the snow, as that was the only
retiring-room, and after a very few minutes' deliberation (for it was
mighty cold) returned with a verdict for the defendant, which, of
course, was the only thing they could have done after the very evident
perjury on the plaintiff's side.
Old Hockley abused Anderson a bit, and evidently fancied himself a
very aggrieved individual.
After the trial we went to the log-hut where the filly was hidden,
and brought her home in triumph, after Anderson had added insult to
injury by telling Hockley where she was, and assuring him that he would
never have got her back, even if the verdict had been in his
favour.After this things went along pretty smoothly; we had our regular
"chores" to do, but very little besides. We went shooting very often in
the woods which fringed the Kansas river, which ran near us, and
sometimes got a good many rabbits, prairie hens, and quails, and
occasionally a wild goose.
Now and then we got a glimpse of a beaver, of which there were many
in the river, as was evident from the way in which the trees were cut
down; large cottonwood-trees, a foot thick, were felled by their
powerful teeth, but the beavers were very shy, so that we never managed
to shoot one.
Tom Crofter was a splendid shot. He had been a Texan "cow-boy," and
had had a good deal of practice. He had spent a few years on the trail,
driving cattle from away down in Texas up to Kansas, where they were
shipped on to the cars and sent east to market, either to Chicago or
New York. It is rather rough work, travelling by slow stages to allow
the cattle to feed as they go for over a thousand miles, passing right
through the Indian territory, where they are liable at any time to be
attacked either by Indians or whitecattle thieves. Of course, the
cow-boys are armed to the teeth, and as they are well-known to be
rather desperate characters, unless the odds are very great against
them they are seldom attacked.
The cattle at night are bunched up, and the "boys" take it in turns
riding round them all through the night to scare away either wild
animals or thieves. A fire is lit to cook their supper by, beside the
waggon which accompanies them, and the boys, save one as a watcher,
fall asleep afterwards either in the waggon or on the ground around it.
The boys are usually about a dozen in number, but vary according to
the size of the herd, which may be of any size from one to three
thousand cattle. After they have sold and shipped the cattle, the boys
go on the loose generally for a few weeks, and mostly manage to spend
all the money that they have earned before returning. Brawls in the
saloons are of very frequent occurrence, and as the bowie-knife and
revolver were always close at hand, the loss of an occasional cow-boy
was a natural consequence.
Tom Crofter carried a bowie-knife with himalways, which was in such
good trim that he used to shave with it. Wichita and Abiline were the
towns most favoured with the cow-boys' presence, and those places were
regular pandemoniums. In the early spring Anderson rented another farm,
and moved higher up the river, about four miles above Manhattan, and
then we had a fine time, moving all the hay, corn, stock, tools,
implements, and furniture. It was about the worst bit of road I have
ever seen,-and I have seen some bad ones,-the road between Manhattan
and the new farm. At one spot we went down a road, carved out of the
hillside overhanging a creek, which we reached at last, and crossed at
the ford; and then there was another great hill to go up, which landed
us within a stone's throw of our first hill, after wandering about for
nearly half a mile amongst the trees and through the ravine. Then came
a little bit of comparatively level ground, and then another hill,
where the road was only a shelf cut in the hill, overhanging a railroad
track, with beneath that the river rushing along. The shelf was only
wide enough to pass one waggon at a time, save for two or three gaps
cut a little deeper into the bluff, and it was always a matter of
chance whether or not you might meet a vehicle and be unable to reach
one of these havens in time.
It was lively work, I can assure you, driving a big load of hay over
there, after having already come over some rough ground; a little extra
tilt, and the whole thing might be thrown over the precipice on to the
track, and then into the river.
One day we met a buggy on this hill before we could get quite into
the wider place, but we were fortunately on the inside, and so stood
still to let the trap pass us. Of course, our load of hay took a good
deal of room, and it was only by the very barest chance that they
managed to pass. I expected every second to see them precipitated
below, but the buggy being narrow, they could just squeeze by. If it
had been an ordinary waggon, they could not have done it. One of us
would have had to back.
I was very glad when the moving was over, for I certainly considered
it dangerous work travelling with big loads as we did. Of course, for
ordinary travelling to town it was not sobad, but to be perched away up
on top of a big load of hay, and with nothing to hang on to if it
slipped-well, I'd rather be excused from any more.
The new farm was not so large, nor nearly so wel1 kept, as the one
Anderson had left, and in fact I guess it was rather a come-down for
him. Still, one could hardly wonder at it from the amount of money he
must have spent in drink. His visits to town were very frequent, and I
can hardly say that I ever saw him come back quite sober. I am
surprised that he did not get a farm of his own, which he could easily
have done by going a little further west and" homesteading" eighty
acres. Of course, it would entail some hard work, breaking the land,
and so on; but then he would have had the satisfaction of knowing that
any improvements which he made on the farm would be for his own
benefit, and not for a landlord's.
Besides this, all the crops he could raise would be his own
entirely, without a third part having to go to the owner as at present.
That is the usual rent when cash payment is not decided on, which it
seldom is. But Idon't think Anderson had enough energy in him to start
a prairie farm for himself, and he could not live far away from a town
and whisky. Anderson had a nephew, who was a mail carrier between
Manhattan and a town thirty-five miles up the Blue River, who used to
come and stay with us overnight twice a week, when at this end of the
His father had the contract for carrying the mails twice a week each
way, but the son usually did the work, which in winter was pretty rough.
No matter what the weather was, he must go, and though he was
certain that he might get stuck in a drift, he must make a start.
Sometimes he drove a little buggy, and sometimes he rode horseback, and
though he was often delayed by the badness of the roads, he managed to
pull through somehow. He always carried a couple of revolvers with him,
in case he should be stopped by anyone, but I never heard of him being
molested. I guess the mails between those towns were not worth much.
Our new farm was situated right on the banks of the Kansas River,
and the land wasvery sandy; still, it was good corn land, though one
effect was that it was overrun with sand-burrs,-vile weeds, all
prickles, which rendered it almost impossible to walk about bare-footed
as one would like to do. They are not content with being stationary,
but a little wind will start the dead branches and seed-pods rolling,
and they stick to everything they touch. The cactus is nothing to them.
Creek farms are always more or less infested with them, but they are
comparatively scarce on the prairie.
The new house was but a two-roomed affair, with a basement beneath,
and as we were rather a large family,-ten in number,-it was none too
large for us. Still, we managed somehow, Henry and I sleeping down
below while we were there; but we did not stay long. There was a
peculiar hollow in the land, a sort of natural sink, with a good-sized
pond in the bottom, and the house and out-buildings were built round
about it. The stables were of the kind known as "Kansas stables," that
is, built with a few forked posts stuck in the ground, with poles laid
across, and the roofand sides built up with sods, brush, manure, and
rubbish of all sorts. As Tom Crofter was living with the old man, after
we had mended up the fences,- which were in a very bad condition,-and
got in the crops, there was no more work for Henry and me, as two men
were more than enough to run the farm through the summer. Henry got
work with a neighbouring German, and I hired out with a farmer named
Whiteman, some four miles higher up the river.
Tom Crofter had rented a small piece ot land adjoining Whiteman's
farm, and I went up to help plough it and plant corn. We had rather a
fine time up here, for we camped out during our stay, preferring to do
that than to go home every night. There was an empty log-house on the
place, which we tried to sleep in on the first night, but we were woke
up by the rats running all over us. I tell you we cleared out of there
in a hurry, as the shanty was infested with them.
On the following night we just lit our fire and cooked our supper at
some distance from the building, and then rolled ourselves up in our
blankets on the ground. There we couldsleep in peace, for even if
roofless, we were ratless.
In the morning we took a dip in the lake near by, and then, after
breakfast, were ready to start ploughing again.
While engaged on this work, Whiteman came over to have a look at us,
and asked if I wanted work. I told him I should be out in a short time,
and he hired me for six months at ten dollars, including, of course,
board and lodging.
CHAPTER XI. ANOTHER CHANGE
The Whiteman family.—John Hardy.—Beer
gardens.—Harvesting.—Fourth of July.—Heavy storm.—Swimming in the
cornfields.—Horses on the railroad.—A funeral.—The Eureka
Valley.—The lake.—Thrashing.—A panther.—Another chance of
WHEN our job was done I returned home with Tom and worked a few more
days for Anderson, and then packed up my very few belongings and went
I found that the family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Whiteman and four
daughters, and there was besides a hired man, John Hardy. They lived in
quite a fine house, having actually five rooms in it, with a verandah
and mosquito blinds of green muslin; the largest and most comfortable
house I had seen on a Kansas farm. His farm, too, was in fine
condition, had an osage-orange hedge all round it, and a nice orchard,
and he was building a splendid big stone barn and stable, the largest
in the neighbourhood.
The family was much better educated than most of the people I had
mixed with, but were considered rather straight-laced by the
neighbours, for Whiteman did not swear, except on very special
occasions, and on Sundays nearly all the family drove over in the buggy
to Manhattan to attend meeting. I believe that they were both members
of a Church, but I guess I have seen Whiteman thrash one or two of his
daughters for quite a slight offence, until he was about tired out. I
didn't think that that showed a remarkably Christian spirit.
Hardy and I had Sundays to ourselves after the "chores" were done.
We were allowed to take a horse, and were at liberty for the rest of
the day to go where we liked. Occasionally we went to meeting at the
schoolhouse on the hill; but more frequently we amused ourselves
walking or riding about in the woods around the lake, or swimming in
the river. Now and then I went down to see my old friends, the
Andersons, who were always pleased to have me call.
Hardy, though, used to go very often on Sundays to some German beer
gardens in the woods near town, where all sorts of amusements were
carried on, just the same as on the continent,-music, dancing,
beer-drinking, card-playing, etc. I went with him once to see what it
was like; but as I never was fond of dancing, and was a total
abstainer, I did not care to go again.
The beer drunk was only lager, and very mild, so that no harm ever
arose on that score, and perhaps there was no more harm in spending
Sunday in that way than in the way most young fellows do over
there,-fishing, shooting, swimming, or horse-running.
The summer wore on without anything of special importance arising;
we "cultivated" our corn, and then harvesting came on, during which
period we had a busy time. Of course, we three could not do it all, and
the neighbours helped one another, as the usual custom is. The grain
was all cut by machine; one never sees a reaping-hook out there. It
requires about six men to keep up with a machine. Binding is nice work,
but rather hard, and it wants some practice to make a good tight job
of the sheaves. I could get along very well, and keep my station clear
as well as the rest of them; but one has to be on the jump all the
time, to get all bound and out of the way before the machine comes
We had a lot of this work, for Whiteman, having a good many acres
himself, it, of course, took us a good many days' work to
counterbalance those on which the different neighbours worked for us.
On the fourth of July we had a holiday, and all repaired to the
woods near Manhattan, where a grand picnic was held. We had a splendid
time and a most substantial spread under the trees. Then there were
"spread eagle" speeches, music, dancing, and all kinds of games,
followed in the evening by a grand display of fireworks. Liquor was
very plentiful, and I am sorry to say that some of the party, John
Hardy amongst the number, got rather elated in consequence. He emptied
ten pint bottles of lager beer, which apparently had no effect upon
him, but when later in the day he capped these with a few glasses of
whisky, he began to get boisterous, and to so misconduct himself, that
Whiteman, who had a great dislike for such practices, gave him notice
to quit. He was replaced by Dick Foote, Whiteman's nephew, who had just
come out from Indiana. He was a decent young fellow, and we got along
very well together.
When the harvesting was about finished, Whiteman and his wife went
east to see the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition  and to
visit friends, and were absent some two months, during which time Dick
and I ran the farm, ploughing the stubble land up, and getting ready
for the next crops, besides cutting and getting in all the hay.
While they were absent we had a terrific thunder-storm and heavy
rain, which did a good deal of damage about the country. There was such
a quantity of water fell, that in one part of the corn-field, where
there was a little hollow running across, there was a fast-rushing
stream four feet deep, right up to the ears of maize. Dick and I waded
in to see how deep it was, and were carried off our feet and had to
swim for it. At another part of the farm we had a lot of hay cut, and
this was washed away until it was caught and deposited on top of the
hedge. All this was where, in the ordinary way, no water ran at all,
simply in a little dip in the land. During the storm, which was in the
night, one of the bullocks in the corral was struck and killed by
lightning. In the morning we drove the cattle out and started them away
a little bit, and then skinned and buried the ox so as to get him out
of the sight of the others; but during the following night the prairie
wolves dug the hole open and exposed him to view, and then what a fuss
the cattle made when they smelled the blood! They bellowed and snorted
and tore up the ground with their hoofs; they fought and gored and
trampled upon each other in their excitement, and it was with the
greatest difficulty that we managed to get them away from the spot.
We afterwards dragged the carcass a mile away, and left it to be
devoured by the wolves and buzzards.
It is strange that cattle should make such a disturbance over blood;
they seemed perfectly mad for the time being.
Towards the first evening after the storm I had to go out and hunt
the cattle up for the night, and I had a nice time of it. It was
usually done by one of the daughters, who could all ride first rate,
but on this occasion, as there was so much water about, I thought it
better to go myself. I found the herd all right after a while and
started for home, but on the way we had to cross a spot where there was
usually about a foot of water. This evening, though, I found that it
seemed very deep, but the cattle started across and so I followed.
Presently the water came up to my feet and then to my knees, so I drew
my legs up and sat on the saddle with my feet on the pony's withers,
for I didn't care about getting wet through again just then.
However, it was no good, for before long the water reached up to the
saddle, and in a few minutes the whole herd was swimming. I put my feet
down and stuck to the pony, and as a horse when swimming is pretty deep
under water except for his head and neck, of course I got soaked up as
high as my chest. Still we reached the opposite bank in safety, and I
guess I took those cattle home at a good sharp rate to get them warm
and dry, for the nights were beginning to get chilly now.
One evening about this time I saw a herd of horses run into by the
train, and five of them were killed or so badly hurt that they had to
be shot. The railroad track ran across the valley a little way below
our farm, and the cattle and horses used to feed around there often;
and on this occasion a bunch of horses got on it, and did not go off
when the train came along. As it approached, the driver blew his
whistle and rang his bell, but the horses, instead of getting oft; ran
along the track for some distance, until they drew near to a trestle
bridge across a ravine.
By this time they could not get down off the track, as it had risen
on a high embankment; they could not go back because of the train
following them nor could they cross the bridge. The driver did not
attempt to slack down, but dashed on to the helpless drove, who stood
huddled together quaking with fear. In a second the engine was upon
them, and the powerful cow-catcher in front flung them right and left
and sent them rolling down the embankment on to the stones below.
The train passed on without a pause to see what damage was done, and
was soon out of sight. I galloped up, and found three of the poor
things quite dead, and the other two with their legs broken and
otherwise injured. I knew who they belonged to, and rode up to tell the
owners, who came down and shot them. Such things occur occasionally,
for the drivers very seldom trouble to stop their engines for cattle on
the track. The farmer, however, usually gets compensation from the
railway company. During the summer, I attended the funeral of a young
lady, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, who had died under
somewhat painful circumstances.
Miss Dora Shepherd was a very beautiful girl, and as lively and gay
as she was pretty. Her death was caused by dancing when she had
something the matter with her foot, which would probably have got right
with a little rest, but being of a very lively disposition, she
persisted in going to the dance, and the consequence was that her foot
and leg became very bad.
After a while she was taken east to St. Louis, Missouri; and here it
was eventually decided that amputation was necessary. This was carried
into effect, but she died shortly after the operation, and was brought
home to be buried.
All the Methodist community looked upon her death as being a
judgment for dancing, and never lost an opportunity of bringing it up
as an example.
The funeral was very simple, but impressive, and took place in the
ground attached to the school-house. The coffin was carried by several
young girls, her former companions, and was completely smothered in
flowers. There was a glass panel over the face, and the corpse was
dressed in her best clothes, and looked very beautiful when we all
passed round to take the last look.
This was the only funeral that I ever saw in our parts; they seemed
to be rare occurrences. The district was certainly very healthy, though
I don't think that we were quite like the town out west, which Mark
Twain described as being "so beastly healthy that they had to kill a
man to start a cemetery."
Whiteman's farm was certainly one of the best I have seen. It was
splendidly situated near the banks of the Kansas River, in the fertile
Eureka Valley, which was enclosed by high bluffs, which helped to make
the fine rich bottom land for which the valley was noted, the fine loam
washing down by the heavy rains, and leaving the big limestone rocks
behind. A short distance from the farm was the Eureka Lake, one of the
most beautiful places imaginable. It was of irregular winding shape,
and nestled down among steep banks, clad with trees almost tropical in
their luxuriance. A large island stood in the middle, and here the
vegetation was magnificent. Great cottonwood trees towered up,
festooned with Virginia creeper and wild grapevines, while over the
smaller trees and undergrowth the wild hops, cucumbers, and gourds cast
their brilliant green network, making it most difficult to force a
passage through. Here flourished the coffee-bean tree, which in the
springtime is covered with large clusters of pink and white flowers,
something like the horse-chestnut, but giving out a most powerful and
sweet perfume, scenting the air for a long distance around; also the
black locust tree, with its great prickles a foot or eighteen inches
long, bristling from its otherwise clean smooth bark.
Again, in the early spring, before the leaves were on the trees,
the iron-wood tree decked the landscape with its bright pink blossoms,
similar to the Japanese almond, and in the autumn the woods were gay
with the wawhoo's brilliant scarlet and orange berries, in addition to
the splendid colours of the dying leaves.
Besides these more conspicuous trees there were numberless other
varieties, as the hickory, hackberry, black-walnut, the black, white,
live, and scrub oak;, the white, red, wych, and water elm, ash, yew,
cedar, mulberry, and the stately plane tree. The undergrowth was a
tangle of gooseberry bushes, raspberry and blackberry canes, vines and
creeping plants, dog-wood, box-elder, wild plum trees, pawpaws,
cherries, withes, reeds and rushes, all growing in the most dense,
picturesque, and wild confusion.
As the island was not often visited, owing to the difficulty of
access without a boat, game was very plentiful, but during the winter,
when the lake was frozen over, the young fellows crossed and shot and
hunted a good deal. The lake teemed with sun-fish, cat-fish, bass
suckers, and turtles, and we often spent an hour of an evening
practising the gentle art, frequently with good results.
When Whiteman returned from Philadelphia, we set to work thrashing
out the small grain, and had a fine time of it. He had several stacks,
and the work was mostly done on the same principle as the harvesting,
that is, the neighbours came and helped, and Whiteman worked for them
in return, either himself, or by sending a substitute, so that, as
nearly all the grain in the valley was thrashed at the same time, it
kept us busy for a while. The thrashing machine, and some of the
horses in use, belonged to one or two parties, who make it a business
of going about the country working either for cash, or taking a part of
the grain thrashed. The farmer whose grain is being thrashed finds the
other horses necessary for turning the gear, as well as the majority of
the hands required, and boards and lodges the men for as long as they
stay on his farm. It is nice, lively work, though some positions are
fearfully dirty, notably the straw-stack, and this position was
At Whiteman's I built a tremendous strawstack, the largest in the
valley, and it was so straight and substantial, that I was almost
invariably selected for stacking at the neighbours' places when their
thrashing came round.
The feeding of the machine was very dirty work, too, and, in fact,
we nearly all looked like niggers by the time we quitted work. There
were usually about twelve men employed, one on the wheat-stack, who
pitched the sheaves to another, who laid them on a table with the ears
towards the machine, where the band was cut by a third man armed with a
blade from a reaping machine, set in a handle. He passed the now loose
wheat to the feeder, who guided it into the drum. The grain then ran
out at the side of the machine and employed three more men, measuring,
sacking, and carrying away, while the straw went up the elevator and
gave employment to two, or sometimes, when the stack was high, three
more hands, and then there was a man or boy on the platform, over the
horse-gear, to keep the horses going at the right rate.
Thrashers always live on the fat of the land, and the quantity of
fried chicken and pumpkin pie consumed is pretty considerable. The
principal meal is supper, about six or seven at night, after the
regular day's work is done; but the other two meals, breakfast and
dinner, are also substantial ones. There is no tea, only three meals.
Of course tea is drunk, but coffee is the principal drink out there.
The men travelling with the machine, and some of the farmers living
a little distance away, sleep on the place, mostly out of doors, about
the waggons or the stacks.
It was getting late in the autumn now, and it was rather cold to
wake up of a morning with white frost all over one. By the time
thrashing was over, the corn was ripe, and we then started gathering
it, and this kept Whiteman, Dick, and me engaged for some time, for
there was a big patch to do.
I was out on one of the neighbouring farms at one time, with some
more young fellows, where there was a fine orchard, and I guess we
didn't go to sleep until we had sampled their fruit to a considerable
There was a panther, or perhaps, more correctly speaking, a jaguar,
killed just across the river during the autumn. For some time it was
known to be in the neighbourhood, and it at length attacked a man and
pretty badly damaged him. The settlers then got up a hunt, and after a
little time found him in the woods and managed to shoot him.
Such things are now remarkably scarce, that one was the only one
heard of for several years, and it caused a considerable scare on the
While here I received another offer of adoption. This made the third
offer I had had, for while at Anderson's I was asked by old Hockley to
take up my abode with him and his wife, but I could not quite see it,
they were such a disgustingly dirty lot. This time, however, the
circumstances were rather different.
Living with Whiteman's family was an old maiden lady, Miss Avarilla
Goodwin, a retired "school-marm." She owned a first-rate farm, which
she was obliged to let out, having no one to attend to it, and so
proposed to adopt me. She was a very nice old lady, and much liked by
all who knew her, and I have not the slightest doubt but that we should
have agreed very well, but as I was even then on my way home to my
mother, I could scarcely fall in with the arrangement. She had a niece
though, in Manhattan, who came to see her sometimes, one of the
prettiest girls I have ever seen, which might have been a powerful
argument, if I had been at all inclined to stay in the country.
When the husking was done, we spent a while hauling corn to town for
sale, and then, my six months' agreement being completed, I left
Whiteman's and arranged to go back to old England.
Whiteman paid me up all right, though he wanted me to take out as
much as I could in store goods, that is, he gave me an order on a
store- keeper in town to get anything wanted, for which he paid in
corn, and he would get a higher price for his corn in this way than he
would if he sold for cash.
I got a suit of clothes, a pair of boots, and a few small
necessaries, but as I was going a long journey, of course I wanted cash
and not goods, and so could not oblige him much in that respect.
All being squared up between us, I said good-bye to Whiteman's
family, and went to stop a few days with Tom Crofter, who had made
another move, and was living up the Blue River, about two miles from
I stayed with him while I arranged what ship I should go by, and
then went east. While with him I bought his watch, and the trading
instinct being strong with him, I gave him six dollars and exchanged
pocket knives. It was a very good little silver watch, of English make,
and although a former owner had been out of his mind and taken it apart
and put it together again, it still went very well.
CHAPTER XII. CONCLUSION
Good-bye to Kansas.—On the ice at Quincy.—Philadelphia.—The
man's thumb.—The sharper.—On board the Pennsylvania.—Stuck
in the ice.—Christmas and New Year on the sea.—Home again.—Ashtabula
Bridge.—A few words of advice
I LEFT Manhattan by the eastward-bound train about nine o'clock in
the morning, the only train in that direction during the day. I was a
little late in starting, and how I scuttled down the road from Tom's
house, in case I should miss the train! for missing it meant losing a
day, and thereby being too late for the sailing of the ship I had a
ticket for. But I was in good time, as the train came from away up in
Colorado, and I took my seat in the cars for the first time in six
years, and soon left the well-known scenes behind me. I passed by the
farm where I had first joined Anderson andTom Crofter, and then was
whirled away into a region quite unknown to me, though, of course, it
was the same route I had travelled over in going out from England.
I reached Kansas City the same night, changed cars, and then resumed
the journey, sleeping in the cars, which were very comfortable, until
we arrived at Quincy, Illinois, which city we reached at three o'clock
on Sunday morning. Here we had to put up for twenty-four hours.
I had struck up an acquaintance with the conductor, and went home
with him to spend the remainder of the night at an hotel kept by a
relation of his, and was made very comfortable. In the morning I had a
walk around the town, which seemed a large thriving place. It is
situated on the Mississippi River, and I went to have a look at the
mighty stream. It was now frozen over, and was alive with people
skating, sliding, and sleigh-driving on its broad surface. The ice was
three feet thick and without a flaw, and I saw a place where on week
days they drove great waggon loads of wood across, while the fine large
Mississippi steamers were all frozen in for the winter. Itwas a grand
sight,-the wide-reaching field of ice,-the river here being a mile wide.
I paid my hotel bill overnight, and retired to bed rather early, as
the train started eastwards again at three o'clock on Monday morning. I
was asked if I would be called at that time, but I told them I guessed
I should get up without calling, trusting to my early rising
experiences at old Blake's, and, sure enough, I woke at half-past two,
then dressed, and got to the train in good time.
I believe that one can wake up at almost any time, if the mind be
made up over night.
From Quincy we passed on to Chicago, where I had to change again,
and then on to Pittsburgh, and then at length arrived at Philadelphia,
from whence I had arranged to sail instead of from New York. I spent
the night at an hotel near the docks; I forget the name of it, but I
remember it had a peculiar relic in the coffee room; it was a man's
thumb,-the proprietor's,-and was shot off at the battle of Vicksburg.
It was preserved in a bottle on the mantel-shelf, and formed a highly
edifying object of contemplation.Early in the morning I changed my
American greenbacks for good old English gold, which, later in the day,
I guess I came near losing. I had gone on board in good time and made
my bunk comfortable, and after leaving my belongings down below, was
standing around on the quay waiting for the ship to sail, when I was
accosted by a spruce, well-dressed, gentlemanly-looking man. He entered
into a casual kind of conversation; he said he was going over to
England on business connected with his firm, Messrs. So-and-So, of
Philadelphia, and such a street, London,-of course, a sham address-and
hoped we should have a pleasant voyage, with other small talk. He asked
a few questions, as most Americans can, and then said he must go and
fetch his portmanteau, and turning to go said we should meet again on
A minute later he returned. "My portmanteau is a little heavy,
perhaps you wouldn't mind stepping up a couple of blocks, and giving me
a lift." There was plenty of time to spare, so I went along. "By the
way," said he, presently, "I want to square an account up the street
here, before I leave; canyou lend me some money till I get my
"I've got nothing but English gold," said I.
"Oh! my friend will take that - how much have you got?"
"That's all right; if you'll lend me that, I'll just step in here,
pay my account, and then give it you back, when I get my trunk."
Like a fool I handed him the money.
"Thanks, I shan't be a minute," as he disappeared in the doors of
the store. At that very instant it struck me that all was not right,
and I determined not to let him out of my sight, so I followed into the
Here my suspicions were confirmed, for he did not attempt to pay any
bill, but finding that I was watching him, he bought some trifling
article, and went out.
"Oh! the man's not in that I wanted to see," said he.
"All right, let's go and get the bag then."
Well, he walked round the stores and about the streets a bit, and
seemed to be wanting to give me the slip, but I had determinedto stick
to him like a leech now. At last,
"Ain't you afraid you'll lose the ship?"
"Well, ain't you?"
"Oh, I guess I won't go by this one."
"Well, I guess I'd rather lose the ship than my money," said I;" so
pass it over, please."
"All right, here it is," said he, handing me some coins.
"Here, these are not what I gave you"- for they were just some gilt
tokens or Hanover sovereigns; "these are not worth a cent."
"They are what you gave me."
By this time I had found out the sort of man I had to deal with, so
I put on a bold front.
"Look here, Mr. Sharper, if you don't hand over my coins in about
two shakes, I'll let daylight into you," at the same time putting my
hand into a hip pocket, as though I had a revolver; "and see, there's a
policeman coming yonder, so you'd better shell out quietly."
This he accordingly did, though sorely against his will, judging
from the language he indulged in.It was certainly a narrow squeak, for
if I had not been on my guard he might easily have slipped away out of
sight. Of course it was exceedingly foolish of me to have let the money
out of my hands. I suppose that I ought to have given him in charge of
the policeman that I saw, but had I done so I must have stopped in
Philadelphia to prosecute, which I did not choose to do; so he escaped
justice for that time.
Moral.-Don't be disobliging to strangers, but don't lend them money.
I reached my ship, the
Pennsylvania, of the "American" line,
just in time, and started down the Delaware River at eleven o'clock. It
was fearfully cold weather, for it was now the middle of December, and
the Delaware was full of ice, through which the steamer passed with
great difficulty. As we got lower down near the sea, the ice became
thicker still, until at last our great ocean-going vessel stuck fast in
it. The engines were reversed and she backed out, and then rushed at
the ice again to attempt to force a passage through, but in vain; there
was a crash and a mighty shock that nearly sent every one off their
feet,and then we were fast again. This was tried two or three times
without a way being opened, and then we had to back out and lay by.
while ice-boats came and cut a passage for us.
These boats were little sharp-prowed vessels, which worked in pairs
at some distance apart, ramming away and chipping the ice away in great
In two or three hours we were able to pass through, and out on to
the open sea.
The ship was very empty as regards passengers, and I had a much more
comfortable time than I had had on the outward voyage. There were only
forty steerage passengers on the Pennsylvania against nine
hundred on the City of Brooklyn, but the ship was full of beef,
butter, and cheese.
I spent Christmas on the sea, and though perhaps not the most
enjoyable one within my remembrance, still we managed to make ourselves
Profiting by my former experiences, I had taken a few things on
board with me, such as Swiss milk, canned fruit, etc., which with the
regulation roast beef and plum pudding made quite a respectable
Christmas dinner.We had some rough, stormy weather, but arrived safely
in sight of the Irish coast on New Year's Eve. At midnight all the crew
came on deck and made a fearful racket to welcome in the New Year. They
rang bells, blew horns and whistles, beat gongs and cans, and shouted
themselves hoarse until we reached Cork Harbour.
The weather was still rough, but not so bad as it had been, and it
was said that had we been a day earlier, we could never have got in the
harbour, the entrance being rather narrow. I suppose, though, that when
once in, it is one of the finest harbours in the world.
We left the mails and a few Irish passengers, and then started for
Liverpool, which we reached at nine o'clock at night on the 1st of
We were not allowed to land, however, until morning, when the
Customs' Officers examined our luggage. I started off for London as
soon as possible, and though travelling with a lot of half-drunken
sailors, who were singing or quarrelling all the way, I arrived there
in safety, and the same night reached my old home.I guess that on my
return journey I had had a rather narrow escape on the railway, for on
my arrival at home I read in the newspapers of the fall of the bridge
of Ashtabula, Ohio,-a bridge which I had passed over a very short time
before. The whole structure caved in and let a passenger train through
on to the ice below, and the unfortunate people, who did not go through
and get drowned, were burned to death by the wreck taking fire. This
always takes place if a train is upset, owing to the big red-hot
stoves in each car.
In conclusion I should like to give a few words of advice to any one
about to emigrate.
Well, of course in the first place, if you have made up your mind to
go, you must also make up your mind to rough it. You must cultivate the
habit of sleeping in any kind of surroundings, on a board and without a
pillow, indoors or out. I have been to sleep on horseback before now.
You must be prepared to cook your own dinner if needs be, and wash
and mend your own clothes, and darn your socks if you wear them, and
think yourself fortunate if you arenot reduced to the position of a man
I knew, who lay in bed while his wife mended his only pair of trousers.
You must not care much for appearances, and be reconciled to seeing
patches on your clothes, and again think yourself lucky if they are of
the same colour. I have seen brown overalls, with patches of
flour-sacking, with the brand and description of the flour in blue
letters still on,-and quite a novel and startling pair of pants this
You must be prepared to withstand extreme heat and extreme cold, and
become indifferent to getting wet through to the skin at intervals,
and, above all, you must make up your mind to work, and to work hard.
You must accustom yourself to early rising; for though you may not
fall in with a Zedekiah Blake, still in summer, at least, every farmer
starts work pretty early in the morning.
If when you arrive you have any capital, don't immediately invest it
in land, or cattle, or horses-you don't know the value of such things
in the States yet, even if you did in the old country-but put your
money away in a good bank, and hire yourself out to a farmerfor a year
or so, until you have got an insight into the habits and customs of the
country, the kind of work you will have to do, and the climate you have
to prepare for.
You may not be able to get very high wages, if you are
inexperienced, but in the end it will pay you, if you even work for
awhile for only your board and lodging. You will gain so much
knowledge, and be so much better able to start a farm on your own
account, that the year so spent will never be regretted or looked upon
Let me here caution you against the advertisements one sees in the
papers, "Farming taught, etc., premium Ten to Fifty Pounds," as the
case may be. This is a gross swindle; for a man, no matter how green he
may be in farming matters, is always worth his food and lodging. Learn
to ride as soon as you possibly can; a man or boy who cannot ride is,
in a new country, about as valuable as a clerk who cannot write in a
city office. I could not ride at all when I first went out, but soon
learned, and with the continued practice that I had, I became almost a
centaur. I used sometimesto ride at a gallop, standing up on the
You must learn to handle an axe well; an ordinary American can do
about as much with his axe as many an Englishman can do with a whole
Show yourself willing to be taught, and you will find the settlers
always ready to help you on.
On starting a place of your own, don't make the mistake we made, but
build your cattlesheds, etc., on the hillside facing the south, and be
careful about selecting the site for your house; you will find plenty
to keep you employed, without having to undo work already done.
Take due precautions against prairie fires; you cannot tell at what
minute one may come along; and don't place too much reliance upon any
natural advantages you may seem to have. To burn the grass of a strip
of land between two furrows thirty yards apart does not take long, and
this simple precaution may save you hundreds of dollars.
You must be content to see very few people at times, and those,
perhaps, not altogether ofthe kind you would have associated with in
England, though you will find that the majority improve very much when
they become their own masters and get a home they can call their own.
You must leave all idea of luxuries behind you; comforts are as much
as you can expect, and indeed you may at some time have to consider
yourself fortunate if you get the barest necessaries of life, as, for
instance, during the grasshoppers' visit, of which I have spoken.
Still, all things considered, if you are not happy in the old
country, and are dissatisfied with your position and see no chance of
bettering it, you might do worse than go west. This fact remains, that
if you are willing to work, you need never despair of getting a
livelihood, which does not always follow in this country.
I know that if at any time I found that I could not get along here,
I should at once return to the States, feeling convinced that, having
got my own living since I was thirteen, I could surely do the same
The principal thing, however, for the emi- grant to bear in mind is,
that he must follow old Horace Greeley's advice, and "Go west, young
man, go west!" It is no use stoppin, about New York, or any other big
cities, on the look-out for work, as things are pretty much the same
there as in London.
With regard to climate, I think that the American's remark as to his
having seen no weather in England, only a lot of samples, applies
equally well to this part of the world, though perhaps the samples did
not follow each other quite as quickly. The ranges of the thermometer
are certainly much greater.
During the winter, the cold weather-and it was cold, too-usually
lasted several weeks without a thaw, and during the summer we sometimes
went for a very long time without seeing a sign of a cloud, and the sun
was hot enough to raise blisters on one's arm even through a shirt.
When it rains, it usually pours, and as the little ravines and creeks
mostly drained a large surface of land, they were often swollen beyond
Our nearest ravine once overflowed and carried a rare lot of stuff
away, and after the water had subsided, we had to spend a day down the
creek collecting our property, as we found it deposited on the brush
heaps; there were planks, wheelbarrows, pitchforks, pails, barrels,
etc.,-all in the wildest confusion, together with the majority of our
fire-wood. At the same time, the water entered our milkhouse and
spoiled the milk and cream that was there, but the crocks and pans,
though floating around, could not get out, as there was a door to the
Sometimes we had a heavy rain at the beginning or ending of winter,
which froze as it fell until everything was encased in ice. This was
dreadfully hard on the cattle, especially when they were weak and poor,
after a long, cold winter.
We were also subject at times to terrific hailstorms, during which
the stones were often of a tremendous size. I have heard old Blake say
that once he was driving to the fort with a lot of garden truck for
salad, etc., when a storm came on and the hailstones were as big as
hens' eggs, and they rattled down upon him so hard that he had to empty
his produce out of the big wooden tub it was packed in, and get
underneath it himself. He may have exaggerated the size a little, but
anyhow, when I was at Anderson's, we had a storm, when, without the
slightest exaggeration, the stones were larger than walnuts, and damage
was done to glass windows, etc., in Manhattan to the extent of several
Now and then we were visited by very high winds, almost hurricanes,
which did considerable damage. I have seen haycocks lifted from the
ground and carried high in the air, while chips of wood, boards, and
other bodies would often be carried some distance.
The roofs of all stables and outhouses are always kept down with
ropes with a big stone on either end.
While I was at Blake's, a prairie settler's house was blown over and
demolished, and the boards carried several hundred yards. It was
reported in the local papers that during one storm a sow was carried
right across the Smoky River. This I can only give as I read it, I did
not see the occurrence myself.
After I left I heard that a railway bridge across the Blue River was
If my few remarks are acted upon on your arrival in "Sunny Kansas"
or the neighbouring States, I am convinced that you will not regret it,
and I shall be glad to think that these reminiscences have not been
written in vain.