[p.67] THOSE WHO CAME PEEPING IN THE WILDERNESS — OLD MICHAEL, OR "OLD PICKLE" — "OH SISTER PHEBE" — THE ANCIENT DUDE — SEVERE RELIGION — A PREACHER TRIED FOR DRUNKENNESS — THE PROPHECIES AND GROTESQUERIES — THE BRUSH HUT AND LOG CABIN — A TYPICAL WOODS PIONEER — ETC.
THERE were people enough here to begin to form scattered neighborhoods before there was such a thing as social life. The very first were nomads, wandering aimlessly across the mountains and along the winding streams, coming in sudden surprise upon the wigwams and brush and bark villages, and a few words in signs, and sit in that calm stolidity of the native about the camp fires, and then silently pass on and on. This strange creature was piloting the way across the continent—the vanguard to the millions that were soon to follow—and those to, who came to possess—the "nation builders," as they have been proudly called by their descendants. Indeed, they were far more than that; they were both the world's map makers and the founders of the new civilization. The reflex of their lives have re-mapped the world—recast the fate of the human race. Bundled in this strange, uncouth creature, these lonely wanderers were the restless spirit of independence and liberty—the rights of man as against the "divine" rulers. These people were a strange development of their age and time—the marvel of all history—the glintings of the luminous civilization that was to follow them; [p.68] whose developing food had been persecutions by church and State, and sect and heretic, and whose strong and unconquerable manhood and supreme self-reliance had come of cruel blows, or risen phenix-like from the flames.
"Old Michael"—the ancient "sexton and high constable"—John Michael Keinzle, was a most interesting and typical character of the good old times. The wicked boys of that day knew him only as "Old Pickle." He commenced so long ago, that memory runneth not, as sexton and grave-digger, and was elected high constable of Wilkes-Barre in 1806, and in his many offices served until his death in 1846. He was a stumpy, red-faced, bushy-haired and stub-whiskered Swiss. Beneath a rough exterior was a kind heart and infinite love of children, though the wild boys thought him a very ogre. In loyalty and obedience he was a martinet to his church and the law of the land, and yet he would rebuke the judge or the minister with equal bluntness at what he deemed the slightest departure from the proper form. All must behave in his presence—little children, great judges or venerable divines. One of the olden time boys has furnished a reminiscence that is so graphic a picture of the times and customs of the people that we can not do better than give its substance, much of it in his own words: "I can remember being one of a soldier company of which Ned Mallery was captain and Ned Babb was first lieutenant. Our guns were made in the carpenter shop of John P. Babb, of good wood, with a snap spring on the side, which answered our purpose, and were not dangerous. We used to parade on the Saturday half-holidays. [Schools then commenced by the sunrise and kept until sundown.] We paraded on the river bank, near old Michael's residence, which was in the Arndt storehouse on the edge of the bank opposite Morgan's tavern. On these occasions Michael would frequently pass along our line and give each of the boys a penny, a great prize to every one of us. We knew he was poor, and we never forgot his kind heart. He was constable and sexton of the churches, and attended to the opening and cleaning, lighting and bell-ringing, and always snuffed the candles, wearing in the church pumps, and silently, with snuffers, would pass around during the singing. He was the servant of the town, and in many ways its master. On Sunday he sat in the gallery to watch the boys, and woe to the urchin who did not keep still or made a noise. Every night at 9 o'clock be rang the bell of the old meeting-house on the square, a notice to the merchants to close up, for all abroad to retire to their homes, and everybody to go to bed; this he did without pay or any reward save that of good conscience; and in this he was as punctual as the sun in all weather. He had a pound on the river near his residence, and cattle found at large at night were driven there and the owner must come and pay his fine. When he found a man drunk and helpless on the ground he went for his wheelbarrow and on this took him to the pound and dumped him in with the other domestic animals. In the winter when the snow would cover the way or coal-ash sidewalks, Michael would be up before day while others slept and with his snow plow drive along the walks and have all the snow off before the people were up—this too was voluntary and with no pay attached. The pleasure of doing good was his reward. He had the only hay scales in the place, near his residence and the pound. Long chains were attached to a beam, fastened to the wheels of the wagon and all was raised clear of the ground, and the weight ascertained. Thus he was weighmaster too; his charge for each job was ten cents. No man was ever more fearless in the discharge of official duties; many a time he would make an arrest, take the prisoner to the door of the jail, when the man's goodness of heart would turn his prisoner loose after frightening him terribly and many promises of "never do so any more." This latter applied mostly to the youths of the town, when, which was not frequently, he could catch them. He had "clumb the mast" in vindication of this claim, when a wag intimated a doubt, he ascended the steeple of the church and stood upon the small ball, 125 feet from the ground. The man had a strong temper as well [p.69] as a severe religion. If he found a cow blasphemous enough to enter the churchyard then his temper rose to white heat; he generally had to chase them several times around the building, as the brutes knew they were trespassers, and the man, finally out of breath, would follow them with blackest frowns as they galloped away and swearing in broken Swiss until the air was blue about him. The narrator told of a time when a lad he rode bareback and wanting a switch rode up under a willow in front of the church. This brought him on the sidewalk, and with both hands reaching up getting what he wanted. The keen eye of the sexton saw him, and while he had both hands above his head the sexton struck his horse behind with his cane. The astonished horse madly sprang forward, the worse astonished boy came near having his head broken, and when he righted up and looked back he saw the sexton standing there with a mere splinter of his cane left which he had ruined in the blow. The wicked boy added to the man's wrath by heartily laughing at the ruin of his cane. As he held up the splintered cane, the boy says, he actually outdid himself in broken swearing even over the worst old trespassing cow in the town. Fifty years after this incident the man said: "I was wrong, for laughing at him, and am sorry now I did." He stood with that sympathetic manner peculiar to him by the side of every newly opened grave, so quiet, so full of real sympathy, as he dropped the dirt upon the coffin at the words "dust to dust," as was the custom, the bystanders would throw in the dirt until old Michael would say: "Dis will do, shentlemens," after which the people would depart and he would remain to complete the work.
Nearly a half century of the history of the times is in the story of Old Michael here, with his many offices, cares and responsibilities. The man always lived alone, having a room fitted up in the store house of E. P. Darling. His death came of a fall down the stairs which reached his bedroom; his body laid away in the old burying ground on Market street and the bell which he had tolled so often for others now mournfully pealed the knell for him. In conclusion the gentleman said: "I do not remember that any stone marked his resting place, and I have often wondered whether anyone now living could tell where his remains rest." He at another time expressed a desire to contribute something to the erection of a suitable stone over the dust of "Old Michael."
The publication of these reminiscences brought by return mail a letter from a gentleman of Wyalusing, signed "G. H. W." who heartily endorsed the idea of a suitable memorial stone over "Old Michael" and said he was desirous to contribute thereto. He then relates one of his recollections: "About 1832 there lived in Wilkes-Barre poor 'Jim Gridley,' whom the boys used to delight in teasing when on his sprees. I was attracted to the intersection of Market and Franklin streets on one of these occasions in which I participated as an outsider and onlooker. I was perhaps not as much on my guard as the more active ones, and Old Michael caught and dosed me with a prescription, 'when taken to be well shaken' and the medicine was effective. I never assisted even theoretically in another 'mill' of a drunkard."
This brief outline tells more of the times and customs of the people really than it does of "Old Michael." How this quaint character lived and moved, the dread and admiration of mischievous children; so severe in his whims that grown people never crossed them—the dear old sexton, who in addition to taking care of the whole town, the boys, the pigs and cows, the church and bell, his various official duties and a constant watch upon all and over everything, also found time from his housekeeping to cultivate his garden down on the river's bank and raise a great variety of flowers where marriages and funerals were furnished free of costs. The larger portion of this man's labors were gratuitous; his earnings came mostly in dimes and pennies, and outside of his garden the simplicity of his living required but small outlay and he therefore gave away the major part of his wealth, being happy [p.70] in making, the children happy—in doing always something to make everyone more comfortable. The difference in the people then and now is expressed in the fact that "Old Michael" would be an impossible character to-day; he was a natural product then, when people took time to live, while now they are in such a strain to die of dyspepsia or get a permit to go to the madhouse, grab the earth or burn the candle at both ends, that we miss much of real life and fun. The log rollings, apple pearings, house raisings and in a great frolic harvesting some sick neighbor's or widow's crops were here before these "sports" of the prize ring, base-ball and foot-ball matches; the good old country singing school before the modern opera; young men preparing to go a courting used perhaps more bear's oil then than now; the young ladies used more thorns for pins than diamonds, and the most aristocratic made music on the spinning wheels, the distaffs and the looms, and but rarely indulged in sea side visits, but rather repaired with the soiled clothes on their heads to the spring or stream and with strong, red arms paddled the life out of the dirt, with the aid of old-fashioned soft soap. The beaux would esteem it the rarest favor to be allowed to help here and wring out the heavy garments or quilts, and while the work went on, there was many a bargain made for a long and happy future life. They worked and laughed and danced their hearty, innocent young lives away and took their places as the "old folks," whose privilege it was to eat at the first table. All worked hard and none read the daily papers. There were no daily papers and heaven knows there was before those people an appalling amount of work. These great forests were to be cut and carried away to the factory; the impassable wilderness to be reclaimed and made gardens and fields; bridges, roads, canals, steamboats, railroads, telegraphs, houses, farms, school- houses, churches, public buildings, barns, fences, everything now here in place of the solitude and savagery were awaiting the magic touch of frugal industry. We, their favored posterity, were demanding all this of their labors and it was given and never a murmur of disquiet escaped them. They had no time to be fashionable, but all time to be laborious and earnest. Fate cast their lot an unhappy, or at least a hard one, we now may well conclude. But altogether it was not wretched. They had their amusements and pastimes. Great hunts were then great events. A wide region of country would be surrounded and at a signal all moved toward the center, and the climax would be an exhilaration that we can not now understand. Along the smaller streams, some of them, were numerous rattlesnakes, and many were the hunting parties, the crowd divided, with captains, and at night they were counted and the victors had earned the spoils. A log rolling had its accompaniment of a quilting—the men all day in the timber, the women at the house quilting; at night the supper table cleared away and "Oh sister Phbe, how happy were we," or a dance after the one eyed fiddler, who kept time by patting his foot. Terpsichore! what dancing—the real walk-talk-ginger-blue, the hoe-down, juba; girls and boys racing over the puncheon floor, or better on the bare ground, all hearts full of innocent mirth and all the next day their legs equally full of soreness and pain. All people went to church then of a Sunday at least. The young men mounted on burry colts; the original "dude" had store trousers, strapped under his high-heeled boots, a belt instead of suspenders, his hair greased and curled under behind, and then, if possible, a quilted saddle and he was sublime, receiving most of the sly glances of giggling girls—a very Beau Brummell. Probably he worked for some farmer at the gold-blinding rate of $7 per month, but he disdained anything but "bouten" tobacco. The young man in time became the noted possessor of a four-bladed store knife, that had a German silver heart on the handle. He showed it to the girl he was courting, loaned it to her to keep a week for him, and when he went for it, she said "'yes" without any further hesitation. They were happily married and the erstwhile dude "was soon equally happy in playing "Jumbo" for the grandchildren on the green as formerly he had been as master of ceremonies at the old-time hoedown. [p.71] They originally built their churches with no provisions for warming. There was a prevalent idea that sound religion did not accord with comfort. In the severest weather the grandmothers (often going many miles in the cart), would have their foot stoves. But the men and younger people disdained any such superfluities. The preacher was great and good measured by his endurance and powers of lungs. Preaching commenced rather early in the day—a short nooning, and at it again till nearly sundown. The text was read and re-read and every youngster was expected to be able ever after to repeat it, and the most of them could, months after, give the heads of the sermon—discourses that had dragged through hours and hours. A preacher was before the synod on trial for doctrines preached eight months before in a certain sermon. Numbers of men who had heard the sermon were witnesses and the exactness with which, after all that time, they could repeat the heads of the discourse, running way into the "seventeenthly" was one of the most remarkable feats of memory the writer can recall.
When they had neither church, preacher nor school, the whole people were far more intensely religious than anything we have now. There was but little wealth and no paupers; no asylums and no insane; no penitentiaries, and it was some time before the earliest law-breakers came, who were known as counterfeiters. The only rich men were those who had bought at nominal prices large tracts of wild lands, and these were mostly land poor. There was one feature of strange contrast of then and now. Those people were beginning at the bottom round to climb the long, steep ladder. They had all to build or make farms, houses, roads, bridges, schools, churches, public buildings, everything. The entire possessions were meager and values very low and cash almost none. They created and built everything, and the curious history is that the rate of taxes from that time to the present hour have regularly gone higher and higher. And it is not a true explanation of this to say that, we must have more now than they had to have then, and hence the increased tax. While we need more revenue, yet these needs have not grown with the marvelous increase of wealth. If the rate of taxes is greater with all public improvements, made and paid for, and the increase of wealth is only in even proportion to the increase of needs for public use, then there is the fact that with all to make, such was their superior justice and economy that they could manage public affairs better than we can. The proportions have not been preserved, and whether this is all for the better or worse each one must determine for himself.
Another very marked feature between then and now is the different environment of the young men, or the average business men. The young man now would hear of the great-grandfather when starting in life shouldering his axe, and, with a meager supply of food, start for the forests to chop out the foundation of his future fortune, with much commiseration for that old-time young man, and a corresponding self-felicitation on his better lot and more fortunate time. But the fact remains that, the proportion of young men of the old time who were successful in the race for wealth was then far greater than now. Any bright, resolute young man could then engage in business successfully without much capital and strong backers. Some of the greatest merchants of the past generation commenced with a meager pedlar's pack. A western cattle king commenced by investing his first $4 in a calf. Commodore Vanderbilt made his first money by ferrying a man across the river in a skiff—50 cents. A hundred dollars would at one time start a country store that, in a few years would be the leading mercantile establishment of the county. Intelligence, energy and economy were the capital then required—the whole world lay before all, equally inviting. Now we have the conflict of large capital and small capital—a war unto destruction, and the penniless young man, instead of starting in business on his own account, must accept employment, enter a field already becoming crowded, and it is the exception, daily growing rarer, where he can reverse, and become employer instead of employe. We older men can not realize how [p.72] rapidly this change has come. The elderly rich man of to-day will scornfully preach his sermon to the young man who wants aid, and again tell over the story of how he commenced life with his bare hands as his only fortune. He imagines the identical conditions obtain now. Twenty years have marked an era in financial affairs at least. Capital is being gathered into vast aggregations, and its almost limitless power is used to crush out small operatives. This tends to destroy competition, and the conflict of large capital against small extends its baleful influence until the entire community becomes involved. People naturally welcome the company or man of large capital, and every door of welcome is thrown wide open to him. Each can see that, in one sense, his coming will better their affairs, and general improvements, probably. The young man who comes into the village seeking employment is generally met with a polite request for a reference as to board bill. Cities pass a fire-limit ordinance, and the beginner without capital must then rent of the man able to build brick houses. The great merchant, one whose annual business is counted by the millions, can crush the small dealers, and has driven them out of trade in our cities, and you will find the former small trader now clerking in the great stores. Often the best brains in the community are hired—in fact, intellect is cheaper than gold. There is much competition among men of small capital; there is none where the man or company has one hundred millions behind as backing. Thus, in one view, the community is helped by vast aggregations of capital; in other respects, in the long run, there may come corresponding evils. "All is not gold that glitters."
The resettlement of Luzerne county, after the Revolution, while it brought back many of the first settlers, brought many more new ones. The new country, with blessed peace after nearly a quarter of a century of war, massacres, alarms and savage marauds, was an inviting field to the immigrant, and, like the rural justice's parties to the suit, as he noted in his transcript, they came "on foot and on horse-back." Some scattered ashes marked the spot where many rebuilt and commenced the wilderness life anew, and the old woods began to melt away before the swinging axes of these brave and hardy men. The supreme quality of the roughest of these men was a strong love of liberty and plenty of "sea room," and then boldly face the storm. The nearest neighbors often lived fifteen or twenty miles away; bears and panthers were far more numerous than people. The men learned to hunt, and the old match-lock guns were their family meat-providers. Before flax and wool the thistle and the hides of animals were their resources for clothing. Had this been a tropical climate apparent necessity would have adopted the scant suits of the Sandwich Islanders. A severe climate and the heavy growths covering the land fixed conditions here calling forth man's superb energies to the full; in turn, these were developing robust and the hardiest of men; stirred their energies and whetted their senses to keenest edge. All of which simply demonstrates the philosophy that man is ever seeking the easiest avenues in which to gratify his desires. If food and clothing of the best grow upon the trees the direct rays of the sun would warm and dry out the rain-soaked man; then men's energies would cease to act and physical degeneracy and mental petrifaction would soon follow. The pitiless storms, the pangs of hunger and the pinch of cold that moves the lazy animal, man, and he rises up, the all-conquering hero. The horrid severities man often subjects himself to (developing, also) are the gloomiest of stories. An old church record "on the Susquehanna" bears these entries, copied verbatim: "At a meeting Brother— exhibited his confession that he did passionately strike three of his neighbors," and in grievous repentance he was "disciplined." Then follows: "Sister— was put on her trial for the sins of prevarication, falsehood and other unchristian conduct." It was proved that she had spitefully said another sister had "painted with poke berries." Another sister had exhibited in open meeting, her confession: "I believe the Sabbath to be holy, and do confess that I traveled on that holy day, under peculiar circumstances." On another page is the following, that tells its own [p.73] story:" On the first Sabbath in February the sacrament * * * was administered to Sister Experience at her own house, on account of her being sick, after which the members present individually took her by the hand and bid her an affectionate farewell, not expecting to meet her in this world again, but hoping to meet her in another, to serve God without alloy." The proceedings after the return to the church conclude as follows: "After some conversation in experimental religion, and confessions of stupidity and indifference, asked each other's forgiveness."
Away back in the days when on every farm was a distillery a preacher was brought before the synod, charged with being, on a certain occasion "very drunk." According to the evidence he had drank the jug nearly empty while bringing it from the distillery, and the weather was very cold. All the witnesses agreed that he acted, looked and smelt like a man very drunk. The verdict of the court was: "There being nothing in the evidence to show that it might have been caused by going suddenly from the cold outside to the fire inside that caused the liquor to thus affect the man, therefore, not guilty." The next year the same man was again before the synod, charged with "irreverently whistling on the holy Sabbath." After a long, patient and fair trial, he was found guilty and silenced. These are literal cases from the records. They were an earnest, religious and severe people, inviting, each upon himself, the penalties that he would administer to others. While these old pioneer fathers were rigid and strong in every article of political faith, they were equally if not more severe in matters of religion. In politics they quarreled fiercely about war measuers, the proper defence of the flag, the building of domestic manufactories and like propositions, but in matters of religion they were unanimous in the deepest-seated faith, the very savagery of dogmas and the pitiless extirpation of heresy, they were agreed, however radically they might differ on points of doxy. Sternly, and even severely religious were these American pioneers; the representatives of the church militant, glorying in self-inflicted penances, and with the sword of Gideon smiting sin hip and thigh; rare bundles of inconsistency, full of fight and religion; shoulder to shoulder, battling with an invading army; two souls as one in hating England or fighting Satan and his imps, yet always ready in the fiercest of the struggle even to turn and read each other on the flimsiest questions of polemics. So full of the spirit of dissent were they that the laymen were ever ready to quarrel with the shepherds, and, without a qualm of conscience, they split, divided and subdivided their church organizations.
Sermons were their literature, their daily papers and mental pabulum. They were long and to us would be dreary, but they came to them, no doubt, as thoughts that breathe and words that burn. The following is some of the peroration of an old-time sermon by one of the great men of his time:
"How long, O inhabitants of the earth! will you suffer yourselves to be deceived by false teachers, delusive spirits and doctrines of devils?" Then follows a number of "How longs," concluding with, "How long will you catch at perishable things, outward ordinances or water baptism? when you are commanded not to touch, taste or handle those things that perish with the using, after the doctrines and commandments of men! * * * Why follow phantoms that can not save you at the hour of death?—take nothing with you that you can not carry into the gates of heaven: Can you carry water there? No! my friends."
There is food for reflection in this ancient sermon. It was the earnest words of a very earnest man, addressed to a people in active accord with the speaker. It is a marked characteristic of the times and the people, and vet how can we reconcile the fact that only a few years before this preacher preached, Goldsmith had evolved from his brain that lovable character, the immortal "Vicar of Wakefield"—the ideal of a preacher and his family and their simple daily home-life, as drawn from the fancy of the strolling musician, who played his flute through Europe, to the servant girls and the stable boys, for a chance crust of bread. The demands of mankind called [p.74] forth the sermon of the living preacher; the divine genius of Goldsmith impulsively warbled as the birds of the wilderness carol to the skies. To-day this good man and his sermon on baptism would, in one of our very fashionable city churches, be laughed at; but you must not imagine that therefore Goldsmith would, on the other hand, be lifted up and lionized by all people. On Broadway, he would be much the poor, wretched outcast he was one hundred years ago in the streets of London— just as likely to freeze and starve in a garret to-day as he did then; but the preacher and his great sermon would be haughtily directed by the bishop's butler to apply at the "little church around the corner."
With the close of the eighteenth century there were permanent settlers here, and they had reached a time when men began to draw away from that intense age of religious fanaticism, that wild craze on the subject that had whelmed the civilized world in the five hundred years of the Dark Ages, and were inclined to mix in their thoughts and purposes some of the more practical affairs of life. They were rapidly extending the view of life, and the beliefs in supernatural powers in the most trivial affairs among men were loosening their long clutch of men's minds. The representatives of the church, while they had lost none of men's devotional respect for the cloth, for the sacred office they exercised, yet their power in the family circle and in the State, and in the material concerns of the individual were slowly waning. The influence of the churchmen was thereby signally bettered. A century preceding, the church had ruled the State and unfortunately wielded the gleaming sword, and interminable religious wars had blasted the bloom of earth, and the most horrid persecutions had filled the air with the wails of the dying, innocent victims. From these cruel ages the world was slowly emerging, but resistlessly, because slowly, like the rise of the continents from the great ocean's depths, men were tasting the right of self-government; feeling the power and the good of regulating their own private and social affairs, and happily the sunshine and sweetness of advancing civilization was vexing the earth with its multitudinous sprouting. The unhappy spirit of persecution for opinion's sake was slowly fading away, and peace and blessed liberty began to streak the eastern sky; the jocund day kissing the mountain tops, foretelling the noontide flooding the deep valleys with effulgence.
Adjusting the prophecies was in the early part of this century the serious work of many of the world's holy seers; these cabalistic interpreters were a, very important feature of the times, and they burned the midnight oil, and the press teemed with their books for all men to read. For many years these things raged with the utmost activity, like everything of the kind in answer to a popular demand. The obscure parts of the books of Daniel and the Revelations of John were the fruitful sources of supply for the remarkable output of the press of that day. These ranged in all degrees, from the most learned and solemn to the seriocomic, but all intended to show that the great oracles of the church were still abroad in the land; their erudition was astounding, their secular flavoring overpowering, and their demonstrations startling, ludicrous and, at times, whimsical.
A man named Kett wrote and published a book entitled, History the Best Interpreter of Prophecy, and he seriously demonstrates "the man of sin" is at once "both the Papal power and the French infidelity;" that the "little horn of Daniel's fourth beast" designates Mohammedanism, Popery and French infidelity; the beast of the bottomless pit which slays the two witnesses spoken of in the eleventh chapter of Revelations typifies the same infidel power; that Daniel's little horn of the goat and of his third beast the Leopard symbolize Mohammed and the French infidelity; that the second beast of St. John, which is to arise out of the earth and "the images to which he is to give life" are "infidelity and democracy;" that the two horns of the beast are "the German illuminati and French pseudo philosophers;" that the particular democratic tyranny, symbolized by the image of the, [p.75] beast, is the revolutionary republic of France and that the mark of the beast is the tricolored cockade.
A contemporary of Kett's was one who called himself Galloway. This oracle read that the earth out of which John's second beast arose was France; the beast himself the French republic—his head the legislature; his two horns the committee of safety, and the fire he was to call down was the wrath of God; his marvelous performances were the French victories; the image he was to set up, the prostitute goddess of reason and liberty; his mark the cap of liberty and the cockade; that his number latinized is 666, the name of the monarch Louis XVI.
The aggressive pioneers pressed the Indians that skirted along the Atlantic shore back toward the Alleghanies, and then across the mountains and on to the Mississippi river, and across that and then to the Rocky mountains, and eventually across these snow-clad ranges and down the slope and finally to the Pacific ocean. Nearly 300 years were consumed in these long and often bloody journeyings of the two peoples so distinct in color and instincts. They were antagonistic races that could not well exist together. The Indian's supreme impulse was that of absolute freedom —liberty in its fullest extent, where there was no law other than that of physical strength and courage; might was right, and from that the weak had no appeal save that of the stoic's divine right to death. The Indian's death song was therefore a part of his deep-seated philosophy, and whether cooped up on the tall cliff—Starved Rock—and slowly starved to death in famine or slain in battle, or dying of disease, his last and supreme act was to chant his weird death-song. Death then was not his one dreaded, invisible foe. When he could fight and kill no more, then it was his friend—the angel with outstretched wings in his extremity, tenderly carrying him away from his enemy and his pain. His ideal was that animal life typified in the screaming eagle of the crags or the spring of the striped tiger, whose soft foot had carried it in reach of its unsuspecting prey.
The rugged and weather-beaten pioneer, he or his ancestors had fled from tyranny and religious persecutions, severely austere toward his own real or imaginary faults, welcoming any infliction that would only purify, as by fire, his soul, and fleeing from the persecutor of the body, he erected his altars to a god that was simply inappeasable, not only for his own sins, but for the yielding to temptation of the first mother of the human race, and this he unalteringly believed "brought death into the world and all our woe." This creature of curious contradictions, while over-exacting toward himself, and welcoming any and all self-inflicted stripes, slept on his arms for anything mortal that dared to threaten or trespass on his religious rights or beliefs—yielding all to his God, he would yield nothing to anyone or anything else. He would put a padlock on his mouth, that it might not speak evil, and his very thoughts in the stocks, that he might not think evil—silence and dreams of the glories of heaven alternating with the groans and outcries of the damned, and eyes closed to all earthly things, he even tried to control the strong impulses of his heart in its love for wife or children in the fear that God would be jealous and might blast forever his soul with a frown. And from the depths of his troubled life he would cry out that he could do nothing to please God—that he was utterly unworthy and totally wicked; that his whole inheritance through a thousand ancestors was sin, and it would be but a supreme mercy in his Maker to cast him out forever. He invented his own penance, inflicted his own judgments, clothed himself in sackcloth and ashes and finally consigned himself as the only mercy he deserved as he believed—the endless tortures of hell.
This was the fugitive, the waif cast upon the troubled waters, that came from the old to the new in the hunt of religious liberty and a home. Unkempt and unwashed, rough and storm-beaten, with long, bushy hair, and in his leather jerkin this apparition stood before the savages of the valley of the Susquehanna, rifle in hand, one foot thrown forward, braced, erect, his keen eye directed straight into the [p.78] wild man's soul; there he had put his heavy foot down, and the quick instinct of the savage told him never to take it up again. The wild man struck like the coiled snake; the crack of the white man's rifle echoed through the old forest trees, and stilled the serpent's rattle forever.
The first habitation was an open-faced brush house, if such a thing can be called a house at all. It was between two trees standing close together—a pole across, and leaned against this was brush, bramble and leaves piled on; two wings projected from the ends similarly constructed, and the whole front open, and here was the camp-fire. The furniture was a pile of dry leaves on one side of this brush dwelling. This was rather a poor protection, yet there was a time when it has been all some of the earliest pioneers had during their first long winter in the remote wilderness. They possibly had simply wintered there intending to resume their journey when warm weather came. Sometimes they thus camped, waiting the fall of the high waters in the stream. These advance couriers of civilization were encumbered with no camp equipage; the old heavy rifle, and the hunting knife, and the few leather clothes they wore were all they had. Then, too, they may have reached the one spot in the wilderness they had traveled so far to find. Just there a stream or a spring of sweet water, the giant trees extending their strong protecting arms, and the abundant evidences of game on every hand may have been the determining cause, or, as was often the case, living away back in Massachusetts or Connecticut, the young man had met some hunter and trapper, and had made eager inquiries as to where he could find the best place in the new country, and the hunter had mapped out to his mind the long way to that particular spot. How he would pursue a certain course, guided by the sun and the north star, or the moss on the trees, and just where he would cross certain rivers and streams, and follow these to such a point, then deflect to the right or left and strike a certain mountain range, and after a while in the blue distance a point of timber, and from that another point, and then for days and days and another stream and follow up that to where a creek or arm emptied into it, thence up that stream, and then on and on and a spring would be reached— a natural camping place and perhaps the end of the long journey, and to-day his grandchildren born on the old farm where he first stopped and put up his brush house may not know or be able to find the spring that was his objective point when he so bravely started from his old pioneer father's home in the east. The brush covering protected him somewhat from the inclement elements, the fire in front served a double purpose—it warmed and dried him when wet or cold and kept away the fierce wild animals that otherwise would have attacked and devoured him. If during the night it burned low, the screams of the panther or the howls of the close-coming wolves would admonish him to throw a few sticks on the fire, or sometimes amuse himself by firing at the eyes of the beast that was so near him that its gleaming eyeballs would make an excellent target.
The first months of this man's life in the wilderness were spent in the most primitive manner. He procured his food by his rifle, supplemented with the natural fruits and berries of the woods, learning to eat many of the roots he could dig. He neighbored much with the Indians, and often got of them some of their coarse materials for making bread. The one chief deprivation, both to him and the Indians, was the want of salt. This no doubt was the one luxury of which he would often dream that he had left behind him when he ventured out from civilization. Early in the spring he was hunting in the woods for the wild onions that are among the first to push their green stems above the soil, and in the wild sheep-sorrel he found the delicious acid that his system so much needed, then the May-apples, and then the berries, the pawpaws, the nuts and wild grapes, the buds, the bark of certain trees, and at a certain time in spring the tap-root of the young hickory, were all in their turn within his reach, and were utilized.
This was the first little wave, the immediate forerunner of the round log cabin. [p.79] He had soon learned many of the Indian ways, and their expedients in emergencies. He was a demonstration of the fact that a civilized man will learn to be a wild man in less than a fiftieth of the time it will take to teach a savage to become civilized, or to like any of the ways and habits of civilized life. Had he forgotten to think in this lonely, silent life? He would visit his distant neighbors in their wigwams, approaching as quietly as they, enter with a grunt, seat himself, light his pipe, and all would sit and smoke in silence. An occasional grunt or a nod of the head and never a smile, this had come to be his idea of enjoyment in social life too. He learned to go to the deer licks, as had the Indians, for other purposes as well as those of finding the deer there and shooting them. He had learned to find certain clays that the savages ate. He soon knew as much of wild woods life as did the natives.
One day, late in the spring, while hunting, he met an Indian, who startled him with the news that a pale-faced neighbor had come and actually had settled as near as fifteen miles up the creek. This was the most astounding news he had ever heard. Only fifteen miles—why, this is settling right in my door-yard, and not so much as even saying, by your leave! Can it be possible? I can't stand too much crowding. He quits the chase, and returns straight to his cabin, cooks and eats his supper, and sits on his log, and smokes and thinks, yes, actually thinks, till his head fairly swims over the day's news. He goes to bed and sleeps and dreams, and millions of people are pouring into his cabin, and behind them still comes the eternal stream of humanity, laughing, crying, shouting, struggling, and the great wave is upon him and he is being smothered, when, with a mighty effort, he wakes, and the owls are hooting from the tree-tops, and the wolves are howling beyond his cabin their loud lullabies. And he is thankful it is but a dream, but he again thinks over the news, and finally determines on the morning he will go and visit his near neighbor and make his acquaintance, and turns over on his dry leaves and is once more sound asleep.
He pays the visit the next day, and his sudden and strange appearance is nearly as great a surprise to the newcomers as was the news to him the day before. He finds the man busy chopping, and for the last mile had been guided by the ring of the axe, and seated on the log, they tell each other the latest news from the settlements and from the wigwam villages. The new neighbor tells him that he and wife had come on foot from Vermont, and had arrived some weeks ago, and did not know that they had a white neighbor within a hundred miles. He described how he had carried the rifle, the axe and the few little things they had brought, and his wife carried the hoe, the only farming implement they had, and hung on the hoe over her shoulder was the small bundle of her earthly possessions; that they had heard of the rich country in the Susquehanna valley, and had got married and started for the good country, where they could make their home and their farm, and in time hoped to have a plenty; they had planted the two or three potatoes, the half dozen pumpkin seeds and the few hills of corn, and the first year hoped to raise some seed. The gun, the axe, an auger and the hoe were their marriage dower with which to start life. They had brought a few trinkets, and on their way had exchanged these for some skins and furs that were so necessary. The man and wife had put up the round-log (or pole) cabin, and covered it with bark. It had simply a door for entrance, and a stick-and-mud chimney—no floor, except as nature had made, but here and there was laid a dried skin, and in one corner the man had made a one-legged bedstead, and crossed this with raw-hide whangs to support the bedding of skins. It is made by making the one leg, and then in the corner of the room you bore a hole in each wall; one of these holes receives the side rail from the post, and the other receives the end rail from the same post. The two walls of the building form the other side and end of the bed, and there you have it—fit for a king! if the mind is content. Upon these primitive beds of our fathers has come as [p.80] sweet repose as ever found its way within palace walls, and on the great mahogany teester bedsteads draped in silks and satins and the costliest of laces.
The small "clearing and girdling" was planted by the wife mostly, while the man felled trees, chopped logs and gathered and burned the fallen timber. The, wife, worked with the heavy hoe, and the man with the axe and gun. The few seeds they planted grew at a remarkable rate, and now they had in store a little bread, a few vegetables and abundance of meat. His gun and traps had brought them meat and fur and feathers, and honey they had found in abundance in the forests. Before the year had expired they made a raft, and loaded it with their stores, and went to the trading post, and exchanged honey, furs and pelts for such manufactured articles as they needed, and ammunition and salt. They had enough to buy a pony of the Indians, and by the second year were farming in great content.
But a few years have passed, and the land begins to be dotted with log cabins. That is, every few miles on the way could be seen in the distance the blue curling smoke lazily ascending from these outside, low, mud-and-stick chimneys. This, now, is the glorious log-cabin day and age. Let us examine one, and if we can, secure the shadow ere the substance has gone forever. As you approach you are impressed with the squat and heavy, solid appearance of the building. The roof is of split clapboards, weighted with heavy poles. There is not so much iron as a nail in all the building. The batten door is made of the same kind of boards, and swings on wooden hinges, and has a wooden latch, to which is attached a leather string that passes up and through a small hole to the outside. To pull this string is to raise the latch, and permit the door to open. To lock the door it is only necessary to pull the string inside, and then no one on the outside can open it. Hence, there is much friendly significance when one says to the other, "My latch string always hangs out for you." You will notice as you approach that to your right, and near the end of the cabin, but some feet in front of a line with the front of the house, is a very small cabin, a kind of baby to the main building. This is the meat house. The lord of the manor is evidently a little proud of this larder, and hence it sets a little in front of the line of the dwelling. It bespeaks for him a good provider, "and juicy hams and red gravy" galore. Farther off there you see the stables covered with straw, and the stacks of grain and hay, and over there, in a long rack made of rails crossed over a pole about two feet high, filled with straw, and about the premises are cows and calves, and horses, with long, hair and bushy manes and tails, and razor-back hogs, the largest parts apparently the head, from their long snouts. On every hand there are evidences of plenty and content. Pull the latch and walk in, where a hearty and cheery welcome will greet you, even the long-haired curs will "bay you a deep-mouthed welcome," that will be stopped only by the authoritative voice of the master. The wide blazing fire, extending nearly across the whole end of the house, adds to the brightness, and the iron lard lamp, with a rag for a wick, the recent great improvement on the scraped turnip that did duty as a lamp, you hardly notice as it burns away stuck in a crack in one of the logs. The good wife, and the strong and red- cheeked girls are preparing the evening meal. The spare ribs hanging in front of the fire are turned frequently, and their odors at once whet your already keen appetite. The bread is in the oven, and on this is a lid with the edges curled up to hold the heaps of coal that are on the top, while there are still more under the oven. An iron pot is hanging by the crane, and is boiling, furiously. While these preparations are going on, take an inventory of the room. You are in one of the two split-bottom chairs. The old chest can hold, or be seats for three or four of the family; then there are two or three three-legged stools. Then there is a bench made of a split log, with logs to it, that is, seats all along one side of the table, but is moved around at pleasure. Over there is "granny" with her "specs," the brass rims nearly worn out, and all looking as old as she does, except the new yarn [p.81] string that holds them in place. That is her corner, on her low stool, where for years and years she has knit and knit and knit, never stopping, even when she told of when she was a little girl, and often lived in the fort when the Indians would go marauding over the land. At the other end of the 14x20 room are two beds standing end to end, with barely room for a person to squeeze between them. On these are such fat high feather beds, and over these such gay-figured red and white woolen coverlets. These were woven away back in the old settlements. Such gorgeous colors, sometimes eagles with outstretched wings, or horses and dogs or buffaloes, and even in a square in one corner were elaborate attempts at letters; but which, as you never could see exactly right side up, you could never read. A gay calico "valance" hung round the legs of the bedstead, and you know that these hide under each big bed a trundle-bed. You see this was the original folding bed, and from this, at one time universal part of the furniture of the cabin, came that barbarous expression from some sour old bachelor about "trundle-bed trash."
Opposite the door, which stood open nearly the year round except at night, is the window, the half of two of the logs cut away, making a hole a little over a foot wide and two feet long, and the light comes through greased paper that covers the opening. The floor was of puncheon—split logs; the face dressed down nicely with an axe, and the edges tolerably straight, but cracks frequent. On the walls hung strings of sage, onion tops and a beautiful wreath of red pepper. Some loose boards were laid on the cross-beams, and the stairway were cleats fastened to the wall. This was the girls' boudoir, and from the rafters hung dresses and female clothing, and in one corner close to the roof were the shoes that were only worn on Sundays when going to meeting. The ingenuity and taste of the girls had secured a barrel, and over this was spread a pictorial Brother Jonathan, that had in some way come to the family long ago. This was their dressing-case, and on the barrel were combs, ribbons and trinkets, and a 4x5 framed mirror hung gracefully above the dressing case against the wall. But, leaving the privacy of the girls' room we go below again, and soon we discover that we had overlooked some of the most interesting things in the living room. In the wooden racks over the door were the two guns of the family, and hanging from either end of these racks the pouch made of spotted fawn skins, and the large powder horns with the flat end, wooden pegs in the small end that the hunter always pulled out with his teeth when he would pour out the powder in loading. The women were as proud of their household utensils as the men of their new buckskin hunting shirts or their guns, and chief among these was the cedar "pigeon." This was a bright red, medium-sized bucket, with one of the staves long and formed into a handle. The broom stood handy just outside. This was made of a young hickory split up into small strips and turned over gracefully and tied in a wisp. For many years after, we had the modern brooms these were still to be seen in every house, and were the scrub broom.
But supper is now ready and steaming hot, the dishes are sending out great volumes of appetizing odors, and you and the men and boys are all seated around the bountiful board. The women and children wait for the second table. How can you wait in patience while the good man invokes heaven's blessing upon what he is pleased to call the Lord's attention to this "frugal fare." He likes that phrase, and his boys often think that to get to say it is sometimes the chief impulse to the ceremony. When the good man addresses his Maker, he changes his language materially from every day use, somewhat as he does his clothes when he goes to church. For instance, he emphasizes distinctly all the ed's, saying bless-ed, instead of, as commonly, "blest."
The blessing over: "Now help yourself," is all the ceremony, and all that you feel you need. The broiled venison steaks, the well browned spare ribs, the "cracklin'" corn bread, the luscious honey piled in layers, and the cold sweet milk and the hot roasted sweet potatoes, with appetites all around the board to match this feast [p.82] fit for the gods. You eventually quit eating for two good reasons: Your storing capacity is about exhausted, and then you notice such a hungry, eager expression in the faces of the children who are standing around and furtively watching the food on the table, and no doubt wondering if you will ever got through. Each one, when he finishes his meal, without ceremony gets up, and as no change of dishes is thought of, the particular youngster who is to eat after that particular person is quickly in the place, and proceeds to stay his appetite. This arrangement is one of the children's, and no doubt often saves serious scrambling for places. The supper over, the pipes are filled, and the women have so quietly whisked things away and cleared the table—how they did it and where they put them you can not for your life tell; yet they are gone, and the day's working and eating are over, and in a few minutes the trundle-beds will be pulled out, and the children at the head and at the foot will fill them, something after the fashion of a sardine box; let us bid these good people good-bye.
The Improved Log Cabin.—Nothing more distinctly marked the advance of the settlement of the country than the change in the architecture of the log cabin. I have tried to describe the open-faced brush and the round log cabins that were so distinctly the first era. In a few years if you go back to see your friend, as you are very apt to do, as you will remember that supper a long time, you will find a two-story hewed-log house, the cracks between the logs "chinked and pointed" with clean white lime mortar, and it may be the walls inside and out are heavily white- washed. It may be covered with shingles even, and glass windows with 6x8 glass put in with putty. Hard oak planks, mayhap cut with the whip-saw, are on the floors above and below. An outside rock chimney towers above either end of the building. A shed-roofed kitchen, which is also the dining-room, is along the whole length of the main building. A leaning ladder of easy ascent takes you "up stairs" which is one big room, while the lower part of the main building is divided by a partition. The upper floor is the sleeping-room of the boys and the "hands," while the room partitioned off is the girls' room, and which they consider the parlor as well as the bed-room. The old folks have their very tall feather bed in the main or living room. but under it is the trundle bed, as there is probably another under every bed in the house, and although the number of beds has greatly increased, if there is company to stay all night, this will necessitate "pallets" on the floor. There is still the great wide fireplace, and the cheerful open fire, and if it is winter, every evening just before dark a new back log is rolled in with handspikes and into its place, and a "forestick" quite as large as one man can handle is placed on the short, heavy dog-irons. But a second and smaller back log is on top of the main one, and then the great yawning fireplace is soon full of the bright blazing fire. A hanging crane is here as well as in the kitchen fireplace. In the same yard is still the old round-log cabin where the family lived before the new house was built. This is now the loom-house. It is also lumbered up with barrels and boxes and piles of truck and hoes, tools, and probably there is still a bed in it. The people are now wearing home-made clothing, and here the girls deftly weave those bright linseys with their bright red, white and black stripes.
On the outer wall of the loom-house are now stretched the coon and possum skins, and the roof is used to dry apples and peaches in the fall of the year, and in this lumber house, tied in sacks and hanging from the cross beams were the garden seeds, the bunches of sage, boneset, onion tops and the dried pumpkin on poles, on which were placed the rings as thickly as possible. The barrel of kraut with its heavy weights on it in one corner of the kitchen, and by the side of the fireplace the huge dye pot and on this a wooden cover, and this was often worn smooth, being a handy seat by the fire. Even stories were told, that seated on this there had been much "sparking" done before the older girls were all married off. When a young man visited a girl, or for that matter a widower or bachelor paid any marked attention, it was universally called "sparkin'." [p.83] This hewed-log house was neatly weatherboarded, painted and had a neat brick chimney, and you could not very readily tell it from a frame house. Here children were born, grew to maturity, married and commenced life nearly in their one-room log cabin, which more rapidly gave way to the nice frame or even the great brick mansion, with the ornaments and luxuries of modern life. Where now may be seen buildings of granite, marble and iron that gleam in the morning sun in blinding splendor that have cost hundreds of thousands, nay, even millions of dollars, once probably stood the round-log cabin that had been built from the standing trees about the spot by the husband, aided only by the young wife, with no other tools than the axe and the auger. These honest, patient, simpled-minded folk never bothered their heads to anticipate the regal edifices of which their humble cabin was the beginning. Their earnest and widest aspiration was merely, "be it ever so humble there is no place like home." Around these wide but humble hearths they saw their children grow up to strong men and women, honest, unsophisticated, rough and blunt in manner, but ignorant of the knowledge of the vices that so often lurk beneath the polish and splendors of older societies and superfluous wealth. Their wants few and simple, within the easy reach of every one, their ambition brought them no heart-burnings, no twinges of conscience, and none of that pitiable despair, where what we may call that higher sphere in the circles so often brings—where there are no medicines to minister to a mind diseased.
A striking illustration of the prevalent credulity of the times is found in an obituary published in 1814, that is ornamented with an inverted rule at each end of the article. It is an account of the death of a Maj. Richard Elliott, of Ohio. Evidently it was not that they know the man or had a personal interest in him, but it was the manner of the man's death that made it of such vital importance. The name of the person who gave the account is given as a voucher of its truth and credibility. The substance is that on a certain Sabbath evening the man was passing along the highway, when he saw two lights in the shape of half-moons coming toward him; when the lights met him they seemed to close him in a circle about the breast, when a voice pronounced these words: "Are you prepared to die?" Without hesitation, the man answered: "If it is God's will, I think I am." The lights then passed on, but turned and followed him until he came opposite the graveyard, where they made a stand; he could see them, by looking back, for half a mile. When the man arrived at home he told his wife and assured her that he had but a short time to live; he related the same to several people and announced to all that be was about to die. The lights were met on Friday evening, about 9 o'clock; on Tuesday following, the man was raving insane and in twenty-four hours died. The lugubrious story concludes with the words: "This is a simple statement of the circumstances of his sickness and death."
The story is circumstantially told, and is quite ghostly. The men of that day, in their leather jerkins, and the dames at the looms and the spinning-wheels must have read and heard it with complete awe, and the children no doubt were freshly alarmed at the dark, and would shut their eyes in the fear of seeing the dreaded moon shaped lights. The poor man was simply mad—insane beyond question from the first, and then, as now, there were no certain medicaments for the mind diseased. The moon-shaped lights were but witches in another form—men were moving slowly away from the suttee of the east, or when old Clootie would daily come up through the hot crater's mouth to waylay the innocent people on the road, as he had been often caught in the act of finding a person alone, near a graveyard, and seized him, and, despite his struggles and cries, had carried him off, and with his precious burden had plunged into the vomiting volcano, on his return visit to his realms with his trophy. Men's beliefs were emerging slowly from these frightful conjurings— the travail of the dreary ages. The story of man's frightful superstitions—shadows to us, but horribly real to them—is one of the most painful chapters in human [p.84] history; it had filled the world to the mountain's peaks with the deepest gloom, and in trembling and despair they literally called upon the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and hide them forever from the face of an angry God. However, they were slowly approaching this age in the idea that the Supreme was not always so unreasonably angry with His children, and that He is all love and justice. "I thy God am a jealous God" is now more generally read "And He so loved the world, etc." The pendulum swings; it can never be at rest—the ebb and flow of the mind, as it rises, slowly and spirally, toward God's throne. The opposing theories: inappeasable wrath, implacable hate or mad, convulsive, unreasoning love—the orthodox, with clubs and knocks, the altruist sweating blood over the innocent failings of ignorance, and offering up the great vicarious sacrifice, are but the ceaseless moan of the great ocean of men's troubled souls moving through the unending eternities. Possibly, here, as everywhere, when the historian comes, great enough, wise enough and fearless enough to point out the truth that ever lies in the mean of all extremes, then may mankind begin to feel and know that our civilization is safe, founded upon the rock against which the winds and the storms may beat in vain, and foolish good men will cease to heart-bleed and wail in sadness over the cruel contentions of men—over these beastly struggles to trample on each other. "All's well!"
At the beginning of this century one of the sore needs of the people was wool with which to make clothing. The scarcity of this article was the mother of the idea of dressing deer-skins and making clothing. They were soon able to dress these skins, and they were soft and pliable, and the art of giving them a slight buff color was learned, and when made into trousers they resembled modern nankeen, and to this was soon added a bright color for the fringe around the deer-skin hunting shirt—these were soon worn with as much pride as a militiaman once strutted under his waving rooster feathers. "Doeskin" pants, as these leather trousers were sometimes called, were no doubt in their time quite dudish.
The pioneers had their own amusements, and had more time to be amused than have our modern get-rich quick people. They had far greater wealth then than now in the way of dogs and many children; and if in the family was a rat-tailed spotted horse, the big boys of that fortunate household were not only rich, but happy. Fifteen children and forty-two grandchildren, to say nothing of the great- grandchildren, reveled in all the needed prospective wealth of the oldest male Monte Cristo, in the "old man's" long squirrel gun, and the bony, slim-tailed spotted horse, that in the course of nature would come to the expectant and hopeful heirs. It is a portentious fact that these peculiar guns and horses were far rarer in those good old times than are railroads and millionaire bondholders now; and the prospective heir was far more happy, as well he might be; and we know that great and splendid wealth is wholly in the variety of the dower, and not in any intrinsic values. For instance, our modern idiots dote on diamonds and similar miserable and useless trash, all not only worthless, but worse than bubbles. Compare these with cur dogs, sixteen children and a rat tailed spotted horse and a flint-lock, long-barreled squirrel gun, and then please exploit yourself "a ass" in the stupid faith that the new order may smile in contemptuous pity upon the great past. Poverty then and riches now, no sir! It is base, diamond-crowned delusion now, and it was the gun and pony then—real substantial wealth versus a lunatic's dream. A glint of sunlight is worth more than all the diamonds and rubies the whole world has ever contained—and a dog, flint-lock and a calico pony, granting him a fair share of poll-evil and string halt, is a solid, intrinsic reality; a real wealth to dower fifteen towsley brats, and make them lords and ladies all.
Then, too, the pioneers and their "brats" had amusements far better than anything, we now know. Sugar making camps in the early spring, when the sweet sap from the maple flows, when the whole neighborhood would go to the woods and [p.87] camp and make sugar and that dark and delicious syrup. Why, our effete youngsters know not enough to dream in their lifeless way of real fun—life in its highest and best form. One hundred years ago the people knew how to really live—live for all that healthy, bounding life is worth. The woods were full of game and the streams of fish, and hunting, trapping and fishing commenced as soon as children could toddle, and continued with no game laws interfering, as long as old age could again toddle. The nightly concerts of the wolves and panthers would literally knock silly our make-believe tragic operas; two gew-gawed "lumaxes" singing out their mad duel, fought with paper swords, and another follow stabbing himself with a bar of soft soap, accompanying the act with such boss bullfrog croaking as of itself ought to kill the lunatic as well as the audience. The pioneers had great hunting frolics, log rollings, and real courting, that was give-and-take like the strokes from a mule's hind quarters compared to this modern dude-lolling. Our modern men hunt snakes, but the kind that is corked up in bottles, whose bite is so intoxicating that men seek them out and actually pay so much a nip. And other things have changed as much as ancient and modern snake hunting.
One of the old time boys, so old that he remembers an incident in his life that occurred eighty years ago relates the following: He was promised that if he would for the next month be a real good boy—that is, work to the utmost limit of endurance, that then he might go afoot five miles to the shop and see the man pound hot iron. His imagination was fired at the very thought—was ever a boy so rich in anticipation—a real blacksmith, and pounding hot iron and the sparks flying in every direction, and they never burned up the smithy—a sure enough king of fire—and his parents had promised him an afternoon holiday to go and see all this for himself. Time with that boy now lingered, loitered, dawdled along the way incomparably slower than it now does with the hard-up young man who knows the "old man" has made his will, and there's millions in it for him, except the old man is awful healthy—has neither manners nor regards for his only hopeful and chip-of-the-old-block son; if the loving son only had energy enough he would poison the old duffer. But this is wandering from the boy that, if the slow-coach time ever did get around, was going to see the hot iron pounded. His mother and sisters realized that the boy must have different clothes—must be dressed well, as well as all over, to go on that great expedition; he had a pair of "doeskin" trousers and roundabout of the same, and on a pinch could wear his father's moccasins, but he had no cap; a solemn council convened, and as a result of its deliberations a cat was killed, the skin dressed with the tail left hanging down his back for a queue. The great day did arrive and the boy went, and as good luck would have it the smithy was not too drunk to work, and his visions were more than realized. The smithy, with a tooth for enjoyment, took in the situation when the gawking boy was looking on so intently as he worked the bellows and slyly spat on the anvil and jerked out the white heated metal and struck it a tremendous blow, and the loud explosion nearly frightened the lad to death, and he confesses that he was a married man and had children before he had any other thought but that the anvil, the hammer and the smithy had all exploded at the same time—a veritable cataclysm to him—and that the creature was supernatural was evidenced as he pounded away right merrily.
When that boy returned he was the hero of all the children for many miles around; all of them went to church, or meeting rather, the following Sunday to see him. The nods, frowns and thumb-jerking of the old folks could not control them—the good divine thundered his thirty-seventhly louder, but in vain; the children for once did not quake when he, a last resort with the good Shepherd, preached his one great sermon in which he would "lift the lids of hell and show them the fires." The children, the boys especially, had heard that before, but had never before known a boy that had been up to see hot iron pounded, and the poor preacher, parents, pickled rods, etc., were unheeded, and they gathered about the [p.88] hero of the day, who told them all he saw; that is all that he had words to express. Happily, children can make themselves understood to children, and there was never a boy at meeting that day but that went home with the high resolve that come what might, some day he too would go and see the blacksmith pound hot iron— utterly reckless of consequences, some day when he had a pair of "doeskin" trousers, like those his big brother always wore when he went a-courting, he would go and his mother and sisters could not scare him out of it, especialy if he could get his hair roached and look big and not afraid; hadn't he already gone clear out to the wood-pile one night, and although he heard a screech-owl, he held onto his armful of wood and landed it, with a good deal of clatter, it is true, on the floor by the chimney corner—and then foolish girls talk to him about being afraid of pounded hot iron, even if everything, and smithy too, did burst, what of it?—go he would!
Simply as a matter of relish of life, can you imagine anything, anywhere of modern days, that in the least compares with this instance in pioneer life? All true life is in the mind's excitation, the mental exaltation in expectancy that fills the cup to the brim and it overflows. It is but one in every pioneer family of the land, where things were pure and primitive—when neither children nor grown persons died of ennui—when children had hardly anything as toys or luxuries that could be called "boughten." Why is it that the children who never had a doll, except rag ones of of their own making, remember their childhood with so infinite a zest that it is beyond all comprehension of the modern child that is loaded and even oppressed with its multitude of elaborate and expensive toys? Luxuries, expensive and valuable luxuries, costing great sums of money, and that are beautiful and fragile, are not what the child wants, unless the little one is first trained out of all natural sweet childhood. The boy that gets some person to bend a pin for him and provides his own string and fish-pole, for his first fishing in the shallow puddle, has incomparably more delight in fishing than is ever known to the coddled child of wealth who, when he is nearly grown, is allowed to go with a groom and fish with one of these expensive tackles that can be purchased at the sporting store. It is the boy fourteen years old who looks forward to the day that his father will buy a new cap or hat and give him the old one to dress up in and go to meeting, who will remember longest his triumphs and joys in the acquisition of new clothes, or anything and everything that comes to him in his callow days. The modern boy, and man for that matter, looks back upon the pioneer times and shudders at their primitive simplicity, because he is ignorant of the fact in the premises; he gratifies every appetite, and they in succession cloy, and he gets drunk, if he has the energy, or might commit suicide, and has but the one consolation—that he didn't live before they had railroads and uniformed servants and waiters on every hand, and he may have looked forward to the one glory of death; of being buried in a suit cut and made in Paris. Expensive and artificial life is not a boundless joy—rather it is the keen earnestness of simplicity—gratified barely, but always enjoyed intensely.
For fifty years the advance was so slow that it was hardly more than perceptible; the dark old woods melted away reluctantly, and easy or rapid transportation was unknown to them. The children of even the most favored or wealthy, while they had nearly everything they wanted, were ignorant, even of those luxuries children now demand as common necessities. Many a young man of that day was big and old enough to go "a-sparking"—that is what they called love-making in those simple, honest days before he had become the happy possessor of a pair of boots. The young man of to-day breathes nearly a different atmosphere to that of the boys or young men of fifty years ago. One of these old-time boys, whose head is now white with many winters, recently recounted something of his boyhood to his interested listeners. He was born in this county of parents of more than the average advantages of wealth. He remembers every process of raising the flax and [p.89] clipping the wool, and from that to the home-made clothes that dressed the entire family; how the ox was slaughtered in the fall and the younger cattle in the spring and summer, and the hides were carried to the tannery and returned home, and then the annual visit of the shoemaker, who shod all around the big and little in footwear that was worn with infinite pride, but each pair must last a whole year; how, when he was large enough, he hired out and rode one of the neighbor's plow horses while the man plowed his crop of corn, and for three days the boy thus endured the sharp bare back, and when the man settled up he paid him two 10-cent silver coins—a picayune a day; and how, while he pocketed his wages in silence, as he trudged his way home, he took the coins out of his pocket and threw them into the brush by the wayside and hated the man most cordially all his life for his meanness. This man could draw a vivid picture of his boy life in this then comparatively new country, especially in the long walks the children often took to the log-cabin schoolhouse, and while it was before the day of free schools, yet a large family of children then cost their parents less outlay of cash to educate than each average child now costs. While the boys of to-day will hear of the boys of fifty years ago and pity them, yet it is a fact that the young man of to-day is under very many disadvantages in the comparison of then and now. Now, unless the young man has inherited capital, he must seek employment as a rule from others, and it is very much more difficult to become an employer of others than it was at one time. Capital and society have been recast. Capital has been aggregating, and the small beginners are smothered out; the country store, with its limited stock of goods, is more nearly in direct competition with the great city stores than formerly, and so of every other branch of business. The avenues to success are being slowly but surely closed up—fewer employers, and the army of employes constantly growing and expanding. In such surroundings the struggle for life, with all those who must struggle at all, will grow harder and harder. To use a phrase that is not exact—national wealth will more rapidly increase in these conditions, but so will the numbers of the poor and, alas, too, the numbers of those out of employment and seeking it. While stagnation is death, yet all change is not improvement. It is easy for us to say our society is now better—the nearest perfect the world has seen; that we have those things that contribute to our happiness in the highest degree; that our schools and churches and the laws are better than ever known to the world before. There are pros and cons to all this self-laudation. We have better food, clothing, houses and drainage, and the average of life is longer than it was when our ancestors were first struggling here; but we have more penal institutions, asylums, feeble-minded homes, soup houses and actual starvation; crimes wholly unknown, and a class of criminals that our grandfathers never heard of, and one feature that is wholly new, and that is the bequest or gift outright by one individual of the enormous sum Of $6,000,000 to the church and school, and hundreds of others giving nearly similar amounts, and yet the State has taken charge of educating our children, and from free schools and endowed universities and colleges laws are being passed to compel parents to send their children to school. And, amid it all, the demand exceeds the supply on every hand, except on the evil side. Honest simplicity is never an ungainly thing— it may call for a smile of pity, but never a tear. Phenomenal school children, cunning and tricky street arabs of the city may know many things that George Washington never learned. The dullard boy of to-day knows more of fast living than did the brightest boy 100 years ago, but does he live longer or enjoy it more?