Photos from the book will be added later
Farmer, Lumberman, State Official
CONTRACT WITH EMPORIUM LUMBER COMPANY
It was now about the first of May, and the spring crops were to be planted, as well as the camps, roads, etc., to be built. No time was wasted for the time was getting late. The railroad construction gang was building the new railroad from the town of Watrous up the various branches of Elk Run into this tract of timber which was of immense area, and which was the last big cut of timber in that part of the State.
In order to give the reader some idea of the immense scope of territory involved and the tremendous undertaking to be mastered, there were about twenty thousand cords of bark to be delivered to the various tanneries belonging to the Union and Penn Tanning Companies; approximately forty million feet of hemlock logs to be delivered to the Goodyear mills in Galeton; about twelve million feet of pine and ten million feet of hardwood logs to be delivered to the Emporium Lumber Company mills at Galeton.
We built a large camp in Thompson Hollow and within a very few days bark peelers were making the woods ring with conquering sound of the axe and saw. Others were cutting roads ahead of the peelers—for bark roads average about five rods apart—and the road making alone constituted a considerable part of the ultimate work.
So well did the work progress that by July fourth the amount of bark required for the first season was peeled and that phase of the work was completed. We were to have four years in which to complete the entire contract.
We had a heavy crop that year and it took several men and several teams of horses to complete the “haying”; and the other men were simultaneously cutting logs and clearing out roads getting ready for loading bark on the cars and skidding logs to the track. We kept a bark train, consisting of eight cars, each holding from fifteen to twenty cords of bark, going out of the woods each day until the bark was entirely out of the way; then we began skidding logs to the railroad.
Hemlock logs, freshly peeled, have a rich yellow appearance, and present a beautiful sight when piled in great skidways along the track ready for the log loader. After the hemlock was finished we began cutting pine and hardwood.
The pine was of mammoth size, many trees ranging from four to five feet in diameter, and many trees would cut as much as six thousand feet to a single tree. Usually we would cut a short log off the butt, then cut a forty foot log of panel lumber before reaching the limbs, then cut shorter lengths as far as the tree reached. Many of these trees were from a hundred and twenty five to a hundred and fifty feet high, permitting as many as seven or eight logs in a single tree.
The hardwood consisted of maple, beech, birch, oak, chestnut and a few other species less common.
All was finished early in December except trailing some of the logs that were too far from the track to skid well or profitably. As soon as the snow began to come and the ground commenced to freeze, we began trailing these logs; and before Christmas our first year’s work was completed in shipshape.
Our reputation seemed to be well established, for we were invited to go to Cross Fork and help finish another job that Henry Putnam had undertaken and which seemed to be more than he could handle. This work consisted of the cutting, skidding and trailing about one and one-half miles, two million feet of hemlock and two million feet of hardwood. Also, the building of a timber slide the entire length, for all the logs were to be trailed to the railroad.
To one unacquainted with the operation of winter lumbering, it is impossible to conjecture what an undertaking that was. And to one who is familiar with every phase of that kind of work, the undertaking would seem foolhardy and ridiculous that it is doubtful if many of the old time lumbermen would think of such a difficult task to tackle at mid-winter.
Nothing in the line of lumbering seemed to deter the Dewey boys, and we were ready to tackle anything that presented itself. And the harder the task the more determined we were to conquer. Accordingly, we took the job, chartered a train on the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad, loaded it sown with hay, grain, tools, sleds, camp furnishing and whatnot, and the seventh day of January moved to Windfall Run, on the waters of Kettle Creek, near Cross Fork.
The night we landed there it snowed two feet of good, solid snow, covering everything so completely that I have often wondered whatever manner, kind or style of men we were that we did not abandon the whole business and flee from the memory of it all. Again that inborn spirit of stick-to-itiveness, which has characterized the whole family from the first, must have asserted an invincible and unconquerable situation, so difficult of answer or solution that I am still wondering what unseen, irresistible influence compelled us to tackle such an undertaking under such circumstances. I do not know what Frank thought about it, for we have never said a word to each other concerning the matter in any way, but I thoroughly believe that had either of us just suggested to the other that we had made a mistake, and that we should have sense enough to surrender, the other would have gladly capitulated and thrown up the sponge.
Happily, however, neither of us peeped a word, but organized one crew to build the slide. Owing to the freshly fallen snow on top of the several inches that was already there, however, no one could tell anything about where the slide should be built. Another crew was assigned to cutting logs, another to skidding; and we wallowed through snow for days, with a stiff upper lip, trying to find out what it was all about. Then came a rainstorm that melted most of the snow, so that we could begin to see where we were going, and we felt grateful for even that much. Suddenly, to our dismay, it turned cold and froze the snow into ice, so that it was so slippery that logs were first frozen to the ground; then, when they were loose, they would slide all over the woods on the ice-frozen surface. Verily, it was a picnic to lumber under such circumstances! Suddenly it turned warm again, and took most of the snow off, leaving the ground easy to get about.
The streams were full of water and I could not work for a day or two, so I took this opportunity to go down to Cross Fork on business. Jim Coburn, one of the teamsters, a faithful worker who loved his toddy all too well, asked that he might go along, saying that if he went with me he would keep sober and that he did not want to get full.
While I was transacting some business at the office, Jim fell in and with an old pal who had a similar habit, and they proceeded to drink to each other’s health. When I returned he was visibly intoxicated and getting more so rapidly. I got him away from his pal and we took the log train for camp.
About two miles from Cross Fork we left the train and started up the tram road toward camp, which was four miles to walk. Soon we came to an old, abandoned lumber camp. The barn door stood open and a small quantity of hay was lying on the floor. Jim, seeing that wisp of hay, made for it and threw himself face down upon it and went fast asleep.
I was now in a dilemma that I had not reckoned with, and what to do I did not know. It was getting dark and two miles to go to camp. I was afraid to leave him for two reasons. One was that he might wake up and in trying to find the camp, fall into the swollen stream; the other was that it might suddenly turn cold and he would freeze. One thing was certain and that was that I would not sit with any drunk on a winter’s night. I, therefore, left him with, of course, a genuine feeling of utter disgust and started alone for camp.
As I traveled on I gradually became cognizant of several things, and the farther I traveled the more I was impressed with a genuine feeling of remorse for having left a fellow pilgrim to, perhaps, perish by the wayside because I had not the tolerance to bear with him in his weakness. The more I thought, the faster I traveled and finally it dawned upon me for the first time that should he drown or freeze to death, I would most certainly be charged with murder; for we had left the camp together, had been all day in each other’s company, and had been seen, of course, by scores of people.
Then thoughts of an alibi came poring into my mind. I would, of course, tell my story, but no one would believe me, for it is doubtful if anyone was ever believed when placed in a similar situation. I began to perspire; I took off my hat; I almost ran—all of which conspired together to give the appearance of something like a tragedy having taken place. In fact, I literally wove around myself a clear case of circumstantial evidence that I had murdered my companion. And I certainly looked the part as I reached camp! With my hair standing straight up, for I was in the greatest distress I have ever known, I stammered out my predicament as best I could to the crew as they were seated at the supper table, and asked for volunteers to go with me to help drag the stream for the lifeless body of Jim Coburn.
As I had expected, some appeared to lean over to his next neighbor and whisper: “That’s a likely story.” And it seemed an age before anyone would consent to accompany me. Probably most of this, of not all, was pure imagination, but it did seem as though no one sympathized with me and my discomfort was simply unbearable.
I secured several lanterns as quickly as possible and without any thought of supper, though exhausted almost to the point of desperation, I started back down the railroad. I had hardly left the camp when about a dozen men called to me to wait and they would go along. Probably this, to my mind, seeming indifference was due to the fact that under the strain in which my predicament had placed me, my mind was traveling in high gear while the others could see nothing strange at all about it and they were still traveling in low.
We soon reached the old barn, and horrors—there was nobody there! Coburn was gone! My last hope was gone, also. Of course, I had firmly believed that he would be lying right where I left him, although I thought he might be dead. We went to the stream, which was overflowing the banks almost everywhere, and with little trouble we found Jim’s hat on the bank of the stream but no evidence of what had become of him.
At the sight of that hat, together with the fact that he was nowhere around the buildings, the web of circumstantial evidence, to my distracted mind, was now complete. I suffered all the tortures of the damned. I was guilty and I knew it and also knew that I showed plainly my guilt. Again it seemed to me that there was too much whispering; and I really felt as though they were almost on the verge of preparing a lynching party.
We held a short parley and each expressed at least an idea of what had become of Jim. Most of them agreed that he was drowned but that in all likelihood he could not be found in the night, for the darkness was intense. One thing I did notice was that everyone was now out of low and traveling in high. We knew that he could not have gone up the track or we would have met him; so we naturally worked down, looking as best we could with the dim flicker of the lanterns we had.
Finally we reached the clearing at the mouth of Wind Fall Run, known as the McCoy farm. McCoy was out in the yard with his lantern, and I recalled that he saw us get off the log train and start for camp on our way past his house. This was, perhaps, the most critical moment of my life. I reasoned that either Jim had been seen going back past his place, and I would forever be exonerated from any blame, or that he was drowned and I would forever bear the stigma of a murderer, if I did not actually hang. The torture had nearly driven me insane, and I hastened forward to inquire, when McCoy called out: “Who are you looking for—Coburn?”
Of Course I answered, “Yes.”
“Well,” he said, “don’t look any further, for he went past here about an hour ago. He had lost his hat somewhere, and he said he was going back to Cross Fork to get drunk.”
Now, dear reader, although that great load was lifted from me and my mind was set at rest concerning the sequel—the attitude of my friends and the prospect of my future—I had suffered all the agony, distress and humiliation of the martyrs of old. I had aged ten years. I summoned all the strength at my command to get back to the camp. The next morning I was unable to get up and for several say was sick in bed.
There is always a reason for everything that happens, and some good may even emanate from such a harrowing experience. I have been slow to accuse one who has the finger of distrust pointed at him. Circumstantial evidence is no evidence at all. Many a man has hung for another’s crime, and there are those suffering in prison, or serving long terms in exile, who are far better citizens and far more deserving than those who sent them there. Perhaps the greatest of all the maxims that I mentioned in an earlier chapter is the one learned from the experience just related. The maxim is: Be slow to judge; and before any action is taken against a human being, get all the facts. If this narrative is ever finished, I probably will show how this maxim affects my life as regards part of my duties.
After my recover, the weather having became favorable to the business of cutting, skidding and trailing logs, we moved logs faster than ever before; and about the fifteenth of April we had finished that tremendous task and were ready to move out.
We began farming with the entire crew we had used in the woods, and it is a pleasure for one who loves action to see half a dozen teams plowing, and as many more doing other things about a farm in the early spring,-- seeding, rolling, fertilizing, drilling, etc., -- and with men enough to look after the smallest detail; such was the quick and active attention given the farm—all the while planning for the time soon to come when we must start the new lumbering operation.
A new camp had to be built at the mouth of Schoonover Hollow and two others farther up the valley, for the job was a big one and we had three years in which to accomplish the task. Some men were set about building the camps while others were cutting out bark roads.
About the 10th of May we started peeling bark. We had only worked two or three days at peeling when information came to us that smallpox had broken out in Galeton and that the men had just come from Dewey Brothers’ camp. The informers could not tell the man’s name and we could think of no one who had left the camp. So, in order to get the matter straight, I drove to Galeton and with Dr. James T. Hurd visited the sick man, who had been quarantined half a mile out of town. Sure enough, the man had left our camp about three days before. When he had quit, and while we were settling up, I chanced to ask him if he was not satisfied with his work. He replied that he was very much pleased with his work but that he had not felt well for a few days, and showed me that on his wrist he had a rash that he could not account for, and said that he wanted to have it attended to.
That one case of smallpox was the most disastrous single event, perhaps, that we ever encountered in all our experience of lumbering; for men looked upon our camp as a pest house and would steer around and away from us as though we had the plague. We could not get men enough to make a mark in the peeling that we wanted to get down. We advertised for men, we did everything possible to draw bark peelers to our camp, but to no avail; and the days dragged on.
About the middle of June, when some of the more fortunate lumbermen were about finishing their peeling, men began to come our way and soon we had the woods filled with peelers. Farmers would come from miles away to get a few days’ work, and before we had time to realize the great change, we were well on our way to the finish. And when we were compelled to quit on account of the bark “setting” on the trees, we had peeled as much as we were expected to peel for that year and we were entirely caught up with the work; but we had been compelled to pay an extra price for peeling, so that we had lost heavily on account of that smallpox experience.
During this season, in addition to the business of farming, lumbering, etc., there was an urge to reorganize the Elk Run Band, which had been dormant for a long time. I had kept in fairly good practice with the violin, but had greatly neglected the cornet. The urge became so great that we did finally organize a band. In this band were four Dewey brothers: Frank, William, Solon and myself; also Frank’s son Walter and my sons Guy and Harry, and about twenty others. I was elected leader. We met two evenings each week, and in about three months we were giving amateur concerts about the country.
This band was soon in great demand, for we were a happy bunch and were not stingy with our music—such as it was. We had engagements galore and for many miles around. This was in the old days of the Seven County Fireman’s Convention, and we always were called upon to lead some fire company in the parade. We had natty uniforms, and what we lacked in quality we made up in quantity and furnished with zeal.
The summer was delightful and the autumn was even more delightful. It seemed as though the poor start we got in the spring was more than made up after we did get started; for after we got the big crew together for the few finishing days of bark peeling, we kept a big crew for cutting, skidding and bark hauling.
The bark roads averaged one-half mile in length and there were two hundred of them, making a full hundred miles of road on that one bark job. We kept two log trains of twenty cars each and a bark train of eight cars going about every working day until we finished that year.
After we had finished with the hemlock bark and hemlock logs, we began cutting the hardwood and pine. The pine and hemlock predominated to such an extent that little hardwood could grow on most of this tract, but pine was the biggest and finest that ever grew in that part of the State. We built slides in every direction to run the big logs to the railroad, because they were too big to skid well with the horses.
We were able to find enough work to keep us busy the following winter without taking another job at Cross Fork, or anywhere else.
Next spring we were on the job early, for the camp had been open the entire year. We had a good crew right on the spot and we struck out early and worked hard and, strange to say, had no setback of any kind, so that we were ahead of schedule time from the start. We obtained permission from the company to peel as much bark as we could that season, without regard to what might be left for the fourth and last year of the contract. This gave us new impetus, for we were making money, after all, that was the most important matter for consideration.
We kept at it and the massive timber fell before those sturdy men as if they were cutting grass. Finally it appeared as though we might be able to finish the entire tract if we kept on. Again we were spurred to still greater action, and finally, when the season was ended, the last tree was peeled and we were one full year ahead of schedule time in peeling that four-years’ tract of timber.
One of the strangest incidents of my life was enacted on the day we finished that peeling job. We were all done except a few small trees standing on a steep bluff, and the entire crew was working in close formation—so that each man should have the distinction of being engaged in the closing scene. I was taking part in the activity and was peeling a small tree next to the last one, when the very last tree fell. It struck me a glancing blow on the head that nearly knocked me out and certainly came near killing me outright. My wound bled profusely and my associates thought I was severely hurt. Fortunately, the wound was not seep and I was not seriously injured. Strangely enough, although at the time I thought very little about the matter, it proved to be the very last hemlock I ever peeled. Our job, so far as bark peeling was concerned was finished, and while it took nearly two years more to finish cutting, skidding and trailing hemlock, pine and hardwood logs, the tree that came so near killing me was the last of the big job and proved to be the last one I was ever to peel.
This was now mid-summer of 1904, and probably in all the operations of lumbering in northern Pennsylvania there was never a smoother, finer or more successful operation conducted than the one in which we were engaged. Perfect harmony prevailed between the Railroad Company, the Emporium Lumber Company and the Dewey Brothers. We kept the same old stride as in former years, with eight cars of bark and forty cars of logs daily, until the bark was all delivered to the various tanneries about the country. Then, with all the men and teams directing their attention to logs alone, we were not only able to send out the forty cars of logs per day, but were able to pile tremendous skidways and landings of logs that would take months to railroad away.
We built slides for winter use in getting the farthest logs, and all went well until the middle of January when we had a “breakup,” which is understood in lumbering parlance that a warm rain had taken off the ice and snow, thus making it impossible to trail the logs until the weather should turn cold again.
While this warm spell was keeping us from performing our usual occupation, it proved to be a most successful time for a certain wood-cutting crew of foreign extraction, which was engaged in cutting pulp wood for the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company, of Austin. These men were expected to cut the broken pieces, the tops and such chunks and pieces of wood as could not be used for logs. They had found that sawlogs made about the finest pulp wood imaginable and proceeded to cut sawlogs and skids, which were used for piling logs into piles, and sometimes had become brazen enough to cut the slide into pulp wood, whenever it presented an obstruction to their operations in any way.
I had remonstrated with the boss, or chieftain, concerning the matter a few days before, and was naturally, on the lookout for a repetition of the offense. Accordingly, I strolled along the slide in the direction of the wood-cutters’ activities, and came upon them as they were in the act of cutting a fine, twenty-foot sawlog into pulp wood lengths. That was just a little more than my type of Christianity could well stand. That particular log was probably worth for lumber, at that time, a matter of thirty dollars; and for wood was worth as much as any other pile of like size. Besides, it became a total loss to me and the company for which I labored. I was thoroughly aroused. I was disturbed. I was mad.
I said to the chieftain certain things that would not look well in print. He argued, and I let loose of the balance of self control and at the same time let loose with my trusty right hand in the direction of said chieftain’s nose. The trusty hand found its mark and the chieftain rolled in the snow and did not further argue the case. But there were four others who took up the argument with axes and iron wedges, and one of them even threw a crosscut saw at me! And the weapons seemed to be continuous and everlasting. Occasionally I could get close enough to one of these wood-cutters so that I could use my trusty right, and whenever I did so there was always one less assailant. Finally there were four of these fellows lying on the snow and I looked around to see what had become of the fifth one. As I did so, I looked down the muzzle end of a double-barreled shotgun, in the hands of the craziest Sicilian I have ever seen, and he was giving me an able and free exhibition of the Sicilian Circle. The muzzle of that gun looked as large as two saucers—looking straight at me!
Well, I do not owe my life to his kindness, for I knew he intended to shoot me full of lead as soon as he could be certain that he would not shoot one of his companions. But I do owe my life to Will Larrison, at that time Woods Superintendent for the Emporium Lumber Company, who happened along just in time to seize the gun and take it from that fellow. Will held the gun and advised me to walk away before the wounded combatants should revive enough to renew the attack, and I took his advice.
I went to the camp and went home, getting all the time a little more angry—if such a thing could be, and took my little boy’s air rifle, without any kind of ammunition, mounted one of my biggest and strongest horses and started back to see if my logs were still being cut into pulp wood. On my way, I met the superintendent of the wood-cutting outfit, who had just heard of the trouble and who asked me where I was going. I told him I was on my way to stop his men from cutting my logs into pulpwood and that I would shoot the first man I saw cutting up my logs for that purpose. The gun I carried looked for all the world like a first-class Winchester rifle, and I am sure that I looked the part I was playing. He begged me not to molest his men, and he gave me his guarantee that no more logs would be cut. “Very well,” I said, “ I will give you thirty minutes to get those fellows out of the woods.” And I rode on to the camp. The superintendent made good use of the few minutes he had, for he evidently thought I meant business; and, true to my minutes of grace, I rode down along the slide and there was not a man around. They had left with all their tools and I never saw one of them in the woods again.
Al went well from that time on and without mishap of any kind, so far as trailing of logs was concerned. Something was happening, however, that was destined to change my entire life. On December 9, 1904, my good wife presented me with another son, and in respect as well as honor for two of our distinguished relatives and ancestors, he was called George Bradford Dewey.
We now had three sons and four daughters. They were growing and our family had now become a problem so far as school matters were concerned. Our little one-room school had been just the thing for Henry M. Foote, noted attorney for the past forty years in the Department of Justice at Washington, and member of the General Assembly; for Frank E. Watrous, for many years head of the law firm of Watrous, Marsh and Channel, at Wellsboro; for Howard F. Marsh, a member of the said firm and now President Judge of Tioga County; for Dr. James T. Hurd, President of the First National Bank of Galeton, and the leading physician of that town for more than forty years; for Colonel James A. Dewey, for many years teacher and director of education, and Lieutenant-Colonel of the Ninth Regiment of the National Guard at Wilkes- Barre; for William E. Champaign, twice representative in the General Assembly, and Sheriff of Tioga County; for DeWitt C. Smith, County Treasurer, and County Commissioner’s Clerk for many years; and many others who have found their place in life along with the topnotchers until they could go to college or some other higher institution. But the curriculum had been changed now, so that about the time a child is big enough to attend school with some pleasure for himself or teacher, he must be moved to some other place, no matter how inconvenient it may be for the parents or pupils.
My older children were now in the early ’teens and had reached the crossroad where there was one of three things to do: Send them away to some boarding school, take them out of school, or move with them to a school. There was no high school within twenty miles. We would not send them away; we would not take them out of school; so we had to move off the farm and to a school.
I could not think of retiring, for I was but thirty-seven years old and had just begun, although I had spent more than twenty years in the lumber woods. I had been urged by some of my friends to run for the office of County Commissioner, and had actually become a candidate during the winter of 1904-1905.
This was a bitter cold winter and I met up with new experiences. I had spent little time away from the woods and was thoroughly unaccustomed to electioneering. I always had owned good horses and at this time had a very fine pair of young horses that I used for a driving team. I had never owned a very fancy cutter, so I bought the first top cutter that was ever owned in that country. Two strings of sleigh bells with new harness made the equipment rather complete. I attended all the Ladies’ Aid meetings, although the ladies were not yet given the exercise of the ballot—but that made no difference to me. I soon learned to pat the baby on his little curls, and would make all my friends feel that I was interested in their business and welfare.
I was sailing along fairly well when some joy-killer chanced to ask if I had gotten permission from the leaders of the Republican Party to run for commissioner. This was the first intimation that I had ever entertained that a candidate was expected to seek such permission.
Of course, I soon learned that nearly all the regular politicians were not for me and that I had gone into the thing alone and single-handed and was being branded as an independent. Whether I had ever entertained any degree of independence or not, I certainly never had in connection with my candidacy for that office! It was pure ignorance of the political etiquette supposed to be in existence at that time. I wanted the office and the only reason why I ever thought of the undertaking was on account of my desire to educate my children, and this way of escape seemed the most likely of bringing results.
Some would ask me concerning the amount of millage I would expect to levy if I were elected. I hardly knew what this meant, and certainly did not know that my duties would in any way be mixed up anything like that. Others would sound me out concerning the amount of outside relief that a poor family would be expected to get. To all such questions I would answer in an evasive manner and try to look as serious about the matter as I possibly could.
One thing, at least, I knew I could do that would come within my jurisdiction, observation and duties, and that was the building of roads and bridges; for I had put in a lifetime at that kind of work. I also knew that I probably had as much experience in the control of water as any commissioner we had ever had, for I had built splash dams and used the waters to carry logs to their destination for two generations or decades, at least. I also further knew that in the matter of the duties of a poormaster, I knew from experience all about the general business and experience of a poor man’s life, for I was and had always been a poor man myself. So I reasoned out that I would get along somehow, in perhaps an average way, with whomsoever I might find as my colleagues.
The business of extracting from a prospective candidate about all the money his appearance would indicate he was toting about with him on his daily mission of collecting votes, was a favorite pastime with many a would-be adventurer in those days. This was before the so-called Corrupt Practices Act was in effect, and a candidate must be on his guard or he might run out of money before election day.
I paid little attention to the advisers that urged me to surrender to the leaders and wait a few years for my time to arrive, but kept straight on milking cows, sawing wood or engaging in whatever business the prospective voter might engage in while I begged for support at the primary.
On one of the coldest days of that winter I was riding over the hills in Jackson Township. The snow was drifted and the wind was blowing terrifically. I was cold and disgusted with trying to see people on such a day, and started to drive to Roseville for the night, thinking of course, that I could get around in a town better than in a farming country when it was so cold and blustery.
I arrived at the home of Damon Prutzman, a substantial farmer of Rutland Township, who had just returned from Elmira and was putting his team in the barn. I stopped and asked about the road from there to Roseville. He informed me that I could not reach town, for it was then dark and the road was badly drifted. He said I must stay with him for the night- and the bright lights of that farm home did look good to me at that time.
I consented to stay and put the horsed in the barn. Then Damon led me to the house—through the kitchen in genuine farm style—and as I passed through I spied a hot bowl of mush and a big pitcher of rich milk standing on the kitchen table, ready for the returned farmer. Now if there is anything in this world that I like better than hot mush and milk, it is more of it. I was just delighted with the prospect of being invited to that feast and I was ready for the feast right then.
I was first introduced to Mrs. Prutzman, then ushered into the parlor and given a big pan of red apples with which to amuse myself for the present. The surroundings were immaculate- but I kept wondering why I was not invited to the feast of mush and milk. The minutes went by, and more minutes, and I began to wonder what it was all about, for I had never known of these people before.
In about an hour after my arrival the good lady came to the door and invited me to the feast. When I reached the dining room—not the kitchen—I was confronted with a groaning table, consisting of roast meat, fried ham, boiled eggs, and fried eggs, bread, butter, cake, cookies and even pie. I was interrogated as to my choice of tea, coffee or milk, and was told that I could select any one or all of them. But not a glimmer of that big bowl of mush was to be seen anywhere!
That experience has been worth a lot to me in my career, for I have gone into many homes unannounced; and when I have, I have just made it clear to my hostess that I would not permit any such banquet to be spread before me when a few plain morsels would serve my needs and taste much more agreeably. I did not say anything to Mrs. Prutzman that evening, but several years after I told her how disappointed I was in not getting just the plain mush and milk rather than the feast she prepared for me.
The chance acquaintance with Damon Prutzman on that cold evening, was the beginning of a long friendship that ripened as the years went by, for he was the assessor of Rutland Township and I came in close contact with him for many years.
My sister Julia lived in Blossburg, having married J. Selden Merrill some years before, and I made my headquarters with them for two or three days while electioneering around the mining towns of Arnot, Fall Brook, Morris Run and Blossburg,
Merrill was what is termed a free thinker, and Robert G. Ingersoll was his guiding star. He was one of the finest men I have ever known. He was square in all his dealings and as honest as a man could be; but he had absolutely no use for matters of religion.
It was our habit to argue from the moment we came in sight until we separated. I was pro-Bible and he was con. We sat up all night and argued. Next day I was electioneered and came back in the evening. Again we argued all night, neither of us taking off our clothes for the second night in succession. In the morning, while he was doing some chores around the house and my sister was getting breakfast, I wrote the following lines, which, to my mind, even to this day, is about as good an answer as there is for those who will argue:
“Sleep, sleep, oh blessed sleep,
When darking shadows ‘round us creep!
It saves a man from awkward yawn
When he awakes at early dawn.
Should man forget that it was night
And in the brightness of is own light
Every nerve of his exert
His dearest friend try to convert,
What would be his state of bliss
After having accomplished all of this?
“Twould make him feel on the next day
As though his brains were made of hay,
As if his head was made of chalk
Because he’d sit up all night and talk.”
While I was engaged in electioneering around Blossburg at that time, I called upon David Estep, President of the United Mine Workers for the Fifteenth District, whose wife was a cousin of mine. Noticing one of the daughters lying on the couch, I asked if she were ill and her mother replied that she had not been feeling well for a few days. Presently she turned over, for her face had been turned away from me, and I discovered that she had broken out beautifully with smallpox. They had not dreamed of the nature of her ailment and had not consulted a physician. My recent experience with the man who came down with that dread disease in my lumber camp had given me knowledge of that affliction that I shall never forget. I told her mother that she must get a physician at once and that if I did not leave town at once I would be quarantined, and that would end my chance of becoming a county commissioner.
I drove to Wellsboro, the county seat, that afternoon. The sleighing was fine and my driving team was in prime condition. As I drove up0 Main Street that fine, cold April evening, I saw my principal rival for the office standing on the corner. We recognized each other and I saw him wheel about and enter the headquarters of the organization backing his candidacy.
This was Saturday evening and after supper I drove on home—about twenty-five
miles west. Sunday I rested; then Monday morning I started out to canvas
some of the lumber camps near Leetonia. About noon I arrived at Leetonia
and was told there that my opponent had pulled out of the race for commissioner.
Later I learned that it was 7:30 o’clock Saturday evening, that he made
up his mind to quit. It was exactly that time when I passed him on the
corner at Wellsboro that evening. I have always thought that it was that
fine driving team with those merry jingling bells that discouraged my opponent,
and that he went inside to the headquarters and surrendered at the moment
I passed by him. At any rate, the field was now clear and nothing more
to worry about.
The primary was held on the thirteenth of April and I was nominated with a most satisfactory complimentary vote. I received all but four Republican votes in the township where I lived, all but two in the township adjoining and every vote in Richmond Township where I was born. I was most happy and thankful for the fortune that seemed to smile down upon me at that time and could see nothing but happiness in store for the future.
How quickly gloom can take the place and hope give place to despair! For two days later, on the fifteenth of April, our dear little baby boy, whom we had named for Admiral Dewey and Governor Bradford, and in whom we were expecting great success, died and left our home as desolate as the grave. Our lives seemed empty and that happy, singing, musical family of cheerful souls seemed to wither and almost decay.
Somehow we were still engaged in the lumber business but the memory
of our going and coming is like a dream. The summer dragged on; the November
election was held and I was proclaimed elected to the office of county
commissioner. Yet the loss of that beautiful child that gave such promise
had taken the joy out of my life and nothing seemed like reality but more
like a mythical existence.