NEGenweb Project Merrick County
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The Nonpareil - Mar. 10, 1898
by "An Old Settler"
Announcement:-- WIth this week we begin the publication, in connection with our History, of a most interesting series of articles untitled "'In Memoriam,' by An Old Settler." The first is a fair sample of what we have in store and we are sure these reminiscences by a former Merrick Countyite will be one of the ---
I find my recollections of old settlers to be very fragmentary and I will have to jot them down in a running sort of way, only touching upon the different characters as they rise in my mind above their fellows--like a wagon attached to a runaway team, only "hitting the high places." The reader must not expect these memories to be entirely free from an occasional dip into the vulgar, because I am writing of characters more uncouth, yet none the less clean, than the citizens of Merrick County today, and, to be frank, I am writing more to revive memories of the past in the minds of those of the "good old time" who still live, than for comers of a later day, who may find little to amuse them in my recollection of old settlers who have passed away.
I. JASON PARKER.
As my mind reaches back into the long ago, and once familiar faces cluster round, it easily dwells upon a well remembered form--shaggy brows overhanging deep-set, kindly blue eyes--a face that time vainly tried to rob of its charm; its honest ruggedness an index to the soul within. Dear old Uncle Jason! Thoughts of you are always pleasant, though your cheery voice is hushed. Yet the remembrance of your unselfishness is still with the ones whose lives were made more cheerful, whose future was made more hopeful, because of you.
Uncle Jason was not a member of any religious organization, his soul being of too generous a mould to be confined within the narrow limit of any creed. Were he the gate keeper of Paradise, none would be turned away. This might spoil its selectness, but would render it a happier place for Uncle Jason, whose great heart would embrace all. His was a wonderfully cheerful disposition. No trouble seemed to affect his steady flow of good humor. He used to remark that all the commandments were good, but the eleventh "Fret not thy gizzard" was his favorite and he certainly observed the injunction.
In the old overland stage days Uncle Jason's ranch was a favorite resort and had his heart been built for this day and age he would have made a fortune. The opportunities he had for extortion from travelers, new settlers and Indians, were only equaled by the times he didn't do it. A hungry or otherwise needy person never appealed to him in vain. His money was only worth the good it would do. Too often for the well being of his exchequer was his known kindness of heart taken advantage of by the designing and the impecunious, and his name, while occupying the humbler place on a promissory note, very often became "The chief stone of the corner," when the note fell due. As a business man, he was more of a success for his patrons than himself. His mind was more bent on accommodating people than making profit, and he was usually left "holding the sack." He never could understand why one man would beat another out of anything--HE couldn't do it and finally, after having no end of opportunities to amass wealth, went to his grave a poor man in property, but rich in the love of his children and the respect of all.
After all, is it not better to bequeath to one's children only the memory of a noble, unselfish life than to have made what the world calls success, leaving its accumulation as a disturbing element that so often proves more of a curse than a blessing?
Uncle Jason was a man of decided opinions and had the courage to speak his convictions. Yet his life was so straight forward, his honesty so apparent, that he made no enemies. He was one of our county commissioners at a time when his vote was worth money, but there was not enough in civilization to buy it, and I think a sturdy old fist would have been jammed into the face of any one proposing a bribe. His memory is an oasis in today's desert of political rascality, and to its cooling shade the mind turns for needed assurance that human nature is not all bad.
So I reluctantly leave him, with the thought that if all men were like we knew him to be, heaven would indeed be with us.
The Nonpareil - Mar. 24, 1898
by "An Old Settler"
II. JOHN L. MARTIN.
How easy it is to remember another character of those days--for who that once knew John L. Martin could ever forget him? Intense in his likes and dislikes, loving his friends and hating his enemies seemed the elixir that for so many years gave zest to this man's life. Well I remember the bitter animosity that existed between him and Isaac Beery on the west, and Samuel McCathron on the west. He used to say he had 'the devil on one side of him and hell on the other,' while they both contended that His Satanic Majesty had located between them. The trio were more or less religious--sometimes more, but oftener less. Isaac's religion, seemed to permit of swearing upon any occasion--other than upon the witness stand, at which time he would invariably refuse to take the ordinary oath, and be "qualified" (whatever that is) instead. The religious ideas of the other two, however, seemed to run in nearly the same channel, and were the only influence, apart from anger, that ever did get them near together. They both warmed up at the same time one winter, under the eloquent preaching of a peculiar character named Wesley, and it was a nine days' wonder that John L. got into McCathron's wagon. and that McCathron went out of his way to take him home. This did more to imbue that community with respect for the power of the gospel than any other thing that ever happened and had the minister's eloquence been confined to the sacred desk, their new found friendship might have endured. But unfortunately it became noised about that the idolized preacher was somewhat given to human frailties. To this John L. assented while McCathron dissented, and again there was razzors a flying in the air."
The subject of this sketch was not quarrelsome. He only had his convictions, and it was noticeable that with the solitary exception of the religious episode his convictions were always "ferninst" those of McCathron and Berry and were the occasion of Uncle Sammy's cane, and Uncle Isaac's crutch sometimes toying with his anatomy. No, he was not quarrelsome, but when inspired by the presence of his enemies he could and did use his tongue to such a wonderful advantage that their only salvation was to run or disable him. In politics he was a staunch but rather unique Republican, and many times have I heard his eloquent tongue fire crowds with enthusiasm for the party of his choice, and hurl fierce, bloodcurdling invective at its enemies. He was one who always made himself felt and was just as much at home pleading the cause of some defenseless prisoner before a jury, preaching from an improvised pulpit, or on the political stump, as he was between the handles of his plow, or working at his anvil, and had his opportunities permitted, would have enjoyed a wide notoriety. Kindness was more a part of his nature than its opposite. He would leave his own work any time to shoe a neighbor's horse or sharpen his plow lay, and take his pay in the satisfaction of having done a kindness. We always knew that spring had come because it was invariably heralded by his appearence with gifts of horse radish to almost every family in the village, always presented to "the wife," who, according to his jocular expression, was hopelessly in love with him, and, while the expression was somewhat strong, yet his kindness won a place in the regard of both wife and husband, and when at last his turbulent spirit passed into a wider sphere, many were the sighs of regret that went up from the hearts of those who knew him best. And so, Uncle John, I leave you with your maker, believing that his all-discerning eye will readily see, and his justice reward, the virtues you tried so hard to hide from your fellow men.
The Nonpareil - Mar.31, 1898
by "An Old Settler"
III. SAMUEL McCATHRON.
It is natural, after thinking of John L., that Samuel McCathron should claim a little thought, for it is hard to think of one and not the other. The passing of years has worn away from my mind any unpleasant recollections that may have surrounded this unique character, and leaves him silhouetted against the background of memory as a Simon-pure philanthropist, whose philanthropy was enlisted in the good of the then struggling young lawyers of the county, whose prosperity would not have been so marked were it not that the title of "McCathron vs. Martin, vs. Beery, vs. everybody," always showed up in the court's docket at the opening of every term. His generous care for them reached beyond his own expectation of life, proven by the fact that his sons John and Pete, were imbued with the same spirit. This disinterested(?) kindness so won the feelings of John Patterson that he was wont to characterize the father and sons as "The Immaculate Three--Sammy, Johny, and Petey."
After all it was not to be wondered at that "Old Sammy," as he was familiarly dubbed, was drawn into so many law suits. Settling as he did at a very early day he had the choice of very much unoccupied territory and naturally took in all he could. After a while the country settled up, and covetous eyes were turned to the valuable timber and other lands in the possession of the McCathron family. The often incomplete records were searched for flaws in their title, and if an actual or supposed hole was found surveyors were set at work and law suits begun "ad libitum ad infinitum," (whatever that means) and I may add "Epluribus, Blunderbuss," for all this turmoil did not end without bloodshed. Peter seemed to think it was necessary to kill a man on the Island, and I believe the killing was justified by the court, so of course was all right. Animosities engendered by these suits were the cause of many others, and the property accumulated by the old gentleman proved a source of continual anxiety and grief to a really good-hearted man.
He cared but little for the good or ill opinion of his neighbors, seeming rather to prefer their ill will. He kept his heart so screened from view that many thought it had been left out of his composition, but I learned to the contrary very accidentally and much to his chagrin, in this way:
A sort of half witted, ragged and dirty speciman of humanity called "Crazy Mart" showed up in the country and made himself so much of a nuisance generally that he was spurned from the doors of many, who generally would divide their food with most any one. Having entirely alienated himself from the kindness of all through slovenliness, profanity and lewdness, he finally betook himself to one of the little islands, in the Platte and eked out a precarious existence by fishing, trapping and raising a few vegetables, the best of which he would exchange in Grand Island for actual necessities. I struck the little, desolate island while deer hunting one cold winter's day and was surprised to see one of old Sammy's big gray horses tied before the tramp's squalid hut. I wondered what devilment the old gent was up to now, for I was as uncharitable as the rest of his neighbors toward him. Upon entering, I faced him as he was hurriedly taking his departure and the look of shame upon his face confirmed my suspicions that he was up to some uncanny work. Hardly recognizing me he hastily left the hovel, mounted his horse and was soon crunching his way over the icy bed of the river. Lying upon a filthy cot was poor "Crazy Mart," twisted out of shape and almost dead with inflammatory rheumatism. From him I learned that which caused a complete revulsion in my feelings toward old Sammy. For three weeks he had visited that poor, forsaked boy almost every day, and being unable to move him because of the anguish the least movement caused him, had kept him in food, brought liniments, and rubbed on the distorted limbs for hours at a time. The poor boy's lip trembled and eyes grew big with tears as he recounted to me the many, many acts of humanity and disinterested kindness showered upon him, whom all others had spurned, by hardhearted old Sammy. Then I knew that the look of shame I had detected on the old man's face was because he had accidentaly showed me his heart. He had an assistant after that day and when the distorted limbs were straightened, the bodily rigor returned, and our services no longer necessary, the injunction to "Keep my mouth shut about it all" was once more pressed upon me, and is now only removed because! the hard-hearted (?) old man is gone. For years after that I enjoyed his querulous, exacting friendship and when his ill humor would bring indignant blood to my cheek, the thought of "Crazy Mart" would drive it back to a heart that always keeps a warm place for "old Sammy." And so to him, as to the others, "my pen says adieu, but my heart knows no farewell."
IV. ISAAC BEERY
And now what shall I say of Isaac Beery? My recollections would not be complete without including him, for no man of the early days was better known by sight, and yet he lived so much in himself that few, if indeed any, outside of his own immediate family, ever "sat down to the table of his soul in confidence complete."
I remember well his hearty hospitality at home, and his many gifts of vegetables from his garden--and who ever saw such a garden anywhere else?
I could relate several incidents of early days in which he figured which used to create hearty laughs. Such, for instance, as when, to prove that he had a mighty mean neighbor, he hauled a dead dog to town, which he fondly thought would create a feeling against the neighbor who had poisoned it. Meeting Sid Bullock he tragically called attention to the defunct canine, demanding in tones of sorrow and indignation, "what he thought of that?" Sid, as was his habit under a certain condition, threw his right leg out of joint, cocked his eye, and replied, "Well, Uncle Isaac, as for you, you may linger along for a few days yet, but that dog's deader than --- !"
The old gentleman, though a cripple, often proved abundantly able to fight his own battles, and they were of no infrequent occurrence. His crutch was the terror of his enemies and was usually wielded righteously. He had but few friends, seeming to care but little for social enjoyment, away from his own fireside. That he was a good, father is attested by the children he left, and had he had but few virtues (which I do not admit) yet would those of his children retroacting, shield his memory from harsh criticism. I only wish I had known him better, for I am sure a close intimacy would have discovered man noble traits of character hidden to mere acquaintances. If the sweet, kind-face woman who shared his lot were the subject of this writing, how easily words of kindness would flow from my pen!
The Nonpareil - April 7, 1898
by "An Old Settler"
V. EPH BOCKES.
Hearty, cheery, whole-souled Eph how constantly his face flits though my mind, associated with so many incidents of the days of long ago. How he did enjoy a practical joke, and yet how careful (?) he was to make them harmless. I remember when Charley Adams (he was only a boy then) was night operator at Lone Tree station, Eph was continually putting him up to some mischief, which never failed to end ludicrously. He had an apt pupil in Charley and between them they managed to keep everybody around them in hot water. I wonder if John Foulks ever knew who stuffed the gunny bags in his chimney and smoked him out of his shoe shop? I wonder if John Sullivan ever found out who was the prime mover in a hanging bee that came so near costing him his life? Well, John, nobody ever intended to hurt you. The keg of beer you were wheeling around for us while we moved Joe Adams' house was not all intended for you, and the only show anyone else had to get a whack at it was to summarily dispose of you in some way, and "hanging" seemed about the only sure method. If we left you suspended a little too long it was not that we loved you less, but that we loved the keg more. Tom Johnson ought to have happened in sooner and cut you down, but Tom was as busy as the rest of us moving Joe's house, and with the rest of us forgot you. Eph actually looked serious while you were "coming to," and this ought to compensate you for the slight inconvenience of having been hung, for it was mighty seldom that anything made him look serious in those day, and we didn't think anything could.
The Indians made themselves a nuisance during the winter nights by crowding into the depot, to the exclusion of the rest of us. We felt this keenly for that was our place of congregating the place where we would smoke our pipes and tell stories until the "wee small hours." So Eph hit upon a plan to clean them out, and as a "beginner" one night when the waiting room was full of Indians and the air fuller of the noxious stench from their sweating, steaming, unwashed feet, blankets and bodies, Eph started for the house while Charley piled dry fuel into the big, old-fashioned wood stove with a big, oblong hollow drum resting horizontally on its top. By the time Eph returned the stove, room and all were at a white heat, and the Indians were stirring uneasily in their sleep, emitting grunts that would discount a hog pen. But the climax came when about half a pound of cayenne pepper was deftly thrown into the red-hot drum by Eph, and the diabolical conspirators had rushed out, locking the door after them. Well, if ever there was an aboriginal uproar it was right then. In a moment the lock of the door was smashed off with a hatchet and twelve or fifteen choking, strangling wards of the government fought to get through the, door at the same time. Talk about the "stoicism of the red man under torture!" -- they weren't stoics a little bit that night. For an hour after they rushed out pell mell we could hear nose-bursting sneezes from twelve or fifteen points of the compass, and Eph--well, he just rolled over the platform and roared, while Charley looked sad. It was a pretty cold night when a Pawnee ventured into the depot after that. Joe Adams was considerably "Put Out" the next morning when he saw the wrecked door and broken windows out. Eph got me to explain to him that Charley was not to blame--no, not in the least!--and so he was forgiven and the U. P. stood the loss.
Then again when George Moore, who was sheriff, called upon a lot of us to help arrest Jack Considine and a little Tom Thumb Irishman who were trying to give each other softening of the brain with beer bottles, how Eph laughed when Moore cried out, "Bind them! Bind them!" after getting the belligerents secured. They were put in a box car in lieu of a jail, to be held until morning when Uncle Dick Eatough, J. P., would pass upon their case. They were no sooner put in and the lock snapped on them than Eph whispered in my ear "slip over to the depot and tell Charley to come to the back freight door." I did so, and no one yet knows how those men got out of that car. But since no one but Charley had a key to it, I have always associated their escape with that errand of mine. And Eph, although he denied it and protested that he was law abiding, and that Charley wouldn't do such a thing, yet the amused look which came into his face always made me have my suspicions. It always seemed a strange coincidence to me that he and Charley were on the train when Alex Riley escaped from Sheriff Moore, when enroute for the Columbus jail. They, with many more of us, wanted Alex to get away, but nobody seems to know how he managed to do it handcuffed and shackeled, but he did, and is gone yet. Eph always looked "amused" when the matter was discussed and of course Charley "wouldn't do such a thing." How well I remember how proud he was of little George and Anna. He would lead them into Berryman's store, stand them on the counter and the way they would sing "gospel hymns" was enough to make any man proud. We were all one family in the good old reckless days and little George and Anna had a place in all our hearts.
Don't think from what I have said that my subject's life was entirely given up to jokes and frolic, for while I could fill this entire page with like incidents, yet there was another and a nobler side to his character. His love for his children is an index to his warm heartedness for all. His ear was ever open to the cry of distress and no hand more generous than his to alleviate suffering. How he nursed the Pawnee with a frozen foot and supplied him with food; the miles he would travel to reach the bedside of a sick acquaintance, there to render the irksome service born of a sympathetic heart; how his eye would blaze at a recital of wrong and melt at that of suffering.
While he in common with all of us had his faults, yet there is not a citizen of Merrick County today whose eye ever rested on the spreading glory of our old "Lone Tree" who does not cherish in his heart the memory of our dear old friend Eph.
The veil of the mystical beyond seems lifted, and away over in the shining realms of light familiar forms appear, and a pleased fancy recognizes Eph and Uncle Jason, old Samuel, John L., and Isaac, and with them many more who have stood in the shade of the old tree. Their glorified faces are types of peace and love; no more the unhappy bickerings of earth cast their shadows o'er their lives. "They know each other better since the mists have cleared away" and their happy faces reflect the eternal brotherhood of man. Is there a soul so deformed, a heart so contracted between the narrow walls of creed and dogma, that it denies to these subjects of my imperfect sketches the heaven in which I leave them?
The Nonpareil - April 14, 1898
by "An Old Settler"
VI. OLD LONE TREE.
There is something sort of lonesome about this history of Merrick County. It gives me the "blues" to have such old associations stirred up. If there wasn't a little streak of sunshine glimmering through it at times the "blue" devil would reign supreme with his somber wings shadowing the past.
If old Lone Tree had given the world an ante-mortem statement, how much of sunshine and how much of shadow it would have contained! It would have told us of savage scalp dancers; of victims tortured to death. It would recount the amorous wooing of the dusky swain, and in later days of some not so dusy. And how softly and mournfully its leaves would rustle as it depicted the laying away of loved forms from the sight of men forever; were those forms dusky or white, yet were they followed by tears wrung from bleeding hearts. It would have told us of love and of lust, of noble deeds and of hellish crimes; for its bright leaves have fluttered in the pure atmosphere of the prairie above, while under its spreading arms the air was polluted by the presence of Jack Slade. It has been honored by sheltering the noble form of John C. Fremont. In my mind's eye I see the tent of Brigham Young nestling beneath its shelter after a hard day's march as he led his persecuted followers into the wilderness, where they could serve God according to the dictates of their own consciences. And they did serve the "meek and lowly one" in a manner that could be profitably imitated by the so called Christians who were their persecutors and murderers. Their history, divested of the rancorous lies that cling about it, would shine out much more white and free from crime than our own, and while we deplore their falling into the polygamy so much practiced in old Bible times, we should also deplore crimes of a like nature that, unlike theirs, are sneakingly hid from the view of man by those who were the first to cast a stone. How often the skirt that is haughtily kept from contact with that of a fallen sister is worn by one as frail! This has been proved true so often that we have learned to look with a shade of suspicion upon those who are too ready to condemn others, Well now, I wonder if this is digressing.
Please come with me out of the long ago into times nearer our own and listen to the stories of the old tree. It is telling you now of smiling on dear old Mother Martin as she hurriedly passed under it on her many visits of mercy to the bedsides of the sick. It tells how often our quaint old Grandma Hilton rested in its cooling shade after ushering into the world so many of the little ones who now fill places left vacant by death, It has laughed as John L. Martin stopped to free his mind on some imaginary foe, and at Uncle Isaac as he would menacingly shake his crutch in the direction of John L.'s ranch. Old Sammy would quote scripture under it by the hour, and Uncle Jason would quietly sit on its protruding roots and take a big chew of tobacco, while his honest old face shone with good will to all.
It was under the muse-awakening rustle of its leaves that young Beery composed the famous impassioned poem to the idolized but unresponsive Delia Hurley, ending with these reproachful, tear-stained lines:
If you are not fair to me,
What care I how fair you be!
Who blamed him for being captivated by the fair, roguish Delia! By Joe! she had us all at her feet, and she could have packed her pretty, bright dresses in any of our trunks, begging our gunny bags' pardon.
One day I copied some of the hieroglyphics carved on its bark by thoughtless but friendly hands, little thinking that they were wounding their old friend to death. The name "Sid" was plain, and a living "comedy" came into my mind. On the other side of the tree--that is, in the deepest shadow "on moonlit nights:--were cut several series of initials. It seemed that in the long ago someone had cut the initials "J. V. --. (blur)" and I think that if the carving had discovered the handwriting of the carver, Jim Vieregg would have been detected; and it would not take a great stretch of the imagination to see a Miss Martin at his side, smiling up at him as he cut their initials in the old tree in commemoration, perhaps, of a freshly spoken betrothal. Prompted by the above, no doubt, another series appeared, and "J. K. & VI" were plainly visible. So, John, you and "Vi" also did some sparking under the old Lone Tree, did you? But you didn't dream it would tell! Well, she was mighty pretty in her girlhood days; and better still, she hasn't gotten over it, and never will as long as her honest, jolly soul sparkles through her brown eyes. And I am glad that she has had a tender arm around her and a manly man at her side all these years since you disfigured the old landmark. Lower down and fresher showed the letters "T. J. & E." and I'll bet a bright new penney that Tom Johnson and Ella Doolittle were not far away when this engraving was done. I hope life is as sweet to them now as it was in those their wooing days, for Tom was brave and handsome and Ella--lord, but wasn't she sweet!
The Nonpareil - April 21, 1898
by "An Old Settler"
We have no "In Memoriam" for our readers this week, but hope to resume the same next week or the week following. These articles were not a part of the History as originally prepared, and are furnished us at the convenience of their author. This statement is made in order that the reader may not think last week concluede this most interesting department.--ED. NONPAREIL.
© 2000, 2001 by Ted & Carole Miller