WE MEET SOME NEIGHBOURS
"Prairie" Wilson.--George Dyson.--A young grandmother.--"Dutch Jake."--The Quinns.--Gathering wild grapes and "tearing around."--Sleeping sixteen in one room.--Bill Harper and his ring.--John Tumey's "'ot potatoes."--A prairie fire.--The pet antelope.--The Garretts.--An evening party
WHEN we moved up we were the only settlers on the prairie for some miles round, but a few months afterwards several emigrants took land. I will introduce you to a few of them. About the first was one who was soon known by the name of "Prairie" Wilson, having a farm on the highest land in the district. He was very poor when he first started, having only a wife, one child, and his bedclothes, but by dint of hard work he soon had a comfortable place.
Another family was that of George Dyson, who settled about a mile from our house.
They were of rather a better class than some of the emigrants who followed.
Mrs. Dyson had been married before, at the mature age of thirteen years, and had been left a widow with two children at nineteen. The first husband was a great friend of Mr. Dyson's, and when he died he asked him to look after his wife and children, and he did so in the most practical way.
Living with the Dysons was one Will Hopkins, who used to do a good deal of prairie breaking, having a twenty-four inch plough and six yoke of oxen. His land joined my father's, and he eventually built a house on it, and married Mrs. Dyson's daughter when she was fifteen years old. A year or so afterwards, and Mrs. Dyson was a proud grandmother, aged thirty-one. Go-ahead people the Americans, are they not?
Living near them was old Anthony Prauss, a Dutchman, who could speak about twelve words in English; but he was a decent old chap, and we got along very well with him.
Another of our neighbours was a man called "Dutch Jake." He had a farm a few miles from us, and professedly lived with his
"sister," though there was little doubt but that she was his wife.It was simply a trick to get more land, as an unmarried woman can have eighty acres of Government land free, the same as a man, but a married woman cannot. A widow may also take a piece of land, and, in fact, any one who is the head of a family, if even a boy or girl under age. There is no charge for land, except a nominal fee of about fourteen dollars. Jake was rather a queer customer, and we thought none too particular; for the "sister" used at one time to do Harry Parker's washing, and once when he went over after it unexpectedly, he found Jake wearing his shirt and trowsers. After that he changed his laundress. There were several Swedish families round about, who seemed good, thrifty people. One peculiar characteristic of them seemed to be that they could nearly all work well in stone, and, as a consequence, they all erected good solid-built stone houses.
They seemed to be very hardy and industrious. I knew one, Olaf Swainson, who was one day quarrying rock, and cut one of his
fingers clean off. He made very little fuss about it, but picked it up, rolled it in some grass, and put it in his pocket, and then went to the house to tie up his hand.
Then there were the Quinns, a large family of Irish-Americans, who also arrived with nothing save one or two horses and a few tools; but as there were several boys large enough to work, they soon got along swimmingly. We became acquainted in a very short time, and used to go over there very frequently. They broke some prairie and built a house with the sods, with a few boards for the roof, and then set to work in earnest with the crops, and they were soon able to live on the products of the farm and garden. As they had no cows we supplied them with milk, which they much wanted, there being several small children among them; and so they undertook to do our washing in exchange for half-a-gallon of milk a day.
Jack or I used to carry the milk over in a covered pail every morning on horseback, and we soon had quite a path worn across the prairie. There were three streams to cross on the way, and by always crossing at the same
place the banks became trodden down into a regular quagmire, several feet wide and difficult to get over. On one occasion I got a nasty fall. I was riding a young filly, and after trying to make her walk across she suddenly jumped, but not far enough. She landed all of a heap on the opposite bank, and I and the milk went clean over her head and came down in the long grass. The filly ran away a few yards, and then came back to where I was picking myself up, and allowed me to catch her and mount again.
Fortunately I was none the worse for my shaking, but the Quinns had to do without milk on that day, as I rode up and told them what had happened. Jack and I used to have rather a jolly time at this house. The old lady would tell us to "come over and tear around with the boys," and we used to be fond of "tearing around."
In the warm weather we went swimming in the stream a little distance from the house, and fine fun it was, too, though once I was nearly drowned. I could not swim very far then, and in going the length of the pond my strength or courage gave out, and down I went. I had
fortunately got beyond the deepest part though, and was just able to touch ground with my toes, after getting my mouth full of water two or three times. With continued practice, however, we could soon all swim a good distance.
Sometimes we took our pony Barney in the water with us, and had some rare fun, for it was deep enough to swim a horse; two or three boys would get on his back, and one or two more have hold of his tail, and sail around the pond. Sometimes we used him for a diving board, standing on the bank.
Now and then we practised swimming with all our clothes on; old hat, old boots, and everything-and jolly good practice it is, too. Of course our clothing was not particularly fine, and was not much damaged by being wetted and dried in the sun. Our usual summer clothing consisted of a hat,-a good wide-brimmed one,-shirt, and canvas trowsers, or over-alls, with occasionally a pair of boots.
Such superfluities as waistcoats, collars, and socks we had discarded long ago. Even in the winter, when every one wore nearly his whole wardrobe, waistcoats and collars were not used, but about three shirts and three pairs
of trowsers were worn. I knew one man who had not worn a pair of socks for years. Of course he always wore high boots.
In the autumn we used all to go down the creeks gathering wild grapes or plums, or various other kinds of fruit which grew in great abundance. Here were mulberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, and pawpaws, the latter a large fleshy fruit somewhat similar to the banana. The grapes were more abundant than anything else. Vines hung on nearly every tree, or clambered over the great rocks with which the ravines are fringed, disputing possession with the Virginia creeper or the wild hop. The grapes, after being picked, were dried in the sun, and were very nice in the winter either stewed or made into pies.
In the cold weather, there being little for us to do at home, Jack and I would go over to Quinn's, and sometimes stop for two or three days, and have a fine time "tearing around," either rabbit-hunting or sleigh-riding, or sliding on the ponds--though the Quinn boys could not do much at that, for their father found that it wore out boots too much, and
made them stop it; so after trying it barefooted, and finding that it would not work; they were obliged to give it up.
At night we were a little crowded, as there was only one room, and we numbered sixteen persons in all-viz., Mr. and Mrs. Quinn, eleven children, Jack and I, and a young man named John Clover, who owned the next farm, and who lived and worked with the Quinns.
We were all arranged pretty comfortably in the following manner:-Mr. and Mrs. Quinn, and the two youngest children in one bed, the four girls in another, three or four boys in a third, and the remainder on the floor, which consisted of the bare earth.
In wet weather it was not quite so comfortable as might be wished, as the roof leaked, and rain and snow came in pretty badly. Still we got along very nicely altogether.
One slight drawback was that the old man had a habit of chewing tobacco as he lay in bed, but it did not cause much inconvenience to those on the floor, as he was a pretty good shot, and generally managed to reach the fireplace with the juice. One Sunday, while staying with the Quinns,
they were favoured with a visit from a young man named Bill Harper, living some five or six miles away He was quite a stranger, but finding some settlers on the prairie, came to make their acquaintance. Of course he was invited to stay and have dinner, and of course he accepted.
He made himself very agreeable, and during the meal he appeared to be very anxious that we should observe a ring, which he had upon his little finger, at one time reaching his hand out with the finger extended, and requesting some one to "pass the taters!" After dinner he took one of us aside to examine the article more closely, and told us in confidence that he had purchased it the previous day in town for the sum of ten cents = 5d.
Yet withal he was a sensible sort of young man, and knew what he was about on a farm or with a horse, etc.; in fact, the right sort of man for the country. In direct contrast to him was a young Englishman, whom the Quinns had met when out railroading, and of whom they were never tired of speaking.
A great deal of work is done there in the slack season by the farmers and others, who
take their teams and ploughs, and go to work building the new railroads at so much per day, camping out in the meantime. On one of these occasions they had among their party one John Turney, an Englishman. What he had been used to before I can't say, but he had not been brought up as a cook, anyhow. One day it came to his turn to stay in camp and prepare the dinner. When the mealtime arrived all the hands came crowding round the waggon eager to begin, but they found everything but half-cooked.
"John," said Sam Quinn, "did these pertaters git warm?" "Yes," replied John innocently, "they got quite 'ot!"
And we never heard the last of that little incident. The weather was never warm, it was "quite 'ot!"
Once in the wintertime when we two boys were over at Quinn's, we had a lively time with a prairie fire. An old Swede, living a little way north of their place, had accidentally set fire to the grass, and as there was a most terrific north wind blowing, the fire was down upon us in a moment. Old Andy Johnson
came in front of it, scorching himself whilst vainly endeavouring to check the progress of the flames by beating them with his coat He arrived breathless and hatless just as the fire was coming over the crest of the hill in front of the house. We all ran out immediately, and set to work to "back fire" from the stables, and were only just in time to save the whole place from destruction, by burning a sufficiently wide piece of grass off, and thus stopping the rush of fire. It was a bitterly cold day, and while working right amongst fire, moving a waggon out of the way, Jack got his hands frozen rather badly. Mrs Quinn doctored him up though, and rubbed his hands with kerosene oil, etc., and they soon got well, without losing any fingers.
In a few minutes after the first alarm the fire had passed right by, and the whole face of the country was changed from a dry dead brown to an intense black, and ashes were blowing about in clouds. For a long time we could trace the progress of the fire by a thick column of smoke, and at night there was a red glow in the sky, showing that it was still burning miles away.
During the first spring that we were there we saw several antelopes, but we were never able to kill any. One day Humphrey shot one and knocked it over, but it got up again, and although three of us rode after it for some miles, we never came up with it.
The Quinns had a young one for a pet. They had ran it down when very small, and took it home and tamed it. It was a beautiful creature, and very tame, though timid. It lived for about a year and a half, and was then kicked by a horse, which broke two of its legs, and so was obliged to be killed. All the children were very sorry to lose it, they had grown so fond of it.
Some few miles from us lived the Garretts, an English family. They had not been used to farming, and did not succeed particularly well. Mrs. Garrett did not get along in what is usually considered the woman's department at all. She was not much of a cook, and as to milking a cow- "Oh! I can't, it feels so nasty!" said she at her first trial, and so poor old Garrett always had that job.Near them lived a family named Samaurez, of Spanish descent. They rather considered
themselves "some pumpkins," and their status may perhaps be summed up in the words of one of the Quinn boys. "They've got two kinds of sugar, and don't they just look at yer if you put white sugar in your coffee, or yaller sugar in your tea!"
One evening during our first spring Humphrey, Jack, and I attended a party. It was at a stranger's house, and we had not received any regular invitation, but the fact of there being a party was made known, and every one in the neighbourhood was at liberty to go. It was rather a peculiar gathering. There was no dancing and no music, and the time was principally spent in eating and drinking, and playing at silly, childish games, mostly after the style of "Kiss in the Ring," but with all sorts of queer names to them. Most of them were accompanied by singing. The words of one ran something like this:-
This very day sailed over,
Sailed over the sea.
Most gracious Queen,
you must not be offended,
For you shall be attended
With all the respects that we owe."
But I do not really know what took place during the game. I know there was a deal of shuffling about, something like "Sir Roger de Coverley" without the music. Another ran:-
And the cattle are on the farm,
Gold of the best, it shall be paid,
And on her lips it shall be laid."
And then somebody kissed some other body."
How d'ye git along, Jim along o' Jo?
Hitch my oxen to your cart,
Go to the river and git a load o' bark."
How d'ye git along, Jim?" etc.
"Fire up the mountains! run, boys! run, boys!
Fire in the mountains! run, boys, run!
Cat's in the cream jug! run, girls! run, girls!
Cat's in the cream jug! run, girls, run!"
Then there was a general stampede.
The best of it is that there are a great many Methodists and others who look upon dancing as an unpardonable sin, and yet do not object to games of this kind. In fact, upon this occasion some game or other was proposed, but ruled out and strongly objected to, especially by one young lady, the daughter of a Methodist
parson, as "it was too much like dancing." But she played in the other games, and seemed to enjoy them, kissing included. This I thought rather inconsistent.
None of our party took part in any of these games, and we left early, voting it rather slow.
Bill Harper was present on this occasion, ring and all, and he was the only person there with whom we were acquainted.
At that early date such gatherings were not very frequent, but now they occur more often, and several of the settlers have such luxuries as pianos and harmoniums; and as there are more people to attend now, dances are frequently got up in the winter, much to the scandal and annoyance of the "Puritan Father" portion of the community. Sometimes, too, a "social" is turned into a dance after the Methodists have gone home.
"Jack;," says the host, "just watch till you see the pious folk about to git, and then you ride off like the dickens for a fiddler, while I walk around and tell the girls that ain't- too good that we're going to have a dance. You bet we'll have a high time yet." And so they do, and keep it up till daylight.