Jonas Bragg — A Personal Sketch.
According to the Norse-Tutonic mythology, Jotun (Hell) is situated in the far north; a land of rock, snow, ice and perpetual fog. The sun never shines there, the souls of the bad and especially the coward, or those who have shrunk the ordeal of the battle field have their eternal home in that uncomfortable place.
Asgard (Heaven) is a land of flowers, trees, grassy meads and flowing streams. In this sunshiny Paradise the brave, the good and the true have their residence and drink mead as the ages roll by. But in Asgard is a celestial mansion, a holy of holies, a new Jerusalem, reserved for heros who have fallen on battle fields. It is called Val Halla (Hall of the chosen). It has 365 doors and as many windows. It is approached by the Rain-bow bridge. Hierndall keeps the doors; he is the son of Nine Sisters; his senses are so acute that he can hear the grass grow, and see all things.
The battle maids bring the warriers over the bridge and into
121the Hall where the boar Schrimer is slain. They wait upon the warriers, bring them tit bits of the flesh with flagons of holy mead for refreshments. The great Gods Odin, Thor and Fry preside over the feast. Lesser gods and goddesses are present to honor the assembly. Notably among these is Braggi; he is the god of Romance, poetry and song. In his hands he holds the sacred Zeither and as he sounds its strings, he chants and sings the praises of the great gods and of the lesser, but especially of the warriers before him. He tells of all their great and mighty deeds, how they handled the sword, the bow and the spear. He tells to their credit of much and many things that never happened. A very popular individual is Braggi. Beside him sits his wife, the beautiful Nanno. She is the goddess of perpetual youth, and at her feet is a basket filled with the golden apples of immortality.
Away back in the far away Norseland and in the far away times the great Bragg family were warriers bold and took spoil with the strong hand. In the pursuit of happiness and plunder they sailed down the great North sea, till they came to the sea of glass, where they stopped to pay respect to Grimhilda, the daughter of Odin in the city of Iss. The romance of that distinguished lady is told in "Der Nederlungenlied" but space forbids further notice of her. The sea of glass is there still, bright and clear and so too is her city of Iss upon its shores. Geographers now call it Callais — place of the lily — to distinguish it from its great sister — Paris — the place of the Spear.
Passing over to Britain they scattered in that unknown land and as the centuries rolled by they drifted into those occupations common to Medieval times. Musicians, Henchmen, Harpers, pilgrims and rovers. Some of them crossed the Atlantic and one found his way over the mountains to the Greenbrier valley. This Bragg was a philosopher, whose thoughts were of today; to him tomorrow was an unknown quantity. A happy-go-lucky man after Pope's model, whose wishes and cares were bounded by a very few acres and a very few other things. His legacy to the world was a widow and ten sons.
Jonas Bragg was one of this decimal family, and as I first saw him in 1841 was a man of perhaps forty years of age, whose unique appearance was striking. Black hair and beard was relieved by a long aquiline nose surmounted by the worst squint eye that ever was seen. A great wide mouth, no chin, narrow chest, slightly stooping and five foot ten. He introduced himself by saying, "I am Bragg by name and brag by nature, I am a stockman and believe in good blood. I feel sure the Braggs have good blood in them; good Virginia blood. My father was a poor man and could not give us education, but poverty don't kill blood! No sir, we have it. When we came to this country, we wagoned down the Kanawa to Point Pleasant. The Ohio was booming and we had to wait two days before crossing. To kill time I sauntered round the town and then down to the old fort. There I saw Mrs. General Armstrong and her two daughters picking wool. They were poor, but the noblest looking women I ever saw; they had the best of Virginia blood in them. No sir, poverty don't kill blood!" Having a "call" farther up the timber we rode up the river road on the west side. Coming to a little enclosed space with a double log cabin in it, and some children about the door, Mr. Bragg drew up his horse by the fence, and remarked: "This is where I live; I am a widower and those two girls are my house keepers, and they do first rate; they are twelve and fourteen years old." I have a pleasant recollection of those girls and kept trace of them till they married and passed out of sight. "That boy standing against the tree is my eldest child, Aleck. He is sixteen and has made one horse swap; made a good one too, and I did not help him either; No sir." To the remark, "that boy will make his way in the world," he replied, "Yes, I think so, I hope he will have better luck than his father."
Mr. Bragg was not what the world calls a successful man. "A rolling stone gathers no moss." During the twenty years that I knew him I never found him twice in the same house. It was reported of him that he had moved his residence four times in one year. But the man's genuine goodness of heart, and the comicality of his ways, foibles and acts, made him a "character." Men of character are those we remember most about, think about and write about.
In the Greenbrier country there were no free schools and Mr. Bragg could neither read nor write. A false pride caused him to ignore the fact which every body knew. I have repeatedly heard him speak of writing and reading letters and newspapers. His skill in avoiding a signature was wonderful. I once witnessed a remarkable instance of this kind, [but] I will give one told me by the late Washington Williams. "When in the summer of 1842, Mr. Bragg came over to Vermillion to marry one of my elder sisters. My brother John told him he would have to obtain a license at Danville. It was arranged for brother John to go, but an order being necessary he said, ‘Just write it out for me,’ which was done and handed to him for signature. ‘All right,’ said Bragg, looking the paper over carefully, ‘all right, just put my name to it, you have the pen, all right!’" Mr. Williams made this remark about it, "Boy as I was at the time, I noticed that he held the writing upside down!"
Mr. Bragg was a very impulsive individual. Aside from change in residence he varied his occupations and was swift on new schemes. When a religious revival was got up, Bragg was sure to join, and was a liberal contributor, but by the time the six months probation was ended, something else had captured his mind, so that he failed of regular church membership. Somehow, inadvertently, of course, he'd get outside the traces and be "drop'd." In the early 50's he had made an effort in this direction, and Mr. Bragg most earnestly endeavored to hold out the probationary term. But unfortunately the Central Railroad had been opened to Champaign, and Mr. Bragg had engaged in the Chicago horse trade. Mr. B. was a great lover of horses and at that time resided on what was known as the Hut farm south of Camargo, where a big spring rose to the surface in the horse lot. The Methodist church of Camargo had at that time an iron clad discipline, and what is more, it was enforced. I believe it was Mr. Cole Bright who said they could give the old Puritans odds, then win; like their historic predecessors, their religious fervor, good works, and good intentions, did not save them from mistakes and blunders. A notice was left at Mr. Bragg's house requesting him to appear before the church class on the next Sabbath to answer a charge of blasphemy. Mr. B.
124did not know what the word blasphemy meant, it was new to him; and with his usual caution in educational matters, consulted a friend. "What do they mean by that?" "They mean that you have been swearing, that's what they mean." "Bless you, no that can't be it; I never swear. Nobody ever heard me swear. You never did? No, that's not it" and curious to know what was up, he met the class on time.
Rev. John Reynolds or Runnels as every body called him was the class leader, and opened the case by stating that he lived the next farm south of brother Bragg, that he had been told that brother Bragg was collecting horses for the Chicago market and had then a fine lot ready to ship. [Rev. Reynolds continued:] "I like to see good horses myself and so one Sunday morning after breakfast I went over to brother Bragg's to look at them. There was a big rail fence around the lot and a good many horses in it. Brother Bragg was standing in the middle of the lot, bare headed, in his shirt sleeves, with his arms folded and looking somewhere at something. I called to him through the fence and said, ‘brother Bragg, I heard you had a lot of good horses and I thought I'd take a look at them.’ Brother Bragg would have me climb the fence and look them over together with him. I think myself to be a fair judge of horses; I thought brother Bragg's a first class lot and I told him so. So far he had said but little, but remarked, ‘I'm going to take into Chicago the best lot of horses that ever went into that city.’ I thought the expression rather sleep, but said nothing. ‘Brother Runnels,’ said he, ‘you haven't seen them all yet. Come with me and I'll show you the best horse you ever saw.’ The horse was standing near the fence on the west side of the lot. I have seen a good many first class horses, but I confess I have never seen one equal to that one. He was a king among horses, and I told him so. Brother Bragg had said nothing, but he raised his hand and brought it down with a slap on the horses back, and as he did so, he said, ‘that is an Almighty horse.’ I immediately reproved brother Bragg and said, ‘that is a very profane and wicked expression to compare or associate the Almighty with a horse. No Christian nor no Methodist should ever do so. Its contrary to our church discipline.’ Brother Bragg made no reply; he seemed to be thinking
125of other things. He raised his hand again and again brought it down on the horses back with a heavy slap, and as he did so he said, ‘I tell you, brother Runnels, that is an Almighty horse.’ I could have excused the first expression he made because I thought he did not know any better; but his using it again, after my reproof, was too much. My duty as class leader compelled me to lay it before the church. I live neighbor to brother Bragg, and during my life time, I have lived by a good many good neighbors; but I have never lived by a better one than brother Bragg. I have done my duty. I will not speak on this case nor vote on it, nor wait for your decision." And so it was this good and well meaning man took up his hat and left the house bowed with sorrow.
At this point, it may be remarked, parenthetically, as the reader no doubt has noticed, that the good old fathers and mothers of Camargo church generally, and brother Runnels in particular, were not grammarians. The technical distinctions, signification and relations of nouns and adjectives were to them unknown quantities. They had never read Lindly Murray.
Mother Brewer was the first to speak upon the question. She had known brother Bragg long and favorably, and from the evidence of brother Runnels she felt sure there was no evil intended. On proper acknowledgement of fault on his part she thought the church could afford to forgive him and place him on his feet again. Others spoke to the same seffect but desired to have brother Watson's views. Rev. W. D. Watson, the time honored local preacher, responded by saying in part, that blasphemy was a sin against God and against the church. The church had no power to forgive the sin against God but could do so only as related to itself. "The question is," [he concluded,] "shall we forgive brother Bragg; for my part, I coincide with sister Brewer. I know of no rule better than the one Christ laid down, when the Pharisee, referring to the Mosaic law, inquired of him, ‘Shall I forgive my brother seven times?’ His answer was,
126‘Yea, not only seven times, but seventy times seven.’" Mr. Bragg was all ready to make the proper acknowledgement and apology, when Doctor Meadows rose to his feet. From what he had seen and heard, the Doctor said he was convinced that the Methodist church of Camargo was in a very bad way, going to the dogs as fast as it could: "We have before us an old trespasser, Jonas Bragg, always kicking over the traces, always violating the rules, and yet good and worthy members wish to take this mass of corruption back into good fellowship. When they do so, there is just one more thing to do as regards discipline: pull up stakes and quit the business." There had been a long smouldering feud between the two men, and Mr. Bragg flamed up at the Doctor's first word; his squint eyes looked unutterable things. "John Meadows," said he, "I know'd you in Virginia and I didn't know any good of you. You tattled and lied about me there and you've kept it up here, said mean things about me. You've said I had a white liver, and that I was a strange Jonas. Now this thing has gone on long enough; we'll settle it right now and here," shedding his coat and rolling up his sleeves before the astonished congregation. Mother Brewer promptly placed her burly form in front of her son-in-law and with uplifted hands waved Mr. Bragg back. "Please, Mother Brewer, please step aside and let Meadows and I settle this matter." He tried to reach his game over her shoulders, but she waved him back. "Now don't, brother Bragg, don't now." Meadows sat there most provokingly cool, "Give him rope, mother, give him rope!" A flank movement on the old lady failed; she had the inner line, and realizing that he could do nothing, Mr. Bragg put down his sleeves, resumed his coat, muttering, "We'll have this out at another time and place," left the house in a towering rage, declaring he would belong to no church or society where Dr. Meadows was a member.
Notwithstanding his rolling stone habits, he did gather some moss, and rolled himself over to Urbana as a better business point. There like the man going to Jericho, he fell among thieves and returned to the Ambraw a poor man. I last saw him