Written for the Sauk County Historical Society
by N. G. Abbott, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, April 4, 1918
BRINGING HOME THE PIG
One of the interesting events during the early days on the old farm, was bringing home the pig. This was accomplished by the aid of a grain sack, after he had been secured from some neighbor who happened to have a surplus. It required much inspection and very much talk, also a couple dollars or so, to close the bargain, as no one wanted a “runt,” and the owner was loath to part with a likely animal. On his arrival at the farm, his lordship was given a bath and thorough scrubbing in the wash tub. His mouth was then inspected for the presence of “black teeth,” which if found, were duly extracted with a hammer and a twenty-penny spike—a cut spike in these days—and his tail shortened to an inch in length, under the supposition that the energy devoted to keeping a tail in curl could better be applied to growth. A short piece of wire was then twisted into his nose to prevent his tearing up the dirt floor of his rail pen, and to this he was then consigned, with nothing to do but eat, sleep and grow. And maybe, under my mother’s skillful management, that pig didn’t grow. Anyhow he was not long in attaining a weight of around 300 pounds, when he was thought big enough to kill. For this feat the neighbors turned out, with the result that our household larder was soon replenished by a barrel of sidepork, a quartet of generous hams and shoulders in a separate pickle, a big jar of pure lard, some spareribs frozen up for state occasions, a goodly supply of toothsome sausage and souse or head cheese. There was also plenty of tenderloin for immediate consumption, while the neighbors were always remembered by some portion. The standard price for salt pork in those days was around ten cents, though during the war the price ran much higher; indeed, I have a record of a sale of a Chester White Hog in ’65 by my mother, which brought eleven cents per pound alive, the sale totaling $36. The same record shows the purchase of a fine milch cow for $25.
THE SOAP BOILING
Several important events were of yearly occurrence during the spring months on our old farm. Among them were soap boiling, candle dipping, ham smoking and house cleaning. These are not named in the order of their occurrence, but according to their importance. The first big thaw that filled the pond holes and furnished plenty of water, marked the opening of the campaign, soap boiling taking the lead. The first thing necessary to the making of soap was the leach. This was a rather large V shaped box set in a shallow inclined trough to conduct the lye to the vessel set to catch it. The box was supported by a frame of posts set in the ground and thus maintained in an upright position. In “setting up” the leach, a little straw had been placed in the bottom, upon which the ashes had been dumped from time to time as the stoves were cleaned. When filled and the “sign was right” for soap boiling, the leach was “wet down.” A small depression was made in the top of the ashes, and a dipper of hot water was poured therein. This was repeated at frequent intervals until the leach “started” to run lye. Then cold water was used, the lye meanwhile boiling collected in a big caldron kettle. After the leach had been “run off,” came the all-important day on which soap boiling was to take place. It is safe to say that nobody laid abed that morning, except father, for there was a fire to build under the big kettle, the soap tub and soapgrease to bring forth, breakfast hustled out of the way, and all things gotten in shape for what was to follow. The soapgrease, like the ashes, was the accumulation of months and was a compound that nowadays would be consigned to earth in short order for sanitary reasons, but as “familiarity breeds contempt,” it was thought to be O.K. and possibly was no worse than some of the cholera hog fat used nowadays in soap making. When the lye in the kettle had come to a boil, a sufficient quantity of grease was added, meanwhile taking great pains that it did not “boil over,” and the boiling process continued until the grease was “eaten up” by the lye, and a small portion “tried” in a saucer with a spoon, showed a jelly-like substance, when it was considered done, if it do not “go back” as it sometimes did from not having the ingredients in proper proportion. In this case a second boiling was necessary. The soap was invariably kept in a soft wood fish keg, as an oak tub would soon be destroyed by its strength. The close of the day brought my mother a supply of soap to last a year for all purposes, without the outlay of a cent.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
THE TALLOW DIP
In the old days on the farm before the advent of coal oil, the tallow dip was the universal source of light at our house, although in case of emergency a “slut” was extemporized for the time being. A “slut” consisted of a quantity of lard in a saucer, in which a bit of cotton cloth was partly submerged to form a wick in imitation of the ancient Egyptian lamp. Preparation for the important event of candle dipping began on the evening before the great day, by getting out the “candle rods,” twenty-four in number, and placing the “wicks” thereon. The “candle rods” were whittled out of straight-grained pine, and were about three-eights of an inch in diameter and eighteen inches in length. A quantity of wicking was wound about a bake tin, and this skein on being cut gave enough wicks of the required length when doubled to form the candles—one hundred forty-four in number. A candle rod was now placed beneath the knees and a length of wick looped around it and the ends twisted slightly. Five more were added in the same way, and the balance of the rods also received six wicks. Candle dipping day was a day of great physical discomfort for me, for it meant an extra early rising in a house filled with the nauseating odor of melted tallow, a slim breakfast, a warmed over dinner and a lunch for supper. But luckily it only happened once a year. The bunch of wicks was first dipped in the melted tallow all together, then the surplus tallow was squeezed out and each one straightened and placed about two inches from its neighbor on the rod. The rods were then placed on a rack consisting of two light poles supported on chairs in the “back room”. Meanwhile the wash boiler had been prepared near by full of warm water and was now placed near the rack. On the surface of the water a quantity of melted tallow was poured, and everything was then ready for the “dipping.” This consisted in taking the rods, one at a time and lowering the wicks into the melted tallow, withdrawing them at once, not too quickly, that they might receive a thin coating of the same. This process was repeated until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and then the lower ends of the yet immature candles, having assumed a pointed shape, were dressed up to a blunt shape with the shears. Dipping was then continued until along in the evening, when the candles were tried in a candle stick and when large enough, were removed from the rods and placed in a box, the rods put away and all evidence of the day’s labor removed, after which a very tired woman went to bed with a supreme feeling of satisfaction, that she had provided her humble home with light for another year, at the trifling cost of a few cents for wicking and tallow.
It was by this humble light that mother spun the yarn from which our clothing was made, and sewed and mended the same by its feeble rays. It was by this light the thrilling tales in the old “New York Ledger” were read aloud by some member of the family during the long winter evenings, while the others were busily engaged in sewing and knitting. It was a light fitted to the humble home we occupied, but with my mother’s death the light was extinguished forever.
In the old days I knew but very little of what was worn by the people in town, as I seldom visited there. But, of the garments worn on the farm, I had full knowledge, and have yet a vivid recollection. The garments, other than head and footwear, were of home manufacture almost entirely. For the men and boys, the outfit, from the ground up, consisted of cowhide boots, wool socks, bagging trousers—that is, trousers made from a cotton grain sack—“hickory” shirt, vest and coat of some heavy material, and a hat or cap, according to the weather. If a straw hat, it was usually braided by some old lady who had the knack of doing this work. The trousers were held up by suspenders made from doubled strips of “hickory,” though sometimes knit from wool yarn and finished with cloth tips. The socks of wool were also home knit. The only “union suits’ those days were, when cold weather approached, a “union” was formed by the addition of a second pair of trousers and shirt for warmth. A huge knit woolen comforter or scarf, for the neck was thought indispensable in the winter, as was also a pair of home knit wool “double mittens.” As there was no cast iron, steel spring seats in those days, to wear a man’s trousers, the knees were the parts that first gave out. When this occurred the first time, the break was patched. But, as the patches became more worn, the legs of the garment were amputated above the knees, the lower parts reversed and sewed on again. This gave double wear, and even after that was accomplished, they could still be used to wear under another pair.
Besides the ladies, cotton “factory underwear, the only visible portion being the “pantalet” extending to the top of the shoes, there was a quilted petticoat built of cotton batts and calico, and over this a calico dress. The skirt was invariably gathered into a belt at the waist line, and very little if any effort was put forth for display, as it all had to be sewn by hand. Home-knit wool stockings, and stout leather shoes furnished protection for the feet in winter, and in summer these were seldom needed. Rubbers were unknown, also overshoes. If a long ride was to be taken in winter, a pair of old stockings were drawn over the shoes. For the head, a home-made gingham sunbonnet in summer and a warm homemade hood in the winter, was considered the proper thing. A good warm woolen shawl furnished the necessary warmth on all occasions. A little later on crinoline came in fashion, and also a palmleaf creation, called a “shaker,” was bought for the head, but it had to have a calico cape sewed onto it. The whole thing formed a sort of sunbonnet effect, but was cooler, and saved much washing and cutting of pasteboards. Still later a gorgeous petticoat, called a “balmoral” supplanted the quilted affair. This “balmoral” was of heavy material, neutral in color except about eighteen inches of the bottom, which consisted of horizontal stripes, rivaling the rainbow in brilliancy of hues. For Sunday wraps, in summer, happy was the woman who possessed a “Paisley” shawl. In lieu of this, in the early sixties, a large flowing calico cape called a circular, was quite popular. Cameo breastpins were a favorite with many, while nearly every girl had her ears pierced for earrings.
In the very start of opening a farm in the old days, two implements were very necessary, in fact indispensable, viz: a plow and ax. Without the plow no farming could be done, and lacking an ax, no buildings for fences could be built. But, with these two essential implements, work could begin at once, and the other more or less useful articles, such as a spade, hoe, scythe, grain cradle, etc., could be added as occasion required. The plows in our neighborhood, as well as the log chains by which they were drawn, were usually made by Amasa Hathaway, a blacksmith-farmer living at the foot of Rattlesnake Bluff, on the Sauk road. These plows could easily have been guaranteed “not” to scour in any soil, especially in our loose, black prairie loam, and this in spite of frequent trips to the sandy stretches of “Wisconsin City” in fruitless attempts to brighten their dull finish mouldboards. The first harrows were of home make, wooden teeth and all. Rakes were also home made. George W. Nott was the only man capable of making a first-class ox yoke, bows, staples and all complete, and the huge log to which was fixed the bow form, was for many years a familiar object in the yard at his home.
Lawrence Kelley and Thomas Veitch, on the school section, were the first ones to bring a McCormick reaper to our town, and it created more excitement than the advent of an aeroplane would today., The machine was drawn by three horses, and required two men and a boy to operate. One man to drive, a boy to ride the lead horse, and a second man, “a real man” to crucify himself, so to speak, at the rear of the machine, and scrape the accumulated grain from the “platform” in bunches, with more or less—generally less—success as, to having them in shape for binding, without much straightening, Veitch claimed to have served as a sailor in the English navy; and never wearied of telling of how he had sailed “hin ‘is majesty’s fleet sor, from the Mediterranean hinto the Dead Sear, sor.” He still retained, as proof of his prowess, a pair of white duck trousers, which he invariably wore on all state occasions. Now, when it came to selecting a man for the highly responsible position of wielding the rake on the new machine, who more fit to fill the place than he who had sailed “hin ‘is marjesty’s fleet, sor, from the Mediranean, sor, hinto the Dead Sea, sor?”
So Veitch donned his white trousers, this being a state occasion, but before a half hour had passed they were plashed from end to end with oil from the gearing of the machine and ruined forevermore. But this only added new luster to Veitch’s laurels, by announcing to the world the fact that he who had sailed, etc. was also the “honly man, sor, to rake hoff a reaper hin West Point, sor.”
RIVALRY IN BOOTS
In the old days, cowhide boots were universally worn by farmers. The legs of these boots extended to just below the knee of the wearer, and the common custom was to wear the pantloons tucked inside. An occasional specimen of the kind may be seen here at Eureka Springs today, and to the twentieth century eye appears grotesque indeed, but furnished evidence if any were needed that fashions change. A portion of the upper front side of the boot leg was sometimes of red, blue or green morocco leather and frequently a pair of boots of very inferior material, found ready sale by means of their fancy tops, of which the owners were very proud while their glory lasted. Many of the boots were made to order by cobblers in the neighboring towns, and so anyone might indulge his fancy as to the grade of leather from cowhide to French calf and also as to ornamentation. W. H. Cook had a pair built after the English patterns, and thereby aroused the jealously of Samuel (Bishop) Haskins, who being justice of the peace, could not have his official dignity dimmed by the presence of boots of a superior kind, so he ordered and had made a pair from the finest leather he could find, and also had the bottom of the soles tricked out in fancy designs of stars, crescents, etc. done in zinc pegs, the whole cost amounting to eleven dollars.
Josiah Judivine was a man who would never admit a superiority in anything produced or exploited by others and was put upon his mettle by the grand display of foot wear by Cook and Haskins and hastened forthwith to town to go them one better. He found however that Haskins had struck the limit in leather and price, but yet to outdo him, he had Haskins order duplicated in every respect and in addition had his own initials, J. J. pegged into the soles also. It was indeed laughable to witness the unnatural postures these two old rivals would assure to their so-u-ls to the admiring gaze of the world.
Lawrence Kelley was possessed of a forty acre farm on the school Section, and a head that convinced him that he and his farm were of far more consequence in the world, than the balance of the township. Garret Kehoe came from Ireland with a large family in number, and concerning his wife large in size, she weighing over three hundred pounds. Kehoe himself, as well as his purse, were quite diminutive, so he built a hut in the woods near Lyman’s Corners where he and his family lived for a space in straightened circumstances. During this time he and Kelley were quite good friends, for it was always his delight to find someone poorer than himself, to whom he could boast of his imagined position. But, finally Kehoe fell heir to a small fortune by the death of a relative in Ireland and astonished the whole of our neighborhood by the purchase of a fine half section of wild prairie lying between Rattle and Johnson Bluffs. Kehoe at once, on becoming a landed proprietor, assumed lordly airs such as Kelley could not brook, and disputes soon arose which finally results in a pitched battle, in which Kehoe was severely beaten by Kelley with a stick of stove wood. A young daughter of Kehoe was a witness of the affray and it was said the fright she received was the cause of her death which occurred shortly after. Before this battle, however, Kehoe and a majority of his neighbors had had more or less trouble until it became at length, as Kelly used to say, “The lading to peck in conversations.” Law and law pointed were argued pro and con until even us youngsters were “wise” to many of them. That is why Bill Kelley and I were not called as witnesses of the Kelley-Kehoe fight. We saw it all, though hidden from sight ourselves behind an old log stable. This important point was unknown to the belligerents. Kehoe built a mile and a quarter of “ditch fence” on the west half of his farm, which was the kind commonly used in the early days. This fence was made by removing the sod from a strip about three feet wide along the ditch line, standing on edge at a slight angle, and filling at the back with the dirt from the ditch, which was about three feet deep, with sloping sides, Kehoe proceeded to set currant bushes at various places on these ditch banks with the intention, it was said, of enticing people to partake of the fruit in order that he might have them taken for trespass on his “estate.” He had a legal advisor in Lodi who very unwisely aggravated matters by telling Kehoe to appoint a funeral each day and to see that a corpse was provided. “Pat” Moran was the first one Kehoe selected to represent the corpse according to the lawyer’s advice, the affair taking place at our house during father’s absence. Fortunately Pat armed himself with an old case knife and barricaded himself in the kitchen and dared Kehoe to break in on pain of instant death. On father’s arrival Kehoe was sent about his business and the funeral postponed. The east half of Kehoe’s farm remained unfenced for some time, and across it diagonally ran the trail from our settlement to Lyman’s Corners. Kehoe had repeatedly warned off all trespassers on his portion of his “estate” but as there was no other road, people continued to try for a passage that way. During this time Mrs. Veitch’s brother, Robert Lange, died at Lyman’s Corners, and the services of Larry Kelley were engaged to take Mrs. Veitch and such others as wished to go from our settlement to the funeral. My mother and I were in the load, and had entered on the forbidden ground before Kehoe, who no doubt had been on the lookout for us, rushed out swinging his arms like flails and ordered us off on pain of legal prosecution and worse. Mrs. Kelley, who was with us, was much frightened and begged “Larry” to turn back, but Mrs. Veitch, arrayed in deep mourning, jumped up after the manner of a Jack-in-the-box, grabbed the reins from Larry’s hands as he was about to turn around, and shook her clenched fist at Kehoe, and yelled, “Come on, ye damned scoundrel an’ oil fix yez!” As this Amazon had given Kehoe a sound thrashing with a horses’ bridle a short time before, he concluded valor’s best part was discretion, and withdrew and thus another funeral of Kehoe’s was postponed.
THE SPINNING AND DYEING
When the war broke out, father foresaw a high price for all cotton goods, and so laid in a goodly supply of calico and “factory.” He also invested in a small flock of sheep, which rapidly increased to forty-five in number by the time the war ended. In the spring, when our sheep were sheared, the oxen were yoked shortly after midnight, and the wool taken to Sackett’s mill, on a little stream between Mazomanie and Black Earth, Dane county, where it was oiled, run through a “picker” to sort out the burs, etc., carded and made into “rolls” about two feet in length and three-eights inches in diameter. We usually reached home again the next night at about the same hour we started. From the time the “rolls” were brought home until the last one was spun, my mother was never out of a job, and seldom a day passed, except Sunday, but what the whirr of the old spinning wheel was heard in our kitchen. The bulk of the yarn was used in the weaving of cloth for our clothing, shawls and bed blankets, both inside, and for “coverlids,” etc. One of a pair of red, white and blue, plaid pattern “coverlids” that was spun and dyed by my mother in 1865, and woven by a Widow Morrell in Prairie du Sac, and which has been in use ever since, is now upon my bed here in Eureka Springs, Ark., and is in a fair state of preservation. >From the spindle of the wheel the yearn was wound upon a “reel”—forty threads to the “knot,” seven “knots” to the skein. I have often seen many scores of “skeins” hanging at one time overhead in our house, all the product of my mothers’ never ceasing daily labor. The “skeins,” when enough had accumulated for a “web,” were first thoroughly “scoured,” that is given a good washing with soft soap and water. Then came the dyeing, if the goods were to be colored. The dyeing process was usually performed by the aid of the big iron kettle in the yard except for the blue. This color was wrought through the ill smelling indigo dye tub, which would not be tolerated for a moment in nay well regulated home today, but was always commission at that time, and occupied a state position under the rear of the cook stove beneath the “elevated” oven. A red color was obtained from madder, a black from dye wood, a yellow from copperas, and green from first dyeing a yellow and then passing through the blue dye One pleasing effect for stocking yarn was obtained by tying knots in the skeins before placing in the blue dye. This gave a fine clouded appearance to the finished product.
After the war, several webs of mother’s spinning which were woven by old Lady Verback of our township were taken to the old Manchester mill at Baraboo, where they were dyed tulled and dressed into as fine goods as heart could wish, and by the aid of Tailor “Ike” Evans of Prairie du Sac some very presentable garments were produced for the masculine portion of our family
Only One Left
Feb. 26, 1920
An item in a recent issue of the “news”, stating that Charlie Pigg was the sole surviving member of charter holder of the G.A. R. at Merrimac, brings to my mind some incidents of “The dear, dead days now gone beyond recall,” when I, in the position of snare drummer, marched at the head of a squad of a dozen or more of the old boys on their annual pilgrimages to the little cemetery at that place, on Memorial Days. John Mandeville a member of the George H. Irvin Post of Lodi, usually filled the place of fifer, and on one occasion I remember my father officiated as bass drummer. It was on this occasion that, as we neared the gates of the cemetery, where a large crowd awaited our coming, that the end of father’s drumstick flew off and over the fence into an adjacent rye field, which sadly demoralized matters for a brief spell. Mandeville’s death, which occurred sometime later, left us without a fifer, and one year, Henry Pigg, as bass drummer and I constituted the entire drum corps. The same accident that happened to “Hank” as did to my father, except the offending drumstick had landed in a garden patch as we marched down the street. “Keep right on” said Hank, “I’ll catch up!” And so I did, but as I caught sight of him trying to get through the narrow garden gate, forward and backward and running down the street behind the big brass drum, I pretty near lost track of the time. At a somewhat later period, Fred Noyes volunteered as fifer, and was a might good one to the extent of one joyful, stirring tune at least. There was one drawback to this, however. Noyes was an inveterate tobacco chewer and his instrument would soon fill with spittle causing it to rill like the famous mocking bird melody. It took some little time on one occasion, to locate the snare drum but it was finally found in the basement of Frank Cooper’s store, and when rescued from the dampness gave forth a sound like an Indian tomtom. However, the procession was formed at the schoolhouse and swept down the street, as Artemus Ward was wont to say “With colors beating and drums flying.” But Noye’s fife began to trill and Sol King’s bird dog, evidently mistaking the sound of a bird in full song, rushed out with the intention of devouring the whole outfit. Ike Fort, as color bearer, valiantly charged the hound with the flagstaff and put him to flight, while an old horse at the side of Smith’s store, reared up and took a header into a mud puddle at the base of the post to which it was tied. I maintained a straight face, however, until, during the ceremonies, at the cemetery Bill Clark called on us for music, “What’ll I play?” said Noyes. “Oh suthin’ kinder solumn,” replied Clark. But as Noyes could only think of the one, joyful tune he knew so well, he played it with full accompaniment of trills which caused me to turn my back on the crowd and exhibit my grins to the green hills of West Point across the river.
The old boys are now nearly all called home, but the remembrance of these earnest, kindly individuals, will never fade from the minds of any who knew them. Requiescant in peace.
N. B. ABBOTT
Editor’s Note: Of the many articles received from Mr. Abbott, before his death this was the last one. It came some days ago and is the final one from this kindly genial pen. With our many readers we must regretfully say, “Farewe
Feb. 18, 1920
The following poem by the late N. G. Abbott was sent to this office by Rev. G. R. Carver, Lodi, the officiating clergyman at the funeral. The poem is dated February 2, 1918, but as to whether it was ever published The News has not been informed. Mr. Abbott was born in New Hampshire on May 14, 1853, and died near Lodi on Wednesday, February 18, 1920. His parents were pioneers in the town of West Point and much about the life of Mr. Abbott appeared in a previous issue of this paper. At the funeral Mrs. Charles Smith sang a solo at the home and a quartet composed of Walter Lang, Mr. And Mrs. Bert Fellows, and Mrs. Smith sang three hymns, Mrs. Elvin Christler playing the accompaniments. Rev. Carver read three of Mr. Abbott’s poems; ”A Smile Will Aid,’, Where is Home Sweet Home,” and “Then and Now.” The pallbearers were Frank Cole, John Weast, M.J. Cook, E. J. Ryan, John Cook and Bert Fellows.
The poem was undoubtedly Mr. Abbott’s last outlook on life and reads as follows
When daylight hours are nearly run
And twilight hovers near,
I love to sit in my easy chair
Beside the firelight’s cheer,
And ponder on the days gone by
When life held much for me,
And on the days which I knew well
There can but few more be.
My past has been like to the day,
The morning fair and bright,
The mid-day filled with busy hours,
And now the shades of night;
Like to a brown and shriveled leaf,
To virile twig I cling,
Though my frail hold upon its life
Doth little to me bring.
Soon there will come a chilling blast
I know full well it must,
And sweep me from my fragile hold
To mingle in the dust,
Midst untold myriads of my kind,
While where I once had been
Upon life’s tree new verdant leaves,
In beauty will be seen.
I’ve lived my life for good or ill
But could I live it o’er,
And I had leave to lay its course
I would show far different score,
If from my youth I might possess
The wisdom I’ve amassed
From years of life’s grim battling
Through which I now have passed
Yet this I know it cannot be
For it is not God’s will
Just as he sets a limit on
My days to linger still;
His will be done, not mine to choose,
Death holds for me no fear,
For this I know—when shadows fall,
I feel his presence near.
N. G. ABBOTT