Merrick County, Nebraska
REMINISCIENCES OF "AULD LANG SYNE"
By Mrs. Mary L. Barnes
Santa Barbara, Calif.
My mother and the three younger children had now come on from their eastern home and were nicely settled on the homestead, and Mr. Frank Ramsburg and a sister, relatives of the Richardsons from the South were here. A few of our residents were doing their manifest duty in replenishing our little spot of earth with new babies, including Mr. And Mrs. Robinson, Mr. And Mrs. Morse, Mr. And Mrs. Bross, Mr. And Mrs. John Cole, Mr. And Mrs. Richardson, Mr. And Mrs. John Lane, Mr. And Mrs. Skeels, Mr. And Mrs. Henry Rose, Mr. And Mrs. Richmond, and many others too numerous to mention. Others were marrying and being given in marriage, and a few too, were passing on.
There was now getting to be so much traffic across the Platte, and the dangerous suction of the treacherous quicksand so great that the officials of the two opposite counties felt compelled to decide upon some feasible plan for building a bridge across it, so at last a plan was adopted to build short stretches from island to island, as being the cheapest and most practicable. We ourselves had at one time in the earlier years nearly lost our team, and possibly our own lives in being almost swalloweed up in the shifting, miry sand, so we were indeed glad to see the new bridge made ready for safe ssing in all seasons of the year. Among other things, both good and bad, that were new to us of the Northern state were tarweed, tumbleweed, and sandburs.
The tarweed annoyed us, principally by its disgusting habit of stiffening the bottoms of our long skirts and the men's pants with the black, mal-odorous coating that covered all its leaves and branches.
It grew knee high all over the prairies and required either coal oil or turpentine to get rid of the tarry stickiness.
The tumbleweed was not only a pest, because it was only by eternal vigilance that we could keep it out of our crops, but it was a menace.
It had no gumminess nor thorns to stick to us, in fact it stuck to nothing, not even to the ground, but as soon as it fully matured it "died on its feet", and in the first heavy wind it let go and drifted before it in thousands, rolling over and over, looking for all the world like "waves of the sea" until it lodged against the highest obstruction in its way, and was banked up to the tops of fences, rooftops of barns or houses.
It then had to be gathered up and burned for safety's sake for if at any time there happened to be any unextinguished remains of a bonfire, a spark from a pipe or cigar a tumbleweed would be sure to pick it up and carry it away, causing a destructive prairie fire, covering miles upon miles of territory and destroying everything in its path.
The sandburs were the smallest of the pests but the most numerous and most vexatious; only about the size of a large pea, but in and around and on, everything; so it was impossible to escape them or walk the length of a blck without the clothing around the ankles being matted together with them. I have seen mains and tails of horses in pasture so matted with them that it was almost impossible to clear them out.
My friend, Mrs. Legg, had a pet dog which went with her everywhere, and she taught him to pick the burs out of her skirts with his teeth one by one and lay them in a pile at her side, whenever she sat down.
That occurred at my house several times, but the poor dog had to draw away his lips while doing it, though he never refused her when she showed them to him. My mother and the three younger children had come on from their eastern home and got nicely settled on the homestead with my father. Mr. Frank Ramsburg and sister, relatives of the Richardsons of the southern state, had arrived.
A few of our earlier residents were replenishing our little spot of earth with new babies, among them Mr. and Mrs. Morse, Mr. And Mrs. John Cole, Mr. And Mrs. Robinson, Mr. And Mrs. John Lane, Mr. And Mrs. Richardson, Mr. And Mrs. Henry Rose, Mr. And Mrs. Bross, and others.
As always in progressive communities, the younger members of society were marrying and being given tin marriage, and a few were passing on, among them Mr. Noble, Mrs. Stoven, and my eighteen-year-old brother, Reuben. The winters seemed to be growing colder, year by year, the ground freezing from two-and-a-half feet deep to three feet, and ice on the river sometimes over two feet thick. Mr. Barnes sawed out blocks of ice in the clearest, solidest places, sixteen inches thick and packed them away in a sawdust-lined hut for summer use.
The town children sometimes arrived at the schoolhouse with noses and ears frosted white, and the teachers had to thaw them out at once to save them, many mornings, after walking or running only two or three blocks. Then our people decided that we must have an organ for the Community Church. Various plans were worked out to raise money for that purpose. Among these plans my friend, Mrs. Rowena Austin proposed to put on a play, or exhibition rather, of Mrs. Jarley's wax works.
There were sixteen people in the cast, Mrs. Austin being the stage manager, and two supers to do the winding, oiling and carrying on and off.
Mrs. Austin wore an enormous poke bonnet, removed her upper teeth, and dressed herself otherwise to fit the part, so that her best friend would not have recognized her; the others representing wax figures with clockwork inside to act out their characters, when wound up and set running, like mechanical toys. The Old Curiousity Shop story does not represent to be anything more than set statues, but we were going them one better.
The wax figures were ranged in a row against the wall along one side of the schoolhouse, faces covered with white napkin, ostensibly to keep off dust but in reality to hide our amused chuckles and compulsory winking. There was Alexander the Great, who wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, Jack the giant killer, The Siamese twins, Jacky Spratt and his wife, The Babes in the wood, Signorina Squallina, the great Italian Opera singer, The crazy woman who poisoned fourteen families with pickled walnuts, and Mrs. Winslow's soothing syrup demonstration.
When Mrs. Jaley called for a certain figure the supers, one on either side, bent the elbows up with a jerk and carried it, stiff as a stick, with hands under elbows, to the low platform and jounced it down with a thump fit to loosen one's teeth. Mrs. Jarley would then make her speech giving the name and character of the figure and the story of his or her greatness, then turn to the super with orders to oil and wind it up. The oiling was done with a big oil can belonging to grain harverster, being stuck into each ear, down our necks, into our elbows, or wherever else a joint ought to be (the can being empty of course), and the winding up done with the crank and squeaking, rattling innards of an old coffeemill jammed into the middle of our backs, and cranked up, and told to do our stuff. When Alexander the Great was brought out and Mrs. Jarley had told of his greatness she turned proudly to the super with the order to "Wind him up John and let him weep", which poor Alexander proceeded to do, rubbing eyes and nose like a great bawling booby.
Jacky Spratt and wife licked their platter clean. The Babes in the wood stuffed big fat doughnuts into each other's mouths, Mrs. Mitchell demonstrated the wonders of Mrs. Winslow's soothing syrup by dipping a large cooking apron into a five-gallon stone churn of supposed "syrup" and jamming it into the mouth, or nose, of a life-sized rag doll lying on her lap. Then the crazy poinoner, being myself, did her stuff, pulling her hair, and doing whatever else seemed suited to the occasion, which is most likely the reason that I have completely forgotten what the rest of the figures did to prove their genuineness according to Mrs. Jarley's representations of their prowess. Oh, yes, there is one more that comes to my mind, (what there is left of it), and that is the great Italian Opera Singer, Signorina Squallina, my sister Flora. She was wound up like all the rest, but the oiling was apparently forgotten, for after starting her wonderful song the machinery ran down with a terrific ear-splitting squawk for which dereliction super John was summarily called on the carpet and made to repair the damage, and the Signorina finished her song triumphantly. Each of the wax figures was carried back and jounced into place immediately after doing his or her stuff, their faces covered and left in peace.
Our plan for raising money for the Church organ had been quite successful and in a short time the instrument purchased. I can't recall that we had very many varieties of wild flowers in the region around Clarks but there was one wild plant which grew thickly over the prairie its peculiarity being its long, slender, fern-like stems and tiny leaves which instantly closed up when touched, and it positively would not be domesticated nor handled in its wild state. And our especial nuisance was wild onions, or leeks, as some called them. They were so thick among the grass that the cows could not feed without eating them and spoiling the milk and butter for some people. I remember when Mr. Peck boarded with us in the early days, he was very fond of milk but if he could taste or smell the onion odor in his milk he would leave the table in a huff.
I remember too how poor young Jimmy Douglass accidently shot himself under the arm, cutting the big artery and almost bleeding to death before they could get him to a doctor to stop it.
Another serious accident happened to litlle Alice Brank, in which she got her leg broken, the sharp jagged bones being driven through the flesh and causing her a long sickness.
One summer there were rumors whispered about that a strange, monster-like sea serpent had been glimpsed a few miles out west of town, in a swamp one evening, but little attention was given to it at first, the older people thinking it just a spook story of some irresponsible, or flighty young folks. But later the story became more insistent as several different persons claimed to have seen the head of a terrible looking snake raised above the thick swamp growth of eight or ten feet in height and it surely moved about from place to place as it was seen in different spots on other evenings. At last quite a little excitement was aroused and caught the attention of the Professor of the high school. He had at first scouted the whole story, saying that stories were all a myth, and there was no such thing in reality. But when they told him that it was really seen to raise and dip its head down by several persons he began to look into the matter himself. The monster was described as having a fierce looking head three or four feet long, which it turned from side to side, as if watching out for dangerous enemies or looking for some live thing to prey upon, and a kind of creepy sensation began to be felt by others than mere spooky-inclined young folks. What if the frightful creature should find his feeding ground too small for his great size, and ravenous appetite, and decide some evening to move his quarters to the Platte river, casually satisfying his hunger on the way.
So it was urged that a few brave souls should arm themselves and drive out and annihilate the awful thing before he could make that menace a reality. As Prof. Morris had until lately expressed such skeptical opinions of the existence of any real sea-monster he was chosen as the leader of this adventure, and to have the honor of being the first man known to have exterminated a real sea monster. So preparations were made, guns and ammunition made ready, the evening selected. As the chosen few neared the right spot all became quiet and watchful, at last one spied it, and another, and stepped back to give the Professor an unobstructed view. Yes, he saw it now, quickly raised his gun and fired.
It dropped down out of sight for a moment, then slowly rose again a few feet away, he fired again and again and at last it rose no more and was declared dead, but while they still watched there was a wild commotion in the high weeds and two or three young fellows came out bringing the terrible sea-serpent with them. A huge snake's head made of gunny sacks fastened to the top of a long pole. Those irrepressible young blades had perpetrated an ingenious hoax upon the learned and dignified Professor, which he was not permitted to forget for many a long time to come.
The Professor's cartridges had all been drawn and blank ones substituted for their own safety, and no one was allowed to shoot.
The next day the sea-serpent was on exhibition on the streets of Clarks for I saw it myself.
ADIOS and FINI
Part I - Part II
"Pioneering in Minnesota"
From the pen of my 2G-Grandmother, Mary Louisa Sackett Barnes,
born 18 Jan 1848 in Oquawka, Illinois and died in 1941 in Santa Barbara, California.
Submitted by John Wolfe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Return to Merrick County On-Line Resources
© 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by John Wolfe, T&C Miller