Emigrant Life in Kansas by Percy G. Ebbutt


From Emigrant Life in Kansas, by Percy G. Ebbutt:
(approximate year of this story is 1870)

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


     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.

     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."

     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 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!"

     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."

     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."

     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 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 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 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.

Voices 'Contents'     Go to Percy Ebbutt's book