Gaines Photo by Joyce M. Tice
My experience as a member of the colony that settled in Gaines Township, Tioga County Pennsylvania, known as Elk Run, began when I was a mere child. Mother married Russell M. Smith, one of the early settlers there, and we followed his fortunes into that almost unbroken wilderness. Our principal companions were wild deer and smaller game with occasionally a bear or wolf thrown in. It was not uncommon in the night time to listen to the furious barking of wolves as they pursued a fleeing deer which nearly always became their victim.
One frequently listens to the story of pioneer hardships, we had our full share of them. There was no physician nearer than Wellsboro, twenty-five miles away where mother and step father went in the spring and fall to buy from three to five dollars worth of necessities that could not be raised from the newly cleared land. We depended for our subsistance almost entirely upon what our new surroundings could produce; in that respect nature was very kind to us because she gave us Indian corn, beans, potatoes, hogs and maple sugar, with these things and game and trout in abundance there wasn’t much, if anything more we needed to live on. My early associations in that wilderness gave me many pleasant recollections, chiefly that of trout fishing which has been a source of never ending enjoyment down to the present day.
Naturally those who grew up under such conditions and did not have an opportunity to develop by associations with others those meaner qualities that come from selfish human nature, developed the habit of honest living. To a great extent this quality came as the result of religious instructions gathered from Bunyon’s story, and the perusal of church literature. There were no contaminating influences in those days, no one had money to loan at twenty-five per cent and the opportunity for making money in crooked deals did not exist.
Those early settlers of sixty or more years ago entertained strong moral and religious convictions and they were the source occasionally of animated and sometimes acrimonious discussions. Those controversies, however, developed in time, better and more tolerant understandings, with the result that the community became distinguished for its moral and enlightened citizenship.
It was but natural that the leaders of those distinctive qualities should mingle freely with those who lived there. The trout fishing was good in Elk Run and the opportunity was thus afforded for them to visit the dear sisters and brothers while they took occasion to wander along the shady banks of the historic stream. It was, therefore, not unusual for two or three of those visitors to come together and stay a week or two and square all troubles and hardships incident to such visits with a good long prayer after breakfast each morning and another before going to bed each night.
The writer’s step father was a jealous adherent to his religious beliefs, he had been commissioned a class leader in his church and on that account entertained a strong veneration for those who exercised church authority. There was never a morning, except in good hay weather, when he did not go down on his knees and thank Divine Providence that he was still in the land of the living and on praying and interceding grounds with the Almighty. I remember on one occasion in the middle of the haying season that a stranger drove up to the house about dark, it turned out to be one of those fishing apostles who had come for a little recreation. Mother had cleared away the supper dishes and there was nothing to eat left in sight. The anxious, hungry look on the visitor was painful to behold; it changed, however, into one of joyous expectancy when he was told that in a few minutes some cold trout, chicken and corn bread, maple sugar and syrup would be ready for him. The way he caused those refreshments to disappear plainly indicated that his appetite had not been gratified since early that morning and that he was making up for lost time. He gave us a long prayer before going to bed that night and we felt comfortably sure that if any of the family should die before morning Divine Providence would overlook our transgressions.
The day following this occurrance was ushered in as a first-class hay day. Preparations had been made for an early departure to the hayfield. Our visiting brother however, was not to be deprived in this manner of the opportunity to supplicate the Divine Master in regard to his duties respecting poor, suffering humanity and so he started in. My step father was kneeling down near the kitchen door and mother occupied the same attitude near the door that led into the pantry, while I occupied a chair with my feet on its rounds, taking in the situation. The supplication had been going on about thirty minutes, the attention of the Almighty had been called to conditions that obtained in the United States and in Foreign countries and had landed on the sick list when my step father suddenly slipped out of the room and in a few minutes the sound of scythe sharpening was heard over in the east lot. Presently poor mother who had been growing terribly uneasy with shifting from one knee to another, turned towards the praying visitor and said: "Elder don’t you think it is about time for you to wind this thing up?" It did not require anything more to bring that supplication to a close and the next morning it only took the parson about five minutes in which to remind the Almighty of his duties and obligations.
Soon after this my step father was getting ready to take charge of his class at Sunday service in the old red schoolhouse; he stood before the looking glass with his razor up to his face in the act of shaving suddenly his attention being called to something else he turned his face and in so doing it came in contact with the razor with the result that a large wound was inflicted upon the top of his nasal ornament. Something had to be done immediately, so mother got, what she supposed was a strip of adhesive plaster and applied it to the would and then they started away for the school house. When they arrived at their destination there was a good deal of merriment about the surgical operation and some strikingly funny remarks made about it. It was soon discovered that instead of the adhesive strip having been used mother had accidently taken a small piece of tape that indicated the number of yards that a spool of thread contained and applied it to the seat of the difficulty and that there had gradually developed the startling information: "Warranted to be two hundred yards in length."
This circumstance had a rather sobering effect upon the class leader because he was not heard to utter a single amen during the whole time the preacher performed his prayerful duties behind the desk. When we got home, however, my step father indulged in a few caustic remarks to mother about her grievous error that had the effect to lower his dignity as a class leader, and wound up the unpleasant situation by kicking the dog while the cat went out of the kitchen door with her tail as large as a small sized muff.
Those early settlers from the "Nutmeg State" brought with them a large assortment of Puritanical convictions one of which related to Sabbath desecration. We were not allowed to look at our famous trout stream on that day for fear it might arouse a desire to go a-fishing. The joyous laughter of childhood was never allowed to disturb the holy silence of that sacred day, instead, however, we were compelled to read the story of little Willie’s perfect life and the pathetic departure of his sainted soul, accompanied by angels, to the City whose streets are shining gold. If this story about Willie’s happy transformation had the effect, as it often did, to produce a flood of tears and heartfelt sobs, so much the better, because those manifestations were always considered to have emenated from the Divine source and, therefore, were suitable to the occasion. We could not bring in a stick of wood or prepare kindling for a fire that day without incurring the displeasure of Devine Providence, who would see to it, if we died, that our poor sinning souls would land where the gnashing of teeth is always in order.
One of the early settlers, who with two others composed the church board of governors was discovered one Sabbath morning in the act of gathering some grain that had suffered from exposure. He was brought before the two remaining members of the board charged with the offense of Sabbath desecration. He made no denial of the charge but justified his action upon the ground of necessity. This would not do and his commission as governor was taken away from him but he was allowed to still have his name carried on the church roll and worship there if he did so with a strong sense of humiliation and contrition for his sins.
When I was about sixteen years old visions of better conditions and prospects began to dawn upon my imagination. The determination to quit those early associations and strike out for myself were not received with very great satisfaction at home because it was difficult to get another boy to fill my place. My step-parent was that if I would stay at home until I was twenty-one years of age he would give me a new suit of clothes and a yoke of steers. This inducement, while seemingly quite generous, did not appeal to me and I started in with a neighbor at work for thirteen dollars a month and board. It has always been a serious matter of speculation whether I did not make a mistake in making the change; it is barely possible if I had not I would have been able to leave to posterity the benefit of a noble example.
There were about twenty-five families in that little community in 1860 when the Civil War broke out. Fourteen young members of those families went into that war, one was killed at Gettysburg, one died of disease in hospital, three were wounded, two taken prisoners, one of whom died in Andersonville prison, while the rest escaped. Only one of that little company of volunteers still survives.
Reference has been made to the moral and intellectual qualities that were developed in that community. In this connection it may not be amiss to state that that little strip of territory about five miles in length, produced three lawyers, one president judge of our judicial district, one district attorney, one assistant to the attorney general of the Untied States in Washington, three members of the state legislature, one sheriff, two county treasurers, one county auditor and two county commissioners, all of whom with feelings of great pride refer to that community as their early home.