A Glimpse of Frontier Life

By M. I. McCreight

The following adventure was written for the purpose of leaving for future generations a glimpse of frontier life in the early 80s in the old Northwest; it is a record of actual experiences--mainly to show:

1. What a real Dakota blizzard was like
2. Save for history, the record of the ice-quake
3. One of the most historic murder trials on record
4. The buffalo-bone forty million dollar business

In a few instances, names of characters substituted; McSweeney for McWeeny; Osburn for Oswald; Dodge for Dodd; others are genuine. [Scribe's note: Mudge for the author.]

DuBois, PA, July, 1941


Chapter 1

He had graduated in the shortest time and the youngest in the records of the noted Poughkeepsie Business College. The bill for his course was one hundred and ten dollars, for farming at the Pennsylvania homestead where his chores were exacting and his labor in the fields consisted of 'geeing and hawing' the big red oxen when hitched to pine saw-logs in the forest, or to the plow and harrow in the new clearing, and he was anxious to change environment.

Horace Greeley's name still loomed large in American affairs, and his 'young man go west' was an inspiration for every boy who hoped to be one to help make his country great. Besides, West meant buffalo and Indians, and cheap land without stumps and ready for the plow. But there was no money to buy railroad tickets and it was a long way. So Mudge McCracken greased his boots, donned his blue serge suit over his one white shirt and paper collar, tucked his gold-sealed college diploma under his arm and walked to town; his errand was to try to get a job to earn some money to go west.

Tied to the hitching rack in front of the Fuller store were saddle horses and farm teams while under the porch covering the wooden sidewalk, sat the proprietor on an empty dry-goods box industriously chewing tobacco and answering a farmer's question about the coming elections, between spits. As the farmer turned away, Mudge advanced hesitatingly and addressed the proprietor t know if he might get a position in his store. "How old are you and what do you know about storekeeping?" was the reply following a squirt of tobacco juice which landed squarely on a horse's hoof clear of the walk. "I'm past seventeen, and I have a diploma; here it is, sir"; and the merchant unfolded it to gaze upon the mysterious document, the like of which he had never seen before. Then he continued; "are you John's son?"---and being informed that he was, the job was settled and to begin next day with $20 a month salary.

The store was a substantial brick 40X100 of two story with annex occupying the street corner, in which the bank was located. The stock comprised general merchandise needful in a country of that period, and ranged all the way from laces and ribbons, calico, dress goods, clothing, boots and shoes, to groceries, flour and feed, hardware and farm machinery. Mudge was put to work amongst the molasses barrels, salt-meats, cracker-and-sugar barrels, cross-cut saws and plow points, axes, grain-cradles and hay-rakes, with specific instructions to have the entire store swept out before opening time each morning at seven. There was a side door connecting the store and bank, through which, in slack moments, Mudge went in to have little visits with the genial cashier who had proprietary interest in and operated the private institution; often it was convenient to help him balance the books and count the cash; soon it became a habit. Graduating from the flour-and-vinegar section of the store to the silk-and-lace department was the matter of six weeks, and another month found Mudge as assistant cashier in the bank; same salary, but more congenial duties to perform, and of far more interest and importance; to have the evenings off to go walking with a certain young lady who lived a mile away in the upper town. Hal, which was only part of her first name, was sixteen, and stood at the top, both in looks and reputation. At an early day, she had grinned at the little country boy who delivered a bag of apples at her house, and it made him blush. Later when Mudge had gained a reputation as the best speller in the countryside, she appeared on the opposite side at a spelling bee, and, in due time the long lines of opposing contestants melted away, leaving her his only competitor for the prize. It was a long hard fight, and she won. Then, to heap coals of fire on his already burning indignation, she conspired with the winning side to form a ring outside, for the usual game of 'tap', and when the fifty joined hands for the popular game in the moonlight, she, like the gladiator waving his sword over the fallen foe, watching for 'thumbs up or thumbs down' as signal from the crowd, boldly 'tapped' him, and ran, intending to sink forever, his claims to the championship as best speller, but in that she lost. In spite of her desperate struggles, she got kissed; nor was that kiss a common tap-ring variety or a movie kind; it was one that lasted for more than fifty years, and still lasts. And then her family moved away where she had to attend an academy.

The Main Street village stretched its crooked way up and down; for two miles up town and one mile down town, and as Mudge boarded at the end of up-town, it became one of his duties to serve the bank's customers along the way to and from work; it was a convenience to them and new ones were found to increase the bank's business, and it grew to sizeable importance in the town. One day a telegram came to announce the death of a relative of the cashier in another state, and Mudge found himself sole manager of the bank during his absence of a week or ten days. It was a strenuous time for an eighteen year old, but that was trivial compared to the disappointment from the cancellation of his trip to commencement exercises at the Academy town.

Time dragged for another year; the bank-partner came to announce that he had sold his Colorado cattle ranch, and would devote attention to the bank, merely for something to do in his retirement. His stories of his own western experiences set the mind of Mudge aflame to go and do likewise; was a letter of recommendation forthcoming? It was. A short note to Hal telling her of the determination to go west, and wishing her a number one mark in spelling, in her high station; a ticket to the end of track on the frontier, a lunch-basket and extra suit of heavy clothes in the suit-case, saw Mudge on the afternoon train headed west.

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