[Edward T. Flanagan was the son of John Flanagan and Frances Ann West, and he was the brother of John (who married Frances West), Louisa (who married James Frederick Krafft), Mary, and Charles. He was born about 1838, in Belleville, Illinois. This copy of his memoirs is taken from an undated typescript in the possession of Mrs. Walter E. Krafft of Edina, MN. It was created in April 2002 by using FineReader 5.0 to scan the typescript and OCR it. The result was then edited by hand by Dean B. Krafft, 316 Turner Place, Ithaca, NY. There are probably still some transcription errors, which may manifest themselves as incorrect words substituted for the correct one – usually due to a visual similarity (e.g. tint for that).]
At the request of my children I will try and give a brief sketch of the leading events of my life.
My first recollection is of living with my Grandfather, Major Washington West, and my Uncle, B. H. West, on the farm where I was born, one mile south of the City of Belleville, Illinois.
Grandfather West brought his slaves with him from Virginia in 1830, and as I was the oldest grandchild, and spent most of my earlier days with him, I grew up with these slaves and learned to love them. I had a black boy a few years older than myself to care for me; he dressed me and undressed me and made himself generally useful. His name was "Bob" and he and I had plenty of fun on the farm hunting hens' nests and doing other agreeable duties. When "Bob" grew to manhood he turned out to be a perfect vagabond.
Then there was Uncle Alfred - one of the best of men - and Aunt Harriet, and old Aunt Betty, and John, and Andrew and several others whose names I cannot now recall. They made a great pet of me as I was for years the only white child on the farm. The finest apples were saved for me, and I was favored and spoiled with the best the farm afforded.
In the winter the big kitchen with its great wide and deep fire place piled with hickory logs - the most of the negroes present and busy with their tasks of making brooms, beating hominy in the old oak mortar, mending or making shoes, spinning and carding wool, etc. It all comes back to me, and it was the happiest spot on earth to me. Then when the tasks were done, one of the negroes, usually Uncle Alfred, would get his fiddle and give us some real music. To this day there is to me no instrument of music equal to a well played old violin.
Then too, there were the tales, especially ghost stories, I would listen until I would be afraid to return to the big house to bed. So some one would carry me, and often Bob would be under grandfather's bed, and when I came in, my mind full of the awful stories I had just heard, but he would rush with a growl and say "Fee- faw- fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, and dead or alive I will have some." I would almost go into hysterics.
As I grew a little older on grandfather's farm I and negro Bob had to ride the horses in tramping out the wheat in the big barn. It was great fun at first, riding one horse and leading two others on each side-ten horses in all, but as we did this day after day it became tiresome and we would often fall asleep and nearly drop off the horses' backs. Then when the floor was filled with the wheat, came the piling of it to one side of the floor and we would fan it out. How tired I used to bet of turning that old fan. If I went too slow the chaff would come down with the wheat, and if too fast, it would blow over and be lost. How thankful we were when Cox & Roberts invented the thresher and we had no more tramping to do. But it was some time before they added the fan to the thresher, and we still had to turn the old fanning mill. But relief came at last when the fan was added. What a contrast that old outfit was to the modern threshers and engines turned out by the present Harrison Machine Works, successors to Cox & Roberts.
Then as I got a little older I carried fresh water to the men cradling wheat and it was a hardship for a little toddler to carry a big two gallon jug all day in the hot sun, especially when I had to go to the far field. Then later I was "promoted" to raking the swath made by the cradle, into bundles, so the binders could tie them faster. That was harder work than carrying water. And then when I had to learn how to bind, that was the hardest work of all.
Then came the harvesters, crude affairs at first, but improvements came fast; first a man was added to rake the bundles off the platform; then the old self-raker; then finally the self-binder and our harvesting troubles were over.
When I turn a button and let on the electric light these days I often think of the time when we used a saucer and wick in it for a light. Later we "dipped" tallow candles, and still later came the great improvement of the molds that turned out a dozen smooth nice hard candles instead of the rough unevenly dipped ones. Later on came the wonderful coal oil lamps and the candle molds were stored in the attic for good. Then came the gas light and finally electricity with all its superiority.
My next recollection was going to Galena, Illinois, where my father, John Flanagan, was Government Superintendent of the Lead Mines. I remember distinctly that the first night at home I had a fight with my brother John because he would not pull off my boots and wait on me like black Bob had done at grandfather's. The result was that we both got a good dressing down by our mother.
My next recollection was a trip down the Mississippi River, in one of the finest boats, the New Orleans. I remember distinctly that our boat passed the one on which Jenny Lind was going from New Orleans to St. Louis to sing, and what cheering and yelling there was until she came out on deck and bowed to the people. Then I saw the Great New Orleans French Market when it was at the height of its glory. Father took us two boys to see it. We got up before day and went through it, and to us it was grand beyond description. The fruit, the flowers, the vegetables, the fish and all manner of things were being offered for sale. The oyster booths, the eating booths, the great number of strange people and the rush and excitement combined to make it a veritable fairyland to us.
Then our trip on another steamboat up the Red River to Shreveport, La. and our overland trip to Eastern Texas in a light wagon drawn by two horses. We had an extra horse for mother and we boys to ride turn about when tired on the wagon. How distinctly are the recollections in memory of the great tall pine trees and the heavy sand, harder on the horses than deep mud. Then there were good firm roads when we got to the post-oak lands, with clear streams to be crossed every few miles and on the banks the trees were loaded down with mustang grapes and in the open post-oak woods, the stumpy post oak grape vines that looked like a hay cock, were loaded with the first real good grapes we had ever eaten. The camping out at night, and the occasional killing of a turkey or deer made things interesting for us. Here I came nearly being killed.
We had camped for our noon day meal and to rest the horses and when we moved on the water bucket was overlooked. When it was missed I was sent back on the extra horse to get it. I secured it and got on the horse (quite a hard job for such a youngster) and in her eagerness to rejoin her mates the mare started in a gallop the moment I got on her back and the rattle and bouncing of the tin bucket frightened her and away she went at top speed. I held on to her the best of my ability, and just as I got in sight of the wagon she swerved suddenly to one side of the road, and threw me against the food of a tree. The next thing I know it was night, and we were in camp; my head was swelled up and I was a pretty sick boy for a few days.
We got to old Fort Houston at last and father opened a store there, but in a few months moved it to Parkers Bluff (as it was then called) on the Trinity River. As money was scarce he exchanged his goods for Buffalo Robes, Buffalo horns, deer pelts, ordinary hides and tallow, until he had accumulated enough to load a steamboat. He then went to New Orleans and chartered a boat and brought it up the river.
No boat had ever ascended the river to that point so the folks had to celebrate the occasion, and in order to do so hauled a big cannon (with six yoke of oxen) from Old Fort Houston and loaded it to the muzzle. When the boat came in sight with father on board, they touched it off and it exploded and the heavier part fell just where the boat landed a minute afterwards. No lives were lost but much damage was done to the store and the stock of peltry that was piled up on the river's bank.
It was here that I went with father and a lot of other folks on my first coon hunt, I saw the dogs tree a coon, and then saw the big tree being chopped down while the men held the dogs to keep them from being killed when the tree fell. The fight and yelling that followed was very exciting to a little youngster like me.
One day I noticed our colored man, Swift, putting a long handle to a very large frying pan and chopping pine knots, and I asked him what he was doing. At first he did not want to tell me, but I finally wormed out of him that father and two other men were going on a fire hunt for deer that night. I begged father to take me along, and he finally consented, and we started. After we had ridden a mile or two they stopped and built a fire in the big pan with the pine knots. A wet blanket was spread on the hind part of the horse the foremost man rode, so the dropping coals would not burn the horse. Father with the rifle end I behind him on the same horse, rode right behind the man that carried the light. We rode along for a little while until suddenly the man in front stopped. Looking ahead a little to one side I saw two shining dots like a cat's eyes in the dark, only wider apart and bigger. Father raised his rifle and I held on for dear life for I was afraid the horse would throw us when he shot. At the crack of the rifle they charged forward and there within sixty yards of where we had stopped was a fine deer kicking away. We secured him and then returned home well satisfied. That was the very first and last fire hunting I ever saw.
Father had been ordered south by his doctor, as he had Consumption; he thought farming would be better than store-keeping, so he sold out on the Trinity River and we moved to Western Texas, where he got a farm on a small stream called the Navidad. Here father one day while hunting killed a bear and found two cubs. He brought one home and gave it to my brother and me. We made a great pet of it, but the neighbor boys plagued him so that he became savage and we had to chain him up.
Here we had the first bees we ever owned, all in box hives. One day the bear got loose and went to one of the hives, turned it over, pulled out the honey and brood, ate it and destroyed the colony. We had a time catching him you may be sure. Another time he got loose just as we were at breakfast. He sprang in at the window, end from the window right on to the breakfast table. He was a big heavy fellow by now, so over went the table, and all of us at the same time, That was more than father could stand, so as soon as he could load his gun he shot him.
Father found that he could not stand farming so sold out and returned to Illinois, but later went to Victoria, Texas, and there opened a store. In the meantime he bought a fine tract of land on the Guadeloupe River, in the Mission Valley, and there we made our home while father kept store in town.
He came home every Saturday evening, one of us boys going in for him with a lead horse, and taking him back on Monday morning. Here was a real hunter's paradise; from fall till spring ducks and geese abounded and wild turkeys and deer the year round.
When our double cabin house was built, the carpenters cut down straight suitable post oak trees, which were loaded with acorns, for the walls. The wild ducks lived in the river and the lakes along the river by the thousands. Every morning between daylight and sunrise they would leave the lakes and river and come to the woods for some of these acorns. They would get all they wanted in a very few minutes, and back they would go to the river. Just between sundown and dark they would repeat the performance, never remaining longer than a few minutes. When the trees for the house were cut down the acorns were thrown in every direction and lay two or three inches thick on the ground.
One Saturday evening father told us boys to get up early and get the ponies ready as they were to Co to church next day, so just at daybreak we got up, and on opening the door we say, within fifty yards of us, the ground covered with ducks, gobbling up the acorns that had Ben threshed out when the trees were cut down. There were hundreds of them all rushing to get what they could, like chickens do when their feed has been thrown to them. Instantly brother John rushed back into the house and got the double barreled gun. Squatting down by the door he fired one barrel at the ducks on the ground and the other as they rose in the air. We picked up eighteen fine fat Mallard ducks.
Our success at killing so many ducks at one time made us wild to do it again, so I borrowed a neighbor's single barreled shotgun and we went out in the evening to duplicate, if possible, our late exploit. Try as we would the ducks invariably got their fill of acorns before we could get near enough to shoot. But one evening we went and hid where we hoped they would alight, and sure enough here they came and settled. I wish I could describe the feeling we had when we heard the whir of their wings right over our heads and only a few feet away.
After circling around a while they lit within thirty yards of us. We both took aim and fired together at them on the ground and then brother John fired again with his remaining barrel as they rose. We picked up twenty-one ducks then and there, but we noticed that a lot with broken wings ran into the grass and hid. As it got dark almost at once we could not get them then, but next morning we came back and got four more. So we killed over twenty-five ducks at, that time, and I tell you in was a heavy load to get them home. We tied them to our guns and carried them as you would a hand barrow. The feathers of those ducks are still in use in our possession in the form of pillows.
I do not remember the year, but it was the one that a big filibustering expedition was formed in New Orleans to invade Cuba. The expedition was headed by Walker, and one of our neighbors, a fine young man, joined them. He left most of his household goods with us and among other things his big mouse colored bear dog, named John. We called him Old John. In his fights with bear he had one eye destroyed, several ribs broken, and one foreleg crippled. His owner valued him highly and told us boys he would give us a big reward if we kept him until he got back from Cuba. If he did not return then he was ours, as also were the goods he left in storage with us. But the poor fellow never came back. The expedition failed, and he and his companions were captured by the Spanish, placed against a wall and shot like dogs.
Old John besides being a good bear dog was a better turkey dog. We would take him to the pecan bottoms and put him on the trail of a flock. In a short time he would tree them and keep barking at them. We could then slip up and knock them out of the long moss in which they tried to hide themselves. As long as the dog would bark they would not fly and many were the turkeys Old John helped us get. You must remember we were but boys of nine and ten years respectively, and had but one gun between us.
After we moved into our double log cabin, a carpenter from town, named Burroughs, rented the old blacksmith shop and moved into it. Brother and I used a great deal of ammunition in our hunting - more than father was willing to furnish us. Our new neighbor needed about two barrels of water a week to supply his family, and we agreed to haul it for him from the river, a mile or more away. To do so we used what we called a "spider." It was a rough sled made from the fork of a tree, on which a tight barrel was pinned across with wooden pins or standards. A square hole large enough for us to pour the water in with a bucket was sawed in the top, and wet burlap laid across kept the water from splashing out. It was crude, but it worked all right, for our old mule was a big stout one, and he hauled it easily. Mr. Burroughs paid us each week in such ammunition as we needed. So we could hunt to our heart's content, as we had but little else to do.
One Saturday afternoon the carpenter came home to do necessary work for his family. Brother and I took Old John and went down to the bottom to get a turkey for Sunday. Pretty soon Old John started a flock, and as it was a very large one only part of them flew up into the trees, The others ran away down a cow path, made by the cattle from the prairie going down to the river through the timber to drink. Mr. Burroughs heard the dogs barking and us boys shooting and could not stand it. He jerked up his big single barreled shot gun, loaded it and started to take part in the fray. When he got into the timber he listened to hear which way to go, when he saw coming down the cow path about twenty turkeys, running one just behind the other, He waited till they were about thirty yards away when he fired and killed just seven of them at the one shot. We boys helped him get them home.
Some months later this man started out one Sunday morning to get a deer to supply his family for the week. He started just at daybreak, and not half a mile from our house in the early dawn he saw a deer not more than fifty yards from him. He took careful aim with his old single barrel shot gun loaded with nine big buck shot, and just as he pulled the trigger another deer that had been lying down a few feet beyond the one he aimed at, rose to its feet. He killed them both with the one shot.
That made him fairly wild to try and do the same trick on purpose, so he hung the two deer up in a tree and then started to get two deer at one shot. About a mile away he saw three or four deer grazing together, and he crawled along in the high grass, till he was near enough for a safe shot. Then he waited until he got two of them in range, and when he fired two dropped in their tracks. However, one immediately rose, and he had to follow it nearly half a mile before it dropped dead.
Father, mother and the girls were away at church when he came rushing in and asked us to hitch up Old Marshall, the mule, and haul in his four deer on our "spider", We did so and he gave us a half dollar's worth of powder and shot and caps for doing so.
It was a great day for my brother when he came home with the heavy old rifle on his shoulder, ad a pocket knife smeared with the blood and hair of a big buck he had shot and killed. I was not half as good a hunter as my brother, though he was a year younger than I. I would get too excited to shoot straight. Well do I remember the first deer I ever shot at. Some of father's friends came out one evening for a deer hunt and father and I went with them. We camped on a small creek about three miles from home and hunted till dark and then as it was such a little distance from home, he being in poor health, rode home and left me in camp with the three men.
Next morning they were off by daylight, and after I had cleaned up the things I got lonesome and took father's heavy rifle and started down a small ravine that was just about as deep as I was tall. When I was about two or three hundred yards from the camp I looked up suddenly, and not thirty feet from me was the biggest buck I had ever seen. He was so close to me I could see his eye lashes and see him wink. He was looking straight at me. The rifle was so heavy I could not begin to hold it off-hand, and I was besides trembling with a severe case of "buck ague". I just pointed the muzzle in his direction, shut my eyes and pulled the trigger. I fear I could not have hit the side of a barn. How that buck did snort and jump. He cleared the ravine at one leap, directly over my head, and that was the last I saw of him. I do not know which of us was the more frightened.
One warm sunny afternoon that winter brother and I saw a big turkey gobbler walking past the house toward the open post oak timber, we slipped in the house, got the rifle, called Old John and started the way he had gone. In a few minutes we overtook him and the old dog treed him. He flew and lit on a very large limb of an oak, and it was a pretty sight to see him sitting there with his long black beard waving in the wind. Brother rested the rifle across my back and taking good aim fired. But the old gobbler would not move. He sat still as if he had not heard the rifle. John waited a minute then whispered to me to run back to the house and get more ammunition. He told me he would give me his pocket knife if I would do so, so I started to crawl quietly away. I had not gotten ten yards when the old fellow fell with a thud to the ground. He had been shot right through the heart and had not moved for several minutes.
I must now tell of the death of Old John; how we did love that old dog. He had so much sense and was so dignified. He never fooled or played with us, but loved us as much as we loved him. One day brother took his gun and Old John with him for a short hunt in the bottom. For some reason I did not go along with him. In passing the end of a very large hollow log lying on the ground Old John stopped and growled and his hair stood on end. Brother thought it was an opossum and told the dog to go in for him. At first the old fellow refused, but brother kept urging him and he then rushed in and caught something and immediately backed out dragging it with him. The instant they cleared the log the snake, a monster rattler, struck the old dog right in the face. He had the snake by the middle, gave it one hard shake and then dropped dead in his tracks. Brother John was so terrified that though he had a loaded gun in his hands he forgot to use it and turned and ran for his life.
The next day we both went back to the place and there was the poor fellow swelled to twice his natural size. We did not see or find the rattler, and never hunted again in that part of the bottom. Three years after we had sold the land and it was being cleared to put in cotton, I rode by the place, and hanging from the corner of a cabin was the largest rattler I had ever seen, and the hands told me it was killed near where Old John was killed. I hadn't a doubt that it was the same one. It was a little over eight feet long, and its body as large as an ordinary mans' leg. I have forgotten how many rattles he had.
One spring when the river was rising, we set out a lot of big hooks and lines and on going down the next morning found that we had hooked a monster catfish. It was all that we could do to get him out of the water. We had thoroughly exhausted him, but we had a time dragging him home for he weighed by the old fashion steel yards, over one hundred pounds.
I have mentioned so often the bottom where we hunted turkeys and where Old John was killed, but I must mention it again for it really was a great Pecan Orchard. Some years there were no nuts at all, but when there was a crop it was a good one. When they were ripe we would take the water barrel off of the "spider" and put in its place a big dry-goods box. Mother would give us a good lunch to take with us, and we would put our two little sisters in the box, hitch Old Marshall to it and away we would go to pick pecans all day. They were such big fine soft shelled ones and so many of them.
Long before night we would have the big box full and walked home by the side of the old mule as he pulled and tugged along. We gathered so many father sent them to New Orleans and sold them for us. Out of the proceeds he bought us boys both a fine pony and saddle and bridle. They were our first ponies and you may be sure we were very proud of them. Such a pecan orchard would now be worth a great fortune, but later the trees were all cut down, and the land put into cotton.
Father sold his store in Victoria and his land in Mission Valley and opened another store a few miles from a place now known as Yorktown, but there was no town there at that time. We knew he had not long to live so he exchanged his store for beef cattle and shipped them to New Orleans. He then invested the proceeds in a large tract of land. He did not live long after that. I will mover forget the trip I had to take from our home to Victoria with his body. There was just the driver of the wagon and myself and we had to make the long forty mile trip at night with the thermometer at nearly 100 degrees. Father was buried in Victoria, by the Odd Fellows and Masons. He belonged to both.
The land had no improvements on it, so we had to build a house and fence to enclose a small field. We tried to raise stock, and just as we got things fairly started we were notified that the title to the land was defective and we lost it with all our improvements and labor. We were rendered penniless.
It was while living on this place that I ran down my first turkey gobbler. I rode out very early one morning on my pony to get the oxen to break prairie land for corn. Not finding them where they usually grazed I struck across a tract of open post oak timber. Up flew a big fat turkey gobbler. I took after him on my pony and as the woods were open I could keep near enough to him to see where he lit. By keeping after him I soon began to gain on him and at last caught up with him. I wrapped the lash of my quirt around my hand and struck at his head with the heavy lead loaded handle. He dodged and I struck again and it was some time before I got him square on the head, then the game was up. He weighed nearly twenty pounds and was as fat as butter. I had run him nearly two miles before I got him.
It was here too that we killed the turkeys with a "sirname" that I have written about in another article.
As we had lost our land, and had but little besides our young stock; mother determined to return to Illinois. She thought we could do better there, so she took our two sisters and our little bother Charles and returned to Belleville. In a short time she wrote us to sell off the stock and everything but the bedding and take the proceeds and come back by way of New Orleans.
We sold our stock and our ponies; how we did hate to give up our ponies. We loved them as we had Old John and it was hard to turn them over to strangers. We packed the goods mother wanted us to retain, and got ready to start back to Illinois. We got a Mr. Wm. McKinney, a friend of the family, to take us down to the Coast. Just as we started word came that quarantine was established and that yellow fever and cholera had broken out in New Orleans and that we could not get through New Orleans until frost fell in November. We were in a quandary, when Mr. McKinney invited us to make his ranch our home until we could go. We accepted the invitation, but before going out to his ranch - beyond where Helena, Texas now is, - we went to spend a week or two with an old neighbor. While there we got up a big deer hunt.
Now while there were plenty of deer all around us, they were, from much hunting, pretty wild, but we knew a place come fifteen or twenty miles away where they were very abundant, and not nearly so wild. The three of us took a lead horse and a few camp articles and got there just before sundown. In a few minutes we had killed two deer. We erected a scaffold, cut the flesh off the bones in as long stripe as we could, built a small fire underneath for smoke and "jerked" the meat. We then stretched the hides on the ground and salted them. The next morning we were out early hunting again and in a few hours had killed ten more fine fat deer, skinned them and "jerking" the meat kept us very busy the remainder of the day.
That night we were very tired, but after darkness fell the wolves, attracted by the offal, made such a noise they frightened our horses so we determined to return at once instead of staying for a week as we intended. We loaded our pack horse with the hides and partially "jerked" meat and started for home. After riding for several hours, however, we came to a fine camping place and decided to stay there for we were very tired and sleepy. So we hobbled our horses, made a big smudge to drive the mosquitoes away and went to sleep.
When we woke the next morning not a horse was in sight. You see we had hobbled only the old leader, as the others would stay with him without hobbling, but the old fellow had slipped his hobbles and started far home, all the others doing the same. We took the trail and followed them, and while doing so saw the grandest sight I had ever seen. In a little valley just as the sun rose we came on a herd of buck deer. It seemed there were thousands of them. It was a sight never to be forgotten. I did not believe there were so many deer in the world. We watched them as they slowly moved away, never to see such a sight again. A few miles away we overtook the runaway horses and took the hides and partially cured venison to a little town and exchanged them for ammunition.
We found Mr. McKinney's ranch a wild and far away place, the nearest neighbor being 30 miles distant. It would take too long to describe all our adventures while we were with him, but two of them I must give. Mr. McKinney was an old bachelor, and we did our own cooking on the ranch. There was on the range a herd of 13 wild horses headed by a fine black stallion that had gotten away from his owner. Mr. McKinney had been trying to capture them, but so far had not succeeded. He proposed that we build a small stockade of upright timber, sunk in the ground several feet and tied at the top with rawhide thongs with arms made of tops of the trees and brush extending for half a mile apart.
The plan was to tire the wild horses down as much as we could and then get them near the wings of the stockade and rush them in. We fell readily in with the project, and for two months worked on that trap like Trojans and finally completed it. Now the question was how to get them in it. A wild horse is like a rabbit in that he has certain bounds that he seldom goes out of unless forced to do so. We built the stockade near one of their runs. The limit of the range was about 30 miles; they would travel back and forth in this distance.
One of us boys was to go to the lower limit and wait with two good horses and the other to the upper turn with the same number of horses, while McKinney would start them running and keep just in sight till one or the other limit was reached. When the wild horses turned up the other side of the range he was to mount a fresh horse and follow them to the other turn, then get another fresh mount and keep this up until the horses were so worn down that they could be turned into the stockade.
We carried out our plan and it worked to perfection, except that after about twenty hours run they got into a piece of timber and we lost sight of them, for about two hours. That rested them so that when we brought them around to the entrance of the trap we could not turn them in. When the critical moment came my brother did his best to turn them and got so close he could almost lay his hand on the leader's mane, but they got by, and we were too exhausted to follow them up and make another trial. Later, after we had returned to Illinois, Mr. McKinney got everyone of them. He brought them and 100 others to Illinois later and sold them in Belleville.
I never eat a turkey dinner but what I am about to relate comes back as vividly as the day it occurred. We went out one morning without breakfast to kill a deer to replenish our larder. Generally we could get one within half an hour, but somehow we missed half a dozen fair shots and had gone quite a distance from the ranch. While riding through an open post oak strip of timber, up flew two or three turkeys. I took after the biggest one on my pony, and after a two mile run I struck him on the head and killed him. I then followed my companions until I overtook them.
We were hungry and we had had nothing to eat since the evening before, so it was proposed that we try to eat the turkey. We hunted up a water hole by a big "Mott" where we could get fire wood, and turning out our horses to graze, two of us picked and cleaned the turkey, while the other made a big fire, and by the time we had the turkey ready the fire had burned down to a fine bed of coals. On those coals we broiled him, turning every few minutes until he was well done. We then ate him without salt, and without any bread or coffee. We left scarcely anything but the bones, for he was fat, tender and juicy.
Soon after our turkey dinner word came that the quarantine was lifted and Mr. McKinney took us down to the coast and we made our way to New Orleans. The freight on our goods and our passage was so high we had to take steerage passage on the steamer across the Gulf and up the Mississippi River. This was a new experience to us, and we did not like it for heretofore we had traveled first class, with all the advantages of good passage, but we got along all right.
When we got to St. Louis we found that the only railroad then in operation between St. Louis and Belleville, the Cairo Short Line, did not run trains on Sunday, so we put our goods in a warehouse and started to walk to Belleville. We thought that the most direct way and shortest route would of course be the railroad track. We took it accordingly, and as the railroad was unfinished and only the tie and rails were laid with no ballast between them, we surely had a hard walk of it, and we certainly must have presented a novel sight, dressed as we were in our heavy blue blanket coats and wide Mexican sombreros. In Texas we rode our ponies everywhere, walking as little as possible, so we were not used to walking, and the long fourteen miles over the rough ties was a real hardship. Brother declared more than once that if he had the money he would turn right about and go back to Texas where there were no such trips to be made on foot. But that trip was only the beginning of real life and real hardships for us and in vivid contrast to the life we had led up to this time. In fact we had had just one long holiday and were now to begin life in earnest.
The loss of my hearing has been quite a handicap to me, and I will now give an account of how I lost it. As I spent most of my spare time reading my father thought I would like to be a printer, so he secured me a situation with J. H. Jones, editor of the "Indianola Times", published in Indianola, Texas. I was the "devil" and cleaned the office, distributed circulars, delivered papers to subscribers and pushed the roller on the form when the paper was printed by hand. I lived with the editor as one of the family and was treated as such. I never had a happier time. It was the custom after office hours to take a bath in the salt waters of the bay, and to do so we went into the bath house, situated on the long wharf that reached out into the bay to deep water, then we would quit the house and swim out into deep water.
I could not swim very well but managed to keep up with the others, but one windy evening the waves were too much for me. I strangled and sank in very deep water. I lost consciousness and sank for the third time, when I was missed and pulled out more than half drowned. The pressure of the water on the drums of my ears perforated them, so the doctor who brought me to declared. Quite a quantity of water got into my ears that could not be gotten out, but had to be absorbed. This caused me two weeks of the greatest suffering that I have ever endured. The result was that from having the very best of hearing I gradually became entirely deaf.
In less than three months cholera and yellow fever broke out in Indianola and father sent for me to come home, and so my dream of becoming a printer and eventually an editor, passed forever.
Brother John went to work for our uncle E. W. West and I began working for my board and clothes with my uncle B. H. West on the farm where I was born, just south of Belleville. Up to this period of my life I had but six months schooling in all and that is all I have ever had. I went to school three months in Texas to Old Mr. Tanner, a Baptist preacher. I learned very little but certainly did enjoy the trips to the woods for hickory nuts and on Saturday the trips to the pine woods for pine knots, which were so rich in resin that we used them for torches. The other three months that I went to school were spent in the Old German Methodist Church in Belleville with Prof. Euil as instructor. I had as school mates Sheppard Cabanne who afterwards became a noted St. Louis physician, and unfortunately at last went to the dogs. Also, Wm. Barnum who later married my Uncle Edward's wife's daughter, Clara Hyde, and who became a noted Chicago lawyer and judge, and who recently died.
My Uncle had fourteen children, the most of them going to school, and I soon found out that I knew very little and determined that I would learn all in my power. So I borrowed books, and began to study at night, and it was not long before my eyes suffered. We had only tallow candles in those days, to read by, and the other children had the right to the table so I had to take a back seat.
I loved to read stories, novels and poetry, but found that such indulgence interfered too much with my studies, so I resolved that for ten years I would cut out that line of reading, and I did. However, as I had no instructor my studies were rather haphazard, but I managed to read the history of our country, the history of England, Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic, Prescott's Works, Kanes Arctic Explorations, Plutarch’s Lives, and kindred works. The very first book I ever owned was a copy of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and it cost me thirty days hard work at fifty cents a day. Do you wonder that I appreciated it; and made good use of it? I have that dictionary yet and value it very highly. My method of using it was that when in my studies and reading I came across a word that I did not know the meaning of, to turn right then to my dictionary and find it and then it was mine forever.
Later in life getting a hundred and fifty subscriptions to Orange Judd's American Agriculturist, I secured a set of Appleton's New Encyclopedia, valued at $180.00. My Uncle, E. W. West, offered me that sum for it, but I refused it telling him that I needed it more than he did. I followed the same method as with my dictionary, and when any event or personage or incident was met that I was not familiar with I turned to my Encyclopedia for information. In this way in a few years I was almost as well informed as my cousins who had every advantage over me.
I worked continuously for thirteen years after returning from Texas for my Uncle B. H. West. I began working, for my board and clothes only, but was soon getting wages. I finally got $40.90 a month with board, which was exceptionally high for that class of labour at that time. During the entire thirteen years practically every cent I earned went to support my mother and sisters. I had barely clothing sufficient to shield me from the weather, and often in zero weather, not nearly enough. No one will ever know how I suffered from the cold when the thermometer was below zero and snow and ice covered the ground. I had to haul fodder for the stock and wood from the grove for fire-wood. I would stand for hours in the snow cutting up the wood for the stove -And two big fire places. I did this sort of work scantily clad, no gloves, and frequently my feet, hands and ears were frozen.
My children know nothing of real hardship. I had to get up very early in the morning, winter and summer, make fires, milk a number of cows, feed the stock (we kept a large number of cattle - horses and hogs) clean stables, out wood, etc. This was routine work and had to be done on Sunday as well as week days, rain or shine, hot or cold. There were few holidays during the entire year, except when we went after wild grapes and nuts one day in the fall. We kept but little hired help, and the burden of the work fell on me, until my cousins grew big enough to help. However, they went to school and did not have much time to assist me.
Nearly all my wages want to my uncle in payment for wood, coal, flour, pork, potatoes, apples etc. for my mother. I seldom spent a dime on myself - often not for months at a time. The first year while with my uncle he showed me how to build a wheat stack, and a hay stack so that the rain could not damage them. After that every season while I lived with him, I had to stack every bit of hay and grain on the farm. For one so young it was a great responsibility. Often after handling heavy bundles all day in the hot sun, I would continue to do so while trying to sleep at night.
In addition to the regular farm work, in the winter time we cleared up several acres of woodland for farming purposes, so I never had an idle day. I managed to keep up my studies though, in spite of the fact that often I would be so tired that I would fall asleep over my book.
My sister Mary had married Mr. E. M. Morgan and moved to Clinton County. After the wheat was sown in the Fall, one year, I asked for a few days off to visit her. I was given a young mare to ride that had never had a bridle on, but I got to where my sister lived all right. While there a deer hunt was arranged for my benefit. I rode one of my brother-in-law's horses, leaving the young mare in the stable. While on the hunt the mare got out and ran away. She was never found and I had to pay my uncle one hundred dollars for her in monthly installments, out of my wages. This proved a costly holiday and hunt for me.
If I was sick one day even, it was taken out of my wages, though they were small enough, and every dollar counted so much. My uncle did not intend to be harsh, but he was, and did not know it. I simply recall the following sample of the many hardships I endured.
My Cousin, Louis Krafft, while in Europe, got a copy of Dryden's Virgil and brought it to me as a gift. One day when the thermometer was away below zero and I was chopping wood for the fires, I got very cold and had to come in to warm. While warming I would read my Virgil. My uncle noticing this told me he could not afford to pay me wages just to read books. It hurt as you might imagine and I never forgot it.
Uncle was a well read man, and often in the last years I spent with him, we would discuss matters and argue over things of interest to us both - I doing my best to hold my own. Often we would talk until one and two o'clock in the morning. Uncle was a good man, a real Christian if there ever was one, according to his lights and best understanding, but he was a hard stern man, though just. He was an able man and well educated. He and Capt. Eads, who built the Eads Bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, and the jetties at the mouth of the same river, were classmates, and studied civil engineering together. I think my uncle could have held any position he aspired but after joining the M. E. Church he lost all ambition to excel in such matters, and settled down to be a small farmer - a distinct loss to the community.
His religious views were rigid, strict, even fanatical, and his family and myself suffered accordingly. I am glad to say that as he grew older and became better informed, his views changed and he became quite tolerant and broad minded. He treated me as a son and I loved him as much in spite of his narrow views and harsh treatment, for he really was at that time of his life, unconscious of it. In after years he tried to make it up to me in various ways.
My sister Mary's husband, E. M. Morgan, in partnership with brother John, rented a big farm in Clinton County of Mr. Chas. Gooding. I too determined to start for myself though I had not a dollar in hand. I rented the forty-five acre prairie farm of My Uncle B. H. Went. He went with me to Mr. Alex. McClintock who raised, and bought and sold stock on his large farm south of Belleville, and on my uncle guaranteeing that if I did not pay for them, he would, I secured a pair of four-year-old matched horses that were halter broke and very gentle.
A man who rented a part of the Bleisch farm just south of the forty-five acre farm I had rented of my Uncle, was afraid he would be drafted into the army and be compelled to fight in the Civil War then raging. He learned that I needed equipment and offered me his new wagon, harness, plows, harrows etc. at a very low price as he was anxious to return to France. I told him I had no money, but he said he would take my notes, payable in one and two years, at ten percent interest. I gave my notes and was ready to go to farming. As My team had never had harness on I had to break them in, which proved a task, but I finally succeeded and got my forty-five acres plowed for wheat. I got my seed wheat from my uncle as part of wages due, and got my land planted.
I had just finished doing so when Mr. Theo. J. Krafft met me on the street and asked me if I could haul ten cords of wood from his farm (now owned by Henry Dintlemann, Jr.) He offered me a dollar a cord. I went right at it and in two days hard work completed the job. He handed me ten dollars, and I think no money I have ever earned did me as much good as those ten dollars.' I felt independent. If I could make five dollars a day I would not care to call the King my cousin. It was the beginning of a new era for me. I felt I was a "made" man and could have all the money I wanted and that feeling has never left me to this day.
I now come to another phase of my life. I cannot account for it, but I wanted to try something else besides farming. I had had a pretty hard row to weed for the past fourteen years, so I sold my fine team for double what I paid for it; I also sold my growing wheat in the field covered with snow, also my wagon and farm implements. I paid all my debts and found that from September 1st to January 1st I had over $600.00 clear profit - pretty good for one that had been getting $40.00 a month, was it not? I loaned $500.00 of it to Mr. J. B. Rentchler, than making a fortune building grain drills, and took the balance and went to St. Louis to Jonathan Jones Commercial College. In two months I came back to Belleville with my diploma. I was guaranteed a situation on graduating, but when I tried to perform my duties as book-keeper my impaired hearing interfered to such an extent that I had to give up the hope of being a book-keeper.
Mr. E. M. Morgan was then foreman at J. B. Rentchler's drill works and he offered me the situation of engineer. I took hold, and in a few weeks was making my three dollars a day and giving satisfaction. I kept at it until fall when someone suggested that I take up school teaching. I applied to old Father Bunsen (the Bunsen School house In Belleville is named after him) for a certificate authorizing me to teach. He examined me after school hours, and when he would give me an example to do and I complied he would ask me to give him the rule for doing it. I would tell him I had no rule, and then he would ask me how I did it, and I would tell him I "just worked it out". How he did laugh and seemed to enjoy himself though it was no fun for me. Then he would go on again. He gave me a certificate that I have to this day and I value it highly. He thought my methods were original, and he valued originality. He was an original character himself.
I then went to see Mr. Oglesby, county superintendent (he was a brother of General Oglesby then Governor of Illinois). He lived in Freeburg. He said there was a vacancy at Risdon P. O. below New Athens and that I could have it if I could make terms with the school directors. I got a horse and rode down there and found that matters were all in the hands of old Father Atlas Moore a surveyor and also a Baptist preacher.
He asked me if I was the son of John Flanagan of Belleville. I told him I was, and he asked me about Uncle Dennis and I told him I was a nephew. He examined my certificate and told me he would give me fifty dollars a month and board at his home and I was to begin my duties at once.
When I got back to Belleville I went out to Uncle B. H. West's and asked him what he thought of my teaching school. He said that he had gone to school for twelve years and that he would hesitate to take a school unless compelled to do so. I felt then that I would teach that school or I would never come back to Belleville. It was like pouring ice water down the back of a man that was freezing to death.
I had a good time down there and got along well, although there were about six pupils that really knew as much as I did, but by studying at night and Saturdays I kept ahead of them. They all wanted me to take the school again next term, but I had other things in mind then that I will try to tell you of.
While teaching at Risdon I met and fell in love with a fine girl and she consented to marry me, so when my term was out I went to my Uncle E. W. West and told him I was going to be married and that I wanted to rent his big two hundred and forty acre farm. He agreed to it and promised to put up a fine brick house on the farm for me, and he did so. Then I went to tell the old folks and get their consent to our marriage, but they would not hear of it. They persecuted the young lady to that degree that we planned to elope and get married in spite of all opposition,
Old Father Moore was taken into our confidence and he agreed to perform the ceremony. All went well until the day appointed, when the young lady backed out and refused to carry out the agreement. It nearly killed me; I had to tell my Uncle I could not take the farm. Brother John having been engaged to his cousin Fannie West, daughter of B. W. West for a long time, determined to get married in spite of her parents’ opposition. (They had objected for a long time.) Her parents then consented and Brother John and Fannie were married and moved into the house on Uncle Edward’s farm that I had expected to occupy. I went into partnership with him and we ran the farm together.
In the meantime the young lady’s folks found out by inquiry what sort of a man I was and my connections etc. and finally told their daughter that they would consent to the marriage. I got a nice latter from her to that effect, in which she begged me to come back and make it all up, but my pride had been hurt too deeply and I did not answer the letter. She wrote several others, and as I did not answer them she got a friend to come and plead with me, but it was no use. I had told her at our last parting that she would be sorry for it, and she was now realizing it.
Two years later I met her and her sister at the county fair and took them to St. Louis and showed them the City and took them on a steamboat excursion and then parted with then for the last time. Had I agreed to a reconciliation and marriage my whole life would have been different, but though it was hard to be so firm, I know I acted right.
Brother John and I ran the farm successfully for two years, then Uncle Ben, his father-in-law, gave them a nice farm in Missouri and I bought brother's share of the farm stock and implements and ran the big farm myself. Mother rented her little house in town and came and lived with me. I had a good hired girl to help her and two young men to help me.
I raised a big crop of wheat - so large I had to get two machines to harvest it. I made over three thousand bushels of wheat besides a big corn crop. When I threshed it I hauled it to a. mill at the east end of town run by two German millers. At the delivery of each load I took a receipt for same, agreeing to cash the entire lot when I had finished threshing.
When I got through and went to settle, the millers asked me to wait until the following Monday morning. I told them I could not possibly do so as I had my threshing hands to pay and that I had also agreed to settle with my uncle for his one third rent. They consulted far a few minutes and then gave me a check on the bank for the entire amount. As wheat was then very high (from $2.00 to $2.25 per bushel) the sum total was considerable for a young farmer to handle. The following Monday the millers ceased paying for wheat and went into bankruptcy. Had I waited until Monday I would have lost everything as the concern did not pay twenty cents on the dollar.
My mother did not like to live on the farm, and Dr. Giles N. Jeffries, our family physician, having been very successful with several of his prescriptions, especially in regard to coughs and colds, conceived the idea of putting them on the market, in the form of patent medicines, under the title of "Norman's Cialgerate Cough Syrup" (Norman being his middle name) believing that a great fortune would result. Though a good doctor he was no business man, and he had to get help to start the business. He picked on me to assist him in developing his idea, and offered me $100.00 per month if I would undertake it. I yielded to his importunities and to mother's desire to leave the farm; sold out everything and relinquished the lease of one of the finest farms in the country. Belleville, Ill., now covers the greater part of it.
I went to work with a will and soon had things going. The doctor, however, was cramped for ready money; he borrowed all he could of his father-in-law, B. J. West, Sr., and borrowed of me from time to time, until the amount grew to such a figure that I was forced to either lose it all or else obtain an interest in the concern. By this time I had things in shape to make money, and saw that if conducted right it would pay well, so I took over a one-half interest, assuming one-half of the liabilities. This was a wrong move on my part, for I did not, and do not now, believe in patent medicines, or in fact of medicines of any kind, but I was in for it and had to do my best.
I had several fine teams traveling in Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas, supplying the small interior towns. We shipped direct to all druggists on rail routes through adjoining States. The business grew by leaps and bounds and more capital was needed, so I borrowed wherever I could, getting at one time as much as ten thousand dollars from the Peoples Bank at Belleville.
We furnished all drug stores on commission an assortment requiring a quarterly settlement of all goods sold, so it required considerable capital to keep the teams in the field, and stocks supplied. Prospects were us good as could be desired, and we were making money when like a clap of thunder the panic of 1873 came. Hundreds of druggists who had our goods on sale were bankrupt, and others unable to pay what they owed us and we were forced into bankruptcy. I do not remember just what our assets and liabilities were.
E. W. West, Sr., was appointed receiver, and the business passed from our hands. When the business was settled there was a total of some $20,000 unpaid. I went to the creditors and told them if they would release me in bankruptcy I would agree to pay them, if they would give me time, every dollar of my one-half of the $20,000 with interest. They accepted my offer, and I was released so I could hold property and do business again.
I immediately insured my life for $5000.00 and Dr. Jeffries' for the same amount. To E. W. West, Sr., my principal creditor, I assigned the policy on my life, and one on Dr. Jeffries to Mr. Edward J. Gay, from whom I had borrowed $2000.00. The premium I paid by taking care of and managing the large holdings of real estate known as the Gay Farms, owned by Mr. Gay, east of Belleville.
I looked around to see what business I could get into with no capital and no credit, that would enable me to pay what I had agreed to pay, and get on my feet again, but that I shall treat of presently.
Three years after I took the policy on Dr. Jeffries' life he died. I will now try and tell you one of the many incidents I have had to contend with: Mr. Gay, to whom I had assigned the policy on Dr. Jeffries' life filed application for payment, and his claim for $5000.00 was allowed, but before it could be paid B. J. West, Jr. as guardian for Dr. Jeffries' children entered suit and stopped payment. After the lapse of the usual time the case was tried in New Jersey, and a verdict in favor of Mr. Gay was rendered. The other party took an appeal, and before this was settled the Life Insurance Company failed and went into bankruptcy. The holdings, or assets, of the Company were mostly in real estate, and at that time were considered of little value, but the receiver held on to them until they became more valuable and the liabilities of the Company paid fifty cents on the dollar. So Mr. Gay got $2500.00 and after paying himself his $2000.00 and interest, there was left for me a bare $200.00 but $2500.00 of my $10,000.00 debt was wiped out. But for the interference of B. J. West, Jr., the entire policy would have been paid in 60 days, and I would have been just that much better off.
After looking around a short time after my discharge in bankruptcy, I found that the coal business at that time was the best thing one could engage in, with but a limited capital. I went to my uncle, B. H. West, who had an old abandoned coal mine filled with water on his land, and leased it from him at a rental of 1/2 cent per bushel on all coal that I could take out. The mine had not been worked for some years, and was in bad shape, but the worst was the great amount of water in it. I found the old pump would work and I got an old horse and harness on credit, and began to pump it out. It took many weeks of constant labor, and while I was at it a couple of miners came to me and asked if they could go to work for me. When I had the mine ready I told them that I had no money and no credit, and would have to get someone in partnership who had both. After talking things over with them I found that they too had no money and but little credit, but we formed a partnership on a basis of their digging the coal, and I was to haul and sell.
The next thing was to get a wagon, team and harness. This we finally accomplished giving our joint note for the same, as we had not a dollar between us.
At last the mine was dry and we began operations. When the men would have enough boxes of coal dug to fill the wagon I would hoist it up to the platform, load it on the wagon, and haul it to town, while they dug another load. We made a fine start and within a week were beginning to pay off our debts for wagon and team. One cold frosty morning in October just two weeks after we started I came out from town with the team to load up and there were the two men on the platform unable to go down. The air shaft had fallen in and blocked entrance to the mine. Now I found out what manner of man these were. Here when they had the chance of making more money than they had ever made in their lives, they had deliberately mined away the pillar of coal that protected the air shaft just because it was handy and easy to get at. In a room a little farther away they could have gotten all the coal they could possibly mine. Their tools were buried and they could not get into the mine on account of the bad air. Right then I determined to get rid of them, and I did so by assuming all the liabilities we had incurred.
Then I went to work to get air into the mine again. I found on the farm, quite a distance away, where a former operator of the mine had attempted to sink an air shaft, and after penetrating the overlying rock for quite a distance, had to abandon the job on account of the great amount of water encountered. I saw at once that this was the only way I could get good air. I engaged two well diggers that I had often employed on the Gay farm, to sink wells, and they agreed to work in relays day and night until the shaft was complete.
I agree to pay them every Saturday evening at the rate of four dollars a foot, and in order to do so I had to buy coal at as low a rate as possible from other mines and sell it in the City, and in this way make enough money to pay the diggers, at the end of the week. I succeeded in this by the greatest effort and paid my hands as agreed on. In three weeks constant work day and night they broke through, and I had pure air for my mine.
Another incident as to what I went through at this time: Wherever I bought coal to sell again to pay the men digging the air shaft, the mine boss instructed the miners to load all bad, slaty, poor grade, coal into the boxes intended for me. Their idea was that where I sold that coal I could never sell another load. As I knew little or nothing of coal I was taken in. How did I find this out? The very men that did it, afterwards, while working for me, told me of it, and said they had to do it or lose their jobs.
With pure air again, and rid of those scalawags I let it be known that I wanted a few good men, and I soon had all I needed. It was but a short time until I had to quit loading and hauling to town in person, and I soon had a driver in my place, and I had to hire other teams in order to fill the orders that just poured in. You see I had been a rather big man in a white shirt and soft hands sitting in an office, all day directing and managing a large manufacturing and distributing business, and when the people saw that I was willing to get in and drive a coal wagon and not be ashamed of it, the way the orders poured in was a wonder.
I soon had to have other teams than my own and I kept them all busy, and before long had every dollar of the indebtedness in connection with the mine paid off. It was hard work and exacting but it enabled me to begin paying off my old bankruptcy debts, and year after year I kept at it till the last dollar was paid, but I am getting a little ahead of my story.
One evening as I walked home I saw a place that was empty of coal, and as the woman of the house was standing in the door, I asked her politely if I could not sell them a load of coal. She said her husband was a miner, and that he had to take all the coal he needed from the mine he worked in. The next day a man called on me and introduced himself as George Smith and said that he was the husband of the woman that I had spoken to in regard to a load of coal. He had five hundred dollars saved up and would give it to me for an interest in my business.
He also advocated sinking a new shaft, and said that he was competent to do it, and that in his opinion it would greatly help the business. So I took him into partnership; he put in his money and he sank the new shaft, and as he had many friends he brought in a fine lot of business. As he was a good miner, he conducted affairs below and I above ground. We surely made money.
A year or so after this I made some measurements and calculations, and I found I was paying a great sum per acre in the form of rent at 1/2 cent a bushel, so I bought the land, and the coal under it from my Uncle B. H, West, paying $450.00 per acre, which was a big price then, I went in debt at the bank for the money. Here I had the first trouble with Smith. I bought the land and coal as an individual, as he was opposed to buying. At our next monthly settlement I deducted from his share the amount that we had been formerly paying my uncle. He flew off the handle and made a big fuss, saying I was not treating him right. No arguments I could employ could convince him otherwise, so I said to him "Buy me out, or I will buy you out". Of course he could not negotiate it, and I borrowed more money and paid him really more than I should have done.
Knowing that he could take from me a good share of the business it was stipulated that he was not to go into the coal business for two years from date of separation. In less than six months he broke the agreement and sunk a shaft nearer town. He found there was no good rock to hold up the roof, and the water came in so fast he could not keep it pumped out. The result was he sank every dollar he had in the world and having mortgaged his home, lost that too, and then blamed me for his ruin. His wife told me afterwards that they never lived so well in their lives, or made so much money as they did while in partnership with me.
I needed a partner, and I wrote my brother John and told him he could make money if Smith could, and if he wanted a share in the business to sell out and start in. He did so, and put up the first dwelling on the land, and started in, but owing to an injury received years before, he could not lift and handle the huge blocks of coal in loading the many wagons, so I gave him the accounts to collect. After a few weeks trial he gave it up, saying the coal business was black inside and out, and in every other way. I believe he has not changed his opinion to this day.
Brother moved back to the farm in Missouri and I ran the business by myself. All profits went to pay my debts connected with the business, and the old bankruptcy burden. I worked to the limit of my ability both physically and mentally; I enjoyed no privileges and had for my personal use less than the poorest workman I employed
Brother John was not so far out of the way in his estimate regarding the business being black inside and out. I was employing from twenty to twenty-five men constantly during the fall and winter, but with the advent of warm weather trade slackened and I had to discharge about half of them. In April when the County officials contracted for the year's supply of coal for all public buildings, I asked my men for the lowest rate per bushel they would work for me for the entire year, I guaranteeing them constant employment.
We made a rate and as binding a contract as could be made with such men, so I put in my bids and secured the public contracts. My profit was very small, but I expected to get even and more too when the heavy demand of fall and winter set in.
I also secured contracts with the largest milling concerns, and all went well until the fall trade set in, and all miners were employed. Then my men struck for the same wages paid by other coal operators. In vain I reminded them of their solemn agreement and showed them how well they had been doing through the spring and summer. It had no effect and I was compelled to pay the prevailing winter rates, or forfeit my bonds. Of course I lost money on every bushel that went to the public buildings and the big mills. Coal miners as a class have the least regard for their word and for right dealing, when they have the power, than any other class of men I have ever come in contact with. I soon got rid of everyone that broke their contract, and never employed one of them again, and I never put any confidence in any representations they ever made.
Competition and price cutting so lowered the price of coal that I really was working and supporting my men instead of them doing it for me. So I quit the business at a great loss for equipment, etc., but just about then another occupation opened up to me that I will now try to give you some idea of.
Seeing in the "American Agriculturist" an advertisement: "Friends; if any of you are interested in bees or honey send to A. H. Root, Medina, Ohio, for catalogue etc." I received a small pamphlet that informed me that honey could be raised by the ton and bees handled without fear or trouble. It opened up to me an entirely new world.
The year previous I had sent to West Virginia for a bushel of a new variety of wheat called "Tap Pahannock". I had paid ten dollars a bushel and express charges and had raised about 40 bushels of wheat from it. A tenant on the Gay farm wanted some badly for seed, and as I wanted some bees I traded him a half bushel of wheat (value $5.00) for two colonies of black bees in box hives. Then I heard of the moveable frame hive, and sent to A. I. Root for the same, but I could not find anyone that had ever transferred bees and finally I undertook it myself. Of course I made a regular botch of it. I was doing all this at odd hours while running the coal mine. I have transferred many hundred colonies since, but that was the first and last botch.
I wintered the two transferred colonies all right, and when clover began to bloom the following summer, I sent for a honey extractor and could hardly wait until the upper hive body began to fill up. Instead of waiting until the honey was ripe I began extracting when the frames were half-filled with honey, (if it could be called that) and filled several mason jars with it, and I took a gallon bucket to my Uncle Mr. B. H, West, proud as a peacock for he had no faith in the so-called "contraptions" I was working with. You should have seen his face when he tasted it; "Why son," he said, "It’s not even as good as sweetened water". Pride had a fall then sure.
The bee fever in my case was genuine, and I lost no time in acquiring all the information I possibly could from every source. It took a wonderful hold on me, for all was so new, strange, and interesting. I soon increased my two colonies to twenty, and then to fifty. It soon became known that I was a real beemaster, and everyone that had bees in old box hives wanted them transferred to the moveable frame hives. Many others wanted to buy bees in the new kind of hives, and also wanted hives, smokers sections, and foundations, veils, etc. Before I was aware of it I had quite a business on my hands. Giving all my time and ability to my new business, it increased by leaps and bounds. I soon found that my locality was not a good one for the best results in obtaining honey and so took a look around the country and found ideal conditions in the American bottom between East St. Louis and the Bluffs, so far as heavy yields of fall honey were concerned. I obtained permission to place my bees on the property of Mr. Anthony Isch, near Big Lake and moved about one half of my bees down there. Mr. Isch and family did all in their power to facilitate my work. My own brother could not have been more kind and obliging in every way, and their kindness I will never forget. I secured a wonderful crop of honey, and took bees and honey to our county fair, where I took all premiums and secured many orders for bees, honey, hives etc.
Here I met for the first time Dr. A. X. Illinsky, He was a good doctor and a remarkable man in many ways. He was a Polish refugee and came near losing his life in one of the revolutions he as a young man was engaged in.
His father was a nobleman of high rank and lost all his immense wealth and land on account of his son. His father kept many colonies of bees in the Old Country, and he had several hundred at his place in Old Cahokia, one of the oldest settled places in the State. He proposed partnership, he to furnish all funds, and I to do all the work, and try migratory beekeeping on a large scale. The plan was to get a large stock of bees in Louisiana or Mississippi and after securing all the honey possible there, to move them up north, up the Mississippi River as fast as the season advanced, securing a crop of honey at every stop on the way. A splendid plan in theory, but very different in practice, as we found to our cost, as will be seen later on.
We entered into partnership, however, and here let me say that I have always succeeded far better when conducting business by myself than I ever did in partnership, be it farming, medicine, mining or beekeeping.
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