RECOLLLECTIONS OF AN EARLY DAY
BY A YOUNGSTER OF
BY S. H. HERRICK
Just sixty eight years ago in the Spring of 1857, a youngster started out from Beloit, Wisconsin, in company with two other fellows, destined for the Territory of Kansas.
Their intention was to do their “little bit” In making that Territory a free State. The aforesaid youngster was a “Green Mountain Yankee,” one was a “Wisconsinite,” and the other was from Norway.
We styled ourselves, Vermont, Wisconsin and Norway. I might mention that each expected to secure a quarter section of Government land.
We went to St. Louis by rail, where we had to wait for several hours. At that time all transportation north and south was by steamboats up and down the Mississippi. And as we roamed about to pass away the time, we went down to the levee where we found steamboats as thick as they could be for two miles along the levee. This was a wonder of wonders to me, as I had never seen a river steamer before.
From St. Louis we went by rail as far as Jefferson City. This was as far west as the railroad extended at that time. There we took a steamer up the Missouri to Wyandotte, a little town across the Kaw river from Kansas City, which then was only a military camp.
We reached Wyandotte a little after noon, and leaving our trunks there, to be taken up to Lawrence on the little stern wheel steamer that plied the Kaw, or Kansas river between Wyandotte and Lawrence, we started on foot for Lawrence, which was about forty miles distant.
That afternoon we walked about twelve miles to Pratt’s Mission.
This was on the Delaware Indian reservation, here we stayed over night, getting supper, lodging and breakfast for six bits each.
The next morning we were rather stiff from our walk of the preceding day, for neither of us had been accustomed to walking. But we were in good spirits and we started out briskly on our twenty eight mile hike.
By noon we were in the Potowatomy Reservation having seen nothing but Indians since leaving the Mission in the morning. We were becoming somewhat hungry after our tramp, and seeing a hut, we made for it. The door was open, and one of us went up to it, but seeing nobody within, we called out, Indian fashion, “How.”
Pretty soon a squaw began in the back way, and we began to make signs, as we had been told to do to let her know we were hungry. We put our hands to out mouths and then over our stomachs, and made out jaws go as if we were eating. A gleam of intelligence shot across her countenance, and she darted in and got a chunk of bacon and sliced it and put it on to fry, then she mixed up some stuff and put it in a dish and put it in the oven. Then she spread an old oilcloth on the table and put a few dishes on. Then she got some lumps of dark looking stuff in a bowl and put that on, and looking up at us, said, “Indian sugar.” She made some queer tasting coffee, and soon our dinner was ready, and we sat down on boxes and filled ourselves with bacon and cornbread (so called,) and Indian sugar and coffee.
After dinner we made signs and took out our pocket books, and the squaw said, “Two bits.” And we were off again. After walking some distance, we came across a white man. And although he didn’t amount to much for a white man, to us he was good to look at. He told us that the squaw that fed us was the wife of the Chief of the Potowatomies and the “lady of the land.’
We still had about ten miles to go to reach Lawrence, so we plodded on for awhile in silence, but, all at once we missed Norway. We were in a piece of woods, and had just come around a bend in the path. So we stopped and called, “Norw--ay, Norw---ay.” Soon he came lumbering along, and to our inquiry as to what had made him so far behind, he replied, “Oh, to Greece mine vagon.” It developed that the first day’s walk had caused some chafing of his anatomy, and he had stolen the inch of tallow candle that was given us the night before to undress by.
We reached the Kansas river after sunset, and the ferryman had gone home on the other side. And how to get over to the city we did not know, but a kindly old sole told us how to call the ferry-man. And this was the way. Ye---he--, yo---he--. O John. O John. And that brought him, and he ferried us over.
It is unnecessary to say that our supper was enjoyed, and we slept all night without once waking.
After a hearty breakfast we “took the trail” for the southwest. Continuing in that direction, we struck the Santa Fe trail in about ten or twelve miles and followed it all day. About sundown we came to a house, one of the few we had seen since leaving Lawrence in the morning. It was a dugout occupied by a Pre-empter, a single man.
He cooked us a magnificent supper of bacon and johnnycake with coffee. There was but one bed, but he gave that up to us, and we lay like three logs, side by side, and never waked until morning.
Our host, as we afterward learned, wrapped himself up in blankets and slept in his covered wagon. He was up early in the morning, and served us a breakfast identical with our supper. And we paid him seventy five cents each for our supper. But we did not begrudge it for he needed the money.
The next day we walked twenty five miles and went without any dinner, as there were no houses to call at.
We came to a new Village, called, if I remember correctly, Council Grove. Here we stayed two days and staked out each a claim. But Wisconsin was not satisfied here, and as Norway and I did not care to stay there alone, we hiked back to Lawrence.
Old Dr. Brown was there publishing a newspaper called The Herold of Freedom. His office had been mobbed the year previous, and his press thrown in the river.
But Brown was what they called there, a “persistent old cuss.” And he sent to Chicago for fresh material, and continued the publication.
Since then he had told me that they mobbed him three times in succession. And knowing the man as I come to know him after coming to Rockford, I have no doubt he would have continued its publication if they had mobbed him every week.
We stayed in Lawrence a day or two, but our trunks had not yet come as the steamer was fast on a sand-bar some distance down the river. By this time, Wisconsin was tired of Kansas and decided to go up to Omaha. He left us and walked down to the steamer and got his trunk and went to Omaha. And that was the last we saw of him.
Norway and I took passage in a farm wagon for Leavenworth, reaching there in two days. We secured a boarding place in a boarding house, and as every hotel and boarding house were crowded full, we were willing to occupy a room in which were two beds on regular bedsteads and two others in the floor. Like a ward in a hospital, only still more so.
Here we thought to secure work for awhile, and replenish our pocket books a little. Norway secured a job. But it was my misfortune to come down with the measles. And before I was able to work my money gave out and I borrowed ten of Norway.
The very next day he had a chance to go out about twenty five miles a secure a claim. And that was the last I ever saw of Norway or heard of him.
I was very sure that he was murdered for his money. For the man who persuaded him to go out with him, looked to me like an old scoundrel. And he would soon earn that Norway had two hundred dollars in gold sewed up in a pocket on the inside of his shirt between the shoulders. This was a secret. But Norway always had to have help to keep a secret. And as will be seen later on, he never sent for his trunk at Lawrence.
The measles left me rather “veak” as Norway would say. But I felt the necessity of getting out where I could be earning some money as soon as possible. And in about a week I went out to work a month with a farmer about six miles out in the country.
That night I discovered that he was not the kind of a man I cared to work for. He lived in a log house with but one room, and there was soon to be an addition to the family. There was another hired man, a german, and a white maid about sixteen years of age, and a negro slave woman.
All four of us had to sleep in another one room house, near the first. There were two beds in the room with a curtain between. The german and I slept in one, and the white maid and the nigger wench in the other.
Even with that curtain, it was awkward getting into bed. Evidently the Negro woman noticed it, for she remarked. “I reckon yo nebber slep’ wid brack folks befo’.” I said, “No, I never saw a black person until I left Vermont.”
She chuckled. “Yah, yah, yah, you git used to ‘em befo’ long.” The next morning, after a breakfast of bacon and corn bread, using bacon Greece for butter, the German and I went out to the field to plow. I knew nothing about driving oxen, and there were two yoke of them, and I was expected to drive them and the other man held the plow.
And perhaps you can imagine the time I had that day with those oxen. Perhaps I was not tired where night came. And perhaps I was not disgusted with the whole outfit. I resolved to throw up the job and to tell the man that I did not feel able to go on with it. But I couldn’t go that night after working all day until sundown, and besides I thought I was entitled to another night lodging and breakfast for my day’s work. And so I decided to say nothing until next morning after breakfast.
But the farmer got the start of me. For just as we were through breakfast, he handed me a half dollar across the table, and said’ “I wont have any further use for you.” I was mad. And I replied, “I haven’t any farther use for you, either.”
That put him in a towering passion, and he was going to thresh me. But the other fellow was a husky man, and he said, “No. Let him go about his business.” And this I did without bidding them a goodby.
On reaching the city, I “met up” with some young men who were going up to Doniphan, a distance of forty miles or so to find work. As they were going by Foot and Walker’s Express, I decided to go with them.
We were two days getting there, but we all got work the next day at good wages, piling lumber in a lumber yard. After working at that for some time, I went back to Leavenworth to pay a board bill that I had left unpaid, going and returning on a steamer. After working at Doniphan until past mid summer, I had a chance to send by a friend, to Lawrence, for my trunk.
I described Norway’s trunk, telling him just what was in it, giving him my key, as that would open it, and requesting him to ascertain whether it was still there.
He returned with my trunk and said he found the other trunk and the clothes in it as I had described them. There was a great many murders committed in Kansas that summer, and there is no doubt in my mind but Norway was murdered. His trunk was never called for, and later in the season was sold for storage charges.
A little later on in the fall I went up to a little town called Geary city. Here I started work in a sawmill. Here I made my home for several years. When winter closed navigation, the sawmill closed down, as it was dependent on logs rafted down from above.
But there was much need for schools for the many children, and there was as yet no school laws. And as I had some experience in teaching, I went up into the river bottom above Geary about three or four miles and got up a school. They had joined together and put up a log schoolhouse. I charged a dollar a month for each scholar for a term of three months.
Of course I boarded around among the scholars, a week for each scholar. And I had some unusual and amusing experiences.
In one place I slept with a German a few years older than I. And the coldest nights we had a feather bed over us and another under us. And we had two little children at the foot of the bed, sandwiched in between us. It is needless to say that we slept warmly.
This german went to my school. And while he could read well in german, he had to begin at the bottom in English. But he made rapid progress, and in the three months he could read English nicely.
I boarded two weeks in another place where they were quite crowded for room. It was a log house sixteen feet inside measure, each way. A huge fireplace on one side. There was a family of six that slept in the house, and I made the seventh. The old man and woman occupied the bed in the N. E. corner, and the two full grown girls the one in the S. E. corner.
Each of these had curtains around them. A man about my age, and I slept in a trundle bed drawn out from the foot of the old folk’s bed, and a twelve year old boy slept in what they called a shake down on the floor.
Of course we had no curtain. And those occupying the bed had the advantage of us for they could get behind their curtains and slip out of their clothes and into their nighties in no time, while we fellows had to trust to a lack of curiosity on their part, while we undressed.
That first night I sat up very late, toasting my shins at the fireplace. While the old man called out every few minutes, “Mr. Herrick, you can go to bed whenever you like.”
But at last I heard the old man snoring, and otherwise all was still, and I quietly slipped off my clothes and hopped in, and soon was asleep.
Times were very hard those days, and money was hard to get but I collected about half of what was due me, and was glad to get that much. As they were all as poor as Job’s turkey.
The next season I taught a school in Geary City. This had now grown to quite a village. Not one of the scholars was beyond the third reader, and mental arithmetic, but they were eager to learn, and were well-behaved, and it was a pleasure to teach them. And to see the rapid progress that they made.
At elections I was either Judge or Clerk, and we had some “tall” times on such occasions. There was a colony of Norwegians just a short distance out of the village, and they always came in to vote. And they always had a little whiskey with them.
There was one old fellow named Ole Oleson. And he stuttered badly. When he came up to pass his vote, I asked his name, and he said, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Oleson. And I told the Clerk to write them all down. And they made a line across the page.
There were some very exciting times in Kansas those days, many murders growing out of disputes and quarrels of a political nature. One man was shot in Doniphan as he was going along the street. He had a dispute with another man and the other man went home and got his shotgun loaded with buckshot, and watched his chance, and put the entire charge through his head.
I was there the next day and saw the brains on the high board fence, and there were, at least twenty buckshot holes in the board. The man was never arrested. He went to Atchison, and our sheriff was afraid to arrest him, as Atchison was then a border ruffian town.
I pre-empted a quarter section of land in the next county west of Doniphan County, and often rode out there to sleep on it for a night in a little twelve foot cabin that I had built on it.
One day as I was going out there, and had become tired of riding, and had got down from my pony and was leading him, I saw a wolf slowing jogging along with his head down, perhaps wondering where he would get his next meal. I picked up a pebble and threw and hit him in his nose.
He glanced up at me with an open countenance. But it was not a smile, O no. There was a fierce look in his eye, an he showed me his weapons of defense for just one moment. Had there been time I could have counted every tooth in his head.
But the next moment fear took possession of him, and he was off. Talk about speed! Why an automobile would have been nowhere. Sixty miles an hour? Yes, a hundred. In less time than it takes to tell it, he disappeared over the ridge in the prairie more than a mile away. And I saw him no more. He may be going yet. I would not venture to say.
I made my home in Geary City during all my later stay in Kansas. There was a weekly paper called the Geary City Era. And sometimes, when at a leisure I played the part of “printer’s devil.” I worked the lever of their old hand press, while the Editor fed in the paper, and Mr. Thompson, a partner, took out the papers and folded them.
During the fall of 1860 I taught a school out in the country about four miles. Like all the schools there in those days it was a subscription school.
I canvassed the entire vicinity for subscribers, and secured about seventy. I had the free use of a vacated house, which was about sixteen feet square with another room eight feet by fourteen, which I used for the writing class. The main room was filled with benches, and in the other was a long desk which the writing class used. It was fortunate that a few of the children never came, as there was not seats enough. As it was, the room was crowded every day.
But they were eager for an education, and it was no trouble to keep order. And as far as the children were concerned, it was a success. But when it came to collecting my pay, it was a howling failure. As I never was able to collect the half of it.
About half way between my boarding place and Geary City there lived a Mr. Linch. He was a wealthy Missuorian who had come over into Kansas to help make it a slave State. He had pre-empted a quarter section of land, and was improving it.
There was half a dozen boys and girls, some older and some younger than I, and as they were good company, I fraternized with them. But I kept my mouth shut with regards to the nigger. They seemed to like my company, especially the eldest, who was a lady of near thirty. She was without a “steady,” while her two sisters younger were supplied. And consequently she seemed somewhat eager, and could tolerate even a free State man.
So I was frequently invited to spend the week ends there. It was on one such time in the fall, that it was proposed to go out foraging after melons, on the sly of course.
There were seven of us from the Linches, and we called at another farmhouse and picked up two other ladies and a young man. One of the Linch boys had a large bag that would hold at least half a dozen large melons.
We had to go some distance through a patch of hazel brush, then across a creek. And we fellows had to pick up the ladies and carry them across. Of course none of us liked that. O no, of course not. (?)
Then we had to pick our way through another mess of hazel brush almost as tall as our heads, where the lady’s skirts were forever getting caught, and we and to untangle them.
Our destination was to a large patch of melons belonging to a Norwegian who raised them to sell, but had found little sale for them. Had we gone to his house and asked for them we would have given us all we cared for. But we thought they would taste better if we “hooked” them, besides the fun of it.
It was late in the evening, and the family had probably gone to bed. We were not as quiet as we should have been, and the dogs set up a racket. But we were quiet for awhile, and all was still again. We filled our bag, and two fellows took it on their shoulders, while each other boy took one under each arm, and each girl took one, and we sneaked quietly off through the brush again.
When we got to the creek again we sat down on the grass and rested, and there we had our fill of melons. As we ate only the heart, we consumed and wasted several. Then the first thing was to transport the ladies across the creek, and then go for the melons.
Old man Linch would never have allowed any such thing, and so we hid the melons out in his cornfield. The old folks were sound asleep when we reached the house, and we crept quietly to bed.
The next day was Sunday, and we had a fine dinner, with great slices of melon for desert. The old man asked where the melons came from, and the boys told him they found them in the cornfield. He replied, “Why, I didn’t think them vines would amount to shucks. But these ‘ere melons are right smart good. Linda, please git yer old dad another slice.” And the dear old fellow never knew that his nice boys and girls had stolen them.
Well, this is all, for not long after that, Vermont was called back to his native State by the death of his next younger brother.
Transcribed by Mary
Goad June 30, 2002 from and original booklet by S. H. Herrick