A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
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Dear Mrs. LeCron:
In the spring of 1898, after finishing my LIFE OF ULYSSES S. GRANT, I began to plan to go into the Klondike over the Telegraph Trail. One day in showing the maps of my route to William Dean Howells, I said, "I shall go in here and come out there," a trail of nearly twelve hundred miles through an almost unknown country. As I uttered this I suddenly realized that I was starting on a path holding many perils and that I might not come back.
With this in mind, I began to dictate the story of my career up to that time. It was put in the third person but it was my story and the story of my people, the Garlands and the McClintocks. This manuscript, crude and hasty as it was, became the basis of A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER. It was the beginning of a four-volume autobiography which it has taken me fifteen years to write. As a typical mid-west settler I felt that the history of my family would be, in a sense, the chronicle of the era of settlement lying between 1840 and 1914. I designedly kept it intimate and personal, the joys and sorrows of a group of migrating families. Of the four books, Volume One, THE TRAIL MAKERS, is based upon my memory of the talk around a pioneer fireside. The other three volumes are as true as my own memory can make them.
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A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers by arrangement with The MacMillan Company
Printed in the United States of America
Copyright, 1914 And 1917 by P. F. Collier & Son
Copyright, 1917 by Hamlin Garland
Set up and electrotyped. Published August, 1917. Reprinted March, 1925, December, 1925. Reissued, January, 1927, February, 1928.
I. HOME FROM THE WAR 1
II. THE MCCLINTOCKS 14
III. THE HOME IN THE COULEE 27
IV. FATHER SELLS THE FARM 42
V. THE LAST THRESHING IN THE COULEE 50
VI. DAVID AND HIS VIOLIN 59
VII. WINNESHEIK "WOODS AND PRAIRIE LANDS" 68
VIII. WE MOVE AGAIN 79
IX. OUR FIRST WINTER ON THE PRAIRIE 85
X. THE HOMESTEAD ON THE KNOLL 99
XI. SCHOOL LIFE 107
XII. CHORES AND ALMANACS 116
XIII. BOY LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE 125
XIV. WHEAT AND THE HARVEST 144
XV. HARRIET GOES AWAY 161
XVI. WE MOVE TO TOWN 173
XVII. A TASTE OF VILLAGE LIFE 189
XVIII. BACK TO THE FARM 204
XIX. END OF SCHOOL DAYS 221
XX. THE LAND OF THE DAKOTAS 234
XXI. THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT 248
XXII. WE DISCOVER NEW ENGLAND 267
XXIII. COASTING DOWN MT. WASHINGTON 279
XXIV. TRAMPING, NEW YORK, WASHINGTON, AND CHICAGO 287
XXV. THE LAND OF THE STRADDLE-BUG 301
XXVI. ON TO BOSTON 318
XXVII. ENTER A FRIEND 333
XXVIII. A VISIT TO THE WEST 353
XXIX. I JOIN THE ANTI-POVERTY BRIGADE 375
XXX. MY MOTHER IS STRICKEN 396
XXXI. MAIN TRAVELLED ROADS 410
XXXII. THE SPIRIT OF REVOLT 421
XXXIII. THE END OF THE SUNSET TRAIL 433
XXXIV. WE GO TO CALIFORNIA 440
XXXV. THE HOMESTEAD IN THE VALLEY 455
A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
A Son of the Middle Border
Home from the War
All of this universe known to me in the year 1864 was bounded by the wooded hills of a little Wisconsin coulee, and its center was the cottage in which my mother was living alone—my father was in the war. As I project myself back into that mystical age, half lights cover most of the valley. The road before our doorstone begins and ends in vague obscurity—and Granma Green's house at the fork of the trail stands on the very edge of the world in a sinister region peopled with bears and other menacing creatures. Beyond this point all is darkness and terror.
It is Sunday afternoon and my mother and her three children, Frank, Harriet and I (all in our best dresses) are visiting the Widow Green, our nearest neighbor, a plump, jolly woman whom we greatly love. The house swarms with stalwart men and buxom women and we are all sitting around the table heaped with the remains of a harvest feast. The women are "telling fortunes" by means of tea-grounds. Mrs. Green is the seeress. After shaking the cup with the grounds at the bottom, she turns it bottom side up in a saucer. Then whirling it three times to the right and three times to the left, she lifts it and silently studies the position of the leaves which cling to the sides of the cup, what time we all wait in breathless suspense for her first word.
"A soldier is coming to you!" she says to my mother. "See," and she points into the cup. We all crowd near, and I perceive a leaf with a stem sticking up from its body like a bayonet over a man's shoulder. "He is almost home," the widow goes on. Then with sudden dramatic turn she waves her hand toward the road, "Heavens and earth!" she cries. "There's Richard now!"
We all turn and look toward the road, and there, indeed, is a soldier with a musket on his back, wearily plodding his way up the low hill just north of the gate. He is too far away for mother to call, and besides I think she must have been a little uncertain, for he did not so much as turn his head toward the house. Trembling with excitement she hurries little Frank into his wagon and telling Hattie to bring me, sets off up the road as fast as she can draw the baby's cart. It all seems a dream to me and I move dumbly, almost stupidly like one in a mist....
We did not overtake the soldier, that is evident, for my next vision is that of a blue-coated figure leaning upon the fence, studying with intent gaze our empty cottage. I cannot, even now, precisely divine why he stood thus, sadly contemplating his silent home,—but so it was. His knapsack lay at his feet, his musket was propped against a post on whose top a cat was dreaming, unmindful of the warrior and his folded hands.
He did not hear us until we were close upon him, and even after he turned, my mother hesitated, so thin, so hollow-eyed, so changed was he. "Richard, is that you?" she quaveringly asked.
His worn face lighted up. His arms rose. "Yes, Belle! Here I am," he answered.
Nevertheless though he took my mother in his arms, I could not relate him to the father I had heard so much about. To me he was only a strange man with big eyes and care-worn face. I did not recognize in him anything I had ever known, but my sister, who was two years older than I, went to his bosom of her own motion. She knew him, whilst I submitted to his caresses rather for the reason that my mother urged me forward than because of any affection I felt for him. Frank, however, would not even permit a kiss. The gaunt and grizzled stranger terrified him.
"Come here, my little man," my father said.—"My little man!" Across the space of half-a-century I can still hear the sad reproach in his voice. "Won't you come and see your poor old father when he comes home from the war?"
"My little man!" How significant that phrase seems to me now! The war had in very truth come between this patriot and his sons. I had forgotten him—the baby had never known him.
Frank crept beneath the rail fence and stood there, well out of reach, like a cautious kitten warily surveying an alien dog. At last the soldier stooped and drawing from his knapsack a big red apple, held it toward the staring babe, confidently calling, "Now, I guess he'll come to his poor old pap home from the war."
The mother apologized. "He doesn't know you, Dick. How could he? He was only nine months old when you went away. He'll go to you by and by."
The babe crept slowly toward the shining lure. My father caught him despite his kicking, and hugged him close. "Now I've got you," he exulted.
Then we all went into the little front room and the soldier laid off his heavy army shoes. My mother brought a pillow to put under his head, and so at last he stretched out on the floor the better to rest his tired, aching bones, and there I joined him.
"Oh, Belle!" he said, in tones of utter content. "This is what I've dreamed about a million times."
Frank and I grew each moment more friendly and soon began to tumble over him while mother hastened to cook something for him to eat. He asked for "hot biscuits and honey and plenty of coffee."
That was a mystic hour—and yet how little I can recover of it! The afternoon glides into evening while the soldier talks, and at last we all go out to the barn to watch mother milk the cow. I hear him ask about the crops, the neighbors.—The sunlight passes. Mother leads the way back to the house. My father follows carrying little Frank in his arms.
He is a "strange man" no longer. Each moment his voice sinks deeper into my remembrance. He is my father—that I feel ringing through the dim halls of my consciousness. Harriet clings to his hand in perfect knowledge and confidence. We eat our bread and milk, the trundle-bed is pulled out, we children clamber in, and I go to sleep to the music of his resonant voice recounting the story of the battles he had seen, and the marches he had made.
The emergence of an individual consciousness from the void is, after all, the most amazing fact of human life and I should like to spend much of this first chapter in groping about in the luminous shadow of my infant world because, deeply considered, childish impressions are the fundamentals upon which an author's fictional out-put is based; but to linger might weary my reader at the outset, although I count myself most fortunate in the fact that my boyhood was spent in the midst of a charming landscape and during a certain heroic era of western settlement.
The men and women of that far time loom large in my thinking for they possessed not only the spirit of adventurers but the courage of warriors. Aside from the natural distortion of a boy's imagination I am quite sure that the pioneers of 1860 still retained something broad and fine in their action, something a boy might honorably imitate.
The earliest dim scene in my memory is that of a soft warm evening. I am cradled in the lap of my sister Harriet who is sitting on the door-step beneath a low roof. It is mid-summer and at our feet lies a mat of dark-green grass from which a frog is croaking. The stars are out, and above the high hills to the east a mysterious glow is glorifying the sky. The cry of the small animal at last conveys to my sister's mind a notion of distress, and rising she peers closely along the path. Starting back with a cry of alarm, she calls and my mother hurries out. She, too, examines the ground, and at last points out to me a long striped snake with a poor, shrieking little tree-toad in its mouth. The horror of this scene fixes it in my mind. My mother beats the serpent with a stick. The mangled victim hastens away, and the curtain falls.
I must have been about four years old at this time, although there is nothing to determine the precise date. Our house, a small frame cabin, stood on the eastern slope of a long ridge and faced across a valley which seemed very wide to me then, and in the middle of it lay a marsh filled with monsters, from which the Water People sang night by night. Beyond was a wooded mountain.
This doorstone must have been a favorite evening seat for my sister, for I remember many other delicious gloamings. Bats whirl and squeak in the odorous dusk. Night hawks whiz and boom, and over the dark forest wall a prodigious moon miraculously rolls. Fire-flies dart through the grass, and in a lone tree just outside the fence, a whippoorwill sounds his plaintive note. Sweet, very sweet, and wonderful are all these!
The marsh across the lane was a sinister menacing place even by day for there (so my sister Harriet warned me) serpents swarmed, eager to bite runaway boys. "And if you step in the mud between the tufts of grass," she said, "you will surely sink out of sight."—At night this teeming bog became a place of dank and horrid mystery. Bears and wolves and wildcats were reported as ruling the dark woods just beyond—only the door yard and the road seemed safe for little men—and even there I wished my mother to be within immediate call.
My father who had bought his farm "on time," just before the war, could not enlist among the first volunteers, though he was deeply moved to do so, till his land was paid for—but at last in 1863 on the very day that he made the last payment on the mortgage, he put his name down on the roll and went back to his wife, a soldier.
I have heard my mother say that this was one of the darkest moments of her life and if you think about it you will understand the reason why. My sister was only five years old, I was three and Frank was a babe in the cradle. Broken hearted at the thought of the long separation, and scared by visions of battle my mother begged the soldier not to go; but he was of the stern stuff which makes patriots—and besides his name was already on the roll, therefore he went away to join Grant's army at Vicksburg. "What sacrifice! What folly!" said his pacifist neighbors—"to leave your wife and children for an idea, a mere sentiment; to put your life in peril for a striped silken rag." But he went. For thirteen dollars a month he marched and fought while his plow rusted in the shed and his cattle called to him from their stalls.
My conscious memory holds nothing of my mother's agony of waiting, nothing of the dark days when the baby was ill and the doctor far away—but into my subconscious ear her voice sank, and the words Grant, Lincoln, Sherman, "furlough," "mustered out," ring like bells, deep-toned and vibrant. I shared dimly in every emotional utterance of the neighbors who came to call and a large part of what I am is due to the impressions of these deeply passionate and poetic years.
Dim pictures come to me. I see my mother at the spinning wheel, I help her fill the candle molds. I hold in my hands the queer carding combs with their crinkly teeth, but my first definite connected recollection is the scene of my father's return at the close of the war.
I was not quite five years old, and the events of that day are so commingled with later impressions,—experiences which came long after—that I cannot be quite sure which are true and which imagined, but the picture as a whole is very vivid and very complete.
Thus it happened that my first impressions of life were martial, and my training military, for my father brought back from his two years' campaigning under Sherman and Thomas the temper and the habit of a soldier.
He became naturally the dominant figure in my horizon, and his scheme of discipline impressed itself almost at once upon his children.
I suspect that we had fallen into rather free and easy habits under mother's government, for she was too jolly, too tender-hearted, to engender fear in us even when she threatened us with a switch or a shingle. We soon learned, however, that the soldier's promise of punishment was swift and precise in its fulfillment. We seldom presumed a second time on his forgetfulness or tolerance. We knew he loved us, for he often took us to his knees of an evening and told us stories of marches and battles, or chanted war-songs for us, but the moments of his tenderness were few and his fondling did not prevent him from almost instant use of the rod if he thought either of us needed it.
His own boyhood had been both hard and short. Born of farmer folk in Oxford County, Maine, his early life had been spent on the soil in and about Lock's Mills with small chance of schooling. Later, as a teamster, and finally as shipping clerk for Amos Lawrence, he had enjoyed three mightily improving years in Boston. He loved to tell of his life there, and it is indicative of his character to say that he dwelt with special joy and pride on the actors and orators he had heard. He could describe some of the great scenes and repeat a few of the heroic lines of Shakespeare, and the roll of his deep voice as he declaimed, "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York," thrilled us—filled us with desire of something far off and wonderful. But best of all we loved to hear him tell of "Logan at Peach Tree Creek," and "Kilpatrick on the Granny White Turnpike."
He was a vivid and concise story-teller and his words brought to us (sometimes all too clearly), the tragic happenings of the battlefields of Atlanta and Nashville. To him Grant, Lincoln, Sherman and Sheridan were among the noblest men of the world, and he would not tolerate any criticism of them.
Next to his stories of the war I think we loved best to have him picture "the pineries" of Wisconsin, for during his first years in the State he had been both lumberman and raftsman, and his memory held delightful tales of wolves and bears and Indians.
He often imitated the howls and growls and actions of the wild animals with startling realism, and his river narratives were full of unforgettable phrases like "the Jinny Bull Falls," "Old Moosinee" and "running the rapids."
He also told us how his father and mother came west by way of the Erie Canal, and in a steamer on the Great Lakes, of how they landed in Milwaukee with Susan, their twelve-year-old daughter, sick with the smallpox; of how a farmer from Monticello carried them in his big farm wagon over the long road to their future home in Green county and it was with deep emotion that he described the bitter reception they encountered in the village.
It appears that some of the citizens in a panic of dread were all for driving the Garlands out of town—then up rose old Hugh McClintock, big and gray as a grizzly bear, and put himself between the leader of the mob and its victims, and said, "You shall not lay hands upon them. Shame on ye!" And such was the power of his mighty arm and such the menace of his flashing eyes that no one went further with the plan of casting the new comers into the wilderness.
Old Hugh established them in a lonely cabin on the edge of the village, and thereafter took care of them, nursing grandfather with his own hands until he was well. "And that's the way the McClintocks and the Garlands first joined forces," my father often said in ending the tale. "But the name of the man who carried your Aunt Susan in his wagon from Milwaukee to Monticello I never knew."
I cannot understand why that sick girl did not die on that long journey over the rough roads of Wisconsin, and what it all must have seemed to my gentle New England grandmother I grieve to think about. Beautiful as the land undoubtedly was, such an experience should have shaken her faith in western men and western hospitality. But apparently it did not, for I never heard her allude to this experience with bitterness.
In addition to his military character, Dick Garland also carried with him the odor of the pine forest and exhibited the skill and training of a forester, for in those early days even at the time when I began to remember the neighborhood talk, nearly every young man who could get away from the farm or the village went north, in November, into the pine woods which covered the entire upper part of the State, and my father, who had been a raftsman and timber cruiser and pilot ever since his coming west, was deeply skilled with axe and steering oars. The lumberman's life at that time was rough but not vicious, for the men were nearly all of native American stock, and my father was none the worse for his winters in camp.
His field of action as lumberman was for several years, in and around Big Bull Falls (as it was then called), near the present town of Wausau, and during that time he had charge of a crew of loggers in winter and in summer piloted rafts of lumber down to Dubuque and other points where saw mills were located. He was called at this time, "Yankee Dick, the Pilot."
As a result of all these experiences in the woods, he was almost as much woodsman as soldier in his talk, and the heroic life he had led made him very wonderful in my eyes. According to his account (and I have no reason to doubt it) he had been exceedingly expert in running a raft and could ride a canoe like a Chippewa. I remember hearing him very forcefully remark, "God forgot to make the man I could not follow."
He was deft with an axe, keen of perception, sure of hand and foot, and entirely capable of holding his own with any man of his weight. Amid much drinking he remained temperate, and strange to say never used tobacco in any form. While not a large man he was nearly six feet in height, deep-chested and sinewy, and of dauntless courage. The quality which defended him from attack was the spirit which flamed from his eagle-gray eyes. Terrifying eyes they were, at times, as I had many occasions to note.
As he gathered us all around his knee at night before the fire, he loved to tell us of riding the whirlpools of Big Bull Falls, or of how he lived for weeks on a raft with the water up to his knees (sleeping at night in his wet working clothes), sustained by the blood of youth and the spirit of adventure. His endurance even after his return from the war, was marvellous, although he walked a little bent and with a peculiar measured swinging stride—the stride of Sherman's veterans.
As I was born in the first smoke of the great conflict, so all of my early memories of Green's coulee are permeated with the haze of the passing war-cloud. My soldier dad taught me the manual of arms, and for a year Harriet and I carried broom-sticks, flourished lath sabers, and hammered on dishpans in imitation of officers and drummers. Canteens made excellent water-bottles for the men in the harvest fields, and the long blue overcoats which the soldiers brought back with them from the south lent many a vivid spot of color to that far-off landscape.
All the children of our valley inhaled with every breath this mingled air of romance and sorrow, history and song, and through those epic days runs a deep-laid consciousness of maternal pain. My mother's side of those long months of waiting was never fully delineated, for she was natively reticent and shy of expression. But piece by piece in later years I drew from her the tale of her long vigil, and obtained some hint of the bitter anguish of her suspense after each great battle.
It is very strange, but I cannot define her face as I peer back into those childish times, though I can feel her strong arms about me. She seemed large and quite middle-aged to me, although she was in fact a handsome girl of twenty-three. Only by reference to a rare daguerreotype of the time am I able to correct this childish impression.
Our farm lay well up in what is called Green's coulee, in a little valley just over the road which runs along the LaCrosse river in western Wisconsin. It contained one hundred and sixty acres of land which crumpled against the wooded hills on the east and lay well upon a ridge to the west. Only two families lived above us, and over the height to the north was the land of the red people, and small bands of their hunters used occasionally to come trailing down across our meadow on their way to and from LaCrosse, which was their immemorial trading point.
Sometimes they walked into our house, always without knocking—but then we understood their ways. No one knocks at the wigwam of a red neighbor, and we were not afraid of them, for they were friendly, and our mother often gave them bread and meat which they took (always without thanks) and ate with much relish while sitting beside our fire. All this seemed very curious to us, but as they were accustomed to share their food and lodging with one another so they accepted my mother's bounty in the same matter-of-fact fashion.
Once two old fellows, while sitting by the fire, watched Frank and me bringing in wood for the kitchen stove, and smiled and muttered between themselves thereat. At last one of them patted my brother on the head and called out admiringly, "Small pappoose, heap work—good!" and we were very proud of the old man's praise.
The members of my mother's family must have been often at our home during my father's military service in the south, but I have no mental pictures of them till after my father's homecoming in '65. Their names were familiar—were, indeed, like bits of old-fashioned song. "Richard" was a fine and tender word in my ear, but "David" and "Luke," "Deborah" and "Samantha," and especially "Hugh," suggested something alien as well as poetic.
They all lived somewhere beyond the hills which walled our coulee on the east, in a place called Salem, and I was eager to visit them, for in that direction my universe died away in a luminous mist of unexplored distance. I had some notion of its near-by loveliness for I had once viewed it from the top of the tall bluff which stood like a warder at the gate of our valley, and when one bright morning my father said, "Belle, get ready, and we'll drive over to Grandad's," we all became greatly excited.
In those days people did not "call," they went "visitin'." The women took their knitting and stayed all the afternoon and sometimes all night. No one owned a carriage. Each family journeyed in a heavy farm wagon with the father and mother riding high on the wooden spring seat while the children jounced up and down on the hay in the bottom of the box or clung desperately to the side-boards to keep from being jolted out. In such wise we started on our trip to the McClintocks'.
The road ran to the south and east around the base of Sugar Loaf Bluff, thence across a lovely valley and over a high wooded ridge which was so steep that at times we rode above the tree tops. As father stopped the horses to let them rest, we children gazed about us with wondering eyes. Far behind us lay the LaCrosse valley through which a slender river ran, while before us towered wind-worn cliffs of stone. It was an exploring expedition for us.
The top of the divide gave a grand view of wooded hills to the northeast, but father did not wait for us to enjoy that. He started the team on the perilous downward road without regard to our wishes, and so we bumped and clattered to the bottom, all joy of the scenery swallowed up in fear of being thrown from the wagon.
The roar of a rapid, the gleam of a long curving stream, a sharp turn through a pair of bars, and we found ourselves approaching a low unpainted house which stood on a level bench overlooking a river and its meadows.
"There it is. That's Grandad's house," said mother, and peering over her shoulder I perceived a group of people standing about the open door, and heard their shouts of welcome.
My father laughed. "Looks as if the whole McClintock clan was on parade," he said.
It was Sunday and all my aunts and uncles were in holiday dress and a merry, hearty, handsome group they were. One of the men helped my mother out and another, a roguish young fellow with a pock-marked face, snatched me from the wagon and carried me under his arm to the threshold where a short, gray-haired smiling woman was standing. "Mother, here's another grandson for you," he said as he put me at her feet.
She greeted me kindly and led me into the house, in which a huge old man with a shock of perfectly white hair was sitting with a Bible on his knee. He had a rugged face framed in a circle of gray beard and his glance was absent-minded and remote. "Father," said my grandmother, "Belle has come. Here is one of her boys."
Closing his book on his glasses to mark the place of his reading he turned to greet my mother who entered at this moment. His way of speech was as strange as his look and for a few moments I studied him with childish intentness. His face was rough-hewn as a rock but it was kindly, and though he soon turned from his guests and resumed his reading no one seemed to resent it.
Young as I was I vaguely understood his mood. He was glad to see us but he was absorbed in something else, something of more importance, at the moment, than the chatter of the family. My uncles who came in a few moments later drew my attention and the white-haired dreamer fades from this scene.
The room swarmed with McClintocks. There was William, a black-bearded, genial, quick-stepping giant who seized me by the collar with one hand and lifted me off the floor as if I were a puppy just to see how much I weighed; and David, a tall young man with handsome dark eyes and a droop at the outer corner of his eyelids which gave him in repose a look of melancholy distinction. He called me and I went to him readily for I loved him at once. His voice pleased me and I could see that my mother loved him too.
From his knee I became acquainted with the girls of the family. Rachel, a demure and sweet-faced young woman, and Samantha, the beauty of the family, won my instant admiration, but Deb, as everybody called her, repelled me by her teasing ways. They were all gay as larks and their hearty clamor, so far removed from the quiet gravity of my grandmother Garland's house, pleased me. I had an immediate sense of being perfectly at home.
There was an especial reason why this meeting should have been, as it was, a joyous hour. It was, in fact, a family reunion after the war. The dark days of sixty-five were over. The Nation was at peace and its warriors mustered out. True, some of those who had gone "down South" had not returned. Luke and Walter and Hugh were sleeping in The Wilderness, but Frank and Richard were safely at home and father was once more the clarion-voiced and tireless young man he had been when he went away to fight. So they all rejoiced, with only a passing tender word for those whose bodies filled a soldier's nameless grave.
There were some boys of about my own age, William's sons, and as they at once led me away down into the grove, I can say little of what went on in the house after that. It must have been still in the warm September weather for we climbed the slender leafy trees and swayed and swung on their tip-tops like bobolinks. Perhaps I did not go so very high after all but I had the feeling of being very close to the sky.
The blast of a bugle called us to dinner and we all went scrambling up the bank and into the "front room" like a swarm of hungry shotes responding to the call of the feeder. Aunt Deb, however shooed us out into the kitchen. "You can't stay here," she said. "Mother'll feed you in the kitchen."
Grandmother was waiting for us and our places were ready, so what did it matter? We had chicken and mashed potato and nice hot biscuit and honey—just as good as the grown people had and could eat all we wanted without our mothers to bother us. I am quite certain about the honey for I found a bee in one of the cells of my piece of comb, and when I pushed my plate away in dismay grandmother laughed and said, "That is only a little baby bee. You see this is wild honey. William got it out of a tree and didn't have time to pick all the bees out of it."
At this point my memories of this day fuse and flow into another visit to the McClintock homestead which must have taken place the next year, for it is my final record of my grandmother. I do not recall a single word that she said, but she again waited on us in the kitchen, beaming upon us with love and understanding. I see her also smiling in the midst of the joyous tumult which her children and grandchildren always produced when they met. She seemed content to listen and to serve.
She was the mother of seven sons, each a splendid type of sturdy manhood, and six daughters almost equally gifted in physical beauty. Four of the sons stood over six feet in height and were of unusual strength. All of them—men and women alike—were musicians by inheritance, and I never think of them without hearing the sound of singing or the voice of the violin. Each of them could play some instrument and some of them could play any instrument. David, as you shall learn, was the finest fiddler of them all. Grandad himself was able to play the violin but he no longer did so. "'Tis the Devil's instrument," he said, but I noticed that he always kept time to it.
Grandmother had very little learning. She could read and write of course, and she made frequent pathetic attempts to open her Bible or glance at a newspaper—all to little purpose, for her days were filled from dawn to dark with household duties.
I know little of her family history. Beyond the fact that she was born in Maryland and had been always on the border, I have little to record. She was in truth overshadowed by the picturesque figure of her husband who was of Scotch-Irish descent and a most singular and interesting character.
He was a mystic as well as a minstrel. He was an "Adventist"—that is to say a believer in the Second Coming of Christ, and a constant student of the Bible, especially of those parts which predicted the heavens rolling together as a scroll, and the destruction of the earth. Notwithstanding his lack of education and his rude exterior, he was a man of marked dignity and sobriety of manner. Indeed he was both grave and remote in his intercourse with his neighbors.
He was like Ezekiel, a dreamer of dreams. He loved the Old Testament, particularly those books which consisted of thunderous prophecies and passionate lamentations. The poetry of Isaiah, The visions of The Apocalypse, formed his emotional outlet, his escape into the world of imaginative literature. The songs he loved best were those which described chariots of flaming clouds, the sound of the resurrection trump—or the fields of amaranth blooming "on the other side of Jordan."
As I close my eyes and peer back into my obscure childish world I can see him sitting in his straight-backed cane-bottomed chair, drumming on the rungs with his fingers, keeping time to some inaudible tune—or chanting with faintly-moving lips the wondrous words of John or Daniel. He must have been at this time about seventy years of age, but he seemed to me as old as a snow-covered mountain.
My belief is that Grandmother did not fully share her husband's faith in The Second Coming but upon her fell the larger share of the burden of entertainment when Grandad made "the travelling brother" welcome. His was an open house to all who came along the road, and the fervid chantings, the impassioned prayers of these meetings lent a singular air of unreality to the business of cooking or plowing in the fields.
I think he loved his wife and children, and yet I never heard him speak an affectionate word to them. He was kind, he was just, but he was not tender. With eyes turned inward, with a mind filled with visions of angel messengers with trumpets at their lips announcing "The Day of Wrath," how could he concern himself with the ordinary affairs of human life?
Too old to bind grain in the harvest field, he was occasionally intrusted with the task of driving the reaper or the mower—and generally forgot to oil the bearings. His absent-mindedness was a source of laughter among his sons and sons-in-law. I've heard Frank say: "Dad would stop in the midst of a swath to announce the end of the world." He seldom remembered to put on a hat even in the blazing sun of July and his daughters had to keep an eye on him to be sure he had his vest on right-side out.
Grandmother was cheerful in the midst of her toil and discomfort, for what other mother had such a family of noble boys and handsome girls? They all loved her, that she knew, and she was perfectly willing to sacrifice her comfort to promote theirs. Occasionally Samantha or Rachel remonstrated with her for working so hard, but she only put their protests aside and sent them back to their callers, for when the McClintock girls were at home, the horses of their suitors tied before the gate would have mounted a small troop of cavalry.
It was well that this pioneer wife was rich in children, for she had little else. I do not suppose she ever knew what it was to have a comfortable well-aired bedroom, even in childbirth. She was practical and a good manager, and she needed to be, for her husband was as weirdly unworldly as a farmer could be. He was indeed a sad husbandman. Only the splendid abundance of the soil and the manual skill of his sons, united to the good management of his wife, kept his family fed and clothed. "What is the use of laying up a store of goods against the early destruction of the world?" he argued.
He was bitterly opposed to secret societies, for some reason which I never fully understood, and the only fury I ever knew him to express was directed against these "dens of iniquity."
Nearly all his neighbors, like those in our coulee, were native American as their names indicated. The Dudleys, Elwells, and Griswolds came from Connecticut, the McIldowneys and McKinleys from New York and Ohio, the Baileys and Garlands from Maine. Buoyant, vital, confident, these sons of the border bent to the work of breaking sod and building fence quite in the spirit of sportsmen.
They were always racing in those days, rejoicing in their abounding vigor. With them reaping was a game, husking corn a test of endurance and skill, threshing a "bee." It was a Dudley against a McClintock, a Gilfillan against a Garland, and my father's laughing descriptions of the barn-raisings, harvestings and railsplittings of the valley filled my mind with vivid pictures of manly deeds. Every phase of farm work was carried on by hand. Strength and skill counted high and I had good reason for my idolatry of David and William. With the hearts of woodsmen and fists of sailors they were precisely the type to appeal to the imagination of a boy. Hunters, athletes, skilled horsemen—everything they did was to me heroic.
Frank, smallest of all these sons of Hugh, was not what an observer would call puny. He weighed nearly one hundred and eighty pounds and never met his match except in his brothers. William could outlift him, David could out-run him and outleap him, but he was more, agile than either—was indeed a skilled acrobat.
His muscles were prodigious. The calves of his legs would not go into his top boots, and I have heard my father say that once when the "tumbling" in the little country "show" seemed not to his liking, Frank sprang over the ropes into the arena and went around the ring in a series of professional flip-flaps, to the unrestrained delight of the spectators. I did not witness this performance, I am sorry to say, but I have seen him do somersaults and turn cart-wheels in the door-yard just from the pure joy of living. He could have been a professional acrobat—and he came near to being a professional ball-player.
He was always smiling, but his temper was fickle. Anybody could get a fight out of Frank McClintock at any time, simply by expressing a desire for it. To call him a liar was equivalent to contracting a doctor's bill. He loved hunting, as did all his brothers, but was too excitable to be a highly successful shot—whereas William and David were veritable Leather-stockings in their mastery of the heavy, old-fashioned rifle. David was especially dreaded at the turkey shoots of the county.
William was over six feet in height, weighed two hundred and forty pounds, and stood "straight as an Injun." He was one of the most formidable men of the valley—even at fifty as I first recollect him, he walked with a quick lift of his foot like that of a young Chippewa. To me he was a huge gentle black bear, but I firmly believed he could whip any man in the world—even Uncle David—if he wanted to. I never expected to see him fight, for I could not imagine anybody foolish enough to invite his wrath.
Such a man did develop, but not until William was over sixty, gray-haired and ill, and even then it took two strong men to engage him fully, and when it was all over (the contest filled but a few seconds), one assailant could not be found, and the other had to call in a doctor to piece him together again.
William did not have a mark—his troubles began when he went home to his quaint little old wife. In some strange way she divined that he had been fighting, and soon drew the story from him. "William McClintock," said she severely, "hain't you old enough to keep your temper and not go brawling around like that and at a school meeting too!"
William hung his head. "Well, I dunno!—I suppose my dyspepsy has made me kind o' irritable," he said by way of apology.
My father was the historian of most of these exploits on the part of his brothers-in-law, for he loved to exalt their physical prowess at the same time that he deplored their lack of enterprise and system. Certain of their traits he understood well. Others he was never able to comprehend, and I am not sure that they ever quite understood themselves.
A deep vein of poetry, of sub-conscious celtic sadness, ran through them all. It was associated with their love of music and was wordless. Only hints of this endowment came out now and again, and to the day of his death my father continued to express perplexity, and a kind of irritation at the curious combination of bitterness and sweetness, sloth and tremendous energy, slovenliness and exaltation which made Hugh McClintock and his sons the jest and the admiration of those who knew them best.
Undoubtedly to the Elwells and Dudleys, as to most of their definite, practical, orderly and successful New England neighbors, my uncles were merely a good-natured, easy-going lot of "fiddlers," but to me as I grew old enough to understand them, they became a group of potential poets, bards and dreamers, inarticulate and moody. They fell easily into somber silence. Even Frank, the most boisterous and outspoken of them all, could be thrown into sudden melancholy by a melody, a line of poetry or a beautiful landscape.
The reason for this praise of their quality, if the reason needs to be stated, lies in my feeling of definite indebtedness to them. They furnished much of the charm and poetic suggestion of my childhood. Most of what I have in the way of feeling for music, for rhythm, I derive from my mother's side of the house, for it was almost entirely Celt in every characteristic. She herself was a wordless poet, a sensitive singer of sad romantic songs.
Father was by nature an orator and a lover of the drama. So far as I am aware, he never read a poem if he could help it, and yet he responded instantly to music, and was instinctively courtly in manner. His mind was clear, positive and definite, and his utterances fluent. Orderly, resolute and thorough in all that he did, he despised William McClintock's easy-going habits of husbandry, and found David's lack of "push," of business enterprise, deeply irritating. And yet he loved them both and respected my mother for defending them.
To me, in those days, the shortcomings of the McClintocks did not appear particularly heinous. All our neighbors were living in log houses and frame shanties built beside the brooks, or set close against the hillsides, and William's small unpainted dwelling seemed a natural feature of the landscape, but as the years passed and other and more enterprising settlers built big barns, and shining white houses, the gray and leaning stables, sagging gates and roofs of my uncle's farm, became a reproach even in my eyes, so that when I visited it for the last time just before our removal to Iowa, I, too, was a little ashamed of it. Its disorder did not diminish my regard for the owner, but I wished he would clean out the stable and prop up the wagon-shed.
My grandmother's death came soon after our second visit to the homestead. I have no personal memory of the event, but I heard Uncle David describe it. The setting of the final scene in the drama was humble. The girls were washing clothes in the yard and the silent old mother was getting the mid-day meal. David, as he came in from the field, stopped for a moment with his sisters and in their talk Samantha said: "Mother isn't at all well today."
David, looking toward the kitchen, said, "Isn't there some way to keep her from working?"
"You know how she is," explained Deborah. "She's worked so long she don't know how to rest. We tried to get her to lie down for an hour but she wouldn't."
David was troubled. "She'll have to stop sometime," he said, and then they passed to other things, hearing meanwhile the tread of their mother's busy feet.
Suddenly she appeared at the door, a frightened look on her face.
"Why, mother!—what is the matter?" asked her daughter.
She pointed to her mouth and shook her head, to indicate that she could not speak. David leaped toward her, but she dropped before he could reach her.
Lifting her in his strong arms he laid her on her bed and hastened for the doctor. All in vain! She sank into unconsciousness and died without a word of farewell.
She fell like a soldier in the ranks. Having served uncomplainingly up to the very edge of her evening bivouac, she passed to her final sleep in silent dignity.
The Home in the Coulee
Our postoffice was in the village of Onalaska, situated at the mouth of the Black River, which came down out of the wide forest lands of the north. It was called a "boom town" for the reason that "booms" or yards for holding pine logs laced the quiet bayou and supplied several large mills with timber. Busy saws clamored from the islands and great rafts of planks and lath and shingles were made up and floated down into the Mississippi and on to southern markets.
It was a rude, rough little camp filled with raftsmen, loggers, mill-hands and boomsmen. Saloons abounded and deeds of violence were common, but to me it was a poem. From its position on a high plateau it commanded a lovely southern expanse of shimmering water bounded by purple bluffs. The spires of LaCrosse rose from the smoky distance, and steamships' hoarsely giving voice suggested illimitable reaches of travel. Some day I hoped my father would take me to that shining market-place whereto he carried all our grain.
In this village of Onalaska, lived my grandfather and grandmother Garland, and their daughter Susan, whose husband, Richard Bailey, a quiet, kind man, was held in deep affection by us all. Of course he could not quite measure up to the high standards of David and William, even though he kept a store and sold candy, for he could neither kill a bear, nor play the fiddle, nor shoot a gun—much less turn hand-springs or tame a wild horse, but we liked him notwithstanding his limitations and were always glad when he came to visit us.
Even at this time I recognized the wide differences which separated the McClintocks from the Garlands. The fact that my father's people lived to the west and in a town helped to emphasize the divergence.
All the McClintocks were farmers, but grandfather Garland was a carpenter by trade, and a leader in his church which was to him a club, a forum and a commercial exchange. He was a native of Maine and proud of the fact. His eyes were keen and gray, his teeth fine and white, and his expression stern. His speech was neat and nipping. As a workman he was exact and his tools were always in perfect order. In brief he was a Yankee, as concentrated a bit of New England as was ever transplanted to the border. Hopelessly "sot" in all his eastern ways, he remained the doubter, the critic, all his life.
We always spoke of him with formal precision as Grandfather Garland, never as "Grandad" or "Granpap" as we did in alluding to Hugh McClintock, and his long prayers (pieces of elaborate oratory) wearied us, while those of Grandad, which had the extravagance, the lyrical abandon of poetry, profoundly pleased us. Grandfather's church was a small white building in the edge of the village, Grandad's place of worship was a vision, a cloud-built temple, a house not made with hands.
The contrast between my grandmothers was equally wide. Harriet Garland was tall and thin, with a dark and serious face. She was an invalid, and confined to a chair, which stood in the corner of her room. On the walls within reach of her hand hung many small pockets, so ordered that she could obtain her sewing materials without rising. She was always at work when I called, but it was her habit to pause and discover in some one of her receptacles a piece of candy or a stick of "lickerish root" which she gave to me "as a reward for being a good boy."
She was always making needle rolls and thimble boxes and no doubt her skill helped to keep the family fed and clothed.
Notwithstanding all divergence in the characters of Grandmother Garland and Grandmother McClintock, we held them both in almost equal affection. Serene, patient, bookish, Grandmother Garland brought to us, as to her neighbors in this rude river port, some of the best qualities of intellectual Boston, and from her lips we acquired many of the precepts and proverbs of our Pilgrim forbears.
Her influence upon us was distinctly literary. She gloried in New England traditions, and taught us to love the poems of Whittier and Longfellow. It was she who called us to her knee and told us sadly yet benignly of the death of Lincoln, expressing only pity for the misguided assassin. She was a constant advocate of charity, piety, and learning. Always poor, and for many years a cripple, I never heard her complain, and no one, I think, ever saw her face clouded with a frown.
Our neighbors in Green's Coulee were all native American. The first and nearest, Al Randal and his wife and son, we saw often and on the whole liked, but the Whitwells who lived on the farm above us were a constant source of comedy to my father. Old Port, as he was called, was a mild-mannered man who would have made very little impression on the community, but for his wife, a large and rather unkempt person, who assumed such man-like freedom of speech that my father was never without an amusing story of her doings.
She swore in vigorous pioneer fashion, and dominated her husband by force of lung power as well as by a certain painful candor. "Port, you're an old fool," she often said to him in our presence. It was her habit to apologize to her guests, as they took their seats at her abundant table, "Wal, now, folks, I'm sorry, but there ain't a blank thing in this house fit for a dawg to eat—" expecting of course to have everyone cry out, "Oh, Mrs. Whitwell, this is a splendid dinner!" which they generally did. But once my father took her completely aback by rising resignedly from the table—"Come, Belle," said he to my mother, "let's go home. I'm not going to eat food not fit for a dog."
The rough old woman staggered under this blow, but quickly recovered. "Dick Garland, you blank fool. Sit down, or I'll fetch you a swipe with the broom."
In spite of her profanity and ignorance she was a good neighbor and in time of trouble no one was readier to relieve any distress in the coulee. However, it was upon Mrs. Randal and the widow Green that my mother called for aid, and I do not think Mrs. Whitwell was ever quite welcome even at our quilting bees, for her loud voice silenced every other, and my mother did not enjoy her vulgar stories.—Yes, I can remember several quilting bees, and I recall molding candles, and that our "company light" was a large kerosene lamp, in the glass globe of which a strip of red flannel was coiled. Probably this was merely a device to lengthen out the wick, but it made a memorable spot of color in the room—just as the watch-spring gong in the clock gave off a sound of fairy music to my ear. I don't know why the ring of that coil had such a wondrous appeal, but I often climbed upon a chair to rake its spirals with a nail in order that I might float away on its "dying fall."
Life was primitive in all the homes of the coulee. Money was hard to get. We always had plenty to eat, but little in the way of luxuries. We had few toys except those we fashioned for ourselves, and our garments were mostly home-made. I have heard my father say, "Belle could go to town with me, buy the calico for a dress and be wearing it for supper"—but I fear that even this did not happen very often. Her "dress up" gowns, according to certain precious old tintypes, indicate that clothing was for her only a sort of uniform,—and yet I will not say this made her unhappy. Her face was always smiling. She knit all our socks, made all our shirts and suits. She even carded and spun wool, in addition to her housekeeping, and found time to help on our kites and bows and arrows.
* * * * *
Month by month the universe in which I lived lightened and widened. In my visits to Onalaska, I discovered the great Mississippi River, and the Minnesota Bluffs. The light of knowledge grew stronger. I began to perceive forms and faces which had been hidden in the dusk of babyhood. I heard more and more of LaCrosse, and out of the mist filled lower valley the booming roar of steamboats suggested to me distant countries and the sea.
My father believed in service. At seven years of age, I had regular duties. I brought firewood to the kitchen and broke nubbins for the calves and shelled corn for the chickens. I have a dim memory of helping him (and grandfather) split oak-blocks into rafting pins in the kitchen. This seems incredible to me now, and yet it must have been so. In summer Harriet and I drove the cows to pasture, and carried "switchel" to the men in the hay-fields by means of a jug hung in the middle of a long stick.
Haying was a delightful season to us, for the scythes of the men occasionally tossed up clusters of beautiful strawberries, which we joyfully gathered. I remember with especial pleasure the delicious shortcakes which my mother made of the wild fruit which we picked in the warm odorous grass along the edge of the meadow.
Harvest time also brought a pleasing excitement (something unwonted, something like entertaining visitors) which compensated for the extra work demanded of us. The neighbors usually came in to help and life was a feast.
There was, however, an ever-present menace in our lives, the snake! During mid-summer months blue racers and rattlesnakes swarmed and the terror of them often chilled our childish hearts. Once Harriet and I, with little Frank in his cart, came suddenly upon a monster diamond-back rattler sleeping by the roadside. In our mad efforts to escape, the cart was overturned and the baby scattered in the dust almost within reach of the snake. As soon as she realized what had happened, Harriet ran back bravely, caught up the child and brought him safely away.
Another day, as I was riding on the load of wheat-sheaves, one of the men, in pitching the grain to the wagon lifted a rattlesnake with his fork. I saw it writhing in the bottom of the sheaf, and screamed out, "A snake, a snake!" It fell across the man's arm but slid harmlessly to the ground, and he put a tine through it.
As it chanced to be just dinner time he took it with him to the house and fastened it down near the door of a coop in which an old hen and her brood of chickens were confined. I don't know why he did this but it threw the mother hen into such paroxysms of fear that she dashed herself again and again upon the slats of her house. It appeared that she comprehended to the full the terrible power of the writhing monster.
Perhaps it was this same year that one of the men discovered another enormous yellow-back in the barnyard, one of the largest ever seen on the farm—and killed it just as it was moving across an old barrel. I cannot now understand why it tried to cross the barrel, but I distinctly visualize the brown and yellow band it made as it lay for an instant just before the bludgeon fell upon it, crushing it and the barrel together. He was thicker than my leg and glistened in the sun with sinister splendor. As he hung limp over the fence, a warning to his fellows, it was hard for me to realize that death still lay in his square jaws and poisonous fangs.
Innumerable garter-snakes infested the marsh, and black snakes inhabited the edges of the woodlands, but we were not so much afraid of them. We accepted them as unavoidable companions in the wild. They would run from us. Bears and wildcats we held in real terror, though they were considered denizens of the darkness and hence not likely to be met with if one kept to the daylight.
The "hoop snake" was quite as authentic to us as the blue racer, although no one had actually seen one. Den Green's cousin's uncle had killed one in Michigan, and a man over the ridge had once been stung by one that came rolling down the hill with his tail in his mouth. But Den's cousin's uncle, when he saw the one coming toward him, had stepped aside quick as lightning, and the serpent's sharp fangs had buried themselves so deep in the bark of a tree, that he could not escape.
Various other of the myths common to American boyhood, were held in perfect faith by Den and Ellis and Ed, myths which made every woodland path an ambush and every marshy spot a place of evil. Horsehairs would turn to snakes if left in the spring, and a serpent's tail would not die till sundown.
Once on the high hillside, I started a stone rolling, which as it went plunging into a hazel thicket, thrust out a deer, whose flight seemed fairly miraculous to me. He appeared to drift along the hillside like a bunch of thistle-down, and I took a singular delight in watching him disappear.
Once my little brother and I, belated in our search for the cows, were far away on the hills when night suddenly came upon us. I could not have been more than eight years old and Frank was five. This incident reveals the fearless use our father made of us. True, we were hardly a mile from the house, but there were many serpents on the hillsides and wildcats in the cliffs, and eight is pretty young for such a task.
We were following the cows through the tall grass and bushes, in the dark, when father came to our rescue, and I do not recall being sent on a similar expedition thereafter. I think mother protested against the danger of it. Her notions of our training were less rigorous.
I never hear a cow-bell of a certain timbre that I do not relive in some degree the terror and despair of that hour on the mountain, when it seemed that my world had suddenly slipped away from me.
Winter succeeds summer abruptly in my memory. Behind our house rose a sharp ridge down which we used to coast. Over this hill, fierce winds blew the snow, and wonderful, diamonded drifts covered the yard, and sometimes father was obliged to dig deep trenches in order to reach the barn.
On winter evenings he shelled corn by drawing the ears across a spade resting on a wash tub, and we children built houses of the cobs, while mother sewed carpet rags or knit our mittens. Quilting bees of an afternoon were still recognized social functions and the spread quilt on its frame made a gorgeous tent under which my brother and I camped on our way to "Colorado." Lath swords and tin-pan drums remained a part of our equipment for a year or two.
One stormy winter day, Edwin Randal, riding home in a sleigh behind his uncle, saw me in the yard and, picking an apple from an open barrel beside which he was standing, threw it at me. It was a very large apple, and as it struck the drift it disappeared leaving a round deep hole. Delving there I recovered it, and as I brushed the rime from its scarlet skin it seemed the most beautiful thing in this world. From this vividly remembered delight, I deduce the fact that apples were not very plentiful in our home.
My favorite place in winter time was directly under the kitchen stove. It was one of the old-fashioned high-stepping breed, with long hind legs and an arching belly, and as the oven was on top, the space beneath the arch offered a delightful den for a cat, a dog or small boy, and I was usually to be found there, lying on my stomach, spelling out the "continued" stories which came to us in the county paper, for I was born with a hunger for print.
We had few books in our house. Aside from the Bible I remember only one other, a thick, black volume filled with gaudy pictures of cherries and plums, and portraits of ideally fat and prosperous sheep, pigs and cows. It must have been a Farmer's Annual or State agricultural report, but it contained in the midst of its dry prose, occasional poems like "I remember, I remember," "The Old Armchair" and other pieces of a domestic or rural nature. I was especially moved by The Old Armchair, and although some of the words and expressions were beyond my comprehension, I fully understood the defiant tenderness of the lines:
I love it, I love it, and who shall dare To chide me for loving the old armchair?
I fear the horticultural side of this volume did not interest me, but this sweetly-sad poem tinged even the gaudy pictures of prodigious plums and shining apples with a literary glamor. The preposterously plump cattle probably affected me as only another form of romantic fiction. The volume also had a pleasant smell, not so fine an odor as the Bible, but so delectable that I loved to bury my nose in its opened pages. What caused this odor I cannot tell—perhaps it had been used to press flowers or sprigs of sweet fern.
Harriet's devotion to literature, like my own, was a nuisance. If my mother wanted a pan of chips she had to wrench one of us from a book, or tear us from a paper. If she pasted up a section of Harper's Weekly behind the washstand in the kitchen, I immediately discovered a special interest in that number, and likely enough forgot to wash myself. When mother saw this (as of course she very soon did), she turned the paper upside down, and thereafter accused me, with some justice, of standing on my head in order to continue my tale. "In fact," she often said, "it is easier for me to do my errands myself than to get either of you young ones to move."
The first school which we attended was held in a neighboring farm-house, and there is very little to tell concerning it, but at seven I began to go to the public school in Onalaska and memory becomes definite, for the wide river which came silently out of the unknown north, carrying endless millions of pine logs, and the clamor of saws in the island mills, and especially the men walking the rolling logs with pike-poles in their hands filled me with a wordless joy. To be one of these brave and graceful "drivers" seemed almost as great an honor as to be a Captain in the army. Some of the boys of my acquaintance were sons of these hardy boomsmen, and related wonderful stories of their fathers' exploits—stories which we gladly believed. We all intended to be rivermen when we grew up.
The quiet water below the booms harbored enormous fish at that time, and some of the male citizens who were too lazy to work in the mills got an easy living by capturing cat-fish, and when in liquor joined the rivermen in their drunken frays. My father's tales of the exploits of some of these redoubtable villains filled my mind with mingled admiration and terror. No one used the pistol, however, and very few the knife. Physical strength counted. Foot and fist were the weapons which ended each contest and no one was actually slain in these meetings of rival crews.
In the midst of this tumult, surrounded by this coarse, unthinking life, my Grandmother Garland's home stood, a serene small sanctuary of lofty womanhood, a temple of New England virtue. From her and from my great aunt Bridges who lived in St. Louis, I received my first literary instruction, a partial offset to the vulgar yet heroic influence of the raftsmen and mill hands.
The school-house, a wooden two story building, occupied an unkempt lot some distance back from the river and near a group of high sand dunes which possessed a sinister allurement to me. They had a mysterious desert quality, a flavor as of camels and Arabs. Once you got over behind them it seemed as if you were in another world, a far-off arid land where no water ran and only sear, sharp-edged grasses grew. Some of these mounds were miniature peaks of clear sand, so steep and dry that you could slide all the way down from top to bottom, and do no harm to your Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. On rainy days you could dig caves in their sides.
But the mills and the log booms were after all much more dramatic and we never failed to hurry away to the river if we had half an hour to spare. The "drivers," so brave and skilled, so graceful, held us in breathless admiration as they leaped from one rolling log to another, or walked the narrow wooden bridges above the deep and silently sweeping waters. The piles of slabs, the mounds of sawdust, the intermittent, ferocious snarl of the saws, the slap of falling lumber, the never ending fires eating up the refuse—all these sights and sounds made a return to school difficult. Even the life around the threshing machine seemed a little tame in comparison with the life of the booms.
We were much at the Greens', our second-door neighbors to the south, and the doings of the men-folks fill large space in my memory. Ed, the oldest of the boys, a man of twenty-three or four, was as prodigious in his way as my Uncle David. He was mighty with the axe. His deeds as a railsplitter rivaled those of Lincoln. The number of cords of wood he could split in a single day was beyond belief. It was either seven or eleven, I forget which—I am perfectly certain of the number of buckwheat pancakes he could eat for I kept count on several occasions. Once he ate nine the size of a dinner plate together with a suitable number of sausages—but what would you expect of a man who could whirl a six pound axe all day in a desperate attack on the forest, without once looking at the sun or pausing for breath?
However, he fell short of my hero in other ways. He looked like a fat man and his fiddling was only middling, therefore, notwithstanding his prowess with the axe and the maul, he remained subordinate to David, and though they never came to a test of strength we were perfectly sure that David was the finer man. His supple grace and his unconquerable pride made him altogether admirable.
Den, the youngest of the Greens, was a boy about three years my senior, and a most attractive lad. I met him some years ago in California, a successful doctor, and we talked of the days when I was his slave and humbly carried his powder horn and game bag. Ellis Usher, who lived in Sand Lake and often hunted with Den, is an editor in Milwaukee and one of the political leaders of his state. In those days he had a small opinion of me. No doubt I was a nuisance.
The road which led from our farm to the village school crossed a sandy ridge and often in June our path became so hot that it burned the soles of our feet. If we went out of the road there were sand-burrs and we lost a great deal of time picking needles from our toes. How we hated those sand-burrs!—However, on these sand barrens many luscious strawberries grew. They were not large, but they gave off a delicious odor, and it sometimes took us a long time to reach home.
There was a recognized element of danger in this road. Wildcats were plentiful around the limestone cliffs, and bears had been seen under the oak trees. In fact a place on the hillside was often pointed out with awe as "the place where Al Randal killed the bear." Our way led past the village cemetery also, and there was to me something vaguely awesome in that silent bivouac of the dead.
Among the other village boys in the school were two lads named Gallagher, one of whom, whose name was Matt, became my daily terror. He was two years older than I and had all of a city gamin's cunning and self-command. At every intermission he sidled close to me, walking round me, feeling my arms, and making much of my muscle. Sometimes he came behind and lifted me to see how heavy I was, or called attention to my strong hands and wrists, insisting with the most terrifying candor of conviction, "I'm sure you can lick me." We never quite came to combat, and finally he gave up this baiting for a still more exquisite method of torment.
My sister and I possessed a dog named Rover, a meek little yellow, bow-legged cur of mongrel character, but with the frankest, gentlest and sweetest face, it seemed to us, in all the world. He was not allowed to accompany us to school and scarcely ever left the yard, but Matt Gallagher in some way discovered my deep affection for this pet and thereafter played upon my fears with a malevolence which knew no mercy. One day he said, "Me and brother Dan are going over to your place to get a calf that's in your pasture. We're going to get excused fifteen minutes early. We'll get there before you do and we'll fix that dog of yours!—There won't be nothin' left of him but a grease spot when we are done with him."
These words, spoken probably in jest, instantly filled my heart with an agony of fear. I saw in imagination just how my little playmate would come running out to meet his cruel foes, his brown eyes beaming with love and trust,—I saw them hiding sharp stones behind their backs while snapping their left-hand fingers to lure him within reach, and then I saw them drive their murdering weapons at his head.
I could think of nothing else. I could not study, I could only sit and stare out of the window with tears running down my cheeks, until at last, the teacher observing my distress, inquired, "What is the matter?" And I, not knowing how to enter upon so terrible a tale, whined out, "I'm sick, I want to go home."
"You may go," said the teacher kindly.
Snatching my cap from beneath the desk where I had concealed it at recess, I hurried out and away over the sand-lot on the shortest way home. No stopping now for burrs!—I ran like one pursued. I shall never forget as long as I live, the pain, the panic, the frenzy of that race against time. The hot sand burned my feet, my side ached, my mouth was dry, and yet I ran on and on and on, looking back from moment to moment, seeing pursuers in every moving object.
At last I came in sight of home, and Rover frisked out to meet me just as I had expected him to do, his tail wagging, his gentle eyes smiling up at me. Gasping, unable to utter a word, I frantically dragged the dog into the house and shut the door.
"What is the matter?" asked my mother.
I could not at the moment explain even to her what had threatened me, but her calm sweet words at last gave my story vent. Out it came in torrential flow.
"Why, you poor child!" she said. "They were only fooling—they wouldn't dare to hurt your dog!"
This was probably true. Matt had spoken without any clear idea of the torture he was inflicting.
It is often said, "How little is required to give a child joy," but men—and women too—sometimes forget how little it takes to give a child pain.
Father Sells the Farm
Green's Coulee was a delightful place for boys. It offered hunting and coasting and many other engrossing sports, but my father, as the seasons went by, became thoroughly dissatisfied with its disadvantages. More and more he resented the stumps and ridges which interrupted his plow. Much of his quarter-section remained unbroken. There were ditches to be dug in the marsh and young oaks to be uprooted from the forest, and he was obliged to toil with unremitting severity. There were times, of course, when field duties did not press, but never a day came when the necessity for twelve hours' labor did not exist.
Furthermore, as he grubbed or reaped he remembered the glorious prairies he had crossed on his exploring trip into Minnesota before the war, and the oftener he thought of them the more bitterly he resented his up-tilted, horse-killing fields, and his complaining words sank so deep into the minds of his sons that for years thereafter they were unable to look upon any rise of ground as an object to be admired.
It irked him beyond measure to force his reaper along a steep slope, and he loathed the irregular little patches running up the ravines behind the timbered knolls, and so at last like many another of his neighbors he began to look away to the west as a fairer field for conquest. He no more thought of going east than a liberated eagle dreams of returning to its narrow cage. He loved to talk of Boston, to boast of its splendor, but to live there, to earn his bread there, was unthinkable. Beneath the sunset lay the enchanted land of opportunity and his liberation came unexpectedly.
Sometime in the spring of 1868, a merchant from LaCrosse, a plump man who brought us candy and was very cordial and condescending, began negotiations for our farm, and in the discussion of plans which followed, my conception of the universe expanded. I began to understand that "Minnesota" was not a bluff but a wide land of romance, a prairie, peopled with red men, which lay far beyond the big river. And then, one day, I heard my father read to my mother a paragraph from the county paper which ran like this, "It is reported that Richard Garland has sold his farm in Green's Coulee to our popular grocer, Mr. Speer. Mr. Speer intends to make of it a model dairy farm."
This intention seemed somehow to reflect a ray of glory upon us, though I fear it did not solace my mother, as she contemplated the loss of home and kindred. She was not by nature an emigrant,—few women are. She was content with the pleasant slopes, the kindly neighbors of Green's Coulee. Furthermore, most of her brothers and sisters still lived just across the ridge in the valley of the Neshonoc, and the thought of leaving them for a wild and unknown region was not pleasant.
To my father, on the contrary, change was alluring. Iowa was now the place of the rainbow, and the pot of gold. He was eager to push on toward it, confident of the outcome. His spirit was reflected in one of the songs which we children particularly enjoyed hearing our mother sing, a ballad which consisted of a dialogue between a husband and wife on this very subject of emigration. The words as well as its wailing melody still stir me deeply, for they lay hold of my sub-conscious memory—embodying admirably the debate which went on in our home as well as in the homes of other farmers in the valley,—only, alas! our mothers did not prevail.
It begins with a statement of unrest on the part of the husband who confesses that he is about to give up his plow and his cart—
Away to Colorado a journey I'll go, For to double my fortune as other men do, While here I must labor each day in the field And the winter consumes all the summer doth yield.
To this the wife replies:
Dear husband, I've noticed with a sorrowful heart That you long have neglected your plow and your cart, Your horses, sheep, cattle at random do run, And your new Sunday jacket goes every day on. Oh, stay on your farm and you'll suffer no loss, For the stone that keeps rolling will gather no moss.
But the husband insists:
Oh, wife, let us go; Oh, don't let us wait; I long to be there, and I long to be great, While you some fair lady and who knows but I May be some rich governor long 'fore I die, Whilst here I must labor each day in the field, And the winter consumes all the summer doth yield.
But wife shrewdly retorts:
Dear husband, remember those lands are so dear They will cost you the labor of many a year. Your horses, sheep, cattle will all be to buy, You will hardly get settled before you must die. Oh, stay on the farm,—etc.
The husband then argues that as in that country the lands are all cleared to the plow, and horses and cattle not very dear, they would soon be rich. Indeed, "we will feast on fat venison one-half of the year." Thereupon the wife brings in her final argument:
Oh, husband, remember those lands of delight Are surrounded by Indians who murder by night. Your house will be plundered and burnt to the ground While your wife and your children lie mangled around.
This fetches the husband up with a round turn:
Oh, wife, you've convinced me, I'll argue no more, I never once thought of your dying before. I love my dear children although they are small And you, my dear wife, I love greatest of all.
Refrain (both together)
We'll stay on the farm and we'll suffer no loss For the stone that keeps rolling will gather no moss.
This song was not an especial favorite of my father. Its minor strains and its expressions of womanly doubts and fears were antipathetic to his sanguine, buoyant, self-confident nature. He was inclined to ridicule the conclusions of its last verse and to say that the man was a molly-coddle—or whatever the word of contempt was in those days. As an antidote he usually called for "O'er the hills in legions, boys," which exactly expressed his love of exploration and adventure.
This ballad which dates back to the conquest of the Allegheny mountains opens with a fine uplifting note,
Cheer up, brothers, as we go O'er the mountains, westward ho, Where herds of deer and buffalo Furnish the fare.
and the refrain is at once a bugle call and a vision:
Then o'er the hills in legions, boys, Fair freedom's star Points to the sunset regions, boys, Ha, ha, ha-ha!
and when my mother's clear voice rose on the notes of that exultant chorus, our hearts responded with a surge of emotion akin to that which sent the followers of Daniel Boone across the Blue Ridge, and lined the trails of Kentucky and Ohio with the canvas-covered wagons of the pioneers.
A little farther on in the song came these words,
When we've wood and prairie land, Won by our toil, We'll reign like kings in fairy land, Lords of the soil!
which always produced in my mind the picture of a noble farm-house in a park-like valley, just as the line, "Well have our rifles ready, boys," expressed the boldness and self-reliance of an armed horseman.
The significance of this song in the lives of the McClintocks and the Garlands cannot be measured. It was the marching song of my Grandfather's generation and undoubtedly profoundly influenced my father and my uncles in all that they did. It suggested shining mountains, and grassy vales, swarming with bear and elk. It called to green savannahs and endless flowery glades. It voiced as no other song did, the pioneer impulse throbbing deep in my father's blood. That its words will not bear close inspection today takes little from its power. Unquestionably it was a directing force in the lives of at least three generations of my pioneering race. Its strains will be found running through this book from first to last, for its pictures continued to allure my father on and on toward "the sunset regions," and its splendid faith carried him through many a dark vale of discontent.
Our home was a place of song, notwithstanding the severe toil which was demanded of every hand, for often of an evening, especially in winter time, father took his seat beside the fire, invited us to his knees, and called on mother to sing. These moods were very sweet to us and we usually insisted upon his singing for us. True, he hardly knew one tune from another, but he had a hearty resounding chant which delighted us, and one of the ballads which we especially like to hear him repeat was called Down the Ohio. Only one verse survives in my memory:
The river is up, the channel is deep, The winds blow high and strong. The flash of the oars, the stroke we keep, As we row the old boat along, Down the O-h-i-o.
Mother, on the contrary, was gifted with a voice of great range and sweetness, and from her we always demanded Nettie Wildwood, Lily Dale, Lorena or some of Root's stirring war songs. We loved her noble, musical tone, and yet we always enjoyed our father's tuneless roar. There was something dramatic and moving in each of his ballads. He made the words mean so much.
It is a curious fact that nearly all of the ballads which the McClintocks and other of these powerful young sons of the border loved to sing were sad. Nellie Wildwood, Minnie Minturn, Belle Mahone, Lily Dale were all concerned with dead or dying maidens or with mocking birds still singing o'er their graves. Weeping willows and funeral urns ornamented the cover of each mournful ballad. Not one smiling face peered forth from the pages of The Home Diadem.
Lonely like a withered tree, What is all the world to me? Light and life were all in thee, Sweet Belle Mahone,
wailed stalwart David and buxom Deborah, and ready tears moistened my tanned plump cheeks.
Perhaps it was partly by way of contrast that the jocund song of Freedom's Star always meant so much to me, but however it came about, I am perfectly certain that it was an immense subconscious force in the life of my father as it had been in the westward marching of the McClintocks. In my own thinking it became at once a vision and a lure.
The only humorous songs which my uncles knew were negro ditties, like Camp Town Racetrack and Jordan am a Hard Road to Trabbel but in addition to the sad ballads I have quoted, they joined my mother in The Pirate's Serenade, Erin's Green Shore, Bird of the Wilderness, and the memory of their mellow voices creates a golden dusk between me and that far-off cottage.
During the summer of my eighth year, I took a part in haying and harvest, and I have a painful recollection of raking hay after the wagons, for I wore no shoes and the stubble was very sharp. I used to slip my feet along close to the ground, thus bending the stubble away from me before throwing my weight on it, otherwise walking was painful. If I were sent across the field on an errand I always sought out the path left by the broad wheels of the mowing machine and walked therein with a most delicious sense of safety.
It cannot be that I was required to work very hard or very steadily, but it seemed to me then, and afterward, as if I had been made one of the regular hands and that I toiled the whole day through. I rode old Josh for the hired man to plow corn, and also guided the lead horse on the old McCormick reaper, my short legs sticking out at right angles from my body, and I carried water to the field.
It appears that the blackbirds were very thick that year and threatened, in August, to destroy the corn. They came in gleeful clouds, settling with multitudinous clamor upon the stalks so that it became the duty of Den Green to scare them away by shooting at them, and I was permitted to follow and pick up the dead birds and carry them as "game."
There was joy and keen excitement in this warfare. Sometimes when Den fired into a flock, a dozen or more came fluttering down. At other times vast swarms rose at the sound of the gun with a rush of wings which sounded like a distant storm. Once Den let me fire the gun, and I took great pride in this until I came upon several of the shining little creatures bleeding, dying in the grass. Then my heart was troubled and I repented of my cruelty. Mrs. Green put the birds into potpies but my mother would not do so. "I don't believe in such game," she said. "It's bad enough to shoot the poor things without eating them."
Once we came upon a huge mountain rattlesnake and Den killed it with a shot of his gun. How we escaped being bitten is a mystery, for we explored every path of the hills and meadows in our bare feet, our trousers rolled to the knee. We hunted plums and picked blackberries and hazelnuts with very little fear of snakes, and yet we must have always been on guard. We loved our valley, and while occasionally we yielded to the lure of "Freedom's star," we were really content with Green's Coulee and its surrounding hills.
The Last Threshing in the Coulee
Life on a Wisconsin farm, even for the women, had its compensations. There were times when the daily routine of lonely and monotonous housework gave place to an agreeable bustle, and human intercourse lightened the toil. In the midst of the slow progress of the fall's plowing, the gathering of the threshing crew was a most dramatic event to my mother, as to us, for it not only brought unwonted clamor, it fetched her brothers William and David and Frank, who owned and ran a threshing machine, and their coming gave the house an air of festivity which offset the burden of extra work which fell upon us all.
In those days the grain, after being brought in and stacked around the barn, was allowed to remain until October or November when all the other work was finished.
Of course some men got the machine earlier, for all could not thresh at the same time, and a good part of every man's fall activities consisted in "changing works" with his neighbors, thus laying up a stock of unpaid labor against the home job. Day after day, therefore, father or the hired man shouldered a fork and went to help thresh, and all through the autumn months, the ceaseless ringing hum and the bow-ouw, ouw-woo, boo-oo-oom of the great balance wheels on the separator and the deep bass purr of its cylinder could be heard in every valley like the droning song of some sullen and gigantic autumnal insect.