Further Reminiscences of Ableman, and a Sequel
Written for the Sauk County Historical Society
by Mrs. Eva Slye Alexander, April 2, 1918
Read before the Sauk County Historical Society, April 1918, by Mrs. E. V. Alexander
My first reminiscences were so kindly received, one or two requests being made for more, that I have ventured to carry them a little further and hope that they will not prove an anti-climax.
Every summer vacation Col. Ableman’s house, and indeed the whole of Ableman, was overrun and overflowed by Mrs. Ableman’s flock of nephews and nieces who always came then and stayed until school called them unwillingly home. The summer I taught there William Pearl and his family visited there for a short time and Laura and Aggie went to school for a few weeks. Aggie was then the same bright wide awake girl she was in after years and still is. The quiet, gentle nature of her older sister Laura made an impression upon me which has never faded. You all know their after life, so I need not dwell upon it.
Mrs. Ableman’s bevy of youngsters had one place where they were particularly fond of going to play and explore, which they called Hampton Heights. Just at the rise of ground between my schoolhouse and the mill a road branched off from the one going to and through the Narrows Creek narrows, going up and over the high ridge to the south of that road; a little to the side and south of this branch road, was a rather flat and wide place at the top of the ridge which at this place sank abruptly to the low land extending from its foot to the river. This high promontory was Hampton Heights. There they went nearly every day at some time and never seemed to tire of it. What they did there I do not know, only one day they came back in great excitement and told us that they had dug up some Indian bones on Hampton Heights. It made quite a flurry in the village for a little while, though we grownups at the house had our suspicions that there was some joke about it. I believe they afterwards confessed that they made the grave themselves and put the bones into it. The bones proved to be those of an old mule which had died and been dragged out there.
From the foot of Hampton Heights to the river road was quite a large swampy place covered with tamaracks which was called the Tamarack Swamp. All of the trees have been gone for years and I think the land is now dry and for ought I know bare; but then in the early spring these trees, with their bright green tassels were very pretty.
This ridge, of which Hampton Heights formed a corner, extended to the south along the west side of the river road for some distance, and west along the south side of the Narrows Creek Road through the Narrows Creek narrows and is part of the rugged beauty of the Ableman scenery. On the top of the ridge is extensive farming land of very good quality, I believe.
Just within the southern opening of the River Narrows, and close at the base of the west bluff, was the beautiful Boiling Spring whose clear cold water boiled up through the white sand in the bottom of a great natural kettle, with the lower side partly broken out. The little stream it made flowed out through the broken side, and with the ferns and mosses about its edge and sides it was indeed beautiful. I used to love to watch the water boil up, smooth out and then boil up again, sometimes in one place and then in another. I believe the company that works the quarry there now has preserved this spring, and I think I have heard that they have built a little house over it. It can hardly be as beautiful now as it was then, however, for the surroundings have been spoiled as far as beauty goes.
There used to be another boiling spring at the foot of the east bluff, just across from the one I have described, but it never was as fine and it may not be there at all now.
Hog and Dog at Large
Among the animals belonging to the mill and its owners and running at large wherever they willed was a savage old hog, a good deal, I should judge, like the razorbacks of the south. This hog had a habit of going for anybody when it chose and chasing them off of the premises. There used to be a story which was told to me by some one up there, that this hog went after Col. Ableman once and chased him into the old covered bridge where he had to climb up on the inside and yell for someone to come and drive it off. When you think that Col. Ableman was very tall and broad shouldered and weighed` at least three hundred and twelve pounds, you will realize that that chase was something to see.
Later, there was a little dog named Pincher, belonging to someone about there, who went with a lot of us young people one evening to a singing school which a man by the name of Abbott was trying to start in Ableman. He was an elderly man and rather pompous. I don’t know whether he was any relation of the Mr. Abbott in Arkansas whose very interesting paper was read at a meeting of this society or not, but anyway, when the gentleman took out his turning fork to strike the key, George Colyer pinched Pincher’s tail and he pitched the key so high that the noises resulting were anything but musical, and the teacher was not pleased with it.
A number of years later I used to go up in the fall to pick hops at Mr. Greeney’s and we had some funny times as well as busy ones. One year I remember a very queer family came to pick hops. They were of foreign descent, also ragged and decidedly dirty. Mr. Greeney asked them if they wanted to board themselves or take their dinner there. “Oh!” they said, “we want you to eat us; we make more when you eat us than when we eat ourselves.” Mr. Greeney said to his wife afterwards, “Good Lord, deliver me from eating them.”
One day toward the last of my hop picking I remember as a very exciting one. We were picking in a field near the house, on the north side of the road, where we could see and hear what happened in the road and in the meadow south of it. In the morning the first thing was a young rattlesnake under our box. The boys routed that out and killed it.
It had rained hard the night before and the creek was up over the meadow and deep at the ford, where now there is a bridge over which the road, which climbs the ridge to the south, crosses.
A queer old man who lived up on the ridge with a numerous family, came by in the forenoon with his old horse and wagon and one of his little boys. Shortly after he had passed we heard frantic calls for help from the ford, and, of course, all of the boys in the hop yard ran to see what was the matter. The water had proved too deep for the horse and had floated the wagon box with the boy in it down the creek. The boys fished the old man and the horse out of the water and Mr. Greeney, who happened to be in the meadow, stopped the wagon box and rescued the boy, all of them getting the poor old man’s outfit together again. They started safely up the hill, happy though wet. After that everything went on as usual, with everybody striving to see who could get the greatest number of boxes filled, until about the middle of the afternoon when the wife of the depot master, who was subject to fits, began to have them and went from one into another until she had about a dozen. Of course, some of us had to look after her to see that she did not hurt herself or get hurt and those who did not do anything had to look on so that Mr. Greeney began to be very much worried for fear he would not get his kiln full that day.
I was requested to tell what became of my scholars in after years. There is nothing very striking to tell though most of them that I know of have filled the place and lived the life of the average good citizen. A good many of them I have known nothing of for years. The three Greeney girls, Maggie, Amy and Sadie, I have known all of their lives since they went to school to me. Maggie married George Colyer and lived a neighbor to me for a number of years here in Baraboo or in North Freedom. Her oldest child is my name-sake and was a very good teacher for a number of years and is now a trained nurse. Her son, Howard is in Portland, Oregon or in that vicinity doing very well indeed, I hear. Maggie and her husband have both been dead many years. Amy married Frank Carpenter and has been dead a good many years, leaving three children. One girl is Mrs. Will Puff and lives near Ableman, I think, and another married a cousin and lives in Minnesota. Sadie lived with her father and mother on the beautiful old farm until their death and cared for them faithfully. For some time after, she lived there alone, but the old farm is sold now and she lives in a home of her own near the Scharnke mill in Ableman, where I hope she will find the comfort she certainly deserves.
Little Annie Peck, who came to school to me for the first time, is Mrs. Will Pierce now and has been a widow for a number of years. She lives with her mother on the old Curry farm among their flowers where I had the great pleasure of visiting them two or three years ago. George Bell I do not know very much about, only that he lived in this vicinity until he grew to manhood and married Eva Haines, a beautiful girl, whom I also knew, and finally went west where he died many years ago. His sister, Alice Bell, was a nice girl and grew to be a fine woman. She married Engineer Berry, whom some of you will remember. He was killed in a terrible railroad wreck where he was pinned under his engine and scalded to death. She was at home preparing to go downtown with him on his return from his trip when the news was brought to her of his terrible death. The last I heard of her, which was last year, she was living in St. Paul and was still Mrs. Berry.
J.G. Stein’s two little girls are still living, and one, Louise, I often see in town. She is Mrs. Ed Watson and lives on a farm near Baraboo. There were several children named Dunlap who went to school to me and whom I liked very well, but I think the family moved away and I know nothing of any of them except one who is now Mrs. Ben Flickner. She lives here and is still my friend, though I don’t see her often.
There were four children, a boy and two girls from one family and a girl from another, cousin of the other three, who went to school and the boy and his cousin caused me considerable trouble. The girl did several mean little things which were not very serious and one of her pranks was rather funny. My desk had a lid that lifted up and one day when I came back from dinner the girls were all standing about the desk when I, as usual, lifted the lid and there in the desk sat a hen. I suppose they expected she would fly up in my face but the sudden light dazed her and she didn’t stir. I turned to the nearest girl and said, “Nellie, will you please take this hen out?” She did and that ended it. It turned out that Nellie was the one who put it in. The boy was the one who made my life a burden to me sometimes and I was not the only teacher or the only person who considered him a nuisance. One day, when I went home to dinner and my feelings got too many for me, Col. Ableman offered me his pistol if I would shoot him [the boy]. I have sometimes thought that if I had, it would have saved the states he has lived in, and other people a good deal of trouble and expense, for he has spent the greater part of his life in prison, and if he is still living, ten to one, he is in some penitentiary. So you see I failed to make a good boy of him, but then, all the rest of the teachers failed too. That whole family was shady and settled their disputes with their fists and their tongues. One day, just at dusk, shortly after the railroad went through Ableman, the loungers and the business people at the depot heard a terrible noise and commotion out of doors and all rushed out to see what awful thing was happening. They listened a minute, then said, “OH! It’s only the W_____s in the Narrows.” and went back to their lounging and their business.
There was a story that Ed Watson hired the father to dig his potatoes; he dug them daytimes and stole them at night, so he got the money and the potatoes also. I don’t think it was proved that he did, so maybe he didn’t. One of the farmers near there found the mother one day with another woman in his cornfield and when he asked her what she was there for she said, “I was looking it over to see if it would pay to husk it on shares.” He told her he didn’t want it husked on shares, so she need not look any longer.
There are hardly any of the people that I used to know in Ableman now and if I go there I am nearly a stranger.
The old Ableman home is gone entirely, the house is burned and the family all dead. The beautiful Greeney farm is sold and strangers are living on it, but the old memories hang about the village still and it seems different to me from any other place. It always will, I think.