Emigrant Life in Kansas by Percy G. Ebbutt



Premature arrangements.--An unexpected check.--Start for Junction.--A silent ride.--My note.--Down the track.--Commence work for Anderson.--Shucking and hauling corn.--A horse trading trial.--Tom Crofter.--Anderson moves.--A bad road.--The mail carrier.--The new farm.--Rats.--Leave Anderson

BEFORE leaving I had made arrangements with John Crompton to go to a good school at Junction during the coming winter. We were going to rent a small place in town, and his sister was going to keep house for us. I had got about enough money to keep me through the winter, as living is very cheap, and the tuition at the school was free. But the old adage says, "Never count your chickens before they are hatched," and I guess that I was a little premature in my arrangements.

When I arrived home with our cattle and my twenty-seven dollars - for I had not spent

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a cent as yet,-I learned to my surprise that I was expected to share the money with my brother Jack. This, of course, would upset all my plans for the winter, and so I was very loth to part. Besides, I could not see the justice of it, for I had not only been keeping myself through the summer, while food was scarce owing to the hoppers' visit, but I had also herded the cattle free of charge, when I might have been staying at Blake's all the time. Of course, they claimed that if I had been at home, and got up a herd, that any profit would have been divided; but I tried that in the spring, and could not get enough cattle together; besides which there would have been my keep through the summer, and the wear and tear of a pony.

Still, I failed to convince them of the justice of my views, and had to shell out. This knocked over all my arrangements, and I felt it so much that I declared that I would not stop at home; but I guess they did not believe that I meant it, for Jack and I were sent to town the next day to sell a load of wheat. Jack was to buy some clothes and other things, while I was supposed to be going with the

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object of buying books for my schooling, but that was quite out of the question, as I could not keep myself all through the winter on fourteen dollars.

We started for Junction at five o'clock in the morning, of course long before daylight, as it was a good long day's journey, seventeen miles either way, and we had a good heavy load to take over the rough country road. I guess it was a pretty dull ride that, for I was kinder sulky, and not a word I spoke all the time. As we were going along after the sun had risen and it was broad daylight, Jack pulled the tail off a buffalo's hide which we had over our knees, and, throwing it in the grass beside the track, said, "I wonder if we shall see that when we come back!" These were the only words spoken on our journey, for I would not reply, but thought to myself, "Well, you may perhaps, but I shan't. I guess I shall be several miles away by that time."

We arrived at Junction after a while, and sold our wheat. We then hitched our team to a post, and Jack went to get his photograph taken. He wanted me to come too, very much, but I would not. I did not feel in the humour.

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I should not have looked very pleasant in a photo just then. I left Jack ostensibly to get my books, but I went to another store, and bought some good rough serviceable clothes, some crackers, and a pencil. I had the clothes made in a parcel, then ate the biscuits, and with the pencil wrote a short note to Jack on the paper bag. The note was as follows: "Good-bye, Jack, I'm going away. Don't wait for me, for I'm not coming home any more." This epistle I tied on the whip-handle, and saying "good-bye" to the old horses, started off down the river eastwards, my idea being to work my way along, gradually earning enough money to enable me to return to England.

After travelling a mile or two along the railroad track, I went down under a little bridge and changed my clothes, leaving the majority of my old things there. This I did, not from any fear of detection,-for I did not suppose for a minute that they would try to find me and bring me back,-but simply because my old clothes were quite played out, having been worn all summer.

By night I arrived at Ogden, a little town

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about ten miles down the river, below Fort Riley, and here I put up at a boarding-house. I inquired about work, and could have obtained it close at hand, but preferred to get further away. I travelled along on the railroad track again next day for some miles. It is the recognised highway for all foot travellers, as it is not only the nearest way from town to town, but it is easier walking. The bridges were nasty things to cross though, as they are only trestle-built structures. The metals are laid on big square wooden logs, eighteen inches apart, and one had to step from one to the other. It was not a very nice job; a false step would have sent one headlong into the river, or on to the rocks a hundred feet below. There was only a single track, so that it was best to make sure that there was no train coming in either direction, because to meet it on the bridge one would have to lie down or else hang on underneath while the train passed over him. Still, as there were but four trains a day, a passenger and a goods each way, there was not much danger in that direction.

That afternoon I passed through Manhattan, thirty miles from Junction, and when about

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five miles beyond there, in Pottawattamie county, I met a young man on a pony, who asked a question about some stray horses. I inquired for work, and he told me that, if I went down to his father-in-law's farm, a little farther on, I could no doubt get some corn husking to do. I went on and soon found the place, and was engaged at 75 cents a day during the time that the job should last. I found the farmer was a Swede, named Anderson. He had a big family, mostly young, and one daughter rather older, who was married to the young man I had met, Tom Crofter, a Scotchman. They lived with the old people.

They had a big farm, though it was only rented, and there was work for some few weeks, husking. The Indian corn ripens about the end of September, or rather later, but, unlike most crops, it is not necessary to gather it at once. The ears are covered by the shucks, and it can stand out in the field for a long time without being damaged, so that it can be gathered at the farmers' convenience.

There was another man in Anderson's employment, a German, Henry, and we three

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worked away husking corn for a good time. The usual plan of work is like this. The corn having been planted in the usual way in rows and hills, a waggon is driven straight along over one row. One man takes three rows on one side of the waggon, and another three rows on the other, while a third takes the "down row," that is, the row broken down by the waggon, and assists a bit on either side as required.

The hand is armed with a "shucking-peg" -either of wood or iron fastened on with a thong,-which tears open the shucks on the ears of corn, which are then pulled off the stalks, and thrown into the waggon. When this is full, it is driven to the corn crib and emptied by means of a big scoop shovel, a slanting board having been previously put in one end of the waggon, to form a surface for the shovel to work on.

The three of us could husk and unload about a hundred and twenty-five bushels a day, five waggon loads. When this work was all completed, we were nearly into the middle of winter, so I agreed to stop on with Anderson for a while, for my board and lodging, and

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Henry did the same, doing the "chores,"- that is, attending to the cattle, and "hewing wood and drawing water," etc.

As spring drew near, and the price of corn was raised, Anderson began to sell, and then we had plenty of work, hauling it to town, where, after being weighed on a big "Fairbanks" scale, it had to be unloaded into the immense cribs which the traders had built in town. This was very hard work, using the big scoop, which held nearly half a bushel, for the cribs were so high and full that it was as much as one could do to throw the corn high enough. The waggons, when unloading, were always surrounded by lots of pigs and cows belonging to the townspeople, which picked up the stray ears which fell to the ground.

Old Anderson was very fond of his drops, and usually returned partially drunk, for he and I generally came to town; and while I unloaded the waggon, he paid a visit to the "saloon," as all drinking-bars are there called. He used at first to try and get me to drink with him, but after my little experiment with the neat whisky up at home, I had forsworn all spirituous liquors; so he generally gave me

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a quarter of a dollar, and told me to buy crackers or apples or candy and take some home to the children.

Of course, I did not want a shilling's worth of sweets every day, and, while generally taking some to the children, I saved a little money during this period, although not in receipt of any regular wages. Anderson, as a rule, was a very morose, surly sort of man, but, when a little under the influence of whisky, became quite jolly and prodigal with his money. Henry was just the reverse; he was usually a very good-natured, lively individual, going about his work, singing and whistling, but directly he got outside a few glasses of whisky, his manner was very different. He was then exceedingly irritable, and went about swearing and quarrelling with every one. He was by no means an abstainer; he could not, in fact, wait until he got to town for his liquor, but kept a bottle hidden away out in the stable or elsewhere.

Once Tom and I found a bottle of whisky in the side of a haystack, and Tom made punch with the contents for himself and his

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wife, and then returned the empty bottle to its hiding-place, Henry did not say anything about it, but was rather out of temper for some time. While I was staying here, Anderson traded horses with a neighbour, and we had rather an amusing time over it.

The neighbour, an old Englishman, named Hockley, proposed the exchange, which was, his three-year-old filly, not broken in, for Anderson's old blind mare, a steady-going old work-horse. Anderson, having two or three teams, was nothing loth, and the "swop" was made, but two days afterwards Hockley came over to say that the mare had died during the night, and he wanted his filly back again. Of course, Anderson could not see the force of this, and Hockley went to law to recover her.

The action came off before the "Squire" and twelve of the neighbours, who assembled at his house to form the jury. The "Squire" was a farmer like the rest of them, but a sort of justice of the peace.

In the meantime the filly was hidden away, for Anderson was determined not to give her up, whether he lost or won.

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The action was not for damages, but simply to recover the young mare; so one dark night we put her in a little uninhabited log-house, which stood on another man's farm, a long way from any other buildings, and we used to go and feed and water her by night. It was well that we did hide her, for one night we were awaked by the dogs, who found two men prowling about the stable, evidently Hockley and his man, looking for the filly.

At last the day for the trial came round, and we all repaired to "Squire" Dick Holt's house. He very seldom had anything to do in his official capacity, as the county was but thinly settled, and, in fact, they had to hunt rather wide for the jury. Amongst his other duties a squire is authorised to perform the marriage ceremony, which is done in a very off-hand and business-like manner. Here is a description, culled from an American paper.

Squire. "Have him?"

Bride. "Yes."

Squire. "Have her?"

Bridegroom. "Kinder."

Squire. "Done. One dollar."

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This is perhaps rather shorter than usual, but the "ceremony" is always very simple.

Squire Holt's residence was but a one-roomed log-house, and not of the largest dimensions, so that with the jury and the witnesses on both sides the "court" was rather closely packed.

There were no solicitors, or, as they there term themselves, "attorneys at law," present, and the trial began by old Hockley stating his case in person.

After being sworn, he said:-

"Mr. Squire, and gentlemen of the jury, with your leave, I guess I'll jest tell you the facts of this here case. On the fourteenth of December I went to see Anderson yonder, as I was a-wanting another work-horse. I offered to swop my three-year-old filly, which ain't broke, to him for a blind mare which he owned. The defendant comes over to see the filly, and I goes over to see the mare, and I agreed to take her on trial for a week. The defendant agrees, and I takes the mare home, and then takes the filly to defendant's. She was worked the next day and seemed pretty bully, but the next morning my little

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Dutchman finds her dead as nails in the stable, with her head in a pool of blood, and I guess I've got witnesses to prove all what I say. Now, I claim that the mare was in a bad way when defendant got rid of her, and he knew it, and I hold that he oughter return my filly. These are the facts of the case, and I hope you'll see that my demands is just, and give me my dues."

Cross-examined by the defendant.

A. "I believe you owned it was you and not me proposed the swop?"

H. "Yes, I wanted a work-horse at once, and didn't want to wait to break the filly in."

A. "Jess so. Who did you make the arrangement with about taking the mare on trial for a week? It wasn't me."

H. "Yes, it was; I told you I would try her for a week."

A. "You're a liar, man!"

"Order! order!" from the Squire.

H. "Why, if I'd only agreed to let you have the mare for a week, do you think I'd have taken the filly to feed, and p'raps break in, and all for nothing? That's enough!"

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The next witness, Antoine Prosser, a little Dutchman, whom we always thought but halfwitted, was then called.

H. "You are in my employ, ain't you?"

Prosser. "Oh yes, I does works for you. Vat for you say so?"

H."To let the court know who you are. Now tell us all you can about this swap. Did I have the mare on trial or not?"

P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."

H. "Which is so?"

P. "You trade ze horse."

H. " I guess you don't quite understand. Did I have the mare on trial?"

P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."

H. "And two days afterwards you found the mare dead in the stable?"

P. "Oh yaas, dat is so all."

H. "And there was a lot of blood?"

P. "Oh yaas, there was plenty bleed."

H. "How much?"

P. "Oh, much bleed."

H. "Yes, but how much."

P. "Big heaps."

H. "Very well, that will do."

P. "Oh yaas."

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Cross-examined by defendant.

"One minute, Mr. Prosser. You say that the plaintiff had the mare on trial; who told you so? Was it the plaintiff, Mr. Hockley?"

P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."

A. (To the jury.) "Do you call that evidence, gentlemen?" (To the witness.) "Did you hear the arrangement made between us?"

P. "Oh yaas."

H. "Oh, get out; why, man, you weren't there. You found the dead mare in the stable, did you?"

P. "Oh, yaas, dat is so."

A. "How was she laying?"

P. "She laying on ze ground still."

A. "And there was blood? And where come from?"

P. "She have bleed of ze nose."

A. "How much was there?"

P. "There was much bleed."

A. "Yes, but how much? What sized pool was it? was it as big as that?" opening his arms about a yard.

P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."

A. "And how deep was it?"

P. "There was much bleed."

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A. "Yes, but how deep was it? Was it as deep as that?" holding one hand a foot above the other.

P. "Oh yaas, dat is so."

A. "There was a pile of ' bleed' three feet wide and a foot deep. Sir, do you know that you are on your oath? Do you know what an oath is?"

P. "Oh yaas, it is schwear; Mishter Hockley makes much schwear."


A. "Thank you; that's all I've got to ask you."

P. "Oh yaas."

The next witness, another man in Hockley's employment, was sworn, and deposed to the mare being found dead in the stable; but, upon cross-examination, he admitted that he did not hear that she was only upon trial until after she was dead, and it was also elicited that the mare had been very hard-worked the previous day, having travelled nearly fifty miles. This closed the case for the prosecution.

The defendant Anderson then laid his statement before the jury.

"Mr. Squire and gentlemen, I guess it won't

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be necessary for me to say much after the evidence we drew out just now. I can only say that the plaintiff came to me of his own free will, and offered to swop his filly for my mare. I went to see his filly and agreed to trade. Nothing was said about taking my mare on trial. Lord knows, he knew the mare well enough. If the mare was sick, I didn't know it; she seemed well enough when I had her. I went to see her after she died, and found her lying in the stable, with a little blood from her nose. I guess the pool of 'bleed' had kind o' soaked up, for there wasn't much to be seen when I got there. I guess she had overpulled the day before, as you know blind horses sometimes will. There's nothing more for me to say, except that the plaintiff and his little Dutchman seem to have agreed to tell lies and swear to 'em."

("Order! order!")

Cross-examined by Hockley. "Do you mean to say that I didn't tell you out by the corral that I wanted the mare on trial?"

A. "Ay, and you know it well enough."

H. "Well, as I had no witness there I can't prove it, but I guess my word's as good

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as yours. On your oath now, can you swear that the mare was in good health when you saw her last?"

A. "No, I can't exactly swear that."

H. "Ah! I thought as much. What ailed her?"

A. "When?"

H. "Why, when you traded her to me?"

A. "Nothing."

H. "Why, you said just now that you couldn't swear that she was in good health!"

A. "No, I didn't."

H. "Well, what did you say then?"

A. "I said that I couldn't swear she was in good health when I saw her last."

H. "Well, that's what I said. What was the matter with her?"

A. "Well, when I saw her last, she was dead." (Laughter.)

H. "Bah! I mean what was the matter with her when you traded her to me."

A. "Nothing. She has been overworked, that's what killed her."

The next witness, Tom Crofter, was called, and he swore that he was present when the "swop" was made, and that the plaintiff did

A Jury

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not propose to have the mare on trial at all. This was corroborated by Anderson's man Henry, and myself.

I had been over with Anderson to see the dead mare, and was subjected to a close cross-examination by Hockley, but he failed to shake my first statements. This concluded the defence, and the jury were called upon for their verdict.

They stepped out of doors into the snow, as that was the only retiring-room, and after a very few minutes' deliberation (for it was mighty cold) returned with a verdict for the defendant, which, of course, was the only thing they could have done after the very evident perjury on the plaintiff's side.

Old Hockley abused Anderson a bit, and evidently fancied himself a very aggrieved individual.

After the trial we went to the log-hut where the filly was hidden, and brought her home in triumph, after Anderson had added insult to injury by telling Hockley where she was, and assuring him that he would never have got her back, even if the verdict had been in his favour.

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After this things went along pretty smoothly; we had our regular "chores" to do, but very little besides. We went shooting very often in the woods which fringed the Kansas river, which ran near us, and sometimes got a good many rabbits, prairie hens, and quails, and occasionally a wild goose.

Now and then we got a glimpse of a beaver, of which there were many in the river, as was evident from the way in which the trees were cut down; large cottonwood-trees, a foot thick, were felled by their powerful teeth, but the beavers were very shy, so that we never managed to shoot one.

Tom Crofter was a splendid shot. He had been a Texan "cow-boy," and had had a good deal of practice. He had spent a few years on the trail, driving cattle from away down in Texas up to Kansas, where they were shipped on to the cars and sent east to market, either to Chicago or New York. It is rather rough work, travelling by slow stages to allow the cattle to feed as they go for over a thousand miles, passing right through the Indian territory, where they are liable at any time to be attacked either by Indians or white

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cattle thieves. Of course, the cow-boys are armed to the teeth, and as they are well-known to be rather desperate characters, unless the odds are very great against them they are seldom attacked.

The cattle at night are bunched up, and the "boys" take it in turns riding round them all through the night to scare away either wild animals or thieves. A fire is lit to cook their supper by, beside the waggon which accompanies them, and the boys, save one as a watcher, fall asleep afterwards either in the waggon or on the ground around it.

The boys are usually about a dozen in number, but vary according to the size of the herd, which may be of any size from one to three thousand cattle. After they have sold and shipped the cattle, the boys go on the loose generally for a few weeks, and mostly manage to spend all the money that they have earned before returning. Brawls in the saloons are of very frequent occurrence, and as the bowie-knife and revolver were always close at hand, the loss of an occasional cow-boy was a natural consequence.

Tom Crofter carried a bowie-knife with him

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always, which was in such good trim that he used to shave with it. Wichita and Abiline were the towns most favoured with the cow-boys' presence, and those places were regular pandemoniums. In the early spring Anderson rented another farm, and moved higher up the river, about four miles above Manhattan, and then we had a fine time, moving all the hay, corn, stock, tools, implements, and furniture. It was about the worst bit of road I have ever seen,-and I have seen some bad ones,-the road between Manhattan and the new farm. At one spot we went down a road, carved out of the hillside overhanging a creek, which we reached at last, and crossed at the ford; and then there was another great hill to go up, which landed us within a stone's throw of our first hill, after wandering about for nearly half a mile amongst the trees and through the ravine. Then came a little bit of comparatively level ground, and then another hill, where the road was only a shelf cut in the hill, overhanging a railroad track, with beneath that the river rushing along. The shelf was only wide enough to pass one waggon at a time, save for two or three gaps

Rough Ride

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cut a little deeper into the bluff, and it was always a matter of chance whether or not you might meet a vehicle and be unable to reach one of these havens in time.

It was lively work, I can assure you, driving a big load of hay over there, after having already come over some rough ground; a little extra tilt, and the whole thing might be thrown over the precipice on to the track, and then into the river.

One day we met a buggy on this hill before we could get quite into the wider place, but we were fortunately on the inside, and so stood still to let the trap pass us. Of course, our load of hay took a good deal of room, and it was only by the very barest chance that they managed to pass. I expected every second to see them precipitated below, but the buggy being narrow, they could just squeeze by. If it had been an ordinary waggon, they could not have done it. One of us would have had to back.

I was very glad when the moving was over, for I certainly considered it dangerous work travelling with big loads as we did. Of course, for ordinary travelling to town it was not so

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bad, but to be perched away up on top of a big load of hay, and with nothing to hang on to if it slipped-well, I'd rather be excused from any more.

The new farm was not so large, nor nearly so wel1 kept, as the one Anderson had left, and in fact I guess it was rather a come-down for him. Still, one could hardly wonder at it from the amount of money he must have spent in drink. His visits to town were very frequent, and I can hardly say that I ever saw him come back quite sober. I am surprised that he did not get a farm of his own, which he could easily have done by going a little further west and" homesteading" eighty acres. Of course, it would entail some hard work, breaking the land, and so on; but then he would have had the satisfaction of knowing that any improvements which he made on the farm would be for his own benefit, and not for a landlord's.

Besides this, all the crops he could raise would be his own entirely, without a third part having to go to the owner as at present. That is the usual rent when cash payment is not decided on, which it seldom is. But I

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don't think Anderson had enough energy in him to start a prairie farm for himself, and he could not live far away from a town and whisky. Anderson had a nephew, who was a mail carrier between Manhattan and a town thirty-five miles up the Blue River, who used to come and stay with us overnight twice a week, when at this end of the journey.

His father had the contract for carrying the mails twice a week each way, but the son usually did the work, which in winter was pretty rough.

No matter what the weather was, he must go, and though he was certain that he might get stuck in a drift, he must make a start. Sometimes he drove a little buggy, and sometimes he rode horseback, and though he was often delayed by the badness of the roads, he managed to pull through somehow. He always carried a couple of revolvers with him, in case he should be stopped by anyone, but I never heard of him being molested. I guess the mails between those towns were not worth much.

Our new farm was situated right on the banks of the Kansas River, and the land was

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very sandy; still, it was good corn land, though one effect was that it was overrun with sand-burrs,-vile weeds, all prickles, which rendered it almost impossible to walk about bare-footed as one would like to do. They are not content with being stationary, but a little wind will start the dead branches and seed-pods rolling, and they stick to everything they touch. The cactus is nothing to them. Creek farms are always more or less infested with them, but they are comparatively scarce on the prairie.

The new house was but a two-roomed affair, with a basement beneath, and as we were rather a large family,-ten in number,-it was none too large for us. Still, we managed somehow, Henry and I sleeping down below while we were there; but we did not stay long. There was a peculiar hollow in the land, a sort of natural sink, with a good-sized pond in the bottom, and the house and out-buildings were built round about it. The stables were of the kind known as "Kansas stables," that is, built with a few forked posts stuck in the ground, with poles laid across, and the roof

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and sides built up with sods, brush, manure, and rubbish of all sorts. As Tom Crofter was living with the old man, after we had mended up the fences,- which were in a very bad condition,-and got in the crops, there was no more work for Henry and me, as two men were more than enough to run the farm through the summer. Henry got work with a neighbouring German, and I hired out with a farmer named Whiteman, some four miles higher up the river.

Tom Crofter had rented a small piece ot land adjoining Whiteman's farm, and I went up to help plough it and plant corn. We had rather a fine time up here, for we camped out during our stay, preferring to do that than to go home every night. There was an empty log-house on the place, which we tried to sleep in on the first night, but we were woke up by the rats running all over us. I tell you we cleared out of there in a hurry, as the shanty was infested with them.

On the following night we just lit our fire and cooked our supper at some distance from the building, and then rolled ourselves up in our blankets on the ground. There we could

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sleep in peace, for even if roofless, we were ratless.

In the morning we took a dip in the lake near by, and then, after breakfast, were ready to start ploughing again.

While engaged on this work, Whiteman came over to have a look at us, and asked if I wanted work. I told him I should be out in a short time, and he hired me for six months at ten dollars, including, of course, board and lodging.

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