ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI. October 26, 1824. Domestic chores for women on the frontier; slavery on the frontier.
The choicest settlements are along the Ohio, the White, and the Wabash rivers. The state was established in 1816 and, at present, has a population of about a hundred and fifty thousand souls. Slavery is as little permissible as in the state of Ohio and in Illinois. It is claimed that this law is not favorable to the rapid progress of the interior. The state of Ohio has been able to increase its population more easily through the immigration of poor settlers from the Atlantic states. Settlements in the more remote regions, however, require more means, which are almost exclusively in the possession of such persons who, because of their education and their circumstances, are relieved from spending all their time in physical labor, and usually make use of servants or slaves in establishing settlements. As long as the population is sparse, servants are very expensive. I have stayed overnight in houses that were very luxurious in their accoutrements, with costly carpets in all rooms, but one asked in vain for a servant. The landlord was compelled, in spite of his considerable wealth, to care personally for the horses as well as for the guests. Furthermore, his wife and daughters had to perform the most menial household tasks. Their only topic of conversation was that they wished to sell their establishments in order to move to a state where one could keep slaves.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MISSOURI. September 1825. Description of wagon trip to the frontier; establishment of new home in wilderness; food and supplies for the frontier family.
A large freight wagon (or several, according to the needs of the family) is loaded with the household goods in such a manner that a covered space remains free for passengers. In addition to the household goods, tents and provisions are included: smoked pork, beans, peas, rice, flour, cheese, and fruit; also for the first week, bread, and maize for the energetic horses. Thus the journey is begun. Sometimes the owner rides with his wife and children in a special wagon, sometimes in a coach, or he rides on horseback. If he has male slaves, one of these will be the driver. Otherwise he or some other member of the family does it. On the entire trip of perhaps more than 1,200 English miles, there is no thought of stopping at an inn. During the feeding of the horses at noon the kitchen also goes into operation. A stopping place is chosen near a spring or a brook, either in the shade or in the open according to the weather. A fire is quickly lighted and housekeeping proceeds as if they were at home. In the evening, more thought is given to the selection of the next campsite. If something is needed; such as cooking utensils or provisions, they stop near a farm and tents are set up, especially if the weather is bad. Some members of the party tend to the domestic animals (if the journey is not too long even the cattle are taken along), and others are busy with the kitchen. Finally, the lodging for the night is prepared. Everywhere the wagon train stops for the night, the natives are polite and ready to supply what is desired. Household goods are loaned, provisions are sold at low prices, horses are granted places to graze if it is preferred to let them graze in the open. The latter rarely presents any difficulties. Usually it is necessary only to hang a bell around the neck of the leader of the herd and to make his walking more difficult by fastening hobbles to his legs. They are tired and hungry and will not easily leave a good grazing place. Also, a trained dog would easily find their trail. However, there are cases when they take advantage of a moment of freedom to run back home. No distance and no stream will then hold them back, and they know how to find the way back to their old homes even through great forests. In my neighborhood there are two oxen that recently returned from a distance of one hundred English miles, having swum across the Missouri. A horse came back alone from Franklin (a distance of about one hundred twenty English miles)....
As soon as a traveling family has arrived at the site of its new home, it stops at the exact spot where the buildings are to stand. Then an enclosure is erected as a temporary protection for household goods and tents, which are now set up for a longer period of time. Fencing is needed to keep out the cows of neighboring settlements. The young calves are also kept in this enclosure to restrict the movement of the freely grazing cows, which return regularly and, without the slightest attention or care, constantly provide the family with milk and cream. The site for the house is chosen near a good spring or brook. A small building is immediately erected over the spring to protect it from pollution and also to provide a cool place for storing milk, butter, and meat.
The next concern is the building of a dwelling in the manner previously described. The wood for it is not hewn and, in the beginning, only a barnlike structure is planned to provide temporary shelter. A second one is built for the Negroes; then a third to be used as a barn, anti a smaller building to serve as a smokehouse. The tree trunks are felled in the neighborhood and dragged up by horses or oxen. The building itself is erected with the help of neighbors if the family cannot manage it alone. Not more than four or five persons are required to erect such a building. Boards are sawed for doors and floors, or trees are split into planks, for which purpose the ash and hackberry trees (Celtis crassifolia, or lotus tree) are especially suitable. The hearth, together with the chimney, is built very simply of wood, lined below with a stone wall and covered at the top with clay. If the chimney is six inches higher than the top of the roof smoke will not be a bother. The danger of fire depends on the construction of the stone wall and the clay covering.
Anyone who looks upon such a dwelling with too much contempt is not familiar with the local climate. I have been in some where cleanli ness and good furniture made for a very attractive appearance. Many families desire nothing else, since in other matters they live a life of plenty. The only thing that I have to criticize about the houses is that they usually have no cellar (the hut around the spring takes its place). In the summer a moldy odor rises out of the humus under the rough floor. This rarely offends one's nose but obviously endangers one's health. A floor laid by a carpenter affords perfect protection. Whoever does not want to spend that much on it can take care of the matter himself by removing the humus from the building site, or by burning cut wood from the clearing on the home site.
When the building is completed, which requires scarcely two to three weeks, the family already feels at home and the next step is to make the land arable. They usually begin by fencing in the chosen area in order to use it temporarily as an enclosed pasture for the horses and oxen which they want to keep close for convenience...
Very rarely is the cold said to interrupt outside work for more than two days. Even in January the weather is not always unfavorable for removing the roots of brush. Where horses, cattle, and hogs, not excluding the tenderest calves, can survive the winter without shelter, the climate cannot be too harsh.
It is remarkable how quickly all these domestic animals become accustomed to their homestead. Milk cows are kept near their fenced-in calves. Therefore, when a cow is sold its calf is part of the bargain. Calves are never slaughtered, partly because they grow up without any care or expense. During the first months cows return to their young at temporarily and this seems too inconvenient to a new settler...
At the beginning an acreage of four to five Morgen is sufficient for a small family. A half Morgen may be used for garden vegetables; a second halfMorgen for wheat, although it is usually too late to sow it during the first fall. This leaves three or four Morgen for maize.
In the western regions of America maize is a main product of agriculture. One could call it the wet nurse of the growing population. It serves all domestic animals as food, as it is used for fattening. The flour from it is simply called meal. On the other hand, the ground product of wheat is called flower [sic]. When boiled with milk, it makes a very nutritious healthful, and palatable food. If it is kneaded with the boiled pulp of the pumpkin, ( Concurbita pepo) however, a bread can be baked that I prefer to wheat bread, especially if the dough is fermented by subjecting it to heat for approximately twelve hours. A dough of cornmeal mixed with water or milk and then baked produces a bread that is too dry, but with fatty foods it is quite palatable. The bread is baked in covered iron pots which are placed on a bed of glowing wood coals on the hearth and also covered with them. In most households fresh bread is prepared every day, and in general, the cooking and baking are not very inconvenient because of the constant supply of glowing coals on the spacious hearth. Bread is also made of wheat flour. As well as I remember, the cornmeal is called groats in the Rhine region. There are many varieties of maize here. The most common varieties have white and yellow grains. There are also red, blue, and red-and-blue-speckled ones, and some that are transparent like beautiful pearls. These variations are preserved by propagation. The meal from all of them is the same. The stalks grow very tall, ten to fifteen and even twenty feet.
The garden provides the best European garden produce. Peas and beans flourish beyond all expectation. Only the finer varieties of beans are found. In order to require neither poles nor a special bed they are usually planted in the maize fields where the tall cornstalks serve as support for the vines. Pumpkins, lettuce, and several other things are planted there also. In this fertile soil, without the least fertilization, all these plants grow at the same time just as luxuriously after twenty years as in the first ones. I assure you that there is no exaggeration in this statement and that I have convinced myself many times of its truth. One of my neighbors, by the name of William Hencock [Hancock] , owns a farm on the banks of the Missouri that was started twenty years ago. Every year without interruption these areas have produced the richest harvests which no fertilizer can increase. In fact, the only change is that wheat can now be grown on fields that have been under cultivation for so long, whereas formerly it always fell over. However, some garden produce requires natural fertilizer. The farmer provides this in a very simple manner. He quarters his sheep overnight in the area intended for beds. Every year there is an abundance of cucumbers and melons (watermelons, and others), of course without any care. A good vegetable for the garden is the Bataten (called sweet potato here; the common potatoes are called Irish potatoes). They require a long summer and probably would not develop well in Germany. Prepared in steam they taste like the best chestnuts. I like them very much with coffee in the morning, although so early I can rarely eat the fried meat that is usually served in addition. Like the cucumber, the plant has vines that spread over the ground.
In the second year cotton is raised also; however, north of the Missouri only for family use. On the whole, the American farmer tries to spend no money for food or drink or clothes (with the exception of real finery). Therefore, flax and hemp are cultivated, and a small herd of sheep is kept. The products are all made at home. The spinning wheel is found everywhere, and if there is no loom, the housewife or one of the daughters goes from time to time to a neighbor who owns one. Just as most men are skilled at making shoes, few women find it difficult to make not only their own clothes but also those of the men. The demands of changing fashions are not ignored.
After housekeeping has been organized and the first purchases have been paid for, the whole family lives a carefree and happy life without any cash. And this is the real reason small sums are less important here than in Europe. [In Europe] when the husband brings home a little ready money, the wife immediately needs something, and usually there is no peace and quiet in the home until it has all been spent in the nearest store, usually for tawdry finery...
If the farmer owns two slaves, he may devote his time merely to supervision without doing any of the work himself and, in this case, the housewife will have little reason to complain about keeping house. Food is abundant. Also beer can easily be brewed since enough hops grow in the forests. The apple and peach orchards found on every farm furnish cider and brandies. Although a very good whiskey can be made from corn, the apple and peach brandies are preferred. I have tasted old corn whiskey that cost thirty cents a gallon (about two Cologne quarts) and it was as good as the best French brandy. Even without slaves, the farmer lives in a manner that surpasses by far that of a European farmer of the same financial status.
For most of the harder work of housekeeping there are ways of making the labor easier. If, for instance, laundry is to be done, a fire is lighted next to a nearby brook and a kettle is hung over it. The bleaching ground cannot be far away either, and it is a matter of course that during the summer a shady place is chosen. If butchering is to be done, there are similar advantages. Usually, animals to be slaughtered, oxen as well as hogs, are shot. The animals are lured to a suitable place with a little feed and very rarely does a shot fail to serve its purpose. In this way a single person can do the entire job, although it is the custom that neighbors help each other in this work.
Finally, I must correct the erroneous opinion that the difficulty of social intercourse is the dark side of the vaunted lot of the American settler. One should dismiss from his mind the idea that the accomplishment of his purpose demands a great degree of isolation from neighbors and consider, at the same time, that a distance of from two to three English miles here is negligible, even for the female sex. No family is so poor that it does not own at least two horses. Everyone strives to make these animals, which are kept at so little expense, his first purchase. Next in line are good saddles, and it is not unusual to spend twenty-four to thirty dollars for a woman's saddle (which would suffice for three saddles on the Atlantic coast, for example, in Baltimore ). Women and girls, old and young, ride (sidesaddle in the English manner) at a rapid or a slow pace without any difficulty, and they last in the saddle as long as the men. Not a week passes in which the housewife does not visit her neighbors on horseback either alone or with a companion. On Sundays, only the weather can be a hindrance. Often the whole family leaves the house without the slightest worry about thieves. Some houses are not even provided with locks, although the kitchen utensils alone are worth more than twenty dollars. Horse racing, cock fights, and target shooting are here, as in North America in general, the most frequent occasions for the gathering of men.
MISSOURI WILDERNESS. June 1826. In the western part of North America the population, in comparison to the amount of fertile, cheap land, is too sparse to permit anyone who either cannot or does not wish to be actively engaged in physical labor to carry on farming on a large scale without slaves. Even if one wants to supply one's own needs, domestic affairs would suffer because of the lack of whites who would have any desire to be hired for this purpose. But one who could decide to hire a slave would probably not hesitate to buy him.
The usual price of a male slave from nineteen to thirty years of age is four to five hundred dollars. The price of a female slave is a third less. Sometimes there is a guarantee against running away; often not it is always advisable to take this into consideration.
MISSOURI. March 1827. Financial requirements for emigration; economic prospects for frontier families.
How many men are there in Germany who have funds amounting to four to six thousand Thaler without any other prospect than to use them for living expenses! But this sum is more than abundant to provide a happy life for an entire family on the banks of the Missouri, even if eight hundred to a thousand Thaler should be spent for traveling expenses, provided that they did not lack guidance. Such a financial status is very common in Germany among persons who are forced by what is called propriety and decorum to make expenditures that, without providing pleasure for the present veil the future with anxiety. With the above-mentioned sum the immigrant can buy two adult slaves (one male and one female), which cost about twelve hundred Prussian Thaler, and establish himself in such a manner that he can live more happily and, especially in regard to the future lot of numerous descendants, with many less worries than if he possessed six times that amount in Germany. But if he is capable of cultivating his own soil, a thousand Prussian Thaler would more than suffice, except for traveling expenses. I am estimating 150 to 200 Thaler for eighty Morgen of land; 45 to 60 Thaler for clearing and fencing from five to seven Morgen; 120 Thaler for two horses; 26 Thaler for two cows 12 Thaler for two sows; 100 for the buildings; a like amount for goods and chattels. That makes at the highest estimate 618 Thaler. So almost 400 Thaler are left for other, less essential things and for the ability to live without adhering quite so closely to a strict budget. If 200 Thaler more are spent on the dwelling, the immigrant is surely established far more comfortably than is usual for peasants who cultivate their own fields in Germany. A quarter of a mile from me there lives a farmer by the name of Jacob Haun. Seven years ago he began to establish a homestead. Because he possessed scarcely a hundred Thaler, he at first lived on state property and there tried to earn enough for the purchase of 160 Morgen. Then he continued to farm on his own property after the usual fashion and prospered, so that in seven years, without any assistance, he acquired a fortune of three thousand Thaler. Meanwhile his wife bore him five children, and now his household annually consumes over twelve hundred pounds of pork, an oxen weighing five to six hundred pounds, and several dozen roosters and hens. Also, at least ten to twelve deer are killed and a large number of turkeys. (No powder is used for partridges; it is left to the children to catch them in traps.) Who would believe that so much meat could be consumed in one householld of two adults and five children, of whom the oldest is scarcely six years? Some, of course, is contributed to hospitality. But most of it is due to the extravagant use of an article of food that is almost cheaper here than the most common vegetables in Germany.
There is much complaint in Europe about the decrease in the number of marriages, and superficial moralizers therefore declaim about immorality without considering that need is the true cause of this phenomenon, whereas immorality is merely the result, even the inevitable result. Only a thoughtless person can indulge in propagation without considering the future of his children. Among the low class of people, marriages have not decreased, although their morals are worse than ever. This is a deplorable, unnatural situation in our poor fatherland, which will never change automatically. The only charitable aid is the general promotion of emigration. There is no more sacred duty for the states of Germany now than to provide efficient guidance for these emigrations.
THE PRAIRIE. Murder attempt at a frontier cabin; encounter with an Indian.
On my return from the Upper Mississippi, I found myself obliged to cross one of the wide Prairies, which, in that portion of the United States vary the appearance of the country. The weather was fine, all around me was as fresh and blooming as if it had just issued from the bosom of nature. My knapsack, my gun, and my dog, were all I had for baggage and company. But, although well moccasined, I moved slowly along, attracted by the brilliancy of the flowers, and the gambols of the fawns around their dams, to all appearance as thoughtless of danger as I felt myself.
My march was of long duration; I saw the sun sinking beneath the horizon long before I could perceive any appearance of woodland, and nothing in the shape of man had I met with that day. The track which I followed was only an old Indian trace, and as darkness overshadowed the prairie, I felt some desire to reach at least a copse, in which I might lie down to rest. The Night-hawks were skimming over and around me, attracted by the buzzing wings of the beetles which form their food, and the distant howling of wolves gave me some hope that I should soon arrive at the skirts of some woodland.
I did so, and almost at the same instant a fire-light attracting my eye, I moved towards it, full of confidence that it proceeded from the camp of some wandering Indians. I was mistaken:-I discovered by its glare that it was from the hearth of a small log cabin, and that a tall figure passed and repassed between it and me, as if busily engaged in household arrangements.
I reached the spot, and presenting myself at the door, asked the tall figure, which proved to be a woman, if I might take shelter under her roof for the night. Her voice was gruff, and her attire negligently thrown about her. She answered in the affirmative. I walked in, took a wooden stool, and quietly seated myself by the fire. The next object that attracted my notice was a finely formed young Indian, resting his head between his hands, with his elbows on his knees. A long bow rested against the log wall near him, while a quantity of arrows and two or three raccoon skins lay at his feet. He moved not; he apparently breathed not. Accustomed to the habits of the Indians, and knowing that they pay little attention to the approach of civilized strangers (a circumstance which in some countries is considered as evincing the apathy of their character), I addressed him in French, a language not unfrequently partially known to the people in that neighborhood. He raised his head, pointed to one of his eyes with his finger, and gave me a significant glance with the other. His face was covered with blood. The fact was, that an hour before this, as he was in the act of discharging an arrow at a raccoon in the top of a tree, the arrow had split upon the cord, and sprung back with such violence into his right eye as to destroy it for ever.
Feeling hungry, I inquired what sort of fare I might expect. Such a thing as a bed was not to be seen, but many large untanned bear and buffalo hides lay piled in a corner. I drew a fine time-piece from my breast, and told the woman that it was late, and that I was fatigued. She had espyed my watch, the richness of which seemed to operate upon her feelings with electric quickness. She told me that there was plenty of venison and jerked buffalo meat, and that on removing the ashes I should find a cake. But my watch had struck her fancy, and her curiosity had to be gratified by an immediate sight of it. I took off the gold chain that secured it from around my neck, and presented it to her. She was all ecstasy, spoke of its beauty, asked me its value, and put the chain round her brawny neck, saying how happy the possession of such a watch should make her. Thoughtless, and, as I fancied myself, in so retired a spot, secure, I paid little attention to her talk or her movements. I helped my dog to a good supper of venison, and was not long in satisfying the demands of my own appetite.
The Indian rose from his seat, as if in extreme suffering. He passed and repassed me several times, and once pinched me on the side so violently, that the pain nearly brought forth an exclamation of anger. I looked at him. His eye met mine; but his lock was so forbidding, that it struck a chill into the more nervous part of my system. He again seated himself, drew his butcher-knife from its greasy scabbard, examined its edge, as I would do that of a razor suspected dull, replaced it, and again taking his tomahawk from his back, filled the pipe of it with tobacco, and sent me expressive glances whenever our hostess chanced to have her back towards us.
Never until that moment had my senses been awakened to the danger which I now suspected to be about me. I returned glance for glance to my companion, and rested well assured that, whatever enemies I might have, he was not of their number.
I asked the woman for my watch, wound it up, and under pretence of wishing to see how the weather might probably on the morrow, took up my gun, and walked out of the cabin. I slipped a ball into each barrel, scraped the edges of my flints, renewed the primings, and returning to the hut, gave a favourable account of my observations. I took a few bearskins, made a pallet of them, and calling my faithful dog to my side, lay down, with my gun close to my body, and in a few minutes was, to all appearance, fast asleep.
A short time had elapsed, when some voices were heard, and from the corner of my eyes I saw two athletic youths making their entrance, bearing a dead stag on a pole. They disposed of their burden, and asking for whisky, helped themselves freely to it. Observing me and the wounded Indian, they asked who I was, and why the devil that rascal (meaning the Indian, who, they knew, understood not a word of English) was in the house. The mother-for so she proved to be, bade them speak less loudly, made mention of my watch, and took them to a corner, where a conversation took place, the purport of which it required little shrewdness in me to guess. I tapped my dog gently. He moved his tail, and with indescribable pleasure I saw his fine eyes alternately fixed on me and raised towards the trio in the corner. I felt that he perceived danger in my situation. The Indian exchanged a last glance with me.
The lads had eaten and drunk themselves into such condition, that I already looked upon them as hors de combat; and the frequent visits of the whisky bottle to the ugly mouth of their dam I hoped would soon reduce her to a like state. Judge of my astonishment, reader, when I saw this incarnate fiend take a large carving-knife, and go to the grindstone to whet its edge. I saw her pour the water on the turning machine, and watched her working away with the dangerous instrument, until the sweat covered every part of my body, in despite of my determination to defend myself to the last. Her task finished, she walked to her reeling sons, and said. "There, that'll soon settle him! Boys, kill yon , and then for the watch."
I turned, cocked my gun-locks silently, touched my faithful companion, and lay ready to start up and shoot the first who might attempt my life. The moment was fast approaching, and that night might have been my last in this world, had not Providence made preparations for my rescue. All was ready. The infernal hag was advancing slowly, probably contemplating the best way of despaIching me, whilst her sons should be engaged with the Indian. I was several times on the eve of rising and shooting her on the spot:-but she was not to be punished thus. The door was suddenly opened, and there entered two stout travellers, each with a long rifle on his shoulder. I bounced up on my feet, and making them most heartily welcome, told them how well it was for me that they should have arrived at that moment. The tale was told in a minute. The drunken sons were secured, and the woman, in spite of her defence and vociferations, shared the same fate. The Indian fairly danced with joy, and gave us to understand that, as he could not sleep for pain, he would watch over us. You may suppose we slept much less than we talked. The two strangers gave me an account of their once having been themselves in a somewhat similar situation. Day came, fair and rosy, and with it the punishment of our captives.
They were now quite sobered. Their feet were unbound, but their arms were still securely tied. We marched them into the woods off the road, and having used them as Regulators were wont to use such delinquents, we set fire to the cabin, gave all the skins and implements to the young Indian warrior, and proceeded, well pleased, towards the settlements.
During upwards of twenty-five years, when my wanderings extended to all parts of our country, this was the only time at which my life was in danger from my fellow creatures. Indeed, so little risk do travellers run in the United States, that no one born there ever dreams of any to be encountered on the road; and I can only account for this occurrence by supposing that the inhabitants of the cabin were not Americans.
Will you believe, reader, that not many miles from the place where this adventure happened, and where fifteen years ago, no habitation belonging to civilized man was expected, and very few ever seen, large roads are now laid out, cultivation has converted the woods into fertile fields, taverns have been erected, and much of what we Americans call comfort is to be met with. So fast does improvement proceed in our abundant and free country.
Kentucky. Settlers moving West by boat instead of by wagon.
Others, perhaps encumbered with too much luggage, preferred descending the stream. They prepared arks pierced with port-holes, and glided on the gentle current, more annoyed, however, than those who marched by land, by the attacks of the Indians, who watched their motions. But have they told you, reader, that in those times a boat thirty or forty feet in length, by ten or twelve in breadth, was considered a stupendous fabric; that this boat contained men, women and children, huddled together, with horses, cattle, hogs and poultry for their companions, while the remaining portion was crammed with vegetables and packages of seeds? The roof or deck of the boat was not unlike a farm-yard, being covered with hay, ploughs carts, wagons, and various agricultural implements, to gather with numerous others among which the spinning wheels of the matrons were conspicuous. Even the sides of the floating mass were loaded with the wheels of the different vehicles, which themselves lay on the roof. Have the told you that these boats contained the little all of each family of venturous emigrants, who, fearful of being discovered by the Indians, under night moved in darkness groping their way from one part to another of these floatin' habitations, denying themselves the comfort of fire or light lest the foe that watched them from the shore should rush upon them and destroy them? Have they told you that this boat was used, after the tedious voyage was ended, as the first dwelling of these new settlers? No, such things have not been related to you before. The travellers who have visited our country have had other objects in view.
THE WOODS. Hospitality in a frontier cabin.
The woodsman remarked that it was a pity we had not chanced to come that day three weeks; "for," said he, "it was our wedding-day, and father gave us a good housewarming, and you might have fared better; but, however, if you can eat bacon and eggs, and a broiled chicken, you shall have that. I have no whisky in the house, but father has some capital cider, and I'll go over and bring a keg of it." I asked how far off his father lived. "Only three miles, Sir, and I'll be back before Eliza has cooked your supper." Off he went accordingly, and the next moment the galloping of his horse was heard. The rain fell in torrents, and now I also became struck with the kindness of our host.
To all appearance the united age of the pair under whose roof we had found shelter did not exceed two score. Their means seemed barely sufficient to render them comfortable, but the generosity of their young hearts had no limits. The cabin was new. The logs of which it was formed were all of the tulip-tree, and were nicely pared. Every part was beautifully clean. Even the coarse slabs of wood that formed the floor looked as if newly washed and dried. Sundry gowns and petticoats of substantial homespun hung from the logs that formed one of the sides of the cabin, while the other was covered with articles of male attire. A large spinning-wheel, with rolls of wool and cotton, occupied one corner. In another was a small cupboard, containing the little stock of new dishes, cups, plates, and tin pans. The table was small also, but quite new, and as bright as polished walnut could be. The only bed that I saw was of domestic manufacture, and the counterpane proved how expert the young wife was at spinning and weaving. A fine rifle ornamented the chimney-piece. The fire-place was of such dimensions that it locked as if it had been purposely constructed for holding the numerous progeny expected to result from the happy union.
The black boy was engaged in grinding some coffee. Bread was prepared by the fair hands of the bride, and placed on a flat board in front of the fire. The bacon and eggs already murmured and spluttered in the frying-pan, and a pair of chickens puffed and swelled on a gridiron over the embers, in front of the hearth. The cloth was laid, and every thing arranged, when the clattering of hoofs announced the return of the husband. In he came, bearing a two-gallon keg of cider. His eyes sparkled with pleasure as he said, "Only think, Eliza, father wanted to rob us of the strangers, and was coming here to ask them to his own house, just as if we could not give them enough ourselves; but here's the drink. Come gentlemen, sit down and help yourselves." We did so, and I, to enjoy the repast, took a chair of the husband's making in preference to one of those called Windsor, of which there were six in the cabin. This chair was bottomed with a piece of deer's skin tightly stretched, and afforded a very comfortable seat.
The wife now resumed her spinning, and the husband filled a jug with sparkling cider, and, seated by the blazing fire, was drying his clothes. The happiness he enjoyed beamed from his eye, as at my request he proceeded to give us an account of his affairs and prospects, which he did in the following words-"I will be twenty-two next Christmas-day," said our host. "My father came from Virginia when young, and settled on the large tract of land where he yet lives, and where with hard working he has done well. There were nine chidren of us. Most of them are married and settled in the neighbourhood. The old man has divided his lands among some of us, and bought others for the rest. The land where I am he gave me two years ago, and a finer piece is not easily to be found. I have cleared a couple of fields, and planted an orchard. Father gave me a stock of cattle, some hogs, and four horses, with two Negro boys. I camped here for most of the time when clearing and planting, and when about to marry the young woman you see at the wheel, father helped me in raising this hut. My wife, as luck would have it, had a Negro also, and we have begun the world as well off as most folks, and, the Lord willing, may but, gentlemen, you don't eat; do help yourselves--Eliza, maybe the strangers would like some milk." The wife stopped her work, and kindly asked if we preferred sweet or sour milk; for you must know, reader, that sour milk is by some of our farmers considered a treat. Both sorts were produced, but, for my part, I chose to stick to the cider.
Supper over, we all neared the fire, and engaged in conversation. At length our kind host addressed his wife as follows.-"Eliza, the gentlemen would like to lie down, I guess. What sort of bed can you fix for them?" Eliza looked up with a smile, and said: "Why, Willy, we will divide the bedding, and arrange half on the floor, on which we can sleep very well, and the gentlemen will have the best we can spare them." To this arrangement I immediately objected, and proposed lying on a blanket by the fire; but neither Willy nor Eliza would listen. So they arranged a part of their bedding on the floor, on which, after some debate, we at length settled. The Negroes were sent to their own cabin, the young couple went to bed, and Mr. Flint lulled us all asleep, with a long story intended to show us how passing strange it was that he should have lost his way.
Account of one family's flight from forest fire.
"Poor things," said the lumberer, "I dare say that what I have told you brings sad recollections to the minds of my wife and eldest daughter, who, with myself, had to fly from our home, at the time of the great fires." I felt so interested in his relation of the causes of the burnings, that I asked him to describe to me the particulars of his misfortunes at the time. "If Prudence and Polly," said he, looking towards his wife and daughter, "will promise to sit still, should another puff of smoke come down the chimney, I will do so." The good natured smile with which he accompanied this remark, elicited a return from the women, and he proceeded:-
"It is a difficult thing, Sir, to describe, but I will do my best to make your time pass pleasantly. We were sound asleep one night, in a cabin about a hundred miles from this, when about two hours before day, the snorting of the horses and lowing of the cattle which I had ranging in the woods suddenly wakened us. I took yon rifle, and went to the door to see what beast had caused the hubbub, when I was struck by the glare of light reflected on all the trees before me, as far as I could see through the woods. My horses were lesping about, snorting loudly, and the cattle ran among them with their tails raised straight over their backs. On going to the back of the house, I plainly heard the crackling made by the burning brushwoods, and saw the flames coming towards us in a far extended line. I ran to the house, told my wife to dress herself and the child as quickly as possible, and take the little money we had, while I managed to catch and saddle the two best horses. All this was done in a very short time, for I guessed that every moment was precious to us.
"We then mounted, and made off from the fire. My wife, who is an excellent rider, stuck close to me; my daughter, who was then a small child, I took in one arm. When making off as I said, I looked back and saw that the frightful blaze was close upon us, and had already laid hold of the house. By good luck, there was a horn attached to my hunting clothes, and I blew it, to bring after us, if possible, the remainder of my live stock, as well as the dogs. The cattle followed for a while; but, before an hour had elapsed, they all ran as if mad through the woods, and that, Sir, was the last of them. My dogs, too, although at all other times extremely tractable, ran after the deer that in bodies sprung before us, as if fully aware of the death that was so rapidly approaching.
"We heard blasts from the horns of our neighbours, as we proceeded, and knew that they were in the same predicament. Intent on striving to the utmost to preserve our lives, I thought of a large lake, some miles off, which might possibly check the flame; and, urging my wife to whip up her horse, we set off at full speed, making the best way we could over the fallen trees and the brush heaps, which lay like so many articles placed on purpose to keep up the terrific fires that advanced with a broad front upon us.
By this time we felt the heat; and we were afraid that our horses would drop every instant. A singular kind of breeze was passing over our heads, and the glare of the atmosphere shone over the daylight. I was sensible of a slight faintness, and my wife looked pale. The heat had produced such a flush in the child's face, that when she turned towards either of us, our grief and perplexity were greatly increased. Ten miles, you know, are soon gone over on swift horses; but, notwithstanding this, when we reached the borders of the lake, covered with sweat and quite exhausted, our hearts failed us. The heat of the smoke was insufferable, and sheets of blazing fire flew over us in a manner beyond belief. We reached the shores, however, coasted the lake for a while, and got round to the lee side. There we gave up our horses, which we never saw again. Down among the rushes ue plunged by the edge of the water, and laid ourselves flat, to wait the chance of escaping from being burnt or devoured. The water refreshed us, and we enjoyed the coolness.
"On went the fire, rushing and crashing through the woods. Such a sight may we never see! The heavens themselves, I thought, were frightened, for all above us was a red glare, mixed with clouds of smoke, rolling and sweeping away. Our bodies were cool enough, but our heads were scorching, and the child, who now seemed to understand the matter, cried so as nearly to break our hearts.
"The day passed on, and we became hungry. Many wild beasts came plunging into the water beside us, and others swam across to our side and stood still. Although faint and weary, I managed to shoot a porcupine, and we all tasted its flesh. The night passed I cannot tell you how. Smouldering fires covered the ground, and the trees stood like pillars of fire, or fell across each other. The stifling and sickening smoke still rushed over us, and the burnt cinders and ashes fell thick about us. How we got through that night I really cannot tell, or about some of it I remember nothing." Here the hunter paused, and took breath. The recital of his adventure seemed to have exhausted him. His wife proposed that we should have a bowl of milk, and the daughter having handed it to us, we each took a draught.
"Now," said he, "I will proceed. Towards morning, although the heat did not abate, the smoke became less, and blasts of fresh air sometimes made their way to us. When morning came, all was calm, but a dismal smoke still filled the air, and the smell seemed worse than ever. We were now cooled enough, and shivered as if in an ague fit; so we removed from the water, and went up to a burning log, where we warmed ourselves. What was to become of us I did not know. My wife hugged the child to her breast, and wept bitterly; but God had preserved us through the worst of the danger, and the flames had gone past, so I thought it would be both ungrateful to Him, and unmanly to despair now. Hunger once more pressed upon us, but this was easily remedied. Several deer were still standing in the water, up to the head, and I shot one of them. Some of its flesh was roasted, and, after eating it, we felt wonderfully strengthened.
"By this time the blaze of the fire was beyond our sight, although the ground was still burning in many places, and it was dangerous to go among the burnt trees. After resting a while, and trimming ourselves, we prepared to commence our march. Taking up the child, I led the way over the hot grounds and rocks; and, after two weary days and nights, during which we shifted in the best manner we could, we at last reached the 'hard woods,' which had been free of the fire. Soon after we came to a house, where we were kindly treated for a while. Since then, sir, I have worked hard and constantly as a lumberer; but, thanks be to God, here we are, safe, sound, and happy!"
OHIO, OUTSIDE CINCINNATI. Spring 1828. Married Life on a Forest Farm: Provisions, Entertainments.
We visited one farm which interested us particularly from its wild and lonely situation, and from the entire dependence of the inhabitants upon their own resources. It was a partial clearing in the very heart of the forest. The house was built on the side of a hill, so steep that a high ladder was necessary to enter the front door, while the back one opened against the hillside; at the foot of this sudden eminence ran a clear stream, whose bed had been deepened into a little reservoir, just opposite the house. A noble field of Indian-corn stretched away into the forest on one side, and a few half-cleared acres, with a shed or two upon them, occupied the other, giving accommodation to cows, horses, pigs, and chickens innumerable. Immediately before the house was a small potato garden, with a few peach and apple trees. The house was built of logs, and consisted of two rooms, besides a little shanty or lean-to, that was used as a kitchen. Both rooms were comfortably furnished with good beds, drawers, &c. The farmer's wife, and a young woman who looked like her sister, were spinning, and three little children were playing about. The woman told me that they spun and wove all the cotton and woollen garments of the family, and knit all the stockings; her husband, though not a shoemaker by trade, made all the shoes. She manufactured all the soap and candles they used, and prepared her sugar from the sugar-trees on their farm. All she wanted with money, she said, was to buy coffee, tea, and whiskey, and she could "get enough any day by sending a batch of butter and chicken to market." They used no wheat, nor sold any of their corn, which, though it appeared a very large quantity, was not more than they required to make their bread and cakes of various kinds, and to feed all their live stock during the winter. She did not look in health, and said they had all had ague in "the fall;" but she seemed contented, and proud of her independence; though it was in somewhat a mournful accent that she said, " 'Tis strange to us to see company: I expect the sun may rise and set a hundred times before I shall see another human that does not belong to the family."
CINCINNATI, OHIO. Winter 1828-29. Conditions of Labor for Frontier Wives and Daughters; Extreme Youth in Marriage.
But if the condition of the labourer be not superior to that of the English peasant, that of his wife and daughters is incomparably worse. It is they who are indeed the slaves of the soil. One has but to look at the wife of an American cottager, and ask her age, to be convinced that the life she leads is one of hardship, privation, and labour. It is rare to see a woman in this station who has reached the age of thirty, without losing every trace of youth and beauty. You continually see women with infants on their knee, that you feel sure are their grandchildren, till some convincing proof of the contrary is displayed. Even the young girls, though often with lovely features, look pale, thin, and haggard. I do not remember to have seen in any single instance among the poor, a specimen of the plump, rosy, laughing physiognomy so common among our cottage girls.
WESTERN MARYLAND. Summer 1830. Family Life and Domestic Arrangements of Small Landowners; Whiskey's Ruinous Effect.
One of these families consisted of a young man, his wife, two children, a female slave, and two young lads, slaves also. The farm belonged to the wife, and, I was told, consisted of about three hundred acres of indifferent land, but all cleared. The house was built of wood, and looked as if the three slaves might have overturned it, had they pushed hard against the gable end. It contained one room, of about twelve feet square, and another adjoining it, hardly larger than the closet; this second chamber was the lodging-room of the white part of the family. Above these rooms was a loft, without windows, where I was told the "staying company" who visited them, were lodged. Near this mansion was a "shanty," a black hole, without any window, which served as a kitchen and all other offices, and also as the lodging of the blacks.
We were invited to take tea with this family, and readily consented to do so. The furniture of the room was one heavy huge table, and about six wooden chairs. When we arrived the lady was in rather a dusky dishabille, but she vehemently urged us to be seated, and then retired into the closet-chamber above mentioned, whence she continued to address to us from behind the door all kinds of "genteel country visiting talk," and at length emerged upon us in a smart new dress.
Her female slave set out the great table, and placed upon it cups of the very coarsest blue ware, a little brown sugar in one and a tiny drop of milk in another, no butter, though the lady assured us she had a "deary" and two cows Instead of butter, she "hoped we would fix a little relish with our crackers," in ancient English, eat salt meat and dry biscuits. Such was the fare, and for guests that certainly were intended to be honoured. I could not help re calling the delicious repasts which I remembered to have enjoyed at little dairy farms in England, not possessed, but rented, and at high rents too; where the clean, fresh-coloured, bustling mistress herself skimmed the delicious cream, herself spread the yellow butter on the delightful brown loaf, and placed her curds, and her junket, and all the delicate treasures of her dairy before us, and then, with hospitable pride, placed herself at her board, and added the more delicate "relish" of good tea and good cream. I remembered all this, and did not think the difference atoned for, by the dignity of having my cup handed to me by a slave. The lady I now visited, however, greatly surpassed my quondam friends in the refinement of her conversation. She ambled through the whole time the visit lasted, in a sort of elegantly mincing familiar style of gossip, which, I think, she was imitating from some novel, for I was told she was a great novel reader, and left all household occupations to be performed by her slaves. To say she addressed us in a tone of equality, will give no adequate idea of her manner; I am persuaded that no misgiving on the subject ever entered her head. She told us that their estate was her divi-dend of her father's property. She had married a first cousin, who was as fine a gentleman as she was a lady, and as idle, preferring hunting (as they call shooting) to any other occupation. The consequence was, that but a very small portion of the divi-dend was cultivated, and their poverty was extreme. The slaves, particularly the lads, were considerably more than half naked, but the air of dignity with which, in the midst of all this misery, the lanky lady said to one of the young negroes, "Attend to your young master, Lycurgus," must have been heard to be conceived in the full extent of its mock heroic.
Another dwelling of one of these landed proprietors was a hovel as wretched as the one above described, but there was more industry within it. The gentleman, indeed, was himself one of the numerous tribe of regular whiskey drinkers, and was rarely capable of any work; but he had a family of twelve children, who, with their skeleton mother, worked much harder than I ever saw negroes do. They were, accordingly, much less elegant and much less poor than the heiress; yet they lived with no appearance of comfort, and with, I believe, nothing beyond the necessaries of life. One proof of this was, that the worthless father would not suffer them to raise, even by their own labour, any garden vegetables, and they lived upon their fat pork, salt fish, and corn bread, summer and winter, without variation. This I found was frequently the case among the farmers. The luxury of whiskey is more appreciated by the men than all the green delicacies from the garden, and if all the ready money goes for that and their darling chewing tobacco, none can be spent by the wife for garden seeds; and as far as my observation extended, I never saw any American menage where the toast and no toast question would have been decided in favour of the lady.
MICHIGAN: ON THE STEAMBOAT SUPERIOR. August 1, 1831. Description of Pioneer Life for Women.
In speaking of the pioneer one cannot forget the companion of his miseries and dangers. Look across the hearth at the young woman, who, while seeing to the preparation of the meal, rocks her youngest son on her knees. Like the emigrant, this woman is in her prime; like him, she can recall the ease of her first years. Her clothes even yet proclaim a taste for adornment ill extinguished. But time has weighed heavily on her: in her prematurely pale face and her shrunken limbs it is easy to see that existence has been a heavy burden for her. In face, this frail creature has already found herself exposed to unbelievable miseries. Scarce entered upon life, she had to tear herself away from the mother's tenderness and from those sweet fraternal ties that a young girl never abandons without shedding tears, even when going to share the rich dwelling of a new husband. The wife of the pioneer has torn herself in one instant and without hope of returning from that innocent cradle of her youth. It's against the solitude of the forests that she has exchanged the charms of society and the joys of the home. It's on the bare ground of the wilderness that her nuptual couch was placed. To devote herself to austere duties, submit herself to privations which were unknown to her, embrace an existence for which she was not made, such was the ocupation of the finest years of her life, such have been for her the delights of marriage. Want, suffering, and loneliness have affected her constitution but not bowed her courage. Mid the profound sadness painted on her delicate features, you easily remark a religious resignation and profound peace and I know not what natural and tranquil firmness confronting all the miseries of life without fearing or scorning them.
Around this woman crowd half-naked children, shining with health, careless of the morrow, veritable sons of the wilderness. From time to time their mother throws on them a look of melancholy and joy. To see their strength and her weakness one would say that she has exhausted herself giving them life and that she does not regret what they have cost her.
The house inhabited by these emigrants has no interior partitions or attic. In the single apartment which it contains the entire family comes in the evening to seek refuge: this dwelling forms of itself a small world. It's the ark of civilization lost in the midst of an ocean of leaves. It's a sort of oasis in the desert. A hundred feet beyond, the eternal forest stretches about it its shade and the solitude begins again.
CHAPTER 15: "The Virgin Forest and the Wilderness." Picture of a Wilderness Cottage.
Our shelter that night was a little log cabin, the dwelling of a New Englander who had settled near the Indians to deal in furs.
Upon our arrival our horses were turned loose in a narrow enclosure near the house. Our host hastened on foot to cut fodder for them in an oat field; then, taking an ax, he cut down a tree in the forest, with which he built a fire to keep us from the chill of the night. The logs of which the cabin was built let in the outside air through a thousand openings, and the damp mist from the river could already be felt. Soon a crackling fire, fed with pine cones, lit up the shadowy dwelling, and let us look about the hut, cramped but remarkably clean. A woman with a pale, thin face appeared; she was our host's wife, and around her flocked several young children. A crudely painted picture of General Washington was hung above the fireplace. In the United States, Washington is god in the cottage as in the Capitol! On a table in the middle of the room were scattered several pages of a fairly recent New York paper. Everything in our host's house suggested material comfort rather than happiness. Their manners were polite without elegance, their speech correct without refinement, their knowledge accurate but limited--all this showed that they were not born in the wilderness and that they belonged to the middle class of a civilized society. Their sole aim, their fixed idea, was to make their fortunes; they were like all other Americans.
The woman prepared us a modest meal; tea was served in the wilderness hut. This odd situation would not have been without its charms for me, if Marie had been able to enjoy it herself; but she was unwell. A long day of traveling had weakened her; she did not partake of the repast which would have mended her strength. I took great pains to prepare a place for her to rest in; a buffalo hide served as a bed; I covered her feet with my cloak, and then, overcome with weariness, Marie took one of my hands as a token of security, and , leaning against me, fell asleep.
THE PRAIRIE. 1833 The Journey Westward.
The industrial sons of New England say the same goodbye [as the Virginian emigrants] to the rocky, unforgiving soil of their place of birth. They load on a wagon their plow, their bed, a barrel of salted meat, the indispensable provisions of tea and molasses, their Bible and their wife, and put themselves on the western route, the axe on the shoulder, without a servant, without an aide, often without a companion, to go six hundred miles from their fatherÕs home, to build a hut in the middle of the woods, and to clear the ground for farming. The first groups left from Connecticut, from The Granite State as it is called, Puritan state among the Puritans.
COVINGTON, KENTUCKY. September 1836 One Family's Encounter with a Yankee Peddler.
Yesterday a Yankee Pedlar drove up to the door in a light one-horse wagon, laden with an assortment of all kinds of notions he dismounted, came into the house with a case under his arm, and addressing the landlord, briskly said, "Well captain, how do you do?" " Keeping just as common," was the answer. " Can I make a trade with you today?" " Don't want anything," said my host buttoning his breeches' pockets with a resolute air. The pedlar proceeded to unstrap his box.
"Don't want anything, I tell you," repeated the landlord stiffly. The pedlar looked up and his eye caught a thong of leather which Obadiah used instead of a watch chain. "Now, I declare captain IÕm 'stonisLed to see a gentleman of your 'spectability wear such an ungenteel thing as that bit of leather to your time of day. It's fit for nothing but to hang a dog with. My missus wouldn't let me wear sich a thing, not for the universe," and he set to abusing it at such a rate, that my host at last seemed quite ashamed of having such an appendage to his watch. "Come, now, major," said the Yankee in an insinuating tone, "I warrant you'll be running for member of thelegislation some of these days. and it wouldn't do at all to go round the 'lectors with such a thing as that. Now, here's a chain," said he dangling before Obid's eyes an immense steel chain with links that might have served for a cable, " hereÕs an elegant chain, the very ditto of the one the President himself wears and IÕll let you have it for a trifle."
Now Obid, from the vituperation that had been lavished on the leather article, was heartily ashamed of it, and his eyes were dazzled by the bright looking ware of the pedlar. I saw that his resolution was giving way when the door opened and in came the landlady with her two gawky daughters trooping after her. I foresaw that the ladies and the pedlar would carry the day. Obid's faint remonstrance was overruled, and in a few minutes the contents of several cases and packages were strewed about to the great admiration of the ladies. "Now, Marm," said the pedlar to the landlady, "I will show you some goods in this here package, that's a sight to look at. Look here, Marm," said he, exhibiting a gown piece, "did you ever lay eyes on such a pattern as that ? It's dear, Marm, it's dear, but know you'll not regard the price, and if you and your sisters each take a piece, IÕll make them as low as possible."
"Well I vow, that's good, them ere gals is my darters." The pedlar dropped his yardstick with a look of well feigned astonishment. "Your darters, Marm, well upon my say so, you 'stonish me, well, well. You must have married considerably early, but the gals is pretty gals, and it's easy seen who they took their beauty from, no offence to you, Sir. Howsomdever, if so be as how you were dressed in one of these here pieces, there are few girls in the State, would take the shine out of you at a camp meeting." Now it required unparalleled impudence to stand up and make such a complimentary speech to a withered old vixen like my landlady, however she swallowed the flattery, gross as it was, crying out with a blush of gratified vanity, "Oh, you tarnal critter." The girls giggled, and my host in a quiet tone ejaculated, "Oh Lord!"
" Lawkes, Sister," said Miss Prudence Brown, "what dread- ful nice handkerchers I declare." "I'll have one of the blue ones," said one. "And IÕll have one of the pink ones," said the other. Then came the bargaining and hizzling. The "much too dear" of the landlady and the "I couldn't take it, I assure you" of the pedlar. At last the Yankee settled the dispute by saying, "I assure you on the honour of a gentleman, Marm, it's the lowest possible price, lowest price indeed, Marm, I do not deal like other merchants. My motto is low prices and quick sales, that's the way I do business."
Mrs. B., having made an additional purchase of a breastpin for her man to make him look 'spectable, said, "Now Obid, dear, pay the gent." Obid knew perfectly well that this was tantamount to saying, 'Go and do it directly,' so he went to his money drawer with a look of desperate resignation, and paid the pedlar to the tune of twenty or thirty dollars. However before he took his departure, he asked for a "leetle drop of brandy just to keep the tarnation ague out of my stomach." Having tossed off his grog in a twinkling, he leaped into his wagon, cracked his whip, and drove off to practise on some more of the natives. "Well," said mine host, after he was fairly gone, "if that ere Yankee Pedlar, or any other Yankee Pedlar, sets foot again in my house I'll be--" and he muttered some- thing in his throat, which sounded very like an oath. "Come, Mr. Brown," said his wife, "don't be imperint; I'll have none of your imperince. Was it for this, I married you, answer me that. I'm ashamed of you, I am, and before the foreign gentleman too." Obid sat down silent and ashamed at the rebuke of his better half.
NEW YORK. October 1834. Appearance of Forest Cabins; the Labors of Families who live in the Wilderness. Among the most interesting personages in the United States, are the Solitaries; solitary families, not individuals. Europeans, who think it much to lodge in a country cottage for six weeks in the summer, can form little idea of the life of a solitary family in the wilds. I did not see the most sequestered, as I never happened to lose my way in the forests or on the prairies: but I witnessed some modes of life which realized all I had conceived of the romantic, or of the dismal.
One rainy October day, I saw a settler at work in the forest, on which he appeared to have just entered. His clearing looked, in comparison with the forest behind him, of about the size of a pincushion. He was standing, up to the knees in water, among the stubborn stumps, and charred stems of dead trees. He was notching logs with his axe, beside his small log-hut and stye. There was swamp behind, and swamp on each side; a pool of mud around each dead tree, which had been wont to drink the moisture. There was a semblance of a tumble-down fence: no orchard yet; no grave-yard; no poultry; none of the graces of fixed habitation had grown up. On looking back to catch a last view of the scene, I saw two little boys, about three and four years old, leading a horse home from the forest; one driving the animal behind with an armful of bush, and the other reaching up on tiptoe to keep his hold of the halter; and both looking as if they would be drowned in the swamp. If the mother was watching from the hut, she must have thought this strange dismal play for her little ones. The hardworking father must be toiling for his children; for the success of his after life can hardly atone to him for such a destitution of comfort as I saw him in the midst of. Many such scenes are passed on every road in the western parts of the States. They become cheering when the plough is seen, or a few sheep are straggling on the hill side, seeming lost in space.
One day, at Niagara, I had spent hours at the Falls, till, longing for the stillness of the forest, I wandered deep into its wild paths, meeting nothing but the belled heifer, grazing, and the slim, clean swine which live on the mast and roots they can find for themselves. I saw some motion in a thicket, a little way from the path, and went to see what it was. I found a little boy and girl, working away, by turns, with an axe, at the branches of a huge hickory, which had been lately felled. " Father " had felled the hickory the day before, and had sent the children to make faggots from the branches. They were heated and out of breath. I had heard of the toughness of hickory, and longed to know what the labour of wood-cutting really was. Here was an irresistible opportunity for an experiment. I made the children sit down on the fallen tree, and find out the use of my ear- trumpet, while I helped to make their faggot. When I had hewn through one stout branch, I was quite sufficiently warmed, and glad to sit down to hear the children's story. Their father had been a weaver and a preacher in England. He had brought out his wife and six children. During the week, he worked at his land, finding some employment or another for all of his children who could walk alone; and going some distance on Sundays to preach. This last particular told volumes.
The weaver has not lost heart over his hard field-labour. His spirit must be strong and lively, to enable him to spend his seventh day thus, after plying the axe for six. The children did not seem to know whether they liked Manchester or the forest best; but they looked stout and rosy.
They, however, were within reach of church and habitation; buried, as they appeared, in the depths of the woods. I saw, in New Hampshire, a family who had always lived absolutely alone, except when an occasional traveller came to their door, during the summer months. The old man had run away with his wife, forty-six years before, and brought her to the Red Mountain, near the top of which she had lived ever since. It was well that she married for love, for she saw no one but her husband and children, for many a long year after she jumped out of her window, in her father's house, to run away.
MICHIGAN. July 1836. Problem of Theft During Emigration.
In the piazza, sat a party of emigrants, who interested us much. The wife had her eight children with her; the youngest, puny twins. She said she had brought them in a wagon four hundred miles; and if they could only live through the one hundred that remained before they reached her husband's lot of land, she hoped they might thrive, but she had been robbed, the day before, of her bundle of baby things. Some one had stolen it from the wagon. After a good meal, we saw the stage-passengers stowed into a lumber wagon, and we presently followed in our more comfortable vehicle.
CARONDELET, OUTSIDE ST. LOUIS. Spring 1842. Grim Recollections of a Frontier Wife.
The landlord was a dry, tough, hard-faced old fellow (not so very old either, for he was but just turned sixty, I should think), who had been out with the militia in the last war with England, and had seen all kinds of service,-except a battle; and he had been very near seeing that, he added: very near. He had all his life been restless and locomotive, with an irresistible desire for change; and was still the son of his old self: for if he had nothing to keep him at home, he said (slightly jerking his hat and his thumb towards the window of the room in which the old lady sat, as we stood talking in front of the house), he would clean up his musket, and be off to Texas to-morrow morning. He was one of the very many descendants of Cain proper to this continent, who seem destined from their birth to serve as pioneers in the great human army who gladly go on from year to year extending its outposts, and leaving home after home behind them; and die at last, utterly regardless of their graves being left thousands of miles behind, by the wandering generation who succeed.
His wife was a domesticated kind-hearted old soul, who had come with him, "from the queen city of the world," which, it seemed, was Philadelphia; but had no love for this Western country, and indeed had little reason to bear it any, having seen her children, one by one, die here of fever, in the full prime and beauty of their youth. Her heart was sore, she said, to think of dhem; and to talk on this theme, even to strangers, in that blighted place, so far from her old home, eased it somewhat, and became a melancholy pleasure.