by M. I. McCreight
at The Wigwam in February of 1957
The Early Years
The writer has to look backward; at 92 there is no rule or right to
look ahead. Born [near Soldier, Jefferson Co., PA] at the moment that
Lincoln's funeral service was being held fronting the State House in
Philadelphia, where many were hurt in the mobs demonstrating grief and
roaring revenge at the terrifying news. A few days later the lamented
president was buried in the local graveyard along with little Tad, in
the midst of throngs at Springfield. The war was just ended and the
country was in a state of chaos. Foreign people, generally, were
disappointed --had hoped that the South would win.
# 1 : One would stand on the log and, with a broadax, cut a
straight line on the top side of the log by slightly hitting the log
and moving along the full length with a repetitive action. A mark
the full length on the log is thus made. Operation # 2 : A
double headed chopping axe would be used to cut V notches on top of the
log, the depth up to the marking line at approximately 18 to 20 inches
apart along the length of the line. Operation # 3 : Then one
would use the broadax to cut or pare off the wood on this one side in a
rough manner. A second pass would be made to true up and smooth
the face cut. The above operations would be done to all four
sides of the log. Slab wood, with the bark on, are called juggles when
produced this way. This was hard labor, one needs to be in excellent
health to be a woodsman. I truly thank God that work, for myself
and this generation, is easier today.]
But it was a disgrace to any boy who brought home any such game that
had been shot in the body --must always be hit in the head otherwise
unfit for use. Percussion caps were rather a new thing --cost 10¢ a box
--size of a half dollar flat and round were a luxury --expended with
care at the turkey shoot in the Christmas season.|
Every year there was a 'clearing' to be made --log-rollings at summer and fall, when neighbors were called to help --and given a good wholesome dinner as compensation. Then came real grief. The youngsters had to yoke up the big reds and plow the new ground to be seeded in wheat. Threshing day came in the fall --after harvest when three additional teams of horses were hitched to he circular power-plane to run the buzzing cylinder as the feederman fed the sheaves into the maw of the machine --the boys having to mow back the straw --a terrible dust choking job. The boy of today has no conception of what it took to earn a living those days. Always there had to be a beef killed to supply the big meals due the threshers. And this applied to the "huskings", "raisings" and "log-rollings" --or any neighboring gatherings.
Generally we could trade in a roll of butter and a basket of eggs for a pound of coffee or a similar lot of sugar. Ten cents a dozen for eggs and the same for butter per pound. Seldom any actual cash passed except for taxes --and that was a year's savings.
Was sixteen-past when quit school and demanded the right to go to
Eastman college; that was to cost $110 and meant a great sacrifice if
at all possible. A young horse and a couple of steers together with the
savings of the other members of the family finally produced the sum,
and the youth boarded the local train for the long trip to
Philadelphia, New York and up the Hudson River by rail to Poughkeepsie.|
It is laughable to recall the mammoth undertaking. Just at the age of 17 this was at that time a serious job. Never having travelled on trains any length --it was like starting on a trip around the world as of today. The U.S. was not yet discovered for much of it was then unknown. The whole South was in a state of chaos --all west of the Mississippi was Indian country except that of California. The transcontinental railroad was completed, but nearly all the rest was undeveloped. To recall the heavy carpet bag, with its extra suit of new clothes, and the basket of food, boiled eggs, pickles and sandwiches, was a truly vague outfit for a long journey and school term. But it was a break into the wide, wide world --and enthusiasm was rampant in the boy's mind.
Such a thing as a sleeper was unheard of --and so the long ride in the local cars was spent in dozing in the uncomfortable day coach. The ticket was the guide to change of cars in Philadelphia --and then New York City with its crowds and roar and confusion, had to be met. Some Irish cab driver grabbed the carpet bag and ordered the boy into the seat --and the long rough drive to the depot ended, and the boy told what door to enter for the ride up river to destination. A local train of course. Whether a night was passed on the way is not remembered, but in due time, Poughkeepsie was announced by the conductor and the boy dumped out to find his own way to the great Eastman. Inquiry where to find the place --far away on the hill --far up and very steep. That heavy bag was toted all the way up that interminable mountain street. Exhausted, he finally read the sign a block to the north. Staggering on, he finally entered the sacred edifice.
Announcing his name and address the professor took charge entered his name on the records, and told him he would board at No. 90 Montgomery Street, a mile or more on in the opposite direction. How he got there with that load of bag is not now remembered, but it was finally settled and he was given a room on third floor with another boy whose name was Grant Cubbison, also from Pennsylvania.
The proprietors of this was an aged pair who had seen better days, and now exacted a living from rooming school boys from Eastman. Little attention was paid to the kind of service there rendered --only the study for getting through that noted training place. Exactly seventeen, the course seemed easily met. Once the students were offered a steamer ride down the river to West Point, with a stop at Newberg, to see Washington's headquarters. And we went with the crowd. But the work of passing examinations was paramount always --and the boy passed them. This was in April 1882. By August 8th. the last test was passed and a diploma handed to him. Four months --the shortest time any boy ever passed at that school, and the youngest ever graduated there.
A couple of days waiting arrival of some money to pay way home and a train boarded for Niagara Falls. There the one great event came --one great sight in the world. How he got from there home is not recalled for no railroad existed then, no doubt it was via PRR to Driftwood thence home.
But, the diploma was his, and he was sufficiently proud of it. His ego was very prominent. He felt equipped to run the whole business world. But he was put to pitching manure at once. This all he tolerated through the winter. Spring on, he went to town [Reynoldsville] to look for a job. He got it at Fuller store at $20 per month and board himself.
And that diploma helped him get the clerkship in the big general store.
Fronting the corner of the big building a small cut was made for use of
a small private bank. Weeks had not passed when the store clerk was
busy helping the banker at off hours soon to be hired as banker-help.
Same wage and same board self.|
This went on for two years. Meantime all the work of running the bank came to the boy --and it became a little monotonous too. Then in the spring of 1885 a fever came on to see the west. A letter of recommendation handed him by his employer, and plan for the far west was made. Northern Dakota Territory was then the last frontier. Indians and buffalo still lived there. That settled the plans. But there was one string holding --it was a girl --she was still in school. She had been the only girl for a long time. Sufficient money had been saved to pay for a ticket to the end of the track. It was a long trail --all in day coaches and no stops for lunches or sleep. And so, they packed a basket and said goodbye at the old depot. Ticket was via Low Grade to Driftwood, thence PRR to Meadville or a connection with the Penna. & Northwestern, to Old Erie, to Chicago; a broken glass in the only seat kept out sleep for the first might. Change there to the Burlington for St. Paul --and change again to St. P. Minn. & Manitoba for the last long drift to Devil's Lake. Winter '85-'86 saw 48 degrees below zero. These were days when the old west was really wild and wooly.
To write in this sketch all that could be said of interest, is not possible --it is much too long --somewhat romantic yet deserves a volume.
Caught out on the wild prairie 30 miles from home --the worst Dakota blizzard ever known --saved by unguided ponies --dragged to home and safety for five hours --24 people died, and uncounted livestock perished. Just one of many narrow escapes from death such as the ice-quake opening a gap 20 ft. wide a second ago, as I drove the pony from a day at the fort [Totten], alone at 32 below zero.
Summer was charming --once weekly trip by boat 14 miles to collect from the post-trader and the quartermaster and officers of the old 7th. cavalry --of Custer fame --at the fort --often having stood at the wheel and steered the steamer safely into port.
Buying and shipping buffalo bones from the Indians (See story in Buffalo Bone Days) --also buying and shipping the car-loads of fish and frozen carcasses of deer to market at St. Paul. An active part as treasurer for James J. Hill Fat Stock Show --by all odds the greatest day ever seen in the little frontier town --and when the Great Northern Railroad was begun, I, with Bob Joynt, shovelled the first dirt to lay the first tie in that now vast transcontinental system. And so, in memory of that now three-quarter century old time, is something to think about.
Then, after near two years, the urge to see the girl I left behind me overcame the obligation to serve on, and a shake of the hand of old friend Chief Waneta, and thanks for the wonderful bead bag and redstone pipe he presented for kindness extended to him, a wave of good-bye found me aboard the train for St. Paul and the East --for a two-week vacation. As the train whistled in to her home town, she sprang out of bed --certain that her boy friend was aboard. A pure case of clairvoyance!