Pictures and Illustrations.
Personal Reminiscences of Life in Illinois — 1830 to 1850.
A little Yankee boy, then just nine years old, in December, 1830, familiarly walked the streets of mazy Boston, all unforeseeing that in April of the next year he should become an Illinoisan, and so remain for the next seventy-five years of his long life. That boy, now in his eighty-fifth year, is asked to tell how Illinois, which was, as a state, only three years older than himself, looked to his observant eyes; and what he thought of the people, mostly southern, among whom he was thrown.
It is a very trite saying that we live in a transitional age. I object to that sage maxim if it is understood to mean that other ages are not transitional. The student of man and of history sees that all ages have been ages of movement. One need not be a believer in Darwin's special theories of evolution to assert that, as strongly as does the Darwinian. The fact is as patent in, the time of Solon in Athens or of Caesar in Rome as it is in European history from 1700 to 1900. But there are vast differences of movement. Take the eighty-four years of my life as a measuring rod and apply it any whereupon the panoramic map of history; nowhere else will you find such rapid movement, such far-reaching occurrences, such heart-shaking catastrophes, and such splendid triumphs for man as illustrate my eighty-four years.
Will you make with me the vain effort to reconstruct the world into which I was born? Dismiss at once the telegraph, telephone, and phonograph, and electricity as a working force, with its trolley cars and its illumination. Take up your railroads; for in my fifth year the first rail in America was laid by Solomon Willard, my grandfather's first cousin, to carry from the Quincy quarries to the water's edge the granite blocks for the Bunker Hill monument which he was building. Live without, your daily paper and the news from every hemisphere. Let the furnaces and stoves be as rare in dwellings as open fires are now; and let the fuel be wood; our great steamers on the western rivers feed their fires with green cord-wood Obtainable on the shores. Let the home light be a dipped candle, a whale-oil lamp, or a saucer of lard with a rag wick burning at the brim; for by the latter I studied most of my evening lessons in college. Bring back into most country houses the two spinning-wheels for wool and flax, and clothe
74men and women in home-spun and home-dyed garments; for the few factories are insufficient and Lowell is not yet built. Shoes are made by the shoemaker only, of the same shape for both feet, not for right and left. Let your colleges be few, the preparatory schools be private enterprises called academies; and the common schools, except in New England, mere puny promises of what we have now. Restore slavery with its inhumanities and its political jealousies and bickerings in nearly all the states except New England and the free Northwest; for it did not end in New York until my sixth year. Cut down the number of states to twenty four, all east of the Mississippi, save Missouri and Louisiana; and count the total population of the whole land less than ten million, or less than twice what Illinois has now. Give back to Mexico, Texas and all the states that bestride the Rocky Mountains or border the Pacific, except Washington and Oregon, wild wastes, of which Bryant wrote,
"Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound
"Save its own dashings."
Cover all the gold of California, and return to the time when the owner of a gold watch was surely an opulent person, and the mines of the Rockies had not cheapened silver spoons.
If it were not so far from my assignment I would expatiate upon the moral, social and spiritual effects of the, great changes, whose proximate cause I find in Watt's perfecting the steam-engine in 1780, forty years before my time; he gave a push and set millions of wheels to whirling. I can only say that I was born into one world, and shall die in another.
My father migrated from Boston to Carrollton, Greene County, in March and April, 1831, taking 27 days to reach Bluff dale, in Greene county. He had his wife and three sons, of whom I was the oldest. We traveled by stage and steamer till we reached Pittsburg, and thereafter by steamers only on the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois. I thus saw the steamboats of that time, and the broadhorns or flatboats, and the keel boats, not then obsolete, but near the end of their days.
I saw St. Louis when it was a city of less than 5,000 inhabitants, fast growing out of its French, characteristics, one of which was the European narrowness of its streets, few in number. Third street was a border street on the edge of the country.
The end of our travel was a passage in a canoe up, a "sloo," and we were put upon a prairie with two and a half miles to walk to John Russell's house. Household goods went from Boston to New Orleans and came north by boat, arriving much later. Another colony of Yankees came during the summer.
Perhaps the first thing that caught my attention in my new home was the language of the people. My parents had kept me from any of the rustic ways of New England speech and from its snappy wordclipping; but the broad vowels of the south and west were strange to me. For instance, I was used to the flat vowel in "there" rhyming with "fair"; our neighbors said "tha-r". It was no longer strange, yet notable, when in New Orleans, in 1884, I heard in contrast in the parlor of the hotel the voices of both the southern women and the
75northern from Illinois and adjacent states. Of words, powerful for very, was amusing. A man saw no incongruity in saying of his sick wife, "she's powerful weak today." Mighty was used in the same way: "A mighty nice woman." There is a single instance in King James's Bible; "A mighty strong wind." "Right" for very, was new to me. "right smart chance" for a large quantity seemed ludicrous. "Ridiculous" was an epithet for something excessive, scandalous or unreasonable; when one man injuriously assaulted another, "the way he behaved was ridiculous." Toothache was "a misery in the teeth." Why should a bridegroom of twenty-one call his bride of sixteen at once "my old woman", while she spoke of him as "her old man"? To the Yankee the most of the day before the meridian sun was the forenoon, the western people knew no such time and never used the word; they took the Bible literally — "the evening and the morning were the first day" — and spoke of no other divisions of the day. On the playground, when the signal for the beginning of school was heard, the cry was "Books! Books!", and when the pupils rushed out, "School's broke!" "Su-vi-grus" I heard often, meaning fierce, cruel, severe; it was a coinage for savage, in the form of sav-ag-er-ous; so sockdoldger, the finishing or decisive stroke in a fight, was only a coined transposition of doxology.
Money had new designations. The Yankee and the Virginian agreed on six shillings to the dollar, but the Yankee reckoned by shillings and pence; the Virginian, in Illinois at least, did not. American coins were few; the Spanish, dollar and its fractions had the field, the dime came in slowly, "the dollar of our fathers" was never seen. From 1835 to 1844 there was a great circulation of French five-franc coins, with many an Italian, Austrian, or German piece, but Spain held its ground until the United States put the value of the Spanish quarter at twenty cents at the post office, and in 1844 for the first time charged postage in its own coin. In Illinois, the eighth of a dollar was a "bit," the sixteenth was a "picayune" — a word, strange to say, of unknown source, being neither Spanish, French, nor Italian. Prices were oftener given as two bits, four bits, or six bits, than in cents or the fraction of a dollar. The joke ran that the countryman asked six bits for his load of wood, but refused seventy-five cents and three quarters of a dollar, the latter expression being unfamiliar. The Yankee had to drop his "fo'pence" and "ninepence" for the bit and the picayune. But the bit, or eighth of a dollar was also called a York shilling, because in the Revolutionary war the Credit of New York had fallen so far that eight shillings equalled one dollar.
As I have said that the United States post office was an agency in driving out, the Spanish coin. I will tell of the operation of the postal department. I remember reading in the papers of those times about extravagant contracts for wrapping paper and twine for the post office department, So one hears of such complaints now, but then the paper and twine were a necessity. Let us suppose that the postmaster at Alton has nine letters to send out when the next stage shall arrive. Two are for Boston, on each of which the postage is 25 cents, one paid and the other unpaid. He has a waybill, three inches square, printed in columns. He writes the heading "Alton to
76Boston," puts in proper columns the facts about the letters, dates it, and signs his name, David Smith, Postmaster, puts the waybill with the letters and wraps all up in a piece of brown paper furnished by the post office department, ties it with United States twine, and directs it to Boston, Mass. The next letter is to go to Dayton, Ohio. He must go through the same process; except that he first consults a, directory and finds that the distance is such that he must charge 18(3/4) cents for it. Now he has four letters for St. Louis, the postage on each 6(1/4) cents. But no letters are in enveloped in those days, and if a letter contains another piece of paper or anything else, a sample of ribbon, for instance, the postage must be, doubled. Postmaster Smith is suspicious of one of these letters, so as a vigilant servant of the government he turns and twists and squeezes the suspected letter to see if it may bear double postage, and despite ingenious folding he discerns a bit of silk and a bankbill. So he marks the letter 18(3/4) cents; but as the sender has paid him a picayune, that fact must appear on the letter and on the waybill Just then Willard comes in with the tenth letter, also to St. Louis, written on a sheet as large as the leaf of one of our metropolitan dailies, which he exhibits to the postmaster and folds and seals with a wafer in his presence, ten times as heavy and five times as large as the letter on which triple postage has been noted, but as it is but one piece, it goes for single rate. The other three letters being to different places. Smith must estimate their distances and price them and wrap them up.
He has now his ten letters put up in six packages, tied and directed. An envelope could be used for a letter only by putting the letter into it in the presence of the postmaster to show him that but two pieces of paper were used; then it was charged double rate. Such was the awkward, cumbersome, costly way of the post office in this country, famous for its ingenuity, until July 1, 1845. On that day I mailed a letter at a country post office where the postmaster said that had forgotten that there was a new law! Stamps and full prepayment came by much later laws. England was in advance of us all the time until Armstrong devised the railway mail-service.
I watched the process of the election of members of Congress and local officers in Greene county in 1832, my father being a clerk at the election. In preparation, large sheets of paper were ruled into columns, a broad, one for the name of the voters, and as many narrow ones as there were candidates for the offices, their names being written at the heads of the columns. The voter came up and declared for whom he voted, the two or three clerks recording his declaration. It was slow work, but the voters were not many and there was no crowding or haste, I remember that my father said to the other clerks and judges of election, "while we are waiting for voters, let us do our voting." There were three candidates for Congress, and one got so few votes that I wondered that he ran at all. He was Sidney Breese, later a famous man in the State, probably he ran well in other counties. This viva voce method gave the friends of local candidates an advantage, since they could keep track of the election and call in laggard voters for their candidate or party. But independent or whimsical voting was difficult. The ballot was introduced in 1818.
Schools at that time were private schools, held by any man who would get subscribers enough to pay him for his undertaking. Whoever will may read of them in my History of Early Education in Illinois, included in the Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for 1883-84. No great scholarship was required of the teacher, as no pupil expected to learn more than the famous triad of reading, writing and arithmetic, unless a teacher better than usual could get up a class in geography. Spelling fell in with reading. Isaac K. Greene was teaching in Carrollton in 1831; in the winter of 1831-32 my father followed him. Julius A. Willard was a natural teacher, and went beyond the customary lines. He made a small blackboard for his school, though there were few in the Boston schools of that date, and since slates were few and costly, he made the younger children learn to shape letters and to write by giving them small boards and chalk. He astonished his pupils at first by giving out the words of the spelling lesson not in the order in which they were in the column in the book the pupils had counted and ascertained what word should come to each. When he gave out "intricate" up went a hand in protest, "that isn't the word Mr. Willard, definite is the first word." Pupils changed place in the line when a word was missed, and the head of the class at night began at the foot the next morning. I saw not long since in the newspapers the death Revel W. English, who was one of his older pupils.
But the Yankee schools of Greene and Willard were not without a rival of an older type, known as the "loud school". In the loud school the pupil was not only permitted to study his lesson aloud, but was expected to do so, silence was evidence that he was not studying and might be at mischief. I was in a part of the town into which I rarely went, when I heard a humming sound like the noise of a distant mill. I looked for its source and went towards the nearest log cabin. There was the loud school. I could hear one going over his spelling ba-k-e-r-ker, baker; c-i-ci-d-e-r-der, cider. Another pupil be reading from the English reader or from the stories at the the spelling book: "My name is Novel" — "Norval," says the voice of the teacher; while another boy is struggling with the sevens in the multiplication table and has got as far as "7 times 8 is 46," and the bass voice of the teacher chimes in "for reproof, for correction, for instruction." Children are apt to move their lips while studying and it is reported that Saint Ambrose, in the sixth century was wondered at because he could read and understand without moving his lips.
One part of my real education, one practically very valuable, can not be obtained by a boy in these days of factories and abounding commerce. In such a primitive community, all the primary and necessary trades could be seen in their operations, and as the workmen found that I never touched tools or materials, they allowed me considerable freedom in their shops, and answered my reasonable questions. I saw the round logs drawn from the woods and squared into building timber by old John Dee's broadax, queer with its handle set askew. I saw what I think cannot now be seen anywhere in the United States, the framing and raising of Joseph Gerrish's house,
78done in the old style. The timbers of two sides were framed or put together with treenails or pins, while the timbers of the other sides were laid near where they would be wanted, every piece being marked and numbered. Then all the neighbors were invited to the "raising," and these sides were lifted by hands, then by pikes, and lastly by long" poles, while Gerrish and Dee guided the tenons of the corner posts into the mortises. Had they been careless or let the post slip, the framing would have fallen in wreck with lose of life. While a few guarded these erected sides, most went to set up the timbers and studs of the other two sides, where many hands but less of strength were required. Whether Mr. Gerrish furnished the brown jug, usual upon such occasions, I do not remember, l suppose that he did. For the finishing of the house no costly pine or soft wood was had; a rough shed was built, in which oak boards were stacked on trestles loosely, so that fires built under them might slowly expel the sap and so "season" them; laborious planing took off the smoke and shaped them. I saw the making of lime as it was done in Greece twenty-five centuries ago. A pile of hickory wood, eight or ten feet high, was topped with a load of broken limestone; the wood was fired, and next morning there remained only the white ashes and the calcined stone turned to clear white lime. I watched the work of the tanner with the rawhides, and of the currier while he finished them, then I saw the shoemaker and the saddler in all the processes of their occupations. I scanned the work of the blacksmith and the farmer, and learned its reasons. More familiar was the work in wood by the carpenter and the cabinet-maker. When Smith and Baker built a saw mill and then a flouring mill, I was the interested watcher of the whole proceeding. In the flouring mill I understood every step of the business, from the winnowing of the wheat to the barreling of the perfected flour. Pine lumber was in those days floated down the Mississippi in rafts which were broken up at St. Louis, The boards Carrollton were brought up the Illinois to Bushnell's Ferry, now Columbiana, and taken thence in wagons. While in the river they became ingrained with sand, greatly to the discomfort of the carpenter, and caused the early dulling of his planes, as l knew from experience.
How to put up an ash hopper and to make soap, both soft and hard, I knew before I was ten years old. The art of the cooper I did not see in Carrollton, but in 1835, in the shop of Irving Randall, I knew Elihu Palmer, afterward a noted Baptist preacher, and his brother John. Both went to the academy out of which grew Shurtleff College, a fellow pupils with me. Thus it happened that I saw our late senator and governor, John M. Palmer, make his first barrel.
Since there was no sister in our family, I was made my mother's chief assistant and learned more of cookery than I remember, and my father taught me, often an unwilling pupil, much of gardening. All this sort oil technical education has proved of great use to me.
I may record it as a part of my Illinois training, that my father took a Whig newspaper, the "Illinois Patriot," and before I was
79eleven years old I was familiar with the names of the leading politicians of the nation, Andrew Jackson and his cabinet, and with the vehement political controversies then going on.
I think that few people are aware that our plague, the rat, is a later comer to America than the white man. He is a Tartar, he entered Eastern Europe soon after 1700, and reached England about the time of Braddock's defeat. Like the white man, he has traveled weSt. It is not strange then, that in 1831 I saw men looking with curiosity at a dead rat on the levee in St. Louis as Chicago boys would look at a dead raccoon in the street. In 1833 there were no rats in Carrollton except in the warehouse of John Evans and in the two or three houses next it. But in 1831 prairie wolves used to come within a half-mile or the village, and I heard them take toll of pigs, which beasts acted as scavengers and ran loose, like the cows. There were no laws for the enclosure of animals, the fields and the gardens must be fenced, which was at that time the most economical way. After the corn was gathered, gaps were left in the fences, and the cows of the village found fodder in the stalks and the omitted ears. A "painter," that is a panther or really a cougar was said to infest the woods near Carrollton at that time, but there really was one near Upper Alton and even on the, road between that place and Lower Alton in the year 1838.
Strawberries were not cultivated, but delicious, small ones were abundant in the grass of the prairies, tiny but sweet. I went into the woods to gather luscious plums for preserves, the canning of fruit was yet to be invented. The tomato was in 1828 regarded as a mere garnish to adorn the edge of the meat platter, many thought it poisonous since it belongs to the family of the belladonna or nightshade. By 1832 my parents, who were pioneers in experiments, were eating tomatoes as everybody does now. The New Englanders in Illinois greatly missed the golden glow of the dandelion in the grass and wrote to their friends to bring seeds when they should, come, and thus was it introduced.
The country people of Greene county brought little of their produce to the town except cordwood, grain for the mill, and peaches, apples, and potatoes in their seasons, The women brought chickens alive, eggs, and butter. Of the quality of the butter there could be no boaSt. Mr. Alexander said to one of his customers. "It you had left a little more buttermilk in it, I could have squeezed out a good drink." An English woman who was noted for the excellence of her butter thought that there was not ventilation enough in the dairies; and using a superfluous "h" she said to; her mother, "They don't give it hair enough." But I saw some samples which could have been improved by putting the flair on one plate and the butter on another. Time and a perception of the demands of the market improved the butter. In this land of strange customs it disgusted me to see people eating loppered milk, calling it bonnyclapper, when at my grandfather's I had seen it as pigs' food only. In most things the Yankees soon accommodated themselves to western ways, and used the open fire and Dutch oven as if accustomed to them all their lives. (By the way, Bartlett in his Dictionary of Americanisms describes a Dutch oven
80about as well as if in telling of a goat he bad described a jack-rabbit.) But in a few years stoves largely displaced the open fire for cooking, in the farmhouses as well as in the villages. Ten years saw a great change in that matter.
The people of Carrollton and the vicinity were mostly of southern and western birth. They called those who came from Pennsylvania or New York, Yankees. I do not remember anything but good feeling and hospitality on the part of the people toward the easterners unless the latter in some way assumed superiority. Each side naturally felt some amusement at the different ways of the other; but expression of the feeling was good-natured. The New Englander had to give up his Thanksgiving or celebrate it in his own home only. It was harder to adopt the western enjoyment of Christmas, since the Yankee had for two hundred years opposed the festivals of the English and the Roman churches, the children were easy converts. The Methodist church, pioneer Protestant body in the west, was early in the field at Carrollton, but in 1832 the easterners were so numerous that a Presbyterian church was formed, into which the Congregationalists went; and a revival meeting added to both churches and caused the formation of a Baptist church. That was organized by the greatest Baptist preacher in the State, who is memorable for his share in the warfare of 1823-24, when a strong effort was made to turn Illinois into a slave State. John M. Peck was one of the mighty ones on the side of freedom. He traversed the State in a thorough canvass, preaching the gospel and liberty alike. He was at this time (1832) forty three years old and still in his prime, I count myself fortunate in having seen three of the leaders in that fight: Judge Samuel Drake Lockwood, John Mason Peck, and Thomas Lippincoit, the latter was in 1824 a politician, but was the first pastor of the Presbyterian church in Carrollton.
In 1831 a man named Sullivan was hanged on the prairie west of Carrollton. He had murdered a boy at Eminence, a place now in Jersey county, and fled to New Orleans. I heard the testimony of the man who recognized him there, arrested him and brought him back. A Catholic priest visited him in the jail, and I heard the voices but not the words of the two in their interview: His confession was printed in a handbill. The gallows was made of an upright timber with a projecting arm about thirty feet from the ground. Sullivan and the sheriff, Jacob Fry, rode to the place in a two-horse wagon in which was a platform about six feet high. This was brought to a stand just under the end of the arm, then the sheriff and the criminal mounted, the platform, the sheriff pulled the white cap over the face, stepped down, and gave the word to the driver, and the wagon moved on. A great crowd surrounded the gallows, there was no attempt at privacy, which indeed it would have been impossible to have. I do not remember that I ran away from home to witness the scene. I am sure that my father was not there. I remember seeing one of the eminent attorneys-general of the State, George Forquer, at a trial in Greene county about this time, but not at Sullivan's trial.
Another infliction of punishment which would now be more revolting in public than the hanging would be, I saw on the public square in
81Carrollton in 1832. There was then no penitentiary in the State, hence other penalties had to take the place of confinement. Near the courthouse on the public square there was set a strong post, an unhewn log, ten feet high, with a cross-piece near the top. I saw a man brought from the jail by the sheriff and a constable, to be whipped lashes for the theft of a horse. He was stripped naked to the hips, his hands were tied and the rope was carried to the cross-piece and drawn as tight as could be without taking his feet from the ground. Then Sheriff Fry took that terrible instrument of punishment and torture, a rawhide. Probably many of you have not seen one. To make it, a taper strip of soft wet cowskin was twisted until the edges met, and the thing was dried in that position. It was hard, ridgy, and rough, but flexible as a switch, three quarters of a yard long. The sheriff began laying strokes on the culprit's back, beginning near his neck and going regularly down one side of his backbone, former sheriff Young counting the strokes aloud. Each stroke made a red blood-blister. When fifteen blows had been counted, the officer paused, and someone ran to the poor wretch with a tumbler of whiskey, then the other side of the man received like treatment. Then the man's shirt was replaced, and he was led away to the jail. One of the bystanders said, "O Lord! he isn't near as bad cut up as G.H. was when L. M. flogged him three or four years ago." Boy as I was, I not know what a dreadful infliction it was. The whipping-post remained there two or threes years, but I never heard of any further use of it.
The pestilence called Asiatic cholera was first described by a Portugese physician in 1560. A missionary doctor told me that it is always present in Hindostan. In 1817 it began a new career, moving westward from Bengal slowly but steadily, until it had overrun Persia, and in 1823 it had touched the borders of Russia. It lay dormant for seven years, and then it moved forward again, now rapidly, in the direction of the great human migrations. It swept Russia in 1830, and ravaged England in 1832, having left a record of 900,000 dead on the continent. It appeared in Quebec, June 8, 1832, and fourteen days later it was in New York, and following the lines of commerce and travel along the Ohio and Mississippi, it was by October of that year in New Orleans and St. Louis. Generally but not always the cold weather checked it.
In a suppressed terror, as awaiting an inevitable fate, the village of Carrollton looked for the arrival of the pestilence in 1833. Its poison went in the air, even now we know not wholly how. In some cases it verified Magendie's dictum to his class, "Gentlemen, cholera is a disease the first stage of which is death!" Its premonitory stage was one of painless purging and vomiting, this was followed by sinking of all the powers of life, spasms, collapse, and death. Sometimes the first stage was brief, and the violent infection of the poison carried the recipient of it into the fatal stage at once. I was a patient with cholera in 1833, surviving three onsets of if, as a physician I met it in 1851.
Sometimes the infection was so slight that persons of vigorous constitution seemed to throw it off. Such was the case with my father, who never took to his bed, and with my mother. She went to St. Louis in the spring of 1883, and soon after was very ill. Dr. Burritt said after seeing cholera cases that she had had a touch of it.
Before the middle of June, Mrs. Clemson, who had not been near our house, died of cholera. Instant alarm spread through the town. Many fled, most of those who did not or could not flee thought flight hopeless, for the poisoned air seemed to spread over the land. The shops and stores were open only when some one specially called on the proprietor. Nothing was brought in from the country. A townsman went out to get some chickens for the comfort of the convalescents: as he approached a farmhouse, the question was shouted at him, "are you from Carrollton?" At the word "yes," the family ran to the cornfield leaving him to take what he could find.
In the town, the silence of night settled down upon the day, save as the physicians and the well moved about in care of the sick. "Are there any new cases? " was the word on meeting. The daily stage with the United States mail came and went as usual; other wheels rarely broke the silence except as the dead were taken away from desolated homes. The sound of cabinet-maker's tools might be heard as he made a coffin of unseasoned black walnut — there were no undertakers then; and the rank smell of that wood became to me so associated with this horror that for years I could not bear the odor.
There were no gatherings of people in groups; I do not remember any religious rites at the funerals, any word of hope or courage; I do remember hearing the doleful tones of Dundee one Sunday in the last of the sad time.
In my father's family were eight persons. My mother's nurse, Ruth Rider, was taken suddenly, and died soon. I was then sick. Rachel Scott, the hired help, but more an equal member of the family than a hireling, was a little ill when her brother came to take her to Pekin, on the Illinois river. Against advice, as if glad to get away, she went with him. While they waited for a boat, cholera came upon her. The family of the house where they were fled away. Her helpless brother stood by until she died. He now looked for Help for a burial, but the only word was given from a distance, "dig a grave on the river bank, wrap her in the bed clothes, and cover her in it."
At last life prevailed over death, and the plague abated as sinks a tidal wave. Of the 500 people in the town about thirty-three, one in sixteen I remember my father calculated, died in the seven weeks or more of the pestilence. I have no memoranda of names. After a few days of rest, my father and Dr. Burritt went to Jacksonville to give help there.
One singular thing remained in our memories in contrast with the sadness. It was noticed after the silence brooded over the town that every morning a mocking bird in a tree near our house would begin his song with all its rich variations, warbling and trilling with his clear voice. Starting on a lower branch, as he sang he would fly to one a little higher, then, to another still higher, until at last he reached the topmost spray. Then, as if borne up by the stress and outburst of his own melody, still singing, he would fly up a few feet in air, and sink back as it exhausted, soon to begin his solo again.
In the year when the cholera was overrunning Europe, the first complete railway, with Stevenson's newly-invented locomotive, was opened in England, The ensuing interest and imitation was world-wide, Among the states that plunged at once into building railroads to be owned and operated by the state, our own Illinois was foremoSt. A map of Illinois for the year 1837 shows a wonderful network of projected railways notably unlike those that the developed commerce of later years has created. It was the politician's map, devised by personal greed and carried by log-rolling — "you vote for my road. I vote for yours." But the State set thousands of men at work to make cutting and embankments. Almost all of this labor was in vain, and the commercial crash of 1837 left the State burdened with a heavy debt and with only one short railroad to show. That was called "The Northern Cross Railroad," running from Meredosia on the Illinois river to Jacksonville in 1839, when it was opened; later it was continued to Springfield.
Railroads were made in those days by laying upon the earth surface cross-ties as we, lay them now; then timbers of about eight or ten inches square and of convenient length were laid lengthwise as we, now lay the T rail, and were fastened to the ties. Upon the upper surface of these stringers were laid bars of wrought iron an inch thick and about three inches wide, called strap-rails, These were pierced with holes so that they might be secured to the stringers, the holes being counter-sunk, so that the square heads of the spike should not come above the surface of the rail. The end of the strap rail was cut at the common miter angle of forty-five degrees so that each rail might match with its neighbor and avoid the break square across which causes the perpetual click and hammering which we now hear on our roads. All this looked like the making of a good road, but in practice the weight of the locomotive and loaded cars tended to lengthen the thin strap, to loosen the end spikes, to cur up the ends and draw the spikes, and at last to make the ends stand up several inches. Such elevated points were called snake-heads. If the snake-head rose so high that it struck an approaching car wheel above its middle, the strap would be forced up into the car, generally
84going through the car and doing mischief. A Snake-head entered a car and shot up between a woman's knees, making a ridiculous mess of her skirts, but she was glad to have escaped deadly hurt. The accidents were often serious. Presco Wright, of Springfield, told me that he and a friend were about to start on the same car. While awaiting its coming, the friend said, "Come, Press, let's go and take our last drink together." The car had gone but a few miles when a snake-head came up through the floor, struck his friend under the chin, and pushed to his brain, carrying him up bodily, a quivering horror!
Of course trains must run slow; and there must be a perpetual lookout. Once when I was a passenger on the road from Jacksonville to Meredosia, the engineer, Cornelius Ludlam, would stop the train whenever he saw a snake-head, no matter which way it pointed. He would jump down with a hammer and a box of spikes, run forward, and nail down the peril. One day the best engine, the, "Betsey Baker," went off into the ditch; and raising her was too expensive. Her lack of speed was so notorious that it was said that the cowcatcher was put on the rear to keep the cattle from running over the train. Then for a while mule-power took the place of the engine; I rode thus from Jacksonville to Springfield in May, 1845. Next followed utter abandonment of the road; a hundred thousand dollars was almost wasted; the whole concern was sold to a corporation for ten thousand dollars.
My father moved to Alton in 1884. There in 1837 I heard Webster speak, and got some notion of his power as an orator. My father was a friend of Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, and stood by him in the struggle that ended in the tragic death of that gentleman, Nov. 7, 1837. I often saw Mr. Lovejoy at my father's house and in the pulpit. He was a very gentle man; not impetuous, but mild; not of that stem stuff of which reformers are supposed to be made. He resembled the St. John of tradition, but not at all the St. Peter. His stand for the right was like that of Jesus, calm, without heat, but firm. My hearing Garrison in October, 1830, had made me hate slavery; the Lovejoy tragedy intensified the feeling. But I shall not tell of that great controversy, nor of my work in the famous Under Ground Railroad for fugitive slaves; I shall tell of an incident to which my helping a runaway slave led, though I begin far back.
The week of our arrival in Carrollton, in May of 1831, was one of excitement and stir in the little town. There was to be the wedding of Edward Dickinson Baker, a young man not yet twenty-one, with the widow Lee, older than he. I am not sure whether I then heard for the first time that French custom, the charivari or shivaree, a mock serenade of tin pans and horns, often inflicted upon ill-mated couples. I heard one that year, if not then. Baker was popular, and if some thought that he married, for money, it was hardly made a fault. Certain it is that business thrived thereafter in the store of Smith and Baker, and in the mills which they built. Moses O. Bledsoe, an old lawyer, clerk of the circuit court, and probably the most influential
85man in Greene County, favored Baker and led him to study law. The liking was certainly reciprocated; Baker followed Bledsoe's lead, and was even called Bledsoe's shadow.
The Campbellite Baptists were making many converts in 1832, and when Bledsoe became one of them. Baker soon followed. One Sunday I went with my mother to their church, and there I learned what was abundantly proved afterward, that Baker, young and untrained, was an orator by nature. The church was without a minister, and was served, somewhat Quaker fashion, by inspiration of the brethren. Report of Baker's exhortations had led my mother to go there. After I know not what of dull discourse by some one, Baker stepped into the pulpit. His motions were easy and graceful; his voice was full, but clear, sweet and smooth; his thoughts were pertinent, uttered in pure English, warmed by feeling and adorned with metaphors born of a fertile imagination. That all this should come vividly to me now, after the lapse of three-quarters of a century — for I even remember something that he said — shows how impressive was his speech. I know that he moved men whenever he spoke.
From Carrollton, Baker went to Springfield, and there became the partner of the oldest son of Moses O. Bledsoe, Albert Taylor Bledsoe. After the incident in their office which I am about to relate, Baker went to Congress, and took part in the Mexican war as colonel of an Illinois regiment. He went to California in 1852, and won fame in politics; but California was too hopelessly under proslavery democracy. He went to Oregon, won a republican victory there and was sent to the senate in 1860, On his way east he called to see his friend Lincoln, so that I saw him in Springfield in December of that year and talked with him. I can still call up to my vision his face as it was, darkly clouded by the anxiety which he felt in common with all patriots from that time forward. Less than a year later, impetuously leading his men as commander of a brigade, he fell in the battle of Ball's Bluff.
In February of 1843 my father and I were caught in assisting a fugitive slave to escape. It was our first, attempt, neither of us was caught again. We were indicted under the statute against harboring fugitive slaves. My father was advised to get a popular pleader, one called a "good jury lawyer," We went to Springfield for one, taking advice about members of the bar in that city from a resident abolitionist, Mr. Luther Ransom. Naturally my father applied first to one whom he knew, and whose special abilities and reputation he knew. Mr. Baker frankly told him, "I am seeking a nomination for Congress, and my friends advise me not to take any case that can affect me injuriously, any case involving popular prejudices." He recommended Stephen T. Logan, who had as a lawyer the highest reputation in the state.
The Legislature was in session then in the yet unfinished and unfurnished State house, and Logan was a member of it. My father and I took seats under the gallery, and a page took a note to Judge Logan. There came to us a small, thin man, dressed in home-made blue jeans, with a hickory shirt (that is, one of coarse cotton, not
86starched), not buttoned at the throat, and he had the marks of tobacco juice running down from the corners of his mouth. And this, we were told, was the foremost lawyer of Illinois! He sat down upon one of the rude benches, pulled a knife from his pocket and began cutting the bench between his legs. As soon as the case was partly stated to him he shut his knife and rose up briskly, saying: "I don't practice in Morgan."
After some further scrutiny of the list of Springfield's lawyers Mr. Ransom said to my father, "I think there is no other man here that can help you." Hesitating a little, he added: "There's Lincoln; he always helps me when I call upon him for a man that is arrested as a runaway. He is too little known; you want one that is popular and has made a name." And so we, failed to employ Lincoln and make acquaintance with him. It made no difference to our case, any Morgan county jury must have convicted us on the evidence. For this reason, after the Supreme Court had decided against us on the points at law, I pleaded guilty and threw myself on the mercy of Judge Lockwood.
The first day of our search for an advocate I had remained some hours in the office of Baker & Bledsoe. Several men came in, among them was one gaunt-faced, awkward, long-limbed man, who took a law book from a case and sat down on a chair rather too low for him. I noticed the long leg thrown back and doubled up under the long thigh, like that of a grasshopper I wondered at his make-up. Some one called him Lincoln, and he smilingly replied. I had not heard the name before and remembered the man for his notable physical peculiarities.
In that office I saw at the same time three men — Lincoln, Baker, Bledsoe — whose futures no one could have guessed, even with the wildest imagination enlisted for the task. Bledsoe was of a logical mind, acute, learned, versatile, able and even, powerful in any field of thought except natural science, in which he was untried. He had graduated at West Point, then taught mathematics next studied theology and was ordained an Episcopal clergyman, but had turned to the law. Before a Supreme Court, where the humor and commonsense of Lincoln and the eloquence of Baker would have availed little, the logic of Bledsoe might have outdone Logan, or have adorned that bench itself.
Had one who knew the three men been told that one of the three should become the President of the United States, and were he then bidden to point him out, he would have said: "Baker is not the man. For he was born in England; besides, eloquence doesn't win. See Clay and Webster and, earlier, Fisher Ames and Pinckney. Lincoln will do for Sangamon county, or to go to Congress from this district; but if the lightning of a presidential nomination hits him, it will hit the wrong man; he has more risk of being hit by the real article. Bledsoe must be the man."
But when we look back we see that it was the fate of Baker to share in a war with Mexico, to go to a land yet to be snatched from that
87power, to become Senator from a region then tenanted by Indians and hunters only, and to lay down his life for the preservation of a nation into whose allegiance he was not born.
Bledsoe was in five years to leave his law books, to sink his splendid powers in the humdrum life of a professor of mathematics in a Southern university, gaining time to write two books; one, a theodicy to defend the glory of God, which was needless; the other to defend the glory of negro slavery, which was vain. Then when the trumpet called to arms Colonel Bledsoe became Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy, and went down with it. He wrote books afterward, the most notable one being entitled, "Is Davis a Traitor?"
But the third man, that ungainly, uneducated man, what of him? His fame is eternal, A thousand pens have written of his history; ten thousand tongues proclaim it; I need not. The man of the great heart was found to be the man of the great brain, worthy to rank with Washington, but better known and better loved; for to him God gave the courage, the spirit, the love, the wisdom, and the opportunity to save the nation.