I was born near Ottawa, Illinois, January 6th, 1852, of Scotch-Irish descent. My great-great-grandfather Johnston was a Presbyterian clergyman, who graduated from the University of Edinburg, Scotland. My mother’s name was Finch. The family originally came from New England and were typical Yankees as far as I have been able to trace them. My father, whose full name I bear, died six months previous to my birth. When two years of age my mother was married to a Mr. Keefer, of Ohio, a miller[Pg 14] by trade and farmer by occupation. Had my own father lived he could not possibly have been more generous, affectionate, kind-hearted and indulgent than this step-father.
And until the day of his death, which occurred on the 10th of July, 1887, he was always the same. This tribute is due him from one who reveres his memory.
He had a family of children by his former wife, the youngest being a year or two older than myself. Two daughters were born of this marriage.
A mixed family like the Keefer household naturally occasioned more or less contention. More especially as the neighborhood contained those who took it upon themselves to regulate their neighbors’ domestic affairs in preference to their own.
Consequently, in a few years, Mr. Keefer was severely criticised for not compelling me to do more work on the farm, and for the interest he took in schooling me.
As for myself, had I been hanged or imprisoned as often as those neighbors prophesied I would be, I would have suffered death and loss of freedom many times.[Pg 15]
The farm life was distasteful to me from my earliest recollection. I cannot remember ever having done an hour’s work in this capacity except under protest.
From this fact I naturally gained the reputation for miles around, of being the laziest boy in the country, with no possible or probable prospect of ever amounting to anything.
But they failed to give me credit for the energy required to walk three miles night and morning to attend the village school, which afforded better advantages than the district school.
When but a small lad my step-father gave me a cosset lamb which I raised with a promise from him to give me half the wool and all of the increase.
This, in a few years, amounted to a flock of over one hundred sheep. The sale of my share of the wool, together with the yield from a potato patch, which was a yearly gift from Mr. Keefer, was almost sufficient to clothe me and pay my school expenses.
I should here add, that the potatoes above mentioned were the product of the old gentleman’s labor in plowing, planting, cultivating, digging and marketing.[Pg 16]
While I was expected to do this work, I was seldom on hand except on the day of planting to superintend the job and see that the potatoes were actually put into the ground, and again on market day to receive the proceeds. During all my life on the farm, one great source of annoyance and trouble to my step-father was my constant desire to have him purchase everything that was brought along for sale, and to sell everything from the farm that was salable.
In other words, I was always anxious to have him go into speculation. I could not be too eager for a horse trade or the purchase of any new invention or farm implement that had the appearance of being a labor-saving machine.
Even the advent of a lightning-rod or insurance man delighted me, for it broke the monotony and gave me some of the variety of life.
The rapid growth and development of my flock of sheep were partially due to my speculative desires. I was persistent in having them gratified, and succeeded, by being allowed the privilege of selling off the fat wethers whenever they became marketable, and replacing them with young ewes, which increased rapidly. These could be bought for much less than the wethers would sell for.[Pg 17]
My step-father was a man of more than ordinary common sense, and often suggested splendid ideas, but was altogether too cautious for his own good, and too slow to act in carrying them out.
While he and I got along harmoniously together, I am forced to admit that my mother and myself had frequent combats.
There, perhaps, was never a more affectionate, kind-hearted mother than she, and I dare say but few who ever possessed a higher-strung temper or a stronger belief in the “spare the rod and spoil the child” doctrine. At least, this was my candid, unprejudiced belief during those stormy days. Why, I had become so accustomed to receiving my daily chastisement, as to feel that the day had been broken, or something unusual had happened, should I by chance miss a day.
The principle difficulty was, that I had inherited a high-strung, passionate temper from my mother, and a strong self-will from my father, which made a combination hard to subdue. In my later days I have come to realize that I must have tantalized and pestered my mother beyond all reason, and too often, no doubt, at times when[Pg 18] her life was harassed, and her patience severely tried by the misconduct of one or more of her step-children, who, by the way, I never thought were blessed with the sweetest of all sweet tempers, themselves. At any rate, whenever I got on the war path, I seldom experienced any serious difficulty in finding some one of the family to accommodate me. Notwithstanding, I usually “trimmed” them, as I used to term it, to my entire satisfaction, and no matter whether they, or I were to blame, it was no trouble for them to satisfy my mother that I was the guilty one, despite my efforts to prove an “alibi.” For this I was sure to be punished, as I was also for every fight I got into with the neighbor boys, whose great stronghold was to twit me of being “lazy and red-headed.”
I was, however, successful at last in convincing my mother that those lads whom I was frequently fighting and quarreling with, were taking every advantage of her action in flogging me every time I had difficulty with them. They could readily see and understand that I was more afraid of the “home rule” than I was of them, and would lose no opportunity to say and do things to provoke me.
One day I came home from school at recess in the afternoon, all out of sorts, and greatly incensed at one of the boys who was two years older than myself, and who had been, as I thought, imposing upon me. I met Mr. Keefer at the barn, and declared right there and then that I would never attend school another day, unless I could receive my parents’ full and free consent to protect myself, and to go out and fight that fellow as he passed by from school that evening.
“Do you think you can get satisfaction?” he asked.
“I am sure I can,” I answered.
“Well, then,” he said, “I want you to go out and flog him good this evening, and I’ll go along and see that you have fair play.”
“All right, I’ll show you how I’ll fix him,” I answered.
About fifteen or twenty minutes later Henry and one of his chums came from school to our barn-yard well for a pail of water.
I came to the barn door just in time to see them coming through the gate. Mr. Keefer’s consent that I should “do him up” gave me courage[Pg 20] to begin at once. I went to the pump, and throwing my cap on the ground, said:
“See here, my father tells me to trim every mother’s son of you that twits me of being lazy and red-headed. Now, I’m going to finish you first.”
He was as much scared as he was surprised.
I buckled into him, and kick, bite, scratch, gouge, pull hair, twist noses, and strike from the shoulder were the order of the day. I felt all-confident and sailed in for all I was worth, and finished him in less than three minutes, to the evident satisfaction of Mr. Keefer, whom, when the fight was waxing hot, I espied standing on the dunghill with a broad smile taking in the combat. I had nearly stripped my opponent of his clothing, held a large wad of hair in each hand, his nose flattened all over his face, two teeth knocked down his throat, his shins skinned and bleeding, and both eyes closed. After getting himself together he started down our lane, appearing dazed and bewildered. I first thought he was going to a stone pile near by, but as he passed it I began to realize his real condition, when I hurried to his rescue and led him back[Pg 21] to the water trough, and there helped to soak him out and renovate him. After which his comrade returned to school alone with the water, and he proceeded homeward.
After that I had no serious trouble with those near my own age, as it was generally understood and considered that I had a license to fight and a disposition to do so when necessary to protect my own rights.
When my mother heard of this she said I was a regular “tough.”
Mr. Keefer said I could whip my weight in wild cats anyhow.
She said I deserved a good trouncing.
He said I deserved a medal and ought to have it.
My mother never seemed to understand me or my nature until the timely arrival of an agent selling patent hay-forks, who professed to have a knowledge of Phrenology, Physiognomy, and human nature in general. In course of a conversation relative to family affairs, my mother remarked that, with but one exception, she had no trouble in managing and controling her children. He turned suddenly to me and said, “I see, this is the one.”
At this he called me to him and began a delineation of my character. The very first thing he said was:
“You can put this boy on a lone island with nothing but a pocket knife, and he will manage to whittle himself away.”
From this, he went on to say many more good things for me than bad ones, which, of course, gratified me exceedingly.
But it was hot shot for others of the family who were present, and who had never lost an opportunity to remind me of my future destiny.
This gentleman said to my mother, that the principle trouble was her lack of knowledge of my disposition. That if she would shame me at times when I was unruly, and make requests instead of demands when she wanted favors from me, and above all, never to chastise me, she would see quite a change for the better.
He also ventured the remark that some day, under the present management, the boy would pack up his clothes, leave home, and never let his whereabouts be known.
This opened my mother’s eyes more than all else he had said, for I had often threatened to do this very thing. In fact I had once been thwarted[Pg 23] by her in an effort to make my escape, which would have been accomplished but for my anxiety to get possession of “the old shot gun,” which I felt I would need in my encounter with Indians, and killing bear and wild game. I might add that one of our neighbor boys was to decamp with me, and the dime novel had been our guide.
From this time on there was a general reformation and reconciliation, and my only regrets were that “hay forks” hadn’t been invented several years before, or at least, that this glorious good man with his stock of information hadn’t made his appearance earlier.
The greatest pleasure of my farm life and boyhood days was in squirrel hunting and breaking colts and young steers.
My step-father always said he hardly knew what it was to break a colt, as I always had them under good control and first-class training by the time they were old enough to begin work.
Whenever I was able to match up a pair of steer calves, I would begin yoking them together before they were weaned. I broke and raised one pair until they were four years old, when Mr. Keefer sold them for a good round sum. I shall never forget an incident that occurred, about the[Pg 24] time this yoke of steers were three years old, and when I was about twelve years of age.
One of my school mates and I had played truant one afternoon, and concluded to have a little fun with the steers, as my parents were away from home that day. We yoked them together, and I thought it a clever idea to hitch them to a large gate post which divided the lane and barn-yard, and see them pull. From this post Mr. Keefer had just completed the building of a fence, running to the barn, and had nailed the rails at one end, to this large post and had likewise fastened the ends of all the rails together, by standing small posts up where the ends met, and nailing them together, which made a straight fence of about four or five rods, all quite securely fastened together.
I hitched the steers to it, stepped back, swung my whip, and yelled, “Gee there,” and they did “gee.” Away they went, gate post and fence following after. I ran after them, yelling “whoa,” at the top of my voice, but they didn’t “whoa,” and seemed bent on scattering fence-rails over the whole farm. One after another dropped off as they ran several rods down the lane, before I was able to overtake and stop them. Realizing that[Pg 27] we were liable to be caught in the act, we unhitched them on the spot, and after carrying the yoke back to the barn, went immediately to school so as to be able to divert suspicion from ourselves.
On the arrival home of my folks, which occurred just as school was out, Mr. Keefer drove to the barn, and at once discovered that his new fence had been moved and scattered down the lane—which was the most mysterious of anything that had ever occurred in our family. He looked the ground all over, but as we had left no clue he failed to suspect me.
The case was argued by all members of the family and many theories advanced, and even some of the neighbors showed their usual interest in trying to solve the mystery.
Of course it was the generally accepted belief that it was the spite-work of some one, but who could it be, and how on earth could anyone have done such a dare-devil thing in broad day light, when from every appearance it was no small task to perform, was the wonder of all. The more curious they became the more fear I had of exposure.
A few days later while Mr. Keefer and I were[Pg 28] in the barn, he remarked, that he would like to know who tore that fence down.
I then acknowledged to him that I knew who did it, and if he would agree to buy me a “fiddle,” I would tell him all about it. He had for years refused to allow the “noisy thing in the house,” as he expressed it, but thinking to clear up the mystery, he agreed, and I made a frank confession.
After this, he said he would buy me the fiddle when I became of age, and as I had failed to make any specifications in my compromise with him, he of course had the best of me.
I was not long, however, in getting even with him. I had a well-to-do uncle (my own father’s brother) J. H. Johnston, in the retail jewelry business, at 150 Bowery, N. Y., (at which place he is still located). I wrote him a letter explaining my great ambition to become a fiddler, and how my folks wouldn’t be bothered with the noise. I very shortly received an answer saying, “Come to New York at once at my expense; have bought you a violin, and want you to live with me until you are of age. You can attend school, and fiddle to your heart’s content.”
He also said, that after I had attended school eight years there, he would give me my choice of three things; to graduate at West Point, learn the jewelry business, or be a preacher.
When this letter was read aloud by my mother, in the presence of the family and a couple of neighbor boys, who had called that evening, it created a great deal of laughter.
One of the boys asked if my uncle was much acquainted with me, and when informed he had not seen me since I was two years old, he said that was what he thought.
OFF FOR NEW YORK.—PAGE 31.
My mother fixed me up in the finest array possible, and with a large carpet bag full of clothes, boots, shoes, hats, caps and every thing suitable, as she supposed, for almost every occasion imaginable. After bidding adieu forever to every one for miles around, I started for my new home.
ARRIVING AT NEW YORK.—PAGE 31.
On arriving at my uncle’s store, he greeted me kindly, and immediately hustled me off to a clothing establishment, where a grand lightning change and transformation scene took place. I was then run into a barber shop for the first time in my life, and there relieved of a major portion of my crop of hair.
When we reached his residence I was presented to the family, and then with the fiddle, a box of shoe blacking and brush, a tooth brush, clothes brush, hair brush and comb, the New Testament and a book of etiquette.
I was homesick in less than twenty-four hours.
I would have given ten years of my life, could I have taken just one look at my yoke of steers, or visited my old quail trap, down in the woods, which I had not failed to keep baited for several winters in succession and had never yet caught a quail.
Whenever I stood before the looking glass, the very sight of myself, with the wonderful change in appearance, made me feel that I was in a far-off land among a strange class of people.
Then I would think of how I must blacken my shoes, brush my clothes, comb my hair, live up to the rules of etiquette and possibly turn out to be a preacher.
I kept my trouble to myself as much as possible, but life was a great burden to me.
My uncle was as kind to me as an own father, and gave me to understand, that whenever I needed money I had only to ask for it. This was a new phase of life, and it was hard for me[Pg 33] to understand how he could afford to allow me to spend money so freely. But when he actually reprimanded me one day for being stingy, and said I ought to be ashamed to stand around on the outside of a circus tent and stare at the advertising bills when I had plenty of money in my pocket, I thought then he must be “a little off in his upper story.” Of course I didn’t tell him so, but I really think for the time being he lowered himself considerably in my estimation, by trying to make a spendthrift of me. I had been taught that economy was wealth, and the only road to success. I thought how easily I could have filled my iron bank at home, in which I had for years been saving my pennies, had my folks been like my uncle.
Altogether it was a question hard to solve, whether I should remain there and take my chances of being a preacher and possibly die of home-sickness, with plenty of money in my pockets, or return to Ohio, where I had but a few days before bidden farewell forever to the whole country, and where I knew hard work on the farm awaited me, and economy stared me in the face, without a dollar in my pocket.
Of the two I chose the latter and returned home in less than three weeks a full fledged New Yorker. I brought my fiddle along and succeeded in making life a burden to Mr. Keefer, who “never was fond of music, anyhow,” and who never failed to show a look of disgust whenever I struck up my tune.
Before I left New York, my uncle very kindly told me that if I would attend school regularly after getting home, he would assist me financially.
He kept his promise, and for that I now hold him in grateful remembrance.
RETURNING HOME FROM NEW YORK.—PAGE 34.
I made rather an uneventful trip homeward, beguiling the time by playing my only tune which I had learned while in New York—”The girl I left behind me.” It proved to be a very appropriate piece, especially after I explained what tune it was, as there were some soldiers on board the cars who were returning home from the war. They were profuse in their compliments, and said I was a devilish good fiddler, and would probably some day make my mark at it.
I felt that I had been away from home for ages, and wondered if my folks looked natural, if they would know me at first sight, and if the town had changed much during my absence.
When I alighted from the train at Clyde, I met several acquaintances who simply said, “How are you Perry? How are the folks?”
Finally I met one man who said, “How did it happen you didn’t go to New York?”
Another one said:
“When you going to start on your trip, Perry? Where’d you get your fiddle?”
I then started for the farm, and on my arrival found no change in the appearance of any of the family.
My mother said I looked like a corpse.
Mr. Keefer said he was glad to see me, but sorry about that cussed old fiddle.
MY MOTHER WISHES ME TO LEARN A TRADE—MY BURNING DESIRE TO BE A LIVE-STOCK DEALER—EMPLOYED BY A DEAF DROVER TO DO HIS HEARING—HOW I AMUSED MYSELF AT HIS EXPENSE AND MISFORTUNE.
I then began attending school at Clyde, Ohio, boarding at home and walking the distance—three miles—during the early fall and late spring, and boarding in town at my uncle’s expense during the cold weather.
At the age of sixteen I felt that my school education was sufficient to carry me through life and my thoughts were at once turned to business.
My mother frequently counseled with me and suggested the learning of a trade, or book-keeping, or that I take a position as clerk in some mercantile establishment, all of which I stubbornly rebelled against.
She then insisted that I should settle my mind on some one thing, which I was unable to do.
My greatest desire was to become a dealer in[Pg 39] live stock, which necessitated large capital and years of practical experience for assured success.
This desire no doubt had grown upon me through having been frequently employed by an old friend of the family, Lucius Smith, who was in that business.
He was one of the most profane men in the country, as well as one of the most honorable, and so very deaf as to be obliged to have some one constantly with him to do the hearing for him.
He became so accustomed to conversing with me as to enable him to understand almost every thing I said by the motion of my lips. For these services he paid me one dollar per day and expenses. I used to amuse myself a great deal at his expense and misfortune. He owned and drove an old black mare with the “string-halt” and so high-spirited that the least urging would set her going like a whirlwind.
Whenever we came to a rough piece of road I would sit back in my seat and cluck and urge her on in an undertone, when she would lay her ears back and dash ahead at lightning speed.
SEE ‘ER GO! SEE ‘ER GO! THE CRAZY OLD FOOL, SEE ‘ER GO.—PAGE 39.
Mr. Smith unable to hear me or to understand the reason for this, would hang on to the reins[Pg 40] as she dashed ahead, and say: “See ‘er go! See ‘er go! The —— old fool, see ‘er go! Did you ever see such a crazy —— old fool as she is? See ‘er go! See ‘er go! Every time she comes to a rough piece of road she lights out as if the d——l was after her. See ‘er go! The crazy old fool. See ‘er go!”
It was alone laughable to see the old mare travel at a high rate of speed on account of lifting her hind feet so very high in consequence of her “string-halt” affliction.
As soon as the rough road was passed over I would quit urging her, and she would quiet down to her usual gait.
Then Lute, with a look of disgust, would declare that he would trade the —— crazy old fool off the very first chance he had “if he had to take a goat even up for her.”
One day we drove up to a farmer who was working in the garden, and Lute inquired at the top of his voice if he had any sheep to sell.
The man said he did not, and never had owned a sheep in his life. I waited until Mr. Smith looked at me for the man’s answer when I said:
“Yes, he has some for sale.”
Then a conversation about as follows ensued:
Smith—”Are they wethers or ewes?”
Farmer—”I told you I had none for sale.”
Interpreter—In undertone, “Wethers.”
Smith—”Are they fat?”
Farmer—”Fat nothing. I tell you I have no sheep.”
Smith—”About how much will they weigh?”
Farmer—”Oh, go on about your business.”
Interpreter—”Six hundred pounds each.”
Smith—”Great Heavens! Do you claim to own a flock of sheep that average that weight?”
Interpreter—”He says that’s what he claims.”
Smith—”Where are they? I would like to see just one sheep of that weight.”
Farmer—Disgusted and fighting mad—”O, you are too gosh darn smart for this country.”
Interpreter—”He says you had better not call him a liar.”
Smith—”Who in thunder called you a liar?”
Farmer—”Well, you had better not call me a liar, either.”
Interpreter—”He says you can’t beat him out of any sheep.”
Smith—”Who wants to beat you out of your sheep, you chump? I can pay for all I buy.”
Farmer—looking silly—”Well that’s all right. When did you get out of the asylum?”
Interpreter—”He says he wouldn’t think so judging from your horse and buggy.”
Smith—”Well, I’ll bet five hundred dollars you haven’t a horse on your cussed old farm that can trot with her.”
Farmer—”Who said anything about a horse, you lunatic?”
Interpreter—”He says if you have so much money you’d better pay your debts.”
Smith—”You uncultivated denizen of this God-forsaken country, I want you to distinctly understand I do pay my debts and I dare say that is more than you do.”
Farmer—”Well, you are absolutely the crankiest old fool I ever saw.”
Interpreter—”He says you don’t bear that reputation.”
Smith—”The dickens I don’t. I don’t owe you nor any other man a cent that I can’t pay in five seconds.”
Farmer—to his wife—”Great Heavens! What do you suppose ails that ‘ere man?”
Interpreter—”He says he knows you, and you can’t swindle him.”
Smith (driving off)—”I think you are a crazy old liar anyhow, and I’ll bet you never owned a sheep in your life.”
The reader will be able to form a better idea of the ridiculousness of this controversy as it sounded to me, by simply reading the conversation between Smith and the farmer, omitting what I had to say.
The need of capital would of course have prevented me from going into the live stock business, and the very thought of my being compelled to work for and under some one else in learning a trade or business, was enough to destroy all pleasure or satisfaction in doing business. This caused my mother much anxiety, as it was a question what course I would pursue.
SELLING AND TRADING OFF MY FLOCK OF SHEEP—CO-PARTNERSHIP FORMED WITH A NEIGHBOR BOY—OUR DISSOLUTION—MY CONTINUANCE IN BUSINESS—COLLAPSE OF A CHICKEN DEAL—DESTRUCTION OF A WAGON LOAD OF EGGS—ARRESTED AND FINED MY LAST DOLLAR—ARRIVED HOME “BROKE.”
I became very anxious to sell my sheep in order to invest the money in business of some kind, but could not find a buyer for more than twenty-five head. This sale brought me seventy-five dollars in cash, and I traded thirty-five head for a horse and wagon.
Thus equipped, I concluded to engage in buying and selling butter, eggs, chickens and sheep pelts. Not quite satisfied that I would succeed alone, I decided to take in one of our neighbor boys as a partner.
He furnished a horse to drive with mine, and we started out, each having the utmost confidence in the other’s ability, but very little confidence in himself.
We made a two weeks’ trip, and after selling out entirely and counting our cash, found we had eighteen cents more than when we started. We had each succeeded in ruining our only respectable suit of clothes, and our team looked as if it had been through a six months’ war campaign.
My partner said he didn’t think there was any money in the business, so we dissolved partnership.
I then decided to make the chicken business a specialty, believing that the profits were large enough to pay well. Mr. Keefer loaned me a horse, and after building a chicken-rack on my wagon, I started out on my new mission.
There was no trouble in buying what I considered a sufficient number to give it a fair trial, which netted me a total cost of thirty-five dollars.
Sandusky City, twenty miles from home, was the point designed for marketing them.
I made calculations on leaving home at one o’clock on the coming Wednesday morning, in order to arrive there early on regular market day.
The night before I was to start, a young acquaintance and distant relative came to visit me. He was delighted with the idea of accompanying me to the city when I invited him to do so.
During the fore part of the night a very severe rain storm visited us. I had left the loaded wagon standing in the yard.
Little suspecting the damage the storm had done me, we drove off in high spirits, entering the suburbs of the city at day-break.
Then Rollin happened to raise the lid on top of the rack, and discovered very little signs of life.
We made an immediate investigation and found we were hauling dead chickens to market, there being but ten live ones among the lot, and they were in a frightful condition. Their feathers were turned in all directions, and their eyes rolling backwards as if in the agonies of death. This trouble had been caused by the deluge of water from the rain of the night before, as I had neglected to provide a way for the water to pass through the box. The chickens that escaped drowning had been suffocated. We threw the dead ones into a side ditch, and hastened to the city. No time was lost in disposing of the ten dying fowls at about half their original cost.
We held a consultation and agreed that the chicken business was disagreeable and unpleasant anyhow. Then and there we decided to [Pg 49]withdraw from it in favor of almost any other scheme either might suggest. While speculating on what to try next, the grocer to whom we had sold the chickens remarked that he would give eighteen cents per dozen for eggs delivered in quantities of not less than one hundred dozen. I felt certain I could buy them in the country so as to realize a fair profit. After demolishing the chicken rack and loading our wagon with a lot of boxes and barrels, we started on our hunt for eggs. We soon learned that by driving several miles away to small villages, we could buy them from country merchants for twelve cents per dozen.
We bought over three hundred dozen and started back with only one dollar in cash left to defray expenses.
On the way our team became frightened at a steam engine and ran fully two miles at the top of their speed over a stone pike road. We were unable to manage them, but at last succeeded in reining them into a fence corner, where we landed with a crash, knocking down about three rods of fence, and coming to a sudden halt with one horse and half of the wagon on the opposite side, and the eggs flying about, scattered in all directions.
I landed on my head in a ditch, while the wagon-seat landed “right side up with care” on the road side, with Rollin sitting squarely in it as if unmolested. The mishap caused no more damage to horses and wagon than a slight break of the wagon pole and a bad scare for the horses.
But it was a sight to behold! The yelks streaming down through the cracks of the wagon box.
I felt that my last and only hopes were blasted as I gazed on that mixture of bran and eggs.
We were but a short distance from the city, whither we hastened and drove immediately to the bay shore.
THE EGG DISASTER.—PAGE 50.
There we unloaded the boxes and barrels and began sorting out the whole eggs and cracked ones. After washing them we invoiced about twenty-six dozen whole, and four dozen cracked. The latter we sold to a boarding house near by, and the former we peddled out from house to house. We counted our money, which amounted to five dollars and seventy-two cents. We then held another consultation, and decided that “luck had been against us.” We also decided that we had better start at once for home, if we expected to reach there before our last dollar was lost. In [Pg 53]our confusion and excitement we prepared to do so, but happened to think we ought to feed our team before making so long a journey.
We returned to a grocery store, and after buying fifteen cents’ worth of oats, drove to a side street, unhitched our horses, and turned their heads to the wagon to feed, after which we went to a bakery and ate bologna sausage and crackers for dinner.
On returning to the wagon we found a large fleshy gentleman awaiting us. He wore a long ulster coat and a broad-brimmed hat, and carried a large cane. After making several inquiries as to the ownership of the team, where we hailed from, and what our business was, he politely informed us that he was an officer of the law, and would be obliged to take us before the Mayor of the city. We asked what we had done that we should be arrested.
He simply informed us that we would find out when we got there.
We protested against any such proceedings, when he threw back his coat-collar, exposing his “star” to full view, and sternly commanded us to follow him. On our way to the Mayor’s office I urged him to tell us the trouble, but in vain. I thought of every thing I had ever done, and [Pg 54]wondered if there were any law against accidentally breaking eggs or having chickens die on our hands. We arrived there only to find that the Mayor was at dinner.
The suspense was terrible!
The more I thought about it, the more guilty I thought I was.
In a few moments he returned, and I am certain I looked and acted as though I had been carrying off a bank.
When his Majesty took his seat, the officer informed him that we had been violating the city ordinance by feeding our horses on the streets. The Executive asked what we had to say for ourselves.
We acknowledged the truth of the statement, but undertook to explain our ignorance of the law.
He reminded us that ignorance of law excused no one, and our fine would be five dollars and costs, the whole amount of which would be seven dollars and fifty cents.
At this juncture we saw the necessity for immediate action towards our defense, as the jail was staring us in the face.
Rollin, who was older and more experienced[Pg 55] than myself, and withal a brilliant sort of lad, took our case in hand and made a plea that would have done credit to a country lawyer.
It resulted in a partial verdict in our favor, for after explaining our misfortunes and that all the money we had left was five dollars and thirty-seven cents, and as proof of our statement counted it out on his desk, he remitted what we lacked, but said as he raked in the pile, “Well, boys, I am very sorry for your misfortunes and will let you down easy this time, but you must be more careful hereafter.”
I replied that he needn’t have any fears of our ever violating their city ordinance again, as it was my impression that would be our last visit there.
We left for home without any further ceremony, neither seeming to have anything particular to say. I don’t believe half a dozen words passed between us during the whole twenty miles ride.
On arriving home my mother anxiously inquired how I came out with my chicken deal.
“Well, I came out alive,” I replied.
“How much money did you make?” she asked.
“How much money did I make? Well, when I got to Sandusky I discovered all my chickens were dead but ten,” and explained the cause.
“Where have you been that you did not return home sooner?” she asked next.
I explained my egg contract and my trip in the country to procure them.
“Well, how was that speculation?” she asked.
“About the same as with the chickens,” was my answer. When I entered into particulars concerning the wreck she became greatly disgusted, and sarcastically remarked:
“I am really surprised that you had sense enough to come home before losing your last dollar.”
“Well,” I replied, “I am gratified to know that such a condition of affairs would be no surprise to you, as it is an absolute fact that I have been cleaned out of not only my last dollar but my last penny.”
I then rehearsed the visit to the Mayor and its results.
She gave me an informal notice that my services were required in the potato patch, and to fill the position creditably I should rise at five o’clock on the following morning.
BORROWING MONEY FROM MR. KEEFER—BUYING AND SELLING SHEEP PELTS—HOW I SUCCEEDED—A CO-PARTNERSHIP IN THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS—BUYING OUT MY PARTNER—COLLAPSED—MORE HELP FROM MR. KEEFER—HORSES AND PATENT RIGHTS.
I hardly complied with my mother’s five o’clock order. When I did arise I sought Mr. Keefer, to whom I told the story of my misfortunes. He listened attentively and said he could easily see that it was bad luck, and he believed I would yet be successful. I explained to him that if he would lend me fifteen dollars, I could engage in buying sheep pelts, which could neither drown, suffocate nor break.
He complied with my request, and I started out that morning with only my own horse hitched to a light wagon.
Rollin, having finished his visit, left for home the same day.
I bought several pelts during the day, and sold[Pg 58] them to a dealer before returning home, making a profit of three dollars.
This was the first success I had met with during my three weeks’ experience, and was certainly very encouraging. I continued in the business until cold weather, when I had cleared one hundred dollars.
I then began looking about for a chance to invest what I had made, as the weather was too cold to continue traveling in the country.