Part 2 out of 7
seemed that he had been hiding in Milwaukee, or had slipped through so
quickly as not to have made himself remembered--which was rather odd,
for there was something about his tall stooped figure, his sandy beard,
his rather whining and fluent talk, and his effort everywhere to get
himself into the good graces of every one he met that made it easy to
identify him. His name, too, was one that seemed to stick in
At last I found a man who freighted and drove stage between Milwaukee
and Madison, who remembered Rucker; and had given him passage to Madison
sometime, as he remembered it, in May or June--or it might have been
July, but it was certainly before the Fourth oL July.
"You hauled him--and his wife?" I asked.
"Him and his wife," said the man, "and a daughter."
"A daughter!" I said in astonishment. "They have no daughter."
"Might have been his daughter, and not her'n," said the stage-driver.
"Wife was a good deal younger than him, an' the girl was pretty old to
be her'n. Prob'ly his. Anyhow, he said she was his daughter."
"It wasn't his daughter," I cried.
"Well, you needn't get het up about it," said he; "I hain't to blame no
matter whose daughter she wasn't. She can travel with me any time she
wants to. Kind of a toppy, fast-goin', tricky little rip, with a
"I don't understand it," said I. "Did you notice his wife--whether she
seemed to be feeling well?"
"Looked bad," said he. "Never said nothing to nobody, and especially not
to the daughter. Used to go off to bed while the old man and the girl
held spiritualist doin's wherever we laid over. Went into trances, the
girl did, and the old man give lectures about the car of progress that
always rolls on and on and on, pervided you consult the spirits. Picked
up quite a little money 's we went along, too."
I sat in the barroom and thought about this for a long time. There was
something wrong about it. My mother's health was failing, that was plain
from what I had heard in Southport; but it did not seem to me, no matter
how weak and broken she might be, that she would have allowed Rucker to
pass off any stray trollop like the one described by the stage-driver as
his daughter, or would have traveled with them for a minute. But, I
thought, what could she do? And maybe she was trying to keep the affair
within bounds as far as possible. A good woman is easily deceived, too.
Perhaps she knew best, after all; and maybe she was going on and on with
Rucker from one misery to another in the hope that I, her only son, and
the only relative she had on earth, might follow and overtake her, and
help her out of the terrible situation in which, even I, as young and
immature as I was, could see that she must find herself. I had seen too
much of the under side of life not to understand the probable meaning of
this new and horrible thing. I remembered how insulted my mother was
that time so long ago when Rucker proposed that they join the
Free-Lovers at Oneida; and how she had refused to ride home with him, at
first, and had walked back on that trail through the woods, leading me
by the hand, until she was exhausted, and how Rucker had tantalized her
by driving by us, and sneering at us when mother and I finally climbed
into the democrat wagon, and rode on with him toward Tempe. I could
partly see, after I had thought over it for a day or so, just what this
new torture might mean to her.
I was about to start on foot for Madison, and looked up my stage-driver
acquaintance to ask him about the road.
"Why don't you go on the railroad?" he asked. "The damned thing has put
me out of business, and I'm no friend of it; but if you're in a hurry
it's quicker'n walkin'."
I had seen the railway station in Milwaukee, and looked at the train;
but it had never occurred to me that I might ride on it to Madison. Now
we always expect a railway to run wherever we want to go; but then it
was the exception--and the only railroad running out of Milwaukee was
from there to Madison. On this I took that day my first ride in a
railway car, reaching Madison some time after three. This seemed like
flying to me. I had seen plenty of railway tracks and trains in New
York; but I had to come to Wisconsin to patronize one.
I rode on, thinking little of this new experience, as I remember, so
filled was I with the hate of John Rucker which almost made me forget my
love for my mother. Perhaps the one was only the reverse side of the
other. I had made up my mind what to do. I would try hard not to kill
Rucker, though I tried him and condemned him to death in my own mind
several times for every one of the eighty miles I rode; but I knew that
this vengeance was not for me.
I would take my mother away from him, though, in spite of everything;
and she and I would move on to a new home, somewhere, living happily
together for the rest of our lives.
I was happy when I thought of this home, in which, with my new-found,
fresh strength, my confidence in myself, my knack of turning my hand to
any sort of common work, my ability to defend her against everything and
everybody--against all the Ruckers in the world--my skill in so many
things that would make her old age easy and happy, I would repay her for
all this long miserable time,--the cruelty of Rucker when she took me
out of the factory while he was absent, the whippings she had seen him
give me, the sacrifices she had made to give me the little schooling I
had had, the nights she had sewed to make my life a little easier, the
tears she dropped on my bed when she came and tucked me in when I was
asleep, the pangs of motherhood, and the pains worse than those of
motherhood which she had endured because she was poor, and married to
I would make all this up to her if I could. I went into Madison, much as
a man goes to his wedding; only the woman of my dreams was my mother.
But I felt as I did that night when I returned to Tempe after my first
summer on the canal--full of hope and anticipation, and yet with a
feeling in my heart that again something would stand in my way.
THE END OF A LONG QUEST
I went to seek my mother in my best clothes. I had bought some new
things in Milwaukee, and was sure that my appearance would comfort her
greatly. Instead of being ragged, poverty-stricken, and
neglected-looking, I was a picture of a clean, well-clothed working boy.
I had on a good corduroy suit, and because the weather was cold, I wore
a new Cardigan jacket. My shirt was of red flannel, very warm and thick;
and about my neck I tied a flowered silk handkerchief which had been
given me by a lady who was very kind to me once during a voyage by
canal, and was called "my girl" by the men on the boat. I wore good kip
boots with high tops, with shields of red leather at the knees, each
ornamented with a gilt moon and star--the nicest boots I ever had; and I
wore my pants tucked into my boot-tops so as to keep them out of the
snow and also to show these glories in leather. With clouded woolen
mittens on my hands, given me as a Christmas present by Mrs. Fogg,
Captain Sproule's sister, that winter I worked for her near Herkimer,
and a wool cap, trimmed about with a broad band of mink fur, and a long
crocheted woolen comforter about my neck, I was as well-dressed a boy
for a winter's day as a body need look for. I took a look at myself in
the glass, and felt that even at the first glance, my mother would feel
that in casting her lot with me she would be choosing not only the
comfort of living with her only son but the protection of one who had
proved himself a man.
I glowed with pride as I thought of our future together, and of all I
would do to make her life happy and easy. I never was a better boy in my
life than on that winter evening when I went up the hilly street from
the tavern in Madison to the place on a high bluff overlooking a sheet
of ice, stretching away almost as far as I could see, which they told me
was Fourth Lake, to the house in which I was informed Doctor Rucker
lived--a small frame house among stocky, low burr oak trees, on which
the dead leaves still hung, giving forth a dreary hiss as the bitter
north wind blew through them.
I knocked at the door, and was answered by a red-haired young woman,
with a silly grin on her face, the smirk flanked on each side with
cork-screw curls which hung down over her bright blue dress; which, as I
could see, was pulled out at the seams under her round and shapely arms.
She put out a soft and plump hand to me, but I did not take it. She
looked in my face, and shrank back as if frightened.
"Where's Rucker?" I asked; but before I had finished the question he
came forward from the other room, clothed in dirty black broadcloth, his
patent-medicine-pedler's smile all over his face, with a soiled frilled
shirt showing back of his flowered vest, which was unbuttoned except at
the bottom, to show the nasty finery beneath. He had on a broad black
scarf filling the space between the points of his wide-open standing
collar, and sticking out on each side. I afterward recalled the
impression of a gold watch-chain, and a broad ring on his finger. He
was quite changed in outward appearance from the poverty-stricken skunk
I had once known; but was if anything more skunk-like than ever: yet I
had to look twice to be sure of him.
"I am exceedingly glad to see you in the flesh," said he, coming forward
with his hand stuck out--a hand which I stared at but never
touched--"exceedingly glad to see you, my young brother. I have had a
spiritual vision of you. Honor us by coming in by the fire!"
"Where's my mother?" I asked, still standing in the open door.
Rucker started at the sound of my voice, which had changed from the
boy's soprano into a deep bass--much deeper than it is now. It was the
hoarse croak of the hobbledehoy.
The young woman had shrunk back behind him now.
"Your mother?" said he, in a sort of panther-like purr. "A spirit has
been for three days seeking to speak to a lost child through my
daughter. Come in, and let us see. Let us see if my daughter can not
pierce the mysteries of the unseen in your case. Come in!"
The cold was blowing in at the open door, and his tone was a little like
that of a man who wants to say, but does not feel it wise to do so,
"Come in and shut the door after you!"
"Your daughter!" I said, trying to think of something to say that would
show what I thought of him, her, and their dirty pretense; "your
"Young man," said he, drawing himself up stiffly, "what do you mean--?"
"I mean to find my mother!" I cried. "Where is she?"
Suddenly the thought of being halted thus longer, and the fear that my
mother was not there, drove me crazy. I lunged at Rucker, and with a
sweep of my arms, threw him staggering across the room. The girl
screamed, and ran to, and behind him. I stormed through to the kitchen,
expecting to find my mother back there, working for this smooth, sly,
scroundrelly pair; but the place was deserted. There were dirty pots and
pans about; and a pile of unwashed dishes stacked high in the sink--and
this struck me with despair. If my mother had been about, and able to
work, such a thing would have been impossible. So she either was not
there or was not able to work--my instinct told me that; and I ran to
the foot of the stairs, and calling as I had so often done when a child,
"Ma, Ma! Where are you, ma!" I waited to hear her answer.
Rucker, pale as a sheet, came up to me, his quivering mouth trying to
work itself into a sneaking sort of smile.
"Why, Jacob, Jakey," he drooled, "is this you? I didn't know you. Sit
down, my son, and I'll tell you the sad, sad news!"
I heard him, but I did not trust nor understand him, and I went through
that house from cellar to garret, looking for her; my heart freezing
within me as I saw how impossible it would be for her to live so. There
were two bedrooms, both beds lying just as they had been left in the
morning--and my mother always opened her beds up for an airing when she
rose, and made them up right after breakfast.
The room occupied by the young woman was the room of a slut; the
clothes she had taken off the night before, or even before that, lay in
a ring about the place where her feet had been when she dropped them in
the dust and lint which rolled about in the corners like feathers. Her
corset was thrown down in a corner; shoes and stockings littered the
floor; her comb was clogged with red hair like a wire fence with dead
grass after a freshet; dingy, grimy underclothing lay about. I peered
into a closet, in which there were more garments on the floor than on
the nails. The other bedroom was quite as unkempt; looking as if the
occupant must always do his chamber work at the last moment before going
to bed. They were as unclean outwardly as inwardly.
After ransacking the house up-chamber, I ran down-stairs and went into
the room from which Rucker had come, where I found the girl hiding
behind a sofa, peeking over the back of it at me, and screaming "Go
away!" All the walls in this room were hung with some thin black cloth,
and it looked like the inside of a hearse. There was a stand in one
corner, and a large extension table in the middle of the room, with
chairs placed about it. In the corner across from the stand was a
spiritualist medium's cabinet; and hanging on the walls were a guitar, a
banjo and a fiddle. A bell stood in the middle of the table, and there
were writing materials, slates, and other things scattered about, which
theatrical people call "properties," I am told. I tore the black
draperies down, and searched for a place where my mother might be--in
bed I expected to find her, if at all; but she was not there. I tried
the cellar, but it was nothing but a vegetable cave, dug in the earth,
with no walls, and dark as a dungeon when the girl shut down the
trap-door and stood on it: from which I threw her by putting my back
under it and giving a surge. When I came up she was staggering to her
feet, and groaning as she felt of her head for the results of some
suspected cut or bump from her fall. Rucker was following me about
calling me Jacob and Jakey, a good deal as a man will try to smooth down
or pacify a vicious horse or mule; and after I had looked everywhere, I
faced him, took him by the throat, and choked him until his tongue stuck
out, and his face was purple.
"My God," said the girl, who had grown suddenly quiet, "you're killing
I looked at his empurpled face, and my madness came back on me like a
rush of fire through my veins--and I shut down on his throat again until
I could feel the cords draw under my fingers like taut ropes.
She laid her hand rather gently on my breast, and looked me steadily in
"Fool!" she almost whispered. "Your mother's dead! Will it bring her
back to life for you to stretch hemp?"
I guess that by that action she saved my life; but it has been only of
late years that I have ceased to be sorry that I did not kill him. I
looked back into her eyes for a moment--I remember yet that they were
bright blue, with a lighter band about the edge of the sight, instead of
the dark edging that most of us have; and as I understood her meaning I
took my hands from Rucker's throat, and threw him from me. He lay on the
floor for a minute, and as he scrambled to his feet I sank down on the
nearest chair and buried my face in my hands.
It was all over, then; my long lone quest for my mother--a quest I had
carried on since I was a little, scared, downtrodden child. I should
never have the chance to serve her in my way as she had served me in
hers--my way that would never have been anything but a very small and
easy one at the most; while hers had been a way full of torment and
servitude. All my strength was gone; and the girl seemed to know it; for
she came over to me and patted me on the shoulder in a motherly sort
"Poor boy!" she said. "Poor boy! To-morrow, come to me and I'll show you
your mother's grave. I'll take you to the doctor that attended her. I
know how you feel."
I had passed a sleepless night before I remembered to feel revolted at
the sympathy of this hussy who had helped to bring my mother to her
death--and I did not go near her. But I inquired my way from one doctor
to another--there were not many in Madison then--until I found one,
named Mix, who had treated my mother in her last illness. She was weak
and run down, he said, and couldn't stand a run of lung fever, which had
carried her off.
"Did she mention me?" I asked.
"At the very last," said Doctor Mix, "she said once or twice, 'He had to
work too hard!' I don't know who she meant. Not Rucker, eh?"
I shook my head--I knew what she meant.
"And," said he, "if you can see your way clear to arrange with old
Rucker to pay my bill--winter is on now, and I could use the money."
I pulled out my pocketbook and paid the bill.
"Thank you, my boy," said he, "thank you!"
"I'm glad to do it," I answered--and turned away my head.
"Anything more I can do for you?" asked Doctor Mix, much kinder than
"I'd be much obliged," I replied, "if you could tell me where I can find
some one that'll be able to show me my mother's grave."
"I'll take you there," he said quickly.
We rode to the graveyard in his sleigh, the bells jingling too merrily
by far, I thought; and then to a marble-cutter from whom I bought a
headstone to be put up in the spring. I worked out an epitaph which
Doctor Mix, who seemed to see through the case pretty well, put into
good language, reading as follows: "Here lies the body of Mary Brouwer
Vandemark, born in Ulster County, New York, in 1815; died Madison,
Wisconsin, October 19, 1854. Erected to her memory by her son, Jacob T.
Vandemark." So I cut the name of Rucker from our family record; but, of
course, he never knew.
Then the doctor took me back to the tavern, trying to persuade me on the
way to locate in Madison. He had some vacant lots he wanted to show me;
and said that he and a company of friends had laid out new towns at half
a dozen different places in Wisconsin, and even in Minnesota and Iowa.
Before we got back he saw, though I tried to be civil, that I was not
thinking about what he was saying, and so he let me think in peace; but
he shook hands with me kindly at parting, and wished I could have got
there in September.
"Things might have been different," said he. "You're a darned good boy;
and if you'll stay here till spring I'll get you a job."
There was no fire in my room, and it was cold; so there was no place to
sit except in the barroom, which I found deserted but for one man, when
I went back and sat down to think over my future. Should I go back to
the canal? I hated to do this, though all my acquaintances were there,
and the work was of the sort I had learned to do best; besides, here I
was in the West, and all the opportunities of the West were before me,
though it looked cold and dreary just now, and no great chances seemed
lying about for a boy like me. I was perplexed. I had lost my desire for
revenge on Rucker; and just then I felt no ambition, and saw no light. I
was ready, I suppose, to begin a life of drifting; this time with no
aim, not even a remote one--for my one object in life had vanished. But
something in the way of guidance always has come to me at such times;
and it came now. The one man who was in the bar when I came in got up,
and moving over by me, sat down in a chair by my side.
"Cold day," said he.
I agreed, and looked him over carefully. He was a tall man who wore a
long black Prince Albert coat which came down below his knees, a broad
felt hat, and no overcoat. He looked cold, and rather shabby; but he
talked with a good deal of style, and used many big words.
"Stranger here?" he asked.
I admitted that I was.
"May I offer," said he, "the hospitalities of the city in the form of a
hot whisky toddy?"
I thanked him and asked to be excused.
"Your name," he ventured, after clearing his throat, "is Vandemark."
Then I looked at him still more sharply. How did he know my name?
"I have been looking for you," said he, "for some months--some months;
and I was so fortunate as to observe the fact when you made a call last
evening on our fellow-citizen, Doctor Rucker. I was--ahem--consulted
professionally by the late lamented Mrs. Rucker--I am a lawyer,
sir--before her death, for the purpose of securing my services in
looking after the interests of her son, Mr. Jacob H. Vandemark."
"Jacob T. Vandemark," said I.
"Why, damn me," said he, looking again at his book, "it _is_ a 'T.'
Lawyer's writing, Jacob, lawyer's writing--notoriously bad, you know."
I sat thinking about the expression, "the interests of Jacob T.
Vandemark," for a long time; but the truth did not dawn an me, my mind
working slowly as usual.
"What interests?" I asked finally.
"The interest," said he, "of her only child in the estate of Mrs.
Then there recurred to my mind the words in my mother's last letter;
that the money had been paid on the settlement of my father's estate,
and that she and Rucker were coming out West to make a new start in
life. I had never given it a moment's thought before, and should have
gone away without asking anybody a single question about it, if this
scaly pettifogger, as I now know him to have been, had not sidled up
"The estate," said my new friend, "is small, Jacob; but right is right,
and there is no reason why this man Rucker should not be made to
disgorge every cent that's coming to you--every cent! I know Doctor
Rucker slightly, and I hope I shall not shock you if I say that in my
opinion he would steal the Lord's Supper, and wipe his condemned lousy
red whiskers and his freckled claws with the table-cloth! That's the
kind of pilgrim and stranger Rucker is. He will cheat you out of your
eye teeth, sir, unless you are protected by the best legal talent to be
had--the best to be had--the talent and the advice of the man to whom
your late lamented mother went for counsel."
"Yes," said I after a while, "I think he will."
"That is why your mother," he went on, "advised with me; for even if I
have to say it, I'm a living whirlwind in court. Suppose we have
I sat with my drink before me, slowly sipping it, and trying to see
through this man and the new question he had brought up. Certainly, I
was entitled to my mother's property--all of it by rights, whatever the
law might be--for it came through my father. Surely this lawyer must be
a good man, or my mother wouldn't have consulted him. But when I
mentioned to my new friend, whose name was Jackway, my claim to the
whole estate he assured me that Rucker was the legal owner of his share
in it--I forget how much.
"And," said he, "I make no doubt the old scoundrel has reduced the whole
estate to possession, and is this moment," lowering his voice
secretively, "acting as executor _de son tort_--executor _de son tort_,
sir! I wouldn't put it past him!"
I wrote this, with some other legal expressions in my note-book.
"How can I get this money away from him?" said I, coming to the point.
"Money!" said he. "How do we know it is money? It may be chattels,
goods, wares or merchandise. It may be realty. It may be _choses in
action_. We must require of him a complete discovery. We may have to go
back to the original probate proceedings through which your mother
became seized of this property to obtain the necessary information. How
old are you?"
I told him that I was sixteen the twenty-seventh of the last July.
"A minor," said he; "in law an infant. A guardian _ad litem_ will have
to be appointed to protect your interests, and to bring suit for you. I
shall be glad to serve you, sir, in the name of justice; and to confound
those with whom robbery of the orphan is an occupation, sir, a daily
occupation. Come up to my office with me, and we will begin proceedings
to make Rucker sweat!"
But this was too swift for a Vandemark. In spite of his urging, I
insisted that I should have to think it over. He grew almost angry at me
at last, I thought; but he went away finally, after I had taken the hint
he gave and bought him another drink. The next morning he was back
again, urging me to proceed immediately, "so that the property might not
be further sequestrated and wasted." He did not know how slow I was to
think and act; and suspected that I was going to some other lawyer, I
now believe; for I noticed him shadowing me, as the detectives say,
every time I walked out. On the third day, while I was still studying
the matter, and making no progress, Rucker himself came into the tavern,
with his neck bandaged and his head on one side, and in his best
clothes; and sitting on the edge of his chair between me and the door,
as if ready to take wing at any hostile movement on my part, he broached
the subject of my share in my mother's estate.
"I want to deal with you," said he in that dangerous whine of his, "as
with my own son, Jacob, my own son."
There was nothing to say to this, and I said nothing. I only looked at
him. He was studying me closely, but had never taken pains to learn my
peculiarities when I lived with him, and had to study a total stranger,
and a person who was too old to be treated as a child, but who at the
same time must be very green in money matters. I was a puzzle to him,
and my lack of words made me still more of a problem.
"You know, of course," he finally volunteered, "that the estate when it
was finally wound up had mostly been eaten up by court expenses and
lawyers' fees--the robbers!"
I could see he was in earnest in this last remark: but of course
lawyers' fees and court expenses were all a mystery to me. I did not
even know that lawyers and courts had anything to do with estates. I did
not know what an estate was--so I continued to keep still.
"There was hardly anything left," said he.
I was astonished at this; and I did not believe it. After thinking it
over for a few minutes, earnestly, and without any thought of saying
anything to catch him up, I said: "You traveled in good style coming
west on the canal. You took a steamer up the Lakes. You have been
dressing fine ever since the money came in; and you're keeping a woman."
He made no reply, except to say that I did not understand, but would
when he showed me where every cent of the estate money had gone which
he had spent, and just how much was left. As for his daughter--he
supposed I knew--but he never finished this speech. I rose to my feet;
and he left hurriedly, saying that he would show me a statement in the
morning. "I expect to pay your board here," said he, "for a few days,
you know--until you decide to move on--or move back."
For a week or so I refused to talk with Rucker or Jackway; but sat
around and tried to make up my mind what to do. To hire Jackway would
take all my savings; and the schedules which Rucker brought me on
legal-cap paper I refused even to touch with my hands. I am sure, now,
that Rucker had sent Jackway to me in the first place, never suspecting
that the matter of the estate had been so far from my mind; and thereby,
by too much craft, he lost the opportunity of stealing it all. Jackway
kept telling me of Rucker's rascalities, so as to get into my good
graces and confidence, in which he succeeded better than he knew; and
urging me to pay him a few dollars--just a few dollars--"to begin
proceedings to stay waste and sequestration"; but I did not give him
anything because it seemed a first step into something I had not
I began calling on land agents, thinking I might use what little money I
had left to make a first payment on a farm; but the land around Madison
was too high in price for me. Two or three of these real estate agents
were also lawyers; and I caught Rucker and Jackway together, looking
worried and anxious, when I came from the office of one of them who very
kindly informed me that, if he were in my place, he would go across the
Mississippi and settle in Iowa. He had been as far west as Fort Dodge,
and described to me the great prairies, unbroken by the plow, the
railroads which were just ready to cross the Mississippi, the rich soil,
the chance there was to get a home, and to become my own master. I began
to feel an interest in Iowa.
I think these days must have been anxious ones for Rucker, greedy as he
was for my little fortune, ignorant as he was of the depth of the
ignorance of the silent stupid boy with whom he was dealing--and a boy,
too, who had made that one remark about his way of living and traveling
that seemed to show a knowledge of just what he was doing, and had done.
I could see after that, that he thought me much sharper than I was.
Lawyer Jackway haunted the hotel, and was spending more money--Rucker's
money, I know. He had bought a new overcoat, and was drinking a good
deal more than was good for him; but he wormed out of me something about
my desire for a farm, and after having had a chance to see Rucker he
began talking of a compromise.
"The old swindler," said he, "has all the evidence in his own hands; and
he and that red-headed spiritual partner of his will swear to anything.
As your legal adviser," said he, "and the legal adviser of your sainted
mother, I'd advise you to take anything he is willing to give--within
bounds, of course, within bounds."
So the next time Rucker sidled into the tavern, and began beslavering me
about the way the money left by my mother was being eaten up by expenses
and debts, I blurted out: "Well, what will you give me to clear out and
let you and your red-headed woodpecker alone?"
"Now," said he, "you are talking sensibly--sensibly. There is a little
farm-out near Blue Mounds that I could, by a hard struggle, let you
have; but it would be more than your share--more than your share."
This was forty acres, and would have a mortgage on it. I waited a day or
so, and told him I wouldn't take it. What I was afraid of was the
mortgage; but I didn't give my reasons. Then he came back with a vacant
lot in Madison, and then three vacant lots, which I went and looked at,
and found in a swamp. Then I told him I wanted money or farm land; and
he offered me a lead mine near Mineral Point. All the time he was
getting more and more worried and excited; he used to tremble when he
talked to me; and as the winter wore away, and the season drew nearer
when he wanted to go on his travels, or deal with the properties in
which I had found out by this time he was speculating with my mother's
money, just as everybody was speculating then, in mines, town sites,
farm lands, railway stocks and such things, he was on tenter-hooks, I
could see that, to get rid of me, whom he thought he had given the slip
forever. Finally he came to me one morning, just as a warm February wind
had begun to thaw the snow, and said, beaming as if he had found a gold
mine for me: "Jacob, I've got just what you want--a splendid farm
And he laid on the table the deed to my farm in Vandemark Township, a
section of land in one solid block a mile square. "Of course," said he,
"I can't let you have all of it--'but let us say eighty acres, or even I
might clean up a quarter-section, here along the east side,"--and he
pointed to a plat of it pinned fast to the deed.
"The whole piece," said I, "is worth eight hundred dollars, and not a
cent more--if it's all good land. That ain't enough."
"All good land!" said he--and I could see he was surprised at the fact
that I knew Iowa land was selling at a dollar and a quarter an acre.
"Why, there ain't anything but good land there. You can put a plow in
one corner of that section, and plow every foot of it without taking the
share out of the ground."
"All or nothing," said I, "and more."
Next day he came back and said he would let me have the whole section;
but that it would break him. He wanted to be fair with me--more than
fair. People had set me against him, he said, looking at Jackway who
was-drinking at the bar; but nobody could say that he was a man who
would not deal fairly with an ignorant boy.
"I've got to have a team, a wagon, a cover for the wagon, and provisions
for the trip," I said, "and a few hundred dollars to live on for a while
after I get to Iowa."
At this he threw his hands up, and left me, saying that if I wanted to
ruin him I would have to do it through the courts. He had gone as far as
he would go, and I would never have another offer as generous as he had
made me. The next day I met on the street the red-headed girl, who went
by the name of Alice Rucker, and was notorious as a medium. She stopped
me, and asked why I hadn't been to see her--carrying the conversation
off casually, as if we had been ordinary acquaintances. All I could
say--for I was a little embarrassed, was "I do' know"--which was what I
had told Rucker and Jackway, in answer to a thousand questions, until
they were crazy to know how to come at me.
"Let me tell you something," said she. "If you want that Iowa farm,
"Who?" said I.
"Rucker," said she, brazening it out with me. "He'll give you the land,
and your outfit. Don't let them fool you out of the team and wagon."
"Thank you for telling me," said I; "but I guess I'll have to have
"If you go into court he'll beat you," said she, "and I'm telling you
that as a friend, even if you don't believe me."
"I'm much obliged," I said; and I believed then, and believe now, that
she was sincere.
"And when you start," said she, "if you want some one to cook and take
care of you, let me know. I like traveling."
I turned red at this; and halted and mumbled, until she tripped away,
laughing, but looking back at me; but I remembered what she had said,
and within a week I had consented that Jackway be appointed guardian _ad
litem_ for me in the court proceedings; and in a short time I received a
good team of mares, a bay named Fanny and a sorrel named Flora, good,
twelve hundred pound chunks, but thin in flesh--I would not take
geldings--a wagon, nearly new, a set of wagon bows, enough heavy
drilling to make a cover, some bedding, a stove, an old double-barreled
shotgun, two pounds of powder and a lot of shot, harness for the team,
horse-feed, and as complete an outfit as I could think of, even to the
box of axle-grease swinging under the wagon-box. Rucker groaned at every
addition; and finally balked when I asked him for a hundred dollars in
cash. The court entered up the proper decree, I put my deeds in my
pocket, and after making a feed-box for the horses to hang on the back
of the wagon-box, I pulled out for Iowa three weeks too soon--for the
roads were not yet settled.
The night before I started, I sat in the warm barroom, half pleased and
half frightened at the new world into which I was about to enter,
thinking of my new wagon and the complete equipage of emigration now
shown to be mine by the bills of sale and deeds in my pocket, and
occasionally putting my fingers to my nose to catch the good smell of
the horse which soap and water had not quite removed. This scent I had
acquired by currying and combing my mares for hours, clipping their
manes and fetlocks, and handling them all over to see if they were free
from blemishes. The lawyer, Jackway, my guardian _ad litem_, came into
the tavern in a high and mighty and popular way, saying "How de do,
ward?" in a way I didn't like, went to the bar and throwing down a big
piece of money began drinking one glass after another.
As he drank he grew boastful. He bragged to the men about him of his
ability. Nobody ever hired Jackway to care for his interests, said he,
without having his interests taken care of.
"You can go out," said he to a peaceful-looking man who stood watching
him, "into the street there, and stab the first man you meet, and
Jackway'll get you clear. I'm a living whirlwind! And," looking at me as
I sat in the chair by the wall, "you can steal a woman's estate and I'll
get it away from her heirs for you."
I wondered if he meant me. I hardly believed that he could; for all the
while he had made a great to-do about protecting my interests; and I now
remembered that he had taken an oath to do so. But he kept sneering at
me all the evening, and just as I was leaving to go to bed, he called
the crowd up to drink with him.
"This is on the estate," he hiccoughed--for he was very drunk by this
time--"and I'll give you a toast."
They all lined up, slapping him on the back; and as I stood in the door,
they all lifted their glasses, and Jackway gave them what he called his
"toast," which ran as follows:
And got the tin,
And sucked another Dutchman in!"
He paid out of a fat pocketbook, staggering, and pointing at me and
looking like a tipsy imp of some sort; and finally he started over
toward me, saying, "Hey, Dutchman! Wait a minute an' I'll tell you how
you got sucked in!"
I grew suddenly very angry; and slammed the door in his face to prevent
myself from doing him harm. I had not yet seen why I ought to do him
harm; and along the road to Iowa, I was all the time wondering why I got
madder and madder at Jackway; and that rhyme kept running through my
mind, oftener and oftener, as I drew nearer and nearer my journey's end:
And got the tin,
And sucked another Dutchman in!"
It was in the latter part of March. There were snowdrifts in places
along the road, and when I reached a place about where Mt. Horeb now is,
I had to stop and lie up for three days for a snow-storm. I was ahead
of the stream of immigrants that poured over that road in the spring of
1855 in a steady tide.
As I made my start from Madison I saw Rucker and Alice standing at the
door of the tavern seemingly making sure that I was really getting out
of town. He dodged back into the house when I glanced at them; but she
walked out into the street and stopped me, as bold as brass.
"I'm waiting," said she. "Where shall I ride?" And she put one foot on
the hub and stepped up with the other into the wagon box.
"I'm just pulling out for Iowa," I said, my face as red as her hair, I
"_We're_ just pulling out," said she.
"I've got to move on," said I; "be careful or you'll get your dress
muddy on the wheel."
She couldn't have expected me to take her, of course; but I thought she
looked kind of hurt. There seemed to be something like tears in her eyes
as she put her arms around my neck.
"Kiss your little step-sister good-by," she said. "She's been a better
friend of yours than you'll ever know--you big, nice, blundering
She laid her lips on mine. It was the first kiss I had ever had from any
one since I was a little boy; and as I half struggled against but
finally returned it, it thrilled me powerfully. Afterward I was
disgusted with myself for kissing this castaway; but as I drove on,
leaving her standing in the middle of the road looking after me, it
almost seemed as if I were leaving a friend. Perhaps she was, in her
way, the nearest thing to a friend I had then in the world--strange as
it seems. As for Rucker, he was rejoicing, of course, at having trimmed
neatly a dumb-head of a Dutch boy--a wrong to my poor mother, the very
thought of which even after all these years, makes my blood boil.
I BECOME COW VANDEMARK
I was off with the spring rush of 1855 for the new lands of the West! I
kept thinking as I drove along of Lawyer Jackway's sarcastic toast,
"Sold again, and got the tin, and sucked another Dutchman in!" But after
all I couldn't keep myself from feeling pretty proud, as I watched the
play of my horses' ears as they seemed to take in each new westward view
as we went over the tops of the low hills, and as I listened to the
"chuck, chuck" of the wagon wheels on their well-greased skeins. Rucker
and Jackway might have given me a check on the tow-path; but yet I felt
hopeful that I was to make a real success of my voyage of life to a home
and a place where I could be somebody. There was pleasure in looking
back at my riches in the clean, hard-stuffed straw-tick, the stove, the
traveling home which belonged to me.
It seems a little queer to me now to think of it as I look out of my
bay-window at my great fields of corn, my pastures dotted with stock, my
feedyard full of fat steers; or as I sit in the directors' room of the
bank and take my part as a member of the board. But I am really not as
rich now as I was then.
I was going to a country which seemed to be drawing everybody else, and
must therefore be a good country--and I had a farm. I had a great farm.
It was a mile square. It was almost like the estate that General Cantine
had near the canal at Ithaca I thought. To my boy's mind it looked too
big for me; and sometimes I wondered if I should not be able to rent it
out to tenants and grow rich on my income, like the Van Rensselaers of
the Manor before the Anti-Rent difficulties.
All the while I was passing outfits which were waiting by the roadside,
or making bad weather of it for some reason or other; or I was passed by
those who had less regard for their horse-flesh than I, or did not
realize that the horses had to go afoot; or those that drew lighter
loads. There were some carriages which went flourishing along with
shining covers; these were the aristocrats; there were other slow-going
rigs drawn by oxen. Usually there would be two or more vehicles in a
train. They camped by the roadside cooking their meals; they stopped at
wayside taverns. They gave me all sorts of how-d'ye-does as I passed.
Girls waved their hands at me from the hind-ends of rigs and said bold
things--to a boy they would not see again; but which left him blushing
and thinking up retorts for the next occasion--retorts that never seemed
to fit when the time came; and talkative women threw remarks at me about
the roads and the weather.
Men tried half a dozen times a day to trade me out of my bay mare Fanny,
or my sorrel mare Flora--they said I ought to match up with two of a
color; and the crow-baits offered me would have stocked a horse-ranch.
People with oxen offered me what looked like good swaps, because they
were impatient to make better time; and as I went along so stylishly I
began turning over in my mind the question as to whether it might not
be better to get to Iowa a little later in the year with cattle for a
start than to rush the season with my fine mares and pull up standing
like a gentleman at my own imaginary door.
As I went on to the westward, I began to see Blue Mound rising like a
low mountain off my starboard bow, and I stopped at a farm in the
foot-hills of the Mound where, because it was rainy, I paid four
shillings for putting my horses in the stable. There were two other
movers stopping at the same place. They had a light wagon and a yoke of
good young steers, and had been out of Madison two days longer than I
had been. I noticed that they left their wagon in a clump of bushes, and
that while one of them--a man of fifty or more, slept in the house, the
other, a young fellow of twenty or twenty-two, lay in the wagon, and
that one or the other seemed always to be on guard near the vehicle. The
older man had a long beard and a hooked nose, and seemed to be a still
sort of person, until some one spoke of slavery; then he broke out in a
fierce speech denouncing slaveholders, and the slavocracy that had the
nation in its grip.
"You talk," said the farmer, "like a black Abolitionist."
"I'm so black an Abolitionist," said he, "that I'd be willing to
shoulder a gun any minute if I thought I could wipe out the curse
The farmer was terribly scandalized at this, and when the old man walked
away to his wagon, he said to the young man and me that that sort of
talk would make trouble and ruin the nation; and that he didn't want
any more of it around his place.
"Well," said the traveler, "you won't have any more of it from us. We're
just pulling out." After the farmer went away, he spoke to me about it.
"What do you think of that kind of talk?" he asked.
"I don't own any niggers," said I. "I don't ever expect to own any. I
don't see how slavery can do me any good; and I think the slaves
I had no very clear ideas on the subject, and had done little thinking
about it; but what I said seemed to be satisfactory to the young man. He
told his friend about it, and after a while the old man, whose name was
Dunlap, came to me and shook my hand, saying that he was glad to meet a
young fellow of my age who was of the right stripe.
"Can you shoot?" he asked.
I told him I never had had much chance to learn, but I had a good gun,
and had got some game with it almost every day so far.
"What kind of a gun?" he asked.
I told him it was a double-barreled shotgun, and he looked rather
disappointed. Then he asked me if I had ever thought of going to Kansas.
No, I told him, I thought I should rather locate in Iowa.
"We are going to Kansas," he said. "There's work for real men in
Kansas--men who believe in freedom. You had better go along with Amos
Thatcher and me."
I said I didn't believe I could--I had planned to locate in Iowa. He
dropped the subject by saying that I would overtake him and Thatcher on
the road, and we could talk it over again. When did I think of getting
under way? I answered that I thought I should stay hauled up to rest my
horses for a half-day anyhow, so perhaps we might camp that
"A good idea," said Thatcher, smilingly, as they drove off. "Join us; we
I laid by that forenoon because one of my mares had limped a little the
day before, and I was worrying for fear she might not be perfectly
sound. I hitched up after noon and drove on, anxiously watching her to
see whether I had not been sucked in on horse-flesh, as well as in the
general settlement of my mother's estate. She seemed to be all right,
however, and we were making good headway as night drew on, and I was
halted by Amos Thatcher who said he was on the lookout for me.
"We have a station off the road a mile or so," said he, "and you'll have
a hearty welcome if you come with me--stable for your horses, and a bed
to sleep in, and good victuals."
I couldn't think what he meant by a station; but it was about time to
make camp anyhow, and so I took him into the wagon with me, and we drove
across country by a plain trail, through a beautiful piece of oak
openings, to a big log house in a fine grove of burr oaks, with a log
barn back of it--as nice a farmstead as I had seen. There were fifteen
or twenty cattle in the yards, and some sheep and hogs, and many fat
hens. If this was a station, I thought, I envied the man who owned it.
As we drove up I saw a little negro boy peeping at us from the back of
the house, and as we halted a black woman ran out and seized the
pickaninny by the ear, and dragged him back out of sight. I heard a
whimper from the little boy, which seemed suddenly smothered by
something like a hand clapped over his mouth. Mr. Dunlap's wagon was not
in sight, but its owner came out at the front door and greeted me in a
very friendly way.
"What makes you call this a station?" I asked of Thatcher.
Dunlap looked at him sternly.
"I forgot myself," said Thatcher, more to Dunlap than to me.
"Never mind," replied Dunlap. "If I can tell B from a bull's foot, it's
Then turning to me he said, "The old lady inside has a meal of victuals
ready for us. Come in and we'll let into it."
There was nothing said at the meal which explained the things that were
so blind to me; but there was a good deal of talk about rifles. The
farmer was named Preston, a middle-aged man who shaved all his beard
except what grew under his chin, which hung down in a long black fringe
over his breast like a window-lambrequin. His wife's father, who was an
old Welshman named Evans, had worked in the lead mines over toward
Dubuque, until Preston had married his daughter and taken up his farm in
the oak openings. They had been shooting at a mark that afternoon, with
Sharp's rifles carried by Dunlap and Thatcher, and the old-fashioned
squirrel rifles owned on the farm. After supper they brought out these
rifles and compared them. Preston insisted that the squirrel rifles
"Not for real service," said Dunlap, throwing a cartridge into the
breech of the Sharp, and ejecting it to show how fast it could be done.
"But I can roll a squirrel's eye right out of his head most every time
with the old-style gun," said Preston. "This is the gun that won the
Battle of New Orleans."
"It wouldn't have won against the Sharp," said Thatcher; "and you know
we expect to have a larger mark than a squirrel's head, when we get
This was the first breech-loader I had ever seen, and I looked it over
with a buying eye. It didn't seem to me that it would be much better for
hunting than the old-fashioned rifle, loaded with powder and a molded
bullet rammed down with a patch of oiled cloth around it; for after you
have shot at your game once, you either have hit it, or it runs or flies
away. If you have hit it, you can generally get it, and if it goes away,
you have time to reload. Besides those big cartridges must be costly, I
thought, and said so to Mr. Dunlap.
"When you're hunting Border Ruffians," said he, "a little expense don't
count one way or the other; and you may be willing to pay dear for a
chance to reload three or four times while the other man is ramming home
a new charge. Give me the new guns, the new ideas, and the old doctrine
of freedom to fight for. Don't you see?"
"Why, of course," said I, "I'm for freedom. That's why I'm going out on
"Prairies!" said old Evans. "Prairies! What do you expect to do on the
"Farm," I answered.
"All these folks that are rushing to the prairies," said the old man,
"will starve out and come back. God makes trees grow to show men where
the good land is. I read history, and there's no country that's good for
anything, except where men have cut the trees, niggered off the logs,
grubbed out the stumps, and made fields of it--and if there are stones,
it's all the better. 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,'
said God to Adam, and when you go to the prairies where it's all ready
for the plow, you are trying to dodge God's curse on our first parents.
You won't prosper. It stands to reason that any land that is good will
"Some of this farm was prairie," put in Preston, "and I don't see but
it's just as good as the rest."
"It was all openings," replied Evans. "The trees was here once, and got
killed by the fires, or somehow. It was all woods once."
"You cut down trees to make land grow grass," said Thatcher. "I should
think that God must have meant grass to be the sign of good ground."
"Isn't the sweat of your face just as plenty when you delve in the
prairies?" asked Dunlap.
"You fly in the face of God's decree, and run against His manifest
warning when you try to make a prairie into a farm," said Evans.
"Sold again, and got the tin, and sucked another Dutchman in!" was the
ditty that ran through my head as I heard this. Old man Evans' way of
looking at the matter seemed reasonable to my cautious mind; and,
anyhow, when a man has grown old he knows many things that he can give
no good reason for. I have always found that the well-educated fellow
with a deep-sounding and plausible philosophy that runs against the
teachings of experience, is likely, especially in farming, to make a
failure when he might have saved himself by doing as the old settlers
do, who won't answer his arguments but make a good living just the same,
while the new-fangled practises send their followers to the poor-house.
At that moment, I would have traded my Iowa farm for any good piece of
land covered with trees. But Dunlap and Thatcher had something else to
talk to me about. They were for the prairies, especially the prairies
"Kansas," said Dunlap, "will be one of the great states of the Union,
one of these days. Come with us, and help make it a free state. We need
a hundred thousand young farmers, who believe in liberty, and will fight
for it. Come with us, take up a farm, and carry a Sharp's rifle against
the Border Ruffians!"
This sounded convincing to me, but of course I couldn't make up my mind
to anything of this sort without days and days of consideration; but I
listened to what they said. They told me of an army of free-state
emigrants that was gathering along the border to win Kansas for freedom.
They, Dunlap and Thatcher, were going to Marion, Iowa, and from there by
the Mormon Trail across to a place called Tabor, and from there to
Lawrence, Kansas. They were New England Yankees. Thatcher had been to
college, and was studying law. Dunlap had been a business man in
Connecticut, and was a friend of John Brown, who was then on his way
"The Missouri Compromise has been repealed," said Thatcher, his eyes
shining, "and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill has thrown the fertile state of
Kansas into the ring to be fought for by free-state men and pro-slavery
men. The Border Ruffians of Missouri are breaking the law every day by
going over into Kansas, never meaning to live there only long enough to
vote, and are corrupting the state government. They are corrupting it by
violence and illegal voting. If slavery wins in Kansas and Nebraska, it
will control the Union forever. The greatest battle in our history is
about to be fought out in Kansas, a battle to see whether this nation
shall be a slave nation, in every state and every town, or free. Dunlap
and I and thousands of others are going down there to take the state of
Kansas into our own hands, peacefully if we can, by violence if we must.
We are willing to die to make the United States a free nation. Come
"But we don't expect to die," urged Dunlap, seeing that this looked
pretty serious to me. "We expect to live, and get farms, and make homes,
and prosper, after we have shown the Border Ruffians the muzzles of
those rifles. Thatcher, bring the passengers in!"
Thatcher went out of the room the back way.
"We call this a station," went on Dunlap, "because it's a stopping-place
on the U. G. Railway."
"What's the U. G. Railway?" I asked.
"Don't you know that?" he queried.
"I'm only a canal hand," I answered, "going to a farm out on the
prairie, that I was euchred into taking in settling with a scoundrel for
my share of my father's property; and I'm pretty green."
Thatcher came in then, leading the little black boy by the hand, and
following him was the negro woman carrying a baby at her breast, and
holding by the hand a little woolly-headed pickaninny about three years
old. They were ragged and poverty-stricken, and seemed scared at
everything. The woman came in bowing and scraping to me, and the two
little boys hid behind her skirts and peeked around at me with big
"Tell the gentleman," said Thatcher, "where you're going."
"We're gwine to Canayda," said she, "'scusin' your presence."
"How are you going to get to Canada?" asked Thatcher.
"The good white folks," said she, "will keep us hid out nights till we
"What will happen," said Thatcher, "if this young man tells any one that
he's seen you?"
"The old massa," said she, "will find out, an' he'll hunt us wif houn's,
an' fotch us back', and then he'll sell us down the ribber to the
I never heard anything quite so pitiful as this speech. I had never
known before what it must mean to be really hunted. The woman shrank
back toward the door through which she had come, her face grew a sort of
grayish color; and then ran to me and throwing herself on her knees, she
took hold of my hands, and begged me for God's sake not to tell on her,
not to have her carried back, not to fix it so she'd be sold down the
river to work in the cotton-fields.
"I won't," I said, "I tell you I won't. I want you to get to Canada!"
"God bress yeh," she said. "I know'd yeh was a good young gemman as soon
as I set eyes on yeh! I know'd yeh was quality!"
"Who do you expect to meet in Canada?" asked Thatcher.
"God willin'," said she, "I'm gwine to find Abe Felton, the pa of dese
"The Underground Railway," said Dunlap, "knows where Abe is, and will
send Sarah along with change of cars. You may go, Sarah. Now," he went
on, as the negroes disappeared, "you have it in your power to exercise
the right of an American citizen and perform the God-accursed legal duty
to report these fugitives at the next town, join a posse to hunt them
down under a law of the United States, get a reward for doing it, and
know that you have vindicated the law--or you can stand with God and
tell the law to go to hell--where it came from--and help the Underground
Railway to carry these people to heaven. Which will you do?"
"I'll tell the law to go to hell," said I.
Dunlap and Thatcher looked at each other as if relieved. I have always
suspected that I was taken into their secret without their ordinary
precautions; and that for a while they were a little dubious for fear
that they had spilt the milk of secrecy. But all my life people have
told me their secrets.
They urged me hard to go with them; and talked so favorably about the
soil of the prairies that I began to think well again of my Iowa farm.
When I had made it plain that I had to have a longer time to think it
over, they began urging me to let them have my horses on some sort of a
trade; and I began to see that a part of what they had wanted all the
time was a faster team as well as a free-state recruit. They urged on me
the desirability of having cattle instead of horses when I reached
"Cows, yes," said I, "but not steers."
So I slept over It until morning. Then I made them the proposition that
if they would arrange with Preston to trade me four cows, which I would
select from his herd, and would provide for my board with Preston until
I could break them to drive, and would furnish yokes and chains in
place of my harness, I would let them have the team for a hundred
dollars boot-money. Preston said he'd like to have me make my selection
first, and when I picked out three-year-old heifers, two of which were
giving milk, he said it was a whack, if it didn't take me more than a
week to break them. Dunlap and Thatcher hitched up, and started off the
next morning. I had become Cow Vandemark overnight, and am still Cow
Vandemark in the minds of the old settlers of Vandemark Township and
some who have just picked the name up.
But I did not take on my new name without a struggle, for Flora and
Fanny had become dear to me since leaving Madison--my first horses. How
I got my second team of horses is connected with one of the most
important incidents in my life; it was a long time before I got them and
it will be some time before I can tell about it. In the meantime, there
were Flora and Fanny, hitched to Dunlap and Thatcher's light wagon,
disappearing among the burr oaks toward the Dubuque highway. I thought
of my pride as I drove away from Madison with these two steeds, and of
the pretty figure I cut the morning when red-haired Alice climbed up,
offered to go with me, and kissed me before she climbed down. Would she
have done this if I had been driving oxen, or still worse, those animals
which few thought worth anything as draught animals--cows? And then I
thought of Flora's lameness the day before yesterday. Was it honest to
let Dunlap and Thatcher drive off to liberate the nation with a horse
that might go lame?
"Let me have a horse," said I to Preston. "I want to catch them and tell
I rode up behind the Abolitionists' wagon, waving my hat and shouting.
They pulled up and waited.
"What's up?" asked Dunlap. "Going with us after all? I hope so, my boy."
"No," said I, "I just wanted to say that that nigh mare was lame day
before yesterday, and I--I--I didn't want you to start off with her
without knowing it."
Dunlap asked about her lameness, and got out to look her over. He felt
of her muscles, and carefully scrutinized her for swelling or swinney or
splint or spavin or thoroughpin. Then he lifted one foot after another,
and cleaned out about the frog, tapping the hoof all over for soreness.
Down deep beside the frog of the foot which she had favored he found a
"That's what it was," said he, holding the pebble up. "She'll be all
right now. Thank you for telling me. It was the square thing to do."
"If you don't feel safe to go on with the team," said I, "I'll trade
"No," said he, "we're needed in Kansas; and," turning up an oil-cloth
and showing me a dozen or so of the Sharp's rifles, "so are these. And
let me tell you, boy, if I'm any judge of men, the time will come when
you won't feel so bad to lose half a dozen horses, as you feel now to be
traded out of Flora and Fanny, and make a hundred dollars by the trade.
Get up, Flora; go long, Fanny; good-by, Jake!" And they drove off to the
Border Wars. I had made my first sacrifice to the cause of the
productiveness of the Vandemark Farm.
That night a wagon went away from the Preston farm with the passengers
going to Canada by the U.G. Railway The next morning I began the task of
fitting yokes to my two span of heifers, and that afternoon, I gave
Lily and Cherry their first lesson. I had had some experience in driving
cattle on Mrs. Fogg's farm in Herkimer County, but I should have made a
botch job of it if it had not been for Mr. Preston, who knew all there
was to know about cattle, and while protesting that cows could not be
driven, helped me drive them. In less than a week my cows were driving
as prettily as any oxen. They were light and active, and overtook team
after team of laboring steers every day I drove them. Furthermore, they
gave me milk. I fed them well, worked them rather lightly, and by
putting the new milk in a churn I bought at Mineral Point, I found that
the motion of the wagon would bring the butter as well as any churning.
I had cream for my coffee, butter for my bread, milk for my mush, and
lived high. A good deal of fun was poked at me about my team of cows;
but people were always glad to camp with me and share my fare.
Economically, our cows ought to be made to do a good deal of the work of
the farms. I have always believed this; but now a German expert has
proved it. I read about it the other day in a bulletin put out by the
Agricultural Department; but I proved it in Vandemark Township before
the man was born that wrote the bulletin. If not pushed too hard, cows
will work and give almost as much milk as if not worked at all. This
statement of course won't apply to the fancy cows which are high-power
milk machines, and need to be packed in cotton, and kept in satin-lined
stalls; but to such cows as farmers have, and always will have, it
I was sorry to leave the Prestons, they were such whole-souled, earnest
people; and before I did leave them I was a full-fledged Abolitionist
so far as belief was concerned. I never did become active, however, in
spiriting slaves from one station to another of the U.G. Railway.
I drove out to the highway, and turning my prow to the west, I joined
again in the stream of people swarming westward. The tide had swollen in
the week during which I had laid by at the Prestons'. The road was
rutted, poached deep where wet and beaten hard where dry, or pulverized
into dust by the stream of emigration. Here we went, oxen, cows, mules,
horses; coaches, carriages, blue jeans, corduroys, rags, tatters, silks,
satins, caps, tall hats, poverty, riches; speculators, missionaries,
land-hunters, merchants; criminals escaping from justice; couples
fleeing from the law; families seeking homes; the wrecks of homes
seeking secrecy; gold-seekers bearing southwest to the Overland Trail;
politicians looking for places in which to win fame and fortune; editors
hunting opportunities for founding newspapers; adventurers on their way
to everywhere; lawyers with a few books; Abolitionists going to the
Border War; innocent-looking outfits carrying fugitive slaves; officers
hunting escaped negroes; and most numerous of all, homeseekers "hunting
country"--a nation on wheels, an empire in the commotion and pangs of
birth. Down I went with the rest, across ferries, through Dodgeville,
Mineral Point and Platteville, past a thousand vacant sites for farms
toward my own farm so far from civilization, shot out of civilization by
the forces of civilization itself.
I saw the old mining country from Mineral Point to Dubuque, where lead
had been dug for many years, and where the men lived who dug the holes
and were called Badgers, thus giving the people of Wisconsin their
nickname as distinguished from the Illinois people who came up the
rivers to work in the spring, and went back in the fall, and were
therefore named after a migratory fish and called Suckers; and at last,
I saw from its eastern bank far off to the west, the bluffy shores of
Iowa, and down by the river the keen spires and brick and wood buildings
of the biggest town I had seen since leaving Milwaukee the town
I camped that night in the northwestern corner of Illinois, in a regular
city of movers, all waiting their turns at the ferry which crossed the
Mississippi to the Land of Promise.
Iowa did not look much like a prairie country from where I stood. The
Iowa shore towered above the town of Dubuque, clothed with woods to the
top, and looking more like York State than anything I had seen since I
had taken the schooner at Buffalo to come up the Lakes. I lay that
night, unable to sleep. For one thing, I needed to be wakeful, lest some
of the motley crowd of movers might take a fancy to my cattle. I was
learning by experience how to take care of myself and mine; besides, I
wanted to be awake early so as to take passage by ferry-boat "before
soon" as the Hoosiers say, in the morning.
That April morning was still only a gray dawn when I drove down to the
ferry, without stopping for my breakfast. A few others of those who
looked forward to a rush for the boat had got there ahead of me, and we
waited in line. I saw that I should have to go on the second trip rather
than the first, but movers can not be impatient, and the driving of
cattle cures a person of being in a hurry; so I was in no great taking
because of this little delay. As I sat there in my wagon, a
black-bearded, scholarly-looking man stepped up and spoke to me.
"Going across?" he asked.
"As soon as the boat will take me," I said.
"Heavy loaded?" he asked. "Have you room for a passenger?"
"I guess I can accommodate you," I answered. "Climb in."
"It isn't for myself I'm asking," he said. "There's a lady here that
wants to ride in a covered wagon, and sit back where she can't see the
water. It makes her dizzy--and scares her awfully; can you take her?"
"If she can ride back there on the bed," said I.
He peeped in, and said that this was the very place for her. She could
lie down and cover up her head and never know she was crossing the river
at all. In a minute, and while it was still twilight, just as the
ferry-boat came to the landing, he returned with the lady. She was
dressed in some brown fabric, and wore a thick veil over her face; but
as she climbed in I saw that she had yellow hair and bright eyes and
lips; and that she was trembling so that her hands shook as she took
hold of the wagon-bow, and her voice quivered as she thanked me, in low
tones. The man with the black beard pressed her hand as he left her. He
offered me a dollar for her passage; but I called his attention to the
fact that it would cost only two shillings more for me to cross with her
than if I went alone, and refused to take more.
"There are a good many rough fellows," said he, "at these ferries, that
make it unpleasant for a lady, sometimes--"
"Not when she's with me," I said.
He looked at me sharply, as if surprised that I was not so green as I
looked--though I was pretty verdant. Anyhow, he said, if I should be
asked if any one was with me, it would save her from being scared if I
would say that I was alone--she was the most timid woman in the world.
"I'll have to tell the ferryman," I said.
"Will you?" he asked. "Why?"
"I'd be cheating him if I didn't," I answered.
"All right," he said, as if provoked at me, "but don't tell any one
"I ain't very good at lying," I replied.
He said for me to do the best I could for the lady, and hurried off. In
the meantime, the lady had crept back on my straw-bed, and pulled the
quilts completely over her. She piled pillows on one side of her, and
stirred the straw up on the other, so that when she lay down the bed was
as smooth as if nobody was in it. It looked as it might if a heedless
boy had crawled out of it after a night's sleep, and carelessly thrown
the coverlet back over it. I could hardly believe I had a passenger.
When I was asked for the ferriage, I paid for two, and the ferryman
asked where the other was.
"Back in the bed," I said.
He looked back, and said, "Well, I owe you something for your honesty.
I never'd have seen him. Sick?"
"Not very," said I. "Don't like the water."
"Some are that way," he returned, and went on collecting fares.
As we drove up from the landing, through the rutted streets of the old
mining and Indian-trading town, the black-bearded man came to me as we
stopped, held back by a jam of covered wagons--a wonderful sight, even
to me--and as if talking to me, said to the woman, "You'd better ride on
through town;" and then to me, "Are you going on through?"
"I've got to buy some supplies," said I; "but I've nothing to stop me
"Tell me what you want," he said hurriedly, and looking about as if
expecting some danger, "and I'll buy it for you and bring it on. Which
way are you going?"
"West into Iowa," I answered.
"Go on," said he, "and I'll make it right with you. Camp somewhere west
of town. I'll come along to-night or to-morrow. I'll make it right
"I don't see through this," I said, with my usual indecision as to doing
something I did not understand. "I thought I'd look around Dubuque
"For God's sake," said the woman from the bed, "take me on--take me on!"
Her tones were so pleading, she seemed in such an agony of terror, that
I suddenly made up my mind in her favor. Surely there would be no harm
in carrying her on as she wished.
"All right," I said to her, but looking at him, "I'll take you on! You
can count on me." And then to him, "I'll drive on until I find a good
camping-place late this afternoon. You'll have to find us the best
way you can."
He thanked me, and I gave him a list of the things I wanted. Then he
went on up the street ahead of us, walking calmly, and looking about him
as any stranger might have done. We stood for some time, waiting for the
jam of teams to clear, and I gee-upped and whoa-hawed on along the
street, until we came to a building on which was a big sign,
"Post-Office." There was a queue of people waiting for their mail,
extending out at the door, and far down the sidewalk. In this string of
emigrants stood our friend, the black-bearded man. Just as we passed, a
rather thin, stooped man, walking along on the other side of the street,
rushed across, right in front of my lead team, and drawing a pistol,
aimed at the black-bearded man, who in turn stepped out of line and drew
his own weapon.
"I call upon you all to witness," said the black-bearded man, "that I
act in self-defense."
A bystander seized the thin man's pistol hand, and yelled at him not to
shoot or he might kill some one--of course he meant some one he did not
aim at, but it sounded a little funny, and I laughed. Several joined in
the laugh, and there was a good deal of confusion. At last I heard the
black-bearded man say, "I'm here alone. He's accused his wife of being
too thick with a dozen men. He's insanely jealous, gentlemen. I suppose
his wife may have left him, but I'm here alone. I just crossed the river
alone, and I'm going west. If he's got a warrant, he's welcome to have
it served if he finds his wife with me. Come on, gentlemen--but take the
fool's pistol away from him."
As I drove on I saw that the woman had thrown off the quilt, and was
peeping out at the opening in the cover at the back, watching the
black-bearded and the thin man moving off in a group of fellows, one of
whom held the black-bearded man by the arm a good deal as a deputy
sheriff might have done.
The roads leading west out of Dubuque were horrible, then, being steep
stony trails coming down the hollows and washed like watercourses at
every rain. Teams were stalled, sometimes three and four span of animals
were used to get one load to the top, and we were a good deal delayed. I
was so busy trying to keep from upsetting when I drove around stalled
outfits and abandoned wagons, and so occupied in finding places where I
might stop and breathe my team, that I paid little attention to my
queer-acting passenger; but once when we were standing I noticed that
she was covered up again, and seemed to be crying. As we topped the
bluffs, and drew out into the open, she sat up and began to rearrange
her hair. After a few miles, we reached a point from which I could see
the Iowa prairie sweeping away as far as the eye could see. I drew out
by the roadside to look at it, as a man appraises one with whom he must
live--as a friend or an enemy.
I shall never forget the sight. It was like a great green sea. The old
growth had been burned the fall before, and the spring grass scarcely
concealed the brown sod on the uplands; but all the swales were coated
thick with an emerald growth full-bite high, and in the deeper, wetter
hollows grew cowslips, already showing their glossy, golden flowers. The
hillsides were thick with the woolly possblummies in their furry
spring coats protecting them against the frost and chill, showing
purple-violet on the outside of a cup filled with golden stamens, the
first fruits of the prairie flowers; on the warmer southern slopes a
few of the splendid bird's-foot violets of the prairie were showing the
azure color which would soon make some of the hillsides as blue as the
sky; and standing higher than the peering grass rose the rough-leafed
stalks of green which would soon show us the yellow puccoons and
sweet-williams and scarlet lilies and shooting stars, and later the
yellow rosin-weeds, Indian dye-flower and goldenrod. The keen northwest
wind swept before it a flock of white clouds; and under the clouds went
their shadows, walking over the lovely hills like dark ships over an
 "Paas-bloeme" one suspects is the Rondout Valley origin of this term
applied to a flower, possibly seen by the author on this occasion for
the first time--the American pasque-flower, the Iowa prairie type of
which is _Anemone patens_: the knightliest little flower of the Iowa
The wild-fowl were clamoring north for the summer's campaign of nesting.
Everywhere the sky was harrowed by the wedged wild geese, their voices
as sweet as organ tones; and ducks quacked, whistled and whirred
overhead, a true rain of birds beating up against the wind. Over every
slew, on all sides, thousands of ducks of many kinds, and several sorts
of geese hovered, settled, or burst up in eruptions of birds, their
back-feathers shining like bronze as they turned so as to reflect the
sunlight to my eyes; while so far up that they looked like specks, away
above the wind it seemed, so quietly did they circle and sail, floated
huge flocks of cranes--the sand-hill cranes in their slaty-gray, and the
whooping cranes, white as snow with black heads and feet, each bird with
a ten-foot spread of wing, piping their wild cries which fell down to me
as if from another world.
It was sublime! Bird, flower, grass, cloud, wind, and the immense
expanse of sunny prairie, swelling up into undulations like a woman's
breasts turgid with milk for a hungry race. I forgot myself and my
position in the world, my loneliness, my strange passenger, the
problems of my life; my heart swelled, and my throat filled. I sat
looking at it, with the tears trickling from my eyes, the uplift of my
soul more than I could bear. It was not the thought of my mother that
brought the tears to my eyes, but my happiness in finding the newest,
strangest, most delightful, sternest, most wonderful thing in the
world--the Iowa prairie--that made me think of my mother. If I only
could have found her alive! If I only could have had her with me! And as
I thought of this I realized that the woman of the ferry had climbed
over the back of the spring-seat and was sitting beside me.
"I don't wonder," said she, "that you cry. Gosh! It scares me to death!"
ADVENTURE ON THE OLD RIDGE ROAD
Vandemark Township and Monterey County, as any one may see by looking at
the map of Iowa, had to be reached from Wisconsin by crossing the
Mississippi at Dubuque and then fetching across the prairie to the
journey's end; and in 1855 a traveler making that trip naturally fell in
with a good many of his future neighbors and fellow-citizens pressing
westward with him to the new lands.
Some were merely hunting country, and were ready to be whiffled off
toward any neck of the woods which might be puffed up by a wayside
acquaintance as ignorant about it as he. Some were headed toward what
was called "the Fort Dodge country," which was anywhere west of the Des
Moines River. Some had been out and made locations the year before and
were coming on with their stuff; some were joining friends already on
the ground; some had a list of Gardens of Eden in mind, and meant to
look them over one after the other until a land was found flowing with
milk and honey, and inhabited by roast pigs with forks sticking in their
backs and carving knives between their teeth.
Very few of the tillers of the soil had farms already marked down,
bought and paid for as I had; and I sometimes talked in such a way as
to show that I was a little on my high heels; but they were freer to
tack, go about, and run before the wind than I; for some one was sure to
stick to each of them like a bur and steer him to some definite place,
where he could squat and afterward take advantage of the right of
preemption, while I was forced to ferret out a particular square mile of
this boundless prairie, and there settle down, no matter how far it
might be from water, neighbors, timber or market; and fight out my
battle just as things might happen. If the woman in the wagon was
"scared to death" at the sight of the prairie, I surely had cause to be
afraid; but I was not. I was uplifted. I felt the same sense of freedom,
and the greatness of things, that came over me when I first found myself
able to take in a real eyeful in driving my canal-boat through the
Montezuma Marsh, or when I first saw big waters at Buffalo. I was made
for the open, I guess.
There were wagon trails in every westerly direction from all the
Mississippi ferries and landings; and the roads branched from Dubuque
southwestward to Marion, and on to the Mormon trail, and northwestward
toward Elkader and West Union; but I had to follow the Old Ridge Road
west through Dubuque, Delaware, Buchanan and Blackhawk Counties, and
westward. It was called the Ridge Road because it followed the knolls
and hog-backs, and thus, as far as might be, kept out of the slews.
The last bit of it so far as I know was plowed up in 1877 in the
northeastern part of Grundy County. I saw this last mile of the old road
on a trip I made to Waterloo, and remember it. This part of it had been
established by a couple of Hardin County pioneers who got lost in the
forty-mile prairie between the Iowa and Cedar Rivers about three years
before I came in and showed their fitness for citizenship by filling
their wagon with stakes on the way back and driving them on every
sightly place as guides for others--an Iowa Llano Estacado was
This last bit of it ran across a school section that had been left in
prairie sod till then. The past came rolling back upon me as I stopped
my horses and looked at it, a wonderful road, that never was a highway
in law, curving about the side of a knoll, the comb between the tracks
carrying its plume of tall spear grass, its barbed shafts just ripe for
boys to play Indian with, which bent over the two tracks, washed deep by
the rains, and blown out by the winds; and where the trail had crossed a
wet place, the grass and weeds still showed the effects of the plowing
and puddling of the thousands of wheels and hoofs which had poached up
the black soil into bubbly mud as the road spread out into a bulb of
traffic where the pioneering drivers sought for tough sod which would
bear up their wheels. A plow had already begun its work on this last
piece of the Old Ridge Road, and as I stood there, the farmer who was
breaking it up came by with his big plow and four horses, and stopped to
talk with me.
"What made that old road?" I asked.
"Vell," said he, "dot's more as I know. Somebody, I dank."
And yet, the history of Vandemark Township was in that old road that he
complained of because he couldn't do a good job of breaking across
it--he was one of those German settlers, or the son of one, who invaded
the state after the rest of us had opened it up.
The Old Ridge Road went through Dyersville, Manchester, Independence,
Waterloo, and on to Fort Dodge--but beyond there both the road and--so
far as I know--the country itself, was a vague and undefined thing. So
also was the road itself beyond the Iowa River, and for that matter it
got to be less and less a beaten track all the way as the wagons spread
out fanwise to the various fords and ferries and as the movers stopped
and settled like nesting cranes. Of course there was a fringe of
well-established settlements a hundred miles or so beyond Fort Dodge, of
people who, most of them, came up the Missouri River.
Our Iowa wilderness did not settle up in any uniform way, but was
inundated as a field is overspread by a flood; only it was a flood which
set up-stream. First the Mississippi had its old town, away off south of
Iowa, near its mouth; then the people worked up to the mouth of the
Missouri and made another town; then the human flood crept up the
Mississippi and the Missouri, and Iowa was reached; then the Iowa
valleys were occupied by the river immigration, and the tide of
settlement rose until it broke over the hills on such routes as the Old
Ridge Road; but these cross-country streams here and there met other
trickles of population which had come up the belts of forest on the
streams. I was steering right into the wilderness; but there were far
islands of occupation--the heft of the earliest settlements strongly
southern in character--on each of the Iowa streams which I was to cross,
snuggled down in the wooded bottom lands on the Missouri, and even away
beyond at Salt Lake, and farther off in Oregon and California where the
folk-freshet broke on the Pacific--a wave of humanity dashing against a
reef of water.
Of course, I knew very little of these things as I sat there, ignorant
as I was, looking out over the grassy sea, in my prairie schooner, my
four cows panting from the climb, and with the yellow-haired young woman
beside me, who had been wished on me by the black-bearded man on leaving
the Illinois shore. Most of it I still had to spell out through age and
experience, and some reading. I only knew that I had been told that the
Ridge Road would take me to Monterey County, if the weather wasn't too
wet, and I didn't get drowned in a freshet at a ferry or slewed down and
permanently stuck fast somewhere with all my goods.
"Gee-up," I shouted to my cows, and cracked my blacksnake over their
backs; and they strained slowly into the yoke. The wagon began
chuck-chucking along into the unknown.
"Stop!" said my passenger. "I've got to wait here for my--for my
"I can't stop," said I, "till I get to timber and water."
"But I must wait," she pleaded. "He can't help but find us here, because
it's the only way to come; but if we go on we may miss him--and--and--
I've just got to stop. Let me out, if you won't stop."
I whoaed up and she made as if to climb out.
"He may not get out of Dubuque to-day," I said. "He said so. And for you
to wait here alone, with all these movers going by, and with no place to
stay to-night will be a pretty pokerish thing to do."
Finally we agreed that I should drive on to water and timber, unless
the road should fork; in which case we were to wait at the forks no
matter what sort of camp it might be.
The Ridge Road followed pretty closely the route afterward taken by the
Illinois Central Railroad; but the railroad takes the easiest grades,
while the Ridge Road kept to the high ground; so that at some places it
lay a long way north or south of the railway route on which trains were
running as far as Manchester within about two years. It veered off
toward the head waters of White Water Creek on that first day's journey;
and near a new farm, where they kept a tavern, we stopped because there
was water in the well, and hay and firewood for sale. It was still
early. The yellow-haired woman, whose name I did not know, alighted, and
when I found that they would keep her for the night, went toward the
farm-house without thanking me--but she was too much worried about
something to think of that, I guess; but she turned and came back.
"Which way is Monterey Centre?" she asked.
"Away off to the westward," I answered.
"Is it far?"
"A long ways," I said.
"Is it on this awful prairie?" she inquired.
"Yes," said I, "I guess it is. It's farther away from timber than this I
"My lord," she burst out. "I'll simply die of the horrors!"
She looked over the trail toward Dubuque, and then slowly went into the
So, then, these two with all their strange actions were going to
Monterey County! They would be neighbors of mine, maybe; but probably
not. They looked like town people; and I knew already the distance that
separated farmers from the dwellers in the towns--a difference that as I
read history, runs away back through all the past. They were far removed
from what I should be--something that I realized more and more all
through my life--the difference between those who live on the farms and
those who live on the farmers.
There was a two-seated covered carriage standing before the house, and
across the road were two mover-wagons, with a nice camp-fire blazing,
and half a dozen men and women and a lot of children about it cooking a
meal of victuals. I pulled over near them and turned my cows out, tied
down head and foot so they could bait and not stray too far. I noticed
that their cows, which were driven after the wagon, had found too fast
for them the pace set by the horse teams, had got very foot-sore, and
were lying down and not feeding--for I drove them up to see what was the
matter with them.
Before starting-time in the morning, I had swapped two of my driving
cows for four of their lame ones, and hauled up by the side of the road
until I could break my new animals to the yoke and allow them to
recuperate. I am a cattleman by nature, and was more greedy for stock
than anxious to make time--maybe that's another reason for being called
Cow Vandemark. The neighbors used to say that I laid the foundation of
my present competence by trading one sound cow for two lame ones every
few miles along the Ridge Road, coming into the state, and then feeding
my stock on speculators' grass in the summer and straw that my neighbors
would otherwise have burned up in the winter. What was a week's time to
me? I had a lifetime in Iowa before me.
"Whose rig is that?" I asked, pointing to the carriage.
"Belongs to a man name of Gowdy," the mover told me. "Got a hell-slew of
wuthless land in Monterey County an' is going out to settle on it."
"How do you know it's worthless?" I inquired pretty sharply; for a man
must stand up for his own place whether he's ever seen it or not.
"They say so," said he.
"Why?" I asked.
"Out in the middle of the Monterey Prairie," he said. "You can't live in
this country 'less you settle near the timber."
"Instead of stopping at this farm," I said, "I should think he'd have
gone on to the next settlement. Horses lame?"
"Best horses I've seen on the road," was the answer. "Kentucky horses.
Gowdy comes from Kentucky. Stopped because his wife is bad sick."
"Where's he?" I asked.
"Out shooting geese," said he. "Don't seem to fret his gizzard about his
wife; but they say she's struck with death."
All the while I was cooking my supper I was thinking of this woman,
"struck with death," and her husband out shooting geese, while she
struggled with our last great antagonist alone. One of the women came
over from the other camp with her husband, and I spoke to her about it.
"This man," said she, "jest acts out what all the men feel. A womern is
nothing but a thing to want as long as she is young and can work. But
this womern hain't quite alone. She's got a little sister with her that
knows a hull lot better how to do for her than any darned man would!"
It grew dark and cold--a keen, still, frosty spring evening which filled
the sky with stars and bespoke a sunny day for to-morrow, with settled
warmer weather. The geese and ducks were still calling from the sky, and
not far away the prairie wolves were howling about one of the many
carcasses of dead animals which the stream of immigration had already
dropped by the wayside. I was dead sleepy, and was about to turn in,
when my black-bearded man last seen in Dubuque with a constable holding
him by the arm, came driving up, and went about among the various wagons
as if looking for something. I knew he was seeking me, and spoke to him.
"Oh!" he said, as if all at once easier in his mind. "Where's my--"
"She's in the house," I said; "this is a kind of a tavern."
"Good!" said he. "I'm much obliged to you. Here's your supplies. I had
to buy this light wagon and a team of horses in Dubuque, and it took a
little time, it took a little time."
I now noticed that he had a way of repeating his words, and giving them
a sort of friendly note as if he were taking you into his confidence.
When I offered to pay him for the supplies, he refused. "I'm in debt to
you. I don't remember what they cost--got them with some things for
myself; a trifle, a trifle. Glad to do more for you--no trouble at all,
"Didn't you have any trouble in Dubuque?" I asked, thinking of the man
who had threatened to shoot him in front of the post-office, and how the
black-bearded man had called upon the bystanders to bear witness that he
was about to shoot in self-defense. He gave me a sharp look; but it was
too dark to make it worth anything to him.
"No trouble at all," he said. "What d'ye mean?"
Before I could answer there came up a man carrying a shotgun in one
hand, and a wild goose over his shoulder. Following him was a darky with
a goose over each shoulder. I threw some dry sticks on my fire, and it
flamed up showing me the faces of the group. Buckner Gowdy, or as
everybody in Monterey County always called him, Buck Gowdy, stood before
us smiling, powerful, six feet high, but so big of shoulder that he
seemed a little stooped, perfectly at ease, behaving as if he had always
known all of us. He wore a little black mustache which curled up at the
corners of his mouth like the tail feathers of a drake. His clothes were
soaked and gaumed up with mud from his tramping and crawling through the
marshes; but otherwise he looked as fresh as if he had just risen from
his bed, while the negro seemed ready to drop.
When Buck Gowdy spoke, it was always with a little laugh, and that
slight stoop toward you as if there was something between him and you
that was a sort of secret--the kind of laugh a man gives who has had
many a joke with you and depends on your knowing what it is that pleases
him. His eyes were brown, and a little close together; and his head was
covered with a mass of wavy dark hair. His voice was rich and deep, and
pitched low as if he were telling you something he did not want
everybody to hear. He swore constantly, and used nasty language; but he
had a way with him which I have seen him use to ministers of the gospel
without their seeming to take notice of the improper things he said.
There was something intimate in his treatment of every one he spoke to;
and he was in the habit of saying things, especially to women, that had
all sorts of double meanings--meanings that you couldn't take offense at
without putting yourself on some low level which he could always vow was
far from his mind. And there was a vibration in his low voice which
always seemed to mean that he felt much more than he said.
"My name's Gowdy," he said; "all you people going west for your health?"
"I," said the black-bearded man, "am Doctor Bliven; and I'm going west,
I'm going west, not only for my health, but for that of the community."
"Glad to make your acquaintance," said Gowdy; "and may I crave the
acquaintance of our young Argonaut here?"
"Let me present Mr.--" said Doctor Bliven, "Mr.--Mr.--"
"Vandemark," said I.
"Let me present Mr. Vandemark," said the doctor, "a very obliging young
man to whom I am already under many obligations, many obligations."
Buckner Gowdy took my hand, bringing his body close to me, and looking
me in the eyes boldly and in a way which was quite fascinating to me.
"I hope, Mr. Vandemark," said he, "that you and Doctor Bliven are going
to settle in the neighborhood to which I am exiled. Where are you two
"I expect to open a drug store and begin the practise of medicine," said
the doctor, "at the thriving town of Monterey Centre."
"I've got some land in Monterey County," said I; "but I don't know where
in the county it is."
Doctor Bliven started; and Buckner Gowdy shook my hand again, and then
"A sort of previous neighborhood reunion," said he. "I expect one of
these days to be one of the old residenters of Monterey County myself. I
am a fellow-sufferer with you, Mr. Vandemark--I also have land there.
Won't you and the doctor join me in a night-cap in honor of our
neighborship; and drink to better acquaintance? And let's invite our
fellow wayfarers, too. I have some game for them."
He looked across to the other camp, and we went over to it, Gowdy giving
the third goose and the gun to the negro who had hard work to manage
them. I had a roadside acquaintance with the movers, but did not know
their names. In a jiffy Gowdy had all of them, and had found out that
they expected to locate near Waverly. In five minutes he had begun
discussing with a pretty young woman the best way to cook a goose; and
soon wandered away with her on some pretense, and we could hear his
subdued, vibratory voice and low laugh from the surrounding darkness,
and from time to time her nervous giggle. Suddenly I remembered his
wife, certainly very sick in the house, and the talk that she was
"struck with death"--and he out shooting geese, and now gallivanting
around with a strange girl in the dark.
There must be some mistake--this man with the bold eyes and the warm
and friendly handclasp, with the fascinating manners and the neighborly
ideas, could not possibly be a person who would do such things. But even
as I thought this, and made up my mind that, after all, I would join him
and the queer-behaving doctor in a friendly drink, a woman came flying
out of the house and across the road, calling out, asking if any one
knew where Mr. Gowdy was, that his wife was dying.
He and the girl came to the fire quickly, and as they came into view I
saw a movement of his arm as if he was taking it from around her waist.
"I'm here," said he--and his voice sounded harder, somehow. "What's the
"Your wife," said the woman, "--she's taken very bad, Mr. Gowdy."
He started toward the house without a word; but before he went out of
sight he turned and looked for a moment with a sort of half-smile at the
girl. For a while we were all as still as death. Finally Doctor Bliven
remarked that lots of folks were foolish about sick people, and that
more patients were scared to death by those about them than died of
disease. The girl said that that certainly was so. Doctor Bliven then
volunteered the assertion that Mr. Gowdy seemed to be a fine fellow, and
a gentleman if he ever saw one. Just then the woman came from across the
road again and asked for "the man who was a doctor."
"I'm a doctor," said Bliven. "Somebody wants me?"
She said that Mr. Gowdy would like to have him come into the house--and
he went hurriedly, after taking a medicine-case from his democrat wagon.
I saw my yellow-haired passenger of the Dubuque ferry meet him before
the door, throw her arms about him and kiss him. He returned her
greeting, and they went through the door together into the house.
I turned in, and slept several hours very soundly, and then suddenly
found myself wide awake. I got up, and as I did almost every night, went
out to look after my cattle. I found all but one of them, and fetched a
compass about the barns and stables, searching until I found her. As I
passed in front of the door I heard moanings and cryings from a bench
against the side of the house, and stopped. It was dawn, and I could see
that it was either a small woman or a large child, huddled down on the
bench crying terribly, with those peculiar wrenching spasms that come
only when you have struggled long, and then quite given up to misery. I
went toward her, then stepped back, then drew closer, trying to decide
whether I should go away and leave her, or speak to her; and arguing
with myself as to what I could possibly say to her. She seemed to be
trying to choke down her weeping, burying her head in her hands, holding
back her sobs, wrestling with herself. Finally she fell forward on her
face upon the bench, her hands spread abroad and hanging down, her face
on the hard cold wood--and all her moanings ceased. It seemed to me that
she had suddenly dropped dead; for I could not hear from her a single
sigh or gasp or breath, though I stepped closer and listened--not a sign
of life did she give. So I put my arm under her and raised her up, only
to see that her face was ghastly white, and that she seemed quite dead.
I picked her up, and found that, though she was slight and girlish, she
was more woman than child, and carried her over to the well where there
was cold water in the trough, from which I sprinkled a few icy drops in
her face--and she gasped and looked at me as if dazed.
"You fainted away," I said, "and I brought you to."
"I wish you hadn't!" she cried. "I wish you had let me die!"
"What's the matter, little girl?" I asked, seating her on the bench once
more. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Oh! oh! oh! oh!" she cried, maybe a dozen times--and nothing more,
until finally she burst out: "She was all I had in the world. My God,
what will become of me!" And she sprang up, and would have run off, I
believe, if Buckner Gowdy had not overtaken her, and coaxingly led her
back into the house.
* * * * *
We come now into a new state of things in the history of Vandemark
We meet not only the things that made it, but the actors in the play.
Buckner Gowdy, Doctor Bliven, their associates, and others not yet
mentioned will be found helping to make or mar the story all through the
future; for an Iowa community was like a growing child in this, that its
character in maturity was fixed by its beginnings.
I know communities in Iowa that went into evil ways, and were blighted
through the poison distilled into their veins by a few of the earliest
settlers; I know others that began with a few strong, honest, thinking,
reading, praying families, and soon began sending out streams of good
influence which had a strange power for better things; I knew other
settlements in which there was a feud from the beginning between the bad
and the good; and in some of them the blight of the bad finally
overwhelmed the good, while in others the forces of righteousness at
last grappled with the devil's gang, and, sometimes in violence,
redeemed the neighborhood to a place in the light.
In one of these classes Monterey County, and even Vandemark Township,
took its place. Buckner Gowdy and Doctor Bliven, the little girl who
fainted away on the wooden bench in the night, and the yellow-haired
woman who stole a ride with me across the Dubuque ferry had their part
in the building up of our great community--and others worked with them,
some for the good and some for the bad.
Now I come to people whose histories I know by the absorption of a
lifetime's experience. I know that it was Mrs. Bliven's husband--we
always called her that, of course--who expected to arrest the pair of
them as they crossed the Dubuque ferry; and that I was made a cat's-paw
in slipping her past her pursuers and saving Bliven from arrest. I know
that Buckner Gowdy was a wild and turbulent rakehell in Kentucky and
after many bad scrapes was forced to run away from the state, and was
given his huge plantation of "worthless" land--as he called it--in Iowa;
that he had married his wife, who was a poor girl of good family named
Ann Royall, because he couldn't get her except by marrying her.
I know that her younger sister, Virginia Royall, came with them to Iowa,
because she had no other relative or friend in the world except Mrs.
Gowdy. I pretty nearly know that Virginia would have killed herself that
night on the prairie by the Old Ridge Road, because of a sudden feeling
of terror, at the situation in which she was left, at the prairies and
the wild desolate road, at Buck Gowdy, at life in general--if she had
had any means with which to destroy her life. I know that Buck Gowdy
took her into the house and comforted her by telling her that he would
care for her, and send her back to Kentucky.
* * * * *
A funeral by the wayside! This was my first experience with a kind of
tragedy which was not quite so common as you might think. Buckner Gowdy