I WAS born in Huntsville, Butler County, Ohio, on December 29,
1830. That was, at this writing, more than ninety years ago.
My father's ancestors came from England in 1637. In 1665 they
settled near Elizabeth City, New Jersey, building there a very
substantial house which stood till almost 1910. More than a score
of hardy soldiers from this family fought for the Colonies in the
War of Independence. They were noted for their stalwart strength,
steady habits, and patriotic ardor.
Both my parents were sincere, though not austere, Christian
people. Father inherited to the full the sturdy traits of his
ancestors. I well remember that for three years, during our life in
Indiana, he worked eighteen hours a day as a miller. For this hard
service he received only twenty dollars a month and bran for the
cow. Yet out of the ordeal he came seemingly as strong and healthy
as when he entered it.
My mother's maiden name was Phoebe Baker. English and Welsh
strains of blood ran in her veins. Her father settled in Butler
County, Ohio, in the year 1804, or thereabouts. My mother, like my
father, could and did endure continuous long hours of severe labor
without much discomfort. I have known her frequently to patch and
mend our clothing until very late at night, and yet she would
invariably be up in the morning by four to resume her labors.
Small wonder that with such parents and with such early
surroundings I am able to say that for fifty-eight years I was
never sick in bed a single day. I, too, have endured long hours of
labor during my whole life, and I can truthfully say that I have
always liked to do my work and that I never watched for the sun to
go down to relieve me from the burden of labor. My mother said I
was "always the busiest young 'un" she ever saw, by which she meant
that I was restless from the beginning—born so.
According to the best information obtainable, I was born in a
log cabin, where the fireplace was nearly as wide as the cabin. The
two doors on opposite sides permitted the horse, dragging the
backlog, to enter at one and then to go out at the other. Of
course, the solid floor of split logs defied injury from such
The skillet and the Dutch oven were used instead of the cook
stove to bake the pone or johnny cake, to parch the corn, or to fry
the venison which was then obtainable in the wilds of Ohio.
A curtain at the farther end of the cabin marked the confines of
a bedchamber for the "old folks." The older children climbed the
ladder nailed to the wall to get to the loft floored with loose
clapboards that rattled when trodden upon. The straw beds were so
near the roof that the patter of the rain made music to the ear,
and the spray of the falling water would often baptize the
"tow-heads" left uncovered.
Our diet was simple, and the mush pot was a great factor in our
home life. A large, heavy iron pot was hung on the crane in the
chimney corner, where the mush would slowly bubble and sputter over
or near a bed of oak coals for half the afternoon. And such
mush!—always made from yellow corn meal and cooked three hours or
more. This, eaten with plenty of fresh, rich milk, furnished the
supper for the children. Tea? Not to be thought of. Sugar? It was
too expensive—cost fifteen to eighteen cents a pound, and at a time
when it took a week's labor to earn as much money as a day's labor
would earn now. Cheap molasses we had sometimes, but not often,
meat not more than once a day, but eggs in abundance.
Everything father had to sell was low-priced, while everything
mother must buy at the store was high. Wheat brought twenty-five
cents a bushel; corn, fifteen cents; pork, two and two and a half
cents a pound, with bacon sometimes used as fuel by reckless,
racing steamboat captains of the Ohio and Mississippi.
My earliest recollection, curiously enough, is of my schoolboy
days, although I had so few. I was certainly not five years old
when a drunken, brutal teacher undertook to spank me because I did
not speak a word plainly. That is the first fight of which I have
any recollection. I could hardly remember that but for the
witnesses, one of them my oldest brother, who saw the struggle. My
teeth, he said, did excellent work and drew blood quite freely.
What a spectacle—a half-drunken teacher maltreating his pupils!
But then, that was the time before a free school system. It was the
time when even the parson would not hesitate to take a "wee drop,"
and when, if the decanter was not on the sideboard, the jug and
gourd served as well in the field or in the house. In our
neighborhood, to harvest without whisky in the field was not to be
thought of; nobody ever heard of a log-rolling or barn-raising
without whisky. Be it said to the everlasting honor of my father,
that he set himself firmly against the practice. He said his grain
should rot in the field before he would supply whisky to his
harvest hands. I have only one recollection of ever tasting any
alcoholic liquor in my boyhood days.
I did, however, learn to smoke when very young. It came about in
this way. My mother always smoked, as far back as I can remember.
Women smoked in those days, as well as men, and nothing was thought
of it. Well, that was before the time of matches,—leastwise, it was
a time when it was necessary to economize in their use,—and mother,
who was a corpulent woman, would send me to put a coal in her pipe.
I would take a whiff or two, just to get it started, you know, and
this soon developed into the habit of lingering to keep it going.
But let me be just to myself. More than forty years ago I threw
away my pipe and have never smoked since, and never will smoke
My next recollection of school days was after father had moved
to Lockland, Ohio, then ten miles north of Cincinnati. It is now, I
presume, a suburb of that city. I played hooky instead of going to
school; but one day, while I was under the canal bridge, the noise
of passing teams so frightened me that I ran home and betrayed
myself. Did my mother whip me? Bless her dear soul, no! Whipping of
children, both at home and in the school-room, was then about as
common as eating one's breakfast; but the family government of my
parents was exceptional for that time, for they did not think it
was necessary to rule by the rod.
Because my mind did not run to school work and because my
disposition was restless, my mother allowed me to work at odd jobs
for pay instead of compelling me to attend school. This cut down my
actual school days to less than six months. It was, to say the
least, a dangerous experiment, and one to be undertaken only by a
mother who knew her child better than any other person could. I do
not by any means advise other mothers to adopt such a course.
In those days apprenticeship was quite common. It was not
thought to be a disgrace for a boy to be "bound out" until he was
twenty-one, especially if he was to be learning a trade. Father
took a notion he would bind me out to a Mr. Arthens, the mill owner
at Lockland, who was childless, and one day he took me with him to
talk it over. When asked, finally, how I should like the change, I
promptly replied that it would be all right if Mrs. Arthens would
"do up my sore toes," whereupon there was such an outburst of
merriment that I never forgot it. We must remember that boys in
those days did not wear shoes in summer, and quite often not in
winter either. But mother put an end to the whole matter by saying
that the family must not be divided, and it was not.
Our pioneer home was full of love and helpfulness. My mother
expected each child to work as well as to play. We were trained to
take our part at home. The labor was light, to be sure, but it was
service, and it brought happiness into our lives. For, after all,
that home is happiest where every one helps.
Our move to Indiana was a very important event in my boyhood
days. This move was made during the autumn of 1839, when I was nine
years old. I vividly remember the trip, for I walked every step of
the way from Lockland, Ohio, to Attica, Indiana, about two hundred
There was no room in the heavily laden wagon for me or for my
brother Oliver, aged eleven. It was piled so high with household
goods that little space was left even for mother and the two
babies, one yet in arms. But we lads did not mind riding on
The horses walked so briskly that we had to stick to business to
keep up with them. We did find time, though, to throw a few stones
at the frisky squirrels, or to kill a garter snake, or to gather
some flowers for mother and the little ones, or to watch the
redheaded woodpeckers hammering at the trees. The journey was full
of interest for two lively boys.
Our appearance was what might well be called primitive, for we
went barefooted and wore "tow pants" and checkered "linsey-woolsey"
shirts, with a strip of cloth for "galluses," as suspenders were at
that time called. Little did we think or care about appearance,
bent as we were on having a good time—and that we surely had.
One dreary stretch of swamp that kept us on the corduroy road
behind the jolting wagon I remember well; this was near
Crawfordsville, Indiana. It is now gone, the corduroy and the
timber as well. In their places great barns and comfortable houses
dot the landscape as far as the eye can reach.
One habit that we boys acquired on that trip stuck to us all our
lives, until the brother was lost at sea. When we followed behind
the wagon, as we did part of the time, each took the name of the
horse on his side of the road. I was "Tip," on the off side; while
brother was "Top," on the near side. Tip and Top, a span of big,
fat, gray horses that would run away "at the drop of the hat," were
something to be proud of. This habit of Oliver's walking on the
near side and my walking on the off continued for years and through
many a mile of travel.