The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, by John Muir


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Title: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth

Author: John Muir

Release Date: May 9, 2006 [eBook #18359]
Last updated: December 5, 2019

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

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Transcriber’s Note:

A number of words have been inconsistently hyphenated in this text.
For a complete list, please see the end of this document.

cover

THE STORY OF MY BOYHOOD AND YOUTH

BY

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM SKETCHES
BY THE AUTHOR

BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1912 AND 1913, BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY JOHN MUIR

FOURTEENTH IMPRESSION

The Riverside Press
CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.


[v]

Contents


[vii]

John Muir

Muir’s Lake (Fountain Lake) and the Garden Meadow
62

Our First Wisconsin Home
100

Clock with Hand rising and setting with the Sun, invented
by the Author in his Boyhood
132

Barometer invented by the Author in his Boyhood
164

Combined Thermometer, Hygrometer, Barometer, and
Pyrometer, invented by the Author in his Boyhood
196

The Hickory Hill House, built in 1857
230

Thermometer invented by the Author in his Boyhood
258

Self-Setting Sawmill. Model built in Cellar. Invented by
the Author in his Boyhood
258

My Desk, made and used at the Wisconsin State University
284


[1]

IToC

A BOYHOOD IN SCOTLAND

Earliest Recollections—The “Dandy Doctor” Terror—Deeds of
Daring—The Savagery of Boys—School and
Fighting—Birds’-nesting.

When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild,
and all my life I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and
wild creatures. Fortunately around my native town of Dunbar, by the
stormy North Sea, there was no lack of wildness, though most of the
land lay in smooth cultivation. With red-blooded playmates, wild as
myself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, and
along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and [2]seaweeds,
eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; and
best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black
headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and
the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one. We
never thought of playing truant, but after I was five or six years old
I ran away to the seashore or the fields almost every Saturday, and
every day in the school vacations except Sundays, though solemnly
warned that I must play at home in the garden and back yard, lest I
should learn to think bad thoughts and say bad words. All in vain. In
spite of the sure sore punishments that followed like shadows, the
natural inherited wildness in our blood ran true on its glorious
course as invincible and unstoppable as stars.

My earliest recollections of the country were gained on short walks
with my grandfather when I was perhaps not over three years old. On
one of these walks grandfather took me to Lord Lauderdale’s gardens,
where I saw figs [3]growing against a sunny wall and tasted some of
them, and got as many apples to eat as I wished. On another memorable
walk in a hay-field, when we sat down to rest on one of the haycocks I
heard a sharp, prickly, stinging cry, and, jumping up eagerly, called
grandfather’s attention to it. He said he heard only the wind, but I
insisted on digging into the hay and turning it over until we
discovered the source of the strange exciting sound,—a mother field
mouse with half a dozen naked young hanging to her teats. This to me
was a wonderful discovery. No hunter could have been more excited on
discovering a bear and her cubs in a wilderness den.

I was sent to school before I had completed my third year. The first
schoolday was doubtless full of wonders, but I am not able to recall
any of them. I remember the servant washing my face and getting soap
in my eyes, and mother hanging a little green bag with my first book
in it around my neck so I would not lose it, and its blowing back in
the sea-wind like a [4]flag. But before I was sent to school my
grandfather, as I was told, had taught me my letters from shop signs
across the street. I can remember distinctly how proud I was when I
had spelled my way through the little first book into the second,
which seemed large and important, and so on to the third. Going from
one book to another formed a grand triumphal advancement, the memories
of which still stand out in clear relief.

The third book contained interesting stories as well as plain
reading-and spelling-lessons. To me the best story of all was
“Llewellyn’s Dog,” the first animal that comes to mind after the
needle-voiced field mouse. It so deeply interested and touched me and
some of my classmates that we read it over and over with aching
hearts, both in and out of school and shed bitter tears over the brave
faithful dog, Gelert, slain by his own master, who imagined that he
had devoured his son because he came to him all bloody when the boy
was lost, though he had saved the child’s life by [5]killing a big wolf.
We have to look far back to learn how great may be the capacity of a
child’s heart for sorrow and sympathy with animals as well as with
human friends and neighbors. This auld-lang-syne story stands out in
the throng of old schoolday memories as clearly as if I had myself
been one of that Welsh hunting-party—heard the bugles blowing, seen
Gelert slain, joined in the search for the lost child, discovered it
at last happy and smiling among the grass and bushes beside the dead,
mangled wolf, and wept with Llewellyn over the sad fate of his noble,
faithful dog friend.

Another favorite in this book was Southey’s poem “The Inchcape Bell,”
a story of a priest and a pirate. A good priest in order to warn
seamen in dark stormy weather hung a big bell on the dangerous
Inchcape Rock. The greater the storm and higher the waves, the louder
rang the warning bell, until it was cut off and sunk by wicked Ralph
the Rover. One fine day, as the story goes, when the bell was ringing
gently, the pirate put out to the rock, [6]saying, “I’ll sink that bell
and plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.” So he cut the rope, and down
went the bell “with a gurgling sound; the bubbles rose and burst
around,” etc. Then “Ralph the Rover sailed away; he scoured the seas
for many a day; and now, grown rich with plundered store, he steers
his course for Scotland’s shore.” Then came a terrible storm with
cloud darkness and night darkness and high roaring waves, “Now where
we are,” cried the pirate, “I cannot tell, but I wish I could hear the
Inchcape bell.” And the story goes on to tell how the wretched rover
“tore his hair,” and “curst himself in his despair,” when “with a
shivering shock” the stout ship struck on the Inchcape Rock, and went
down with Ralph and his plunder beside the good priest’s bell. The
story appealed to our love of kind deeds and of wildness and fair
play.

A lot of terrifying experiences connected with these first schooldays
grew out of crimes committed by the keeper of a low lodging-house in
Edinburgh, who allowed poor [7]homeless wretches to sleep on benches or
the floor for a penny or so a night, and, when kind Death came to
their relief, sold the bodies for dissection to Dr. Hare of the
medical school. None of us children ever heard anything like the
original story. The servant girls told us that “Dandy Doctors,” clad
in long black cloaks and supplied with a store of sticking-plaster of
wondrous adhesiveness, prowled at night about the country lanes and
even the town streets, watching for children to choke and sell. The
Dandy Doctor’s business method, as the servants explained it, was with
lightning quickness to clap a sticking-plaster on the face of a
scholar, covering mouth and nose, preventing breathing or crying for
help, then pop us under his long black cloak and carry us to Edinburgh
to be sold and sliced into small pieces for folk to learn how we were
made. We always mentioned the name “Dandy Doctor” in a fearful
whisper, and never dared venture out of doors after dark. In the short
winter days it got dark before school closed, and in cloudy weather
we [8]sometimes had difficulty in finding our way home unless a servant
with a lantern was sent for us; but during the Dandy Doctor period the
school was closed earlier, for if detained until the usual hour the
teacher could not get us to leave the schoolroom. We would rather stay
all night supperless than dare the mysterious doctors supposed to be
lying in wait for us. We had to go up a hill called the Davel Brae
that lay between the schoolhouse and the main street. One evening just
before dark, as we were running up the hill, one of the boys shouted,
“A Dandy Doctor! A Dandy Doctor!” and we all fled pellmell back into
the schoolhouse to the astonishment of Mungo Siddons, the teacher. I
can remember to this day the amused look on the good dominie’s face as
he stared and tried to guess what had got into us, until one of the
older boys breathlessly explained that there was an awful big Dandy
Doctor on the Brae and we couldna gang hame. Others corroborated the
dreadful news. “Yes! We saw him, plain as onything, with his lang
[9]black cloak to hide us in, and some of us thought we saw a
sticken-plaister ready in his hand.” We were in such a state of fear
and trembling that the teacher saw he wasn’t going to get rid of us
without going himself as leader. He went only a short distance,
however, and turned us over to the care of the two biggest scholars,
who led us to the top of the Brae and then left us to scurry home and
dash into the door like pursued squirrels diving into their holes.

Just before school skaled (closed), we all arose and sang the fine
hymn “Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing.” In the spring when the
swallows were coming back from their winter homes we sang—

“Welcome, welcome, little stranger,

Welcome from a foreign shore;

Safe escaped from many a danger …”

and while singing we all swayed in rhythm with the music. “The
Cuckoo,” that always told his name in the spring of the year, was
another favorite song, and when there was nothing in [10]particular to
call to mind any special bird or animal, the songs we sang were widely
varied, such as

“The whale, the whale is the beast for me,

Plunging along through the deep, deep sea.”

But the best of all was “Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing,” though
at that time the most significant part I fear was the first three
words.

With my school lessons father made me learn hymns and Bible verses.
For learning “Rock of Ages” he gave me a penny, and I thus became
suddenly rich. Scotch boys are seldom spoiled with money. We thought
more of a penny those economical days than the poorest American
schoolboy thinks of a dollar. To decide what to do with that first
penny was an extravagantly serious affair. I ran in great excitement
up and down the street, examining the tempting goodies in the shop
windows before venturing on so important an investment. My playmates
also became excited when the wonderful news got abroad that Johnnie
Muir had a penny, hoping to obtain a taste of the [11]orange, apple, or
candy it was likely to bring forth.

At this time infants were baptized and vaccinated a few days after
birth. I remember very well a fight with the doctor when my brother
David was vaccinated. This happened, I think, before I was sent to
school. I couldn’t imagine what the doctor, a tall, severe-looking man
in black, was doing to my brother, but as mother, who was holding him
in her arms, offered no objection, I looked on quietly while he
scratched the arm until I saw blood. Then, unable to trust even my
mother, I managed to spring up high enough to grab and bite the
doctor’s arm, yelling that I wasna gan to let him hurt my bonnie
brither, while to my utter astonishment mother and the doctor only
laughed at me. So far from complete at times is sympathy between
parents and children, and so much like wild beasts are baby boys,
little fighting, biting, climbing pagans.

Father was proud of his garden and seemed [12]always to be trying to make
it as much like Eden as possible, and in a corner of it he gave each
of us a little bit of ground for our very own in which we planted what
we best liked, wondering how the hard dry seeds could change into soft
leaves and flowers and find their way out to the light; and, to see
how they were coming on, we used to dig up the larger ones, such as
peas and beans, every day. My aunt had a corner assigned to her in our
garden which she filled with lilies, and we all looked with the utmost
respect and admiration at that precious lily-bed and wondered whether
when we grew up we should ever be rich enough to own one anything like
so grand. We imagined that each lily was worth an enormous sum of
money and never dared to touch a single leaf or petal of them. We
really stood in awe of them. Far, far was I then from the wild lily
gardens of California that I was destined to see in their glory.

When I was a little boy at Mungo Siddons’s school a flower-show was
held in Dunbar, and [13]I saw a number of the exhibitors carrying large
handfuls of dahlias, the first I had ever seen. I thought them
marvelous in size and beauty and, as in the case of my aunt’s lilies,
wondered if I should ever be rich enough to own some of them.

Although I never dared to touch my aunt’s sacred lilies, I have good
cause to remember stealing some common flowers from an apothecary,
Peter Lawson, who also answered the purpose of a regular physician to
most of the poor people of the town and adjacent country. He had a
pony which was considered very wild and dangerous, and when he was
called out of town he mounted this wonderful beast, which, after
standing long in the stable, was frisky and boisterous, and often to
our delight reared and jumped and danced about from side to side of
the street before he could be persuaded to go ahead. We boys gazed in
awful admiration and wondered how the druggist could be so brave and
able as to get on and stay on that wild beast’s back. This famous
Peter loved [14]flowers and had a fine
garden surrounded by an iron fence, through the bars of which, when I
thought no one saw me, I oftentimes snatched a flower and took to my
heels. One day Peter discovered me in this mischief, dashed out into
the street and caught me. I screamed that I wouldna steal any more if
he would let me go. He didn’t say anything but just dragged me along
to the stable where he kept the wild pony, pushed me in right back of
its heels, and shut the door. I was screaming, of course, but as soon
as I was imprisoned the fear of being kicked quenched all noise. I
hardly dared breathe. My only hope was in motionless silence. Imagine
the agony I endured! I did not steal any more of his flowers. He was a
good hard judge of boy nature.

I was in Peter’s hands some time before this, when I was about two and
a half years old. The servant girl bathed us small folk before putting
us to bed. The smarting soapy scrubbings of the Saturday nights in
preparation for the Sabbath were particularly severe, and [15]we all
dreaded them. My sister Sarah, the next older than me, wanted the
long-legged stool I was sitting on awaiting my turn, so she just
tipped me off. My chin struck on the edge of the bath-tub, and, as I
was talking at the time, my tongue happened to be in the way of my
teeth when they were closed by the blow, and a deep gash was cut on
the side of it, which bled profusely. Mother came running at the noise
I made, wrapped me up, put me in the servant girl’s arms and told her
to run with me through the garden and out by a back way to Peter
Lawson to have something done to stop the bleeding. He simply pushed a
wad of cotton into my mouth after soaking it in some brown astringent
stuff, and told me to be sure to keep my mouth shut and all would soon
be well. Mother put me to bed, calmed my fears, and told me to lie
still and sleep like a gude bairn. But just as I was dropping off to
sleep I swallowed the bulky wad of medicated cotton and with it, as I
imagined, my tongue also. My screams over so great a loss brought
mother, [16]and
when she anxiously took me in her arms and inquired
what was the matter, I told her that I had swallowed my tongue. She
only laughed at me, much to my astonishment, when I expected that she
would bewail the awful loss her boy had sustained. My sisters, who
were older than I, oftentimes said when I happened to be talking too
much, “It’s a pity you hadn’t swallowed at least half of that long
tongue of yours when you were little.”

It appears natural for children to be fond of water, although the
Scotch method of making every duty dismal contrived to make necessary
bathing for health terrible to us. I well remember among the awful
experiences of childhood being taken by the servant to the seashore
when I was between two and three years old, stripped at the side of a
deep pool in the rocks, plunged into it among crawling crawfish and
slippery wriggling snake-like eels, and drawn up gasping and shrieking
only to be plunged down again and again. As the time approached for
this terrible bathing, I used to hide in the [17]darkest
corners of the house, and oftentimes a long search
was required to find me. But after we were a few years older, we
enjoyed bathing with other boys as we wandered along the shore,
careful, however, not to get into a pool that had an invisible
boy-devouring monster at the bottom of it. Such pools, miniature
maelstroms, were called “sookin-in-goats” and were well known to most
of us. Nevertheless we never ventured into any pool on strange parts
of the coast before we had thrust a stick into it. If the stick were
not pulled out of our hands, we boldly entered and enjoyed plashing
and ducking long ere we had learned to swim.

One of our best playgrounds was the famous old Dunbar Castle, to which
King Edward fled after his defeat at Bannockburn. It was built more
than a thousand years ago, and though we knew little of its history,
we had heard many mysterious stories of the battles fought about its
walls, and firmly believed that every bone we found in the ruins
belonged to an ancient warrior. We tried to see who could [18]climb
highest on the crumbling peaks and crags, and took chances that no
cautious mountaineer would try. That I did not fall and finish my
rock-scrambling in those adventurous boyhood days seems now a
reasonable wonder.

Among our best games were running, jumping, wrestling, and scrambling.
I was so proud of my skill as a climber that when I first heard of
hell from a servant girl who loved to tell its horrors and warn us
that if we did anything wrong we would be cast into it, I always
insisted that I could climb out of it. I imagined it was only a sooty
pit with stone walls like those of the castle, and I felt sure there
must be chinks and cracks in the masonry for fingers and toes. Anyhow
the terrors of the horrible place seldom lasted long beyond the
telling; for natural faith casts out fear.

Most of the Scotch children believe in ghosts, and some under peculiar
conditions continue to believe in them all through life. Grave ghosts
are deemed particularly dangerous, and many of the most credulous will
go far out of [19]their way to avoid passing through or near a graveyard
in the dark. After being instructed by the servants in the nature,
looks, and habits of the various black and white ghosts, boowuzzies,
and witches we often speculated as to whether they could run fast, and
tried to believe that we had a good chance to get away from most of
them. To improve our speed and wind, we often took long runs into the
country. Tam o’ Shanter’s mare outran a lot of witches,—at least
until she reached a place of safety beyond the keystone of the
bridge,—and we thought perhaps we also might be able to outrun them.

Our house formerly belonged to a physician, and a servant girl told us
that the ghost of the dead doctor haunted one of the unoccupied rooms
in the second story that was kept dark on account of a heavy
window-tax. Our bedroom was adjacent to the ghost room, which had in
it a lot of chemical apparatus,—glass tubing, glass and brass
retorts, test-tubes, flasks, etc.,—and we thought that those [20]strange
articles were still used by the old dead doctor in compounding physic.
In the long summer days David and I were put to bed several hours
before sunset. Mother tucked us in carefully, drew the curtains of the
big old-fashioned bed, and told us to lie still and sleep like gude
bairns; but we were usually out of bed, playing games of daring called
“scootchers,” about as soon as our loving mother reached the foot of
the stairs, for we couldn’t lie still, however hard we might try.
Going into the ghost room was regarded as a very great scootcher.
After venturing in a few steps and rushing back in terror, I used to
dare David to go as far without getting caught.

The roof of our house, as well as the crags and walls of the old
castle, offered fine mountaineering exercise. Our bedroom was lighted
by a dormer window. One night I opened it in search of good scootchers
and hung myself out over the slates, holding on to the sill, while the
wind was making a balloon of my nightgown. I then dared David to try
the adventure, and [21]he did. Then I went out again and hung by one
hand, and David did the same. Then I hung by one finger, being careful
not to slip, and he did that too. Then I stood on the sill and
examined the edge of the left wall of the window, crept up the slates
along its side by slight finger-holds, got astride of the roof, sat
there a few minutes looking at the scenery over the garden wall while
the wind was howling and threatening to blow me off, then managed to
slip down, catch hold of the sill, and get safely back into the room.
But before attempting this scootcher, recognizing its dangerous
character, with commendable caution I warned David that in case I
should happen to slip I would grip the rain-trough when I was going
over the eaves and hang on, and that he must then run fast downstairs
and tell father to get a ladder for me, and tell him to be quick
because I would soon be tired hanging dangling in the wind by my
hands. After my return from this capital scootcher, David, not to be
outdone, crawled up to the top of the [22]window-roof, and got bravely
astride of it; but in trying to return he lost courage and began to
greet (to cry), “I canna get doon. Oh, I canna get doon.” I leaned out
of the window and shouted encouragingly, “Dinna greet, Davie, dinna
greet, I’ll help ye doon. If you greet, fayther will hear, and gee us
baith an awfu’ skelping.” Then, standing on the sill and holding on by
one hand to the window-casing, I directed him to slip his feet down
within reach, and, after securing a good hold, I jumped inside and
dragged him in by his heels. This finished scootcher-scrambling for
the night and frightened us into bed.

In the short winter days, when it was dark even at our early bedtime,
we usually spent the hours before going to sleep playing voyages
around the world under the bed-clothing. After mother had carefully
covered us, bade us good-night and gone downstairs, we set out on our
travels. Burrowing like moles, we visited France, India, America,
Australia, New Zealand, and all the places we had ever heard of; [23]our
travels never ending until we fell asleep. When mother came to take a
last look at us, before she went to bed, to see that we were covered,
we were oftentimes covered so well that she had difficulty in finding
us, for we were hidden in all sorts of positions where sleep happened
to overtake us, but in the morning we always found ourselves in good
order, lying straight like gude bairns, as she said.

Some fifty years later, when I visited Scotland, I got one of my
Dunbar schoolmates to introduce me to the owners of our old home, from
whom I obtained permission to go upstairs to examine our bedroom
window and judge what sort of adventure getting on its roof must have
been, and with all my after experience in mountaineering, I found that
what I had done in daring boyhood was now beyond my skill.

Boys are often at once cruel and merciful, thoughtlessly hard-hearted
and tender-hearted, sympathetic, pitiful, and kind in ever changing
contrasts. Love of neighbors, human or animal, [24]grows up amid savage
traits, coarse and fine. When father made out to get us securely
locked up in the back yard to prevent our shore and field wanderings,
we had to play away the comparatively dull time as best we could. One
of our amusements was hunting cats without seriously hurting them.
These sagacious animals knew, however, that, though not very
dangerous, boys were not to be trusted. One time in particular I
remember, when we began throwing stones at an experienced old Tom, not
wishing to hurt him much, though he was a tempting mark. He soon saw
what we were up to, fled to the stable, and climbed to the top of the
hay manger. He was still within range, however, and we kept the stones
flying faster and faster, but he just blinked and played possum
without wincing either at our best shots or at the noise we made. I
happened to strike him pretty hard with a good-sized pebble, but he
still blinked and sat still as if without feeling. “He must be
mortally wounded,” I said, “and now we must kill him [25]to put him out
of pain,” the savage in us rapidly growing with indulgence. All took
heartily to this sort of cat mercy and began throwing the heaviest
stones we could manage, but that old fellow knew what characters we
were, and just as we imagined him mercifully dead he evidently thought
the play was becoming too serious and that it was time to retreat; for
suddenly with a wild whirr and gurr of energy he launched himself over
our heads, rushed across the yard in a blur of speed, climbed to the
roof of another building and over the garden wall, out of pain and bad
company, with all his lives wideawake and in good working order.

After we had thus learned that Tom had at least nine lives, we tried
to verify the common saying that no matter how far cats fell they
always landed on their feet unhurt. We caught one in our back yard,
not Tom but a smaller one of manageable size, and somehow got him
smuggled up to the top story of the house. I don’t know how in the
world we managed to [26]let go of him, for as soon as we opened the
window and held him over the sill he knew his danger and made violent
efforts to scratch and bite his way back into the room; but we
determined to carry the thing through, and at last managed to drop
him. I can remember to this day how the poor creature in danger of his
life strained and balanced as he was falling and managed to alight on
his feet. This was a cruel thing for even wild boys to do, and we
never tried the experiment again, for we sincerely pitied the poor
fellow when we saw him creeping slowly away, stunned and frightened,
with a swollen black and blue chin.

Again—showing the natural savagery of boys—we delighted in
dog-fights, and even in the horrid red work of slaughter-houses, often
running long distances and climbing over walls and roofs to see a pig
killed, as soon as we heard the desperately earnest squealing. And if
the butcher was good-natured, we begged him to let us get a near view
of the mysterious insides and to give us a bladder to blow up for a
foot-ball.

[27]But here is an illustration of the better side of boy nature. In our
back yard there were three elm trees and in the one nearest the house
a pair of robin-redbreasts had their nest. When the young were almost
able to fly, a troop of the celebrated “Scottish Grays,” visited
Dunbar, and three or four of the fine horses were lodged in our
stable. When the soldiers were polishing their swords and helmets,
they happened to notice the nest, and just as they were leaving, one
of them climbed the tree and robbed it. With sore sympathy we watched
the young birds as the hard-hearted robber pushed them one by one
beneath his jacket,—all but two that jumped out of the nest and tried
to fly, but they were easily caught as they fluttered on the ground,
and were hidden away with the rest. The distress of the bereaved
parents, as they hovered and screamed over the frightened crying
children they so long had loved and sheltered and fed, was pitiful to
see; but the shining soldier rode grandly away on his big gray horse,
caring only for the few [28]pennies the young songbirds would bring and
the beer they would buy, while we all, sisters and brothers, were
crying and sobbing. I remember, as if it happened this day, how my
heart fairly ached and choked me. Mother put us to bed and tried to
comfort us, telling us that the little birds would be well fed and
grow big, and soon learn to sing in pretty cages; but again and again
we rehearsed the sad story of the poor bereaved birds and their
frightened children, and could not be comforted. Father came into the
room when we were half asleep and still sobbing, and I heard mother
telling him that, “a’ the bairns’ hearts were broken over the robbing
of the nest in the elm.”

After attaining the manly, belligerent age of five or six years, very
few of my schooldays passed without a fist fight, and half a dozen was
no uncommon number. When any classmate of our own age questioned our
rank and standing as fighters, we always made haste to settle the
matter at a quiet place on the Davel Brae. To be a “gude fechter” was
our highest [29]ambition, our dearest aim in life in or out of school. To
be a good scholar was a secondary consideration, though we tried hard
to hold high places in our classes and gloried in being Dux. We fairly
reveled in the battle stories of glorious William Wallace and Robert
the Bruce, with which every breath of Scotch air is saturated, and of
course we were all going to be soldiers. On the Davel Brae
battleground we often managed to bring on something like real war,
greatly more exciting than personal combat. Choosing leaders, we
divided into two armies. In winter damp snow furnished plenty of
ammunition to make the thing serious, and in summer sand and grass
sods. Cheering and shouting some battle-cry such as “Bannockburn!
Bannockburn! Scotland forever! The Last War in India!” we were led
bravely on. For heavy battery work we stuffed our Scotch blue bonnets
with snow and sand, sometimes mixed with gravel, and fired them at
each other as cannon-balls.

Of course we always looked eagerly forward [30]to vacation days and
thought them slow in coming. Old Mungo Siddons gave us a lot of
gooseberries or currants and wished us a happy time. Some sort of
special closing-exercises—singing, recitations, etc.—celebrated the
great day, but I remember only the berries, freedom from school work,
and opportunities for run-away rambles in the fields and along the
wave-beaten seashore.

An exciting time came when at the age of seven or eight years I left
the auld Davel Brae school for the grammar school. Of course I had a
terrible lot of fighting to do, because a new scholar had to meet
every one of his age who dared to challenge him, this being the common
introduction to a new school. It was very strenuous for the first
month or so, establishing my fighting rank, taking up new studies,
especially Latin and French, getting acquainted with new classmates
and the master and his rules. In the first few Latin and French
lessons the new teacher, Mr. Lyon, blandly smiled at our comical
blunders, but pedagogical weather [31]of the severest kind quickly set
in, when for every mistake, everything short of perfection, the taws
was promptly applied. We had to get three lessons every day in Latin,
three in French, and as many in English, besides spelling, history,
arithmetic, and geography. Word lessons in particular, the
wouldst-couldst-shouldst-have-loved kind, were kept up, with much
warlike thrashing, until I had committed the whole of the French,
Latin, and English grammars to memory, and in connection with
reading-lessons we were called on to recite parts of them with the
rules over and over again, as if all the regular and irregular
incomprehensible verb stuff was poetry. In addition to all this,
father made me learn so many Bible verses every day that by the time I
was eleven years of age I had about three fourths of the Old Testament
and all of the New by heart and by sore flesh. I could recite the New
Testament from the beginning of Matthew to the end of Revelation
without a single stop. The dangers of cramming and of making [32]scholars
study at home instead of letting their little brains rest were never
heard of in those days. We carried our school-books home in a strap
every night and committed to memory our next day’s lessons before we
went to bed, and to do that we had to bend our attention as closely on
our tasks as lawyers on great million-dollar cases. I can’t conceive
of anything that would now enable me to concentrate my attention more
fully than when I was a mere stripling boy, and it was all done by
whipping,—thrashing in general. Old-fashioned Scotch teachers spent
no time in seeking short roads to knowledge, or in trying any of the
new-fangled psychological methods so much in vogue nowadays. There was
nothing said about making the seats easy or the lessons easy. We were
simply driven pointblank against our books like soldiers against the
enemy, and sternly ordered, “Up and at ’em. Commit your lessons to
memory!” If we failed in any part, however slight, we were whipped;
for the grand, simple, all-sufficing Scotch discovery had been [33]made
that there was a close connection between the skin and the memory, and
that irritating the skin excited the memory to any required degree.

Fighting was carried on still more vigorously in the high school than
in the common school. Whenever any one was challenged, either the
challenge was allowed or it was decided by a battle on the seashore,
where with stubborn enthusiasm we battered each other as if we had not
been sufficiently battered by the teacher. When we were so fortunate
as to finish a fight without getting a black eye, we usually escaped a
thrashing at home and another next morning at school, for other traces
of the fray could be easily washed off at a well on the church brae,
or concealed, or passed as results of playground accidents; but a
black eye could never be explained away from downright fighting. A
good double thrashing was the inevitable penalty, but all without
avail; fighting went on without the slightest abatement, like natural
storms; for no punishment less than death could quench [34]the ancient
inherited belligerence burning in our pagan blood. Nor could we be
made to believe it was fair that father and teacher should thrash us
so industriously for our good, while begrudging us the pleasure of
thrashing each other for our good. All these various thrashings,
however, were admirably influential in developing not only memory but
fortitude as well. For if we did not endure our school punishments and
fighting pains without flinching and making faces, we were mocked on
the playground, and public opinion on a Scotch playground was a
powerful agent in controlling behavior; therefore we at length managed
to keep our features in smooth repose while enduring pain that would
try anybody but an American Indian. Far from feeling that we were
called on to endure too much pain, one of our playground games was
thrashing each other with whips about two feet long made from the
tough, wiry stems of a species of polygonum fastened together in a
stiff, firm braid. One of us handing two of these whips to a
[35]companion to take his choice, we stood up close together and thrashed
each other on the legs until one succumbed to the intolerable pain and
thus lost the game. Nearly all of our playground games were
strenuous,—shin-battering shinny, wrestling, prisoners’ base, and
dogs and hares,—all augmenting in no slight degree our lessons in
fortitude. Moreover, we regarded our punishments and pains of every
sort as training for war, since we were all going to be soldiers.
Besides single combats we sometimes assembled on Saturdays to meet the
scholars of another school, and very little was required for the
growth of strained relations, and war. The immediate cause might be
nothing more than a saucy stare. Perhaps the scholar stared at would
insolently inquire, “What are ye glowerin’ at, Bob?” Bob would reply,
“I’ll look where I hae a mind and hinder me if ye daur.” “Weel, Bob,”
the outraged stared-at scholar would reply, “I’ll soon let ye see
whether I daur or no!” and give Bob a blow on the face. This opened
the battle, and every good scholar [36]belonging to either school was
drawn into it. After both sides were sore and weary, a strong-lunged
warrior would be heard above the din of battle shouting, “I’ll tell ye
what we’ll dae wi’ ye. If ye’ll let us alane we’ll let ye alane!” and
the school war ended as most wars between nations do; and some of them
begin in much the same way.

Notwithstanding the great number of harshly enforced rules, not very
good order was kept in school in my time. There were two schools
within a few rods of each other, one for mathematics, navigation,
etc., the other, called the grammar school, that I attended. The
masters lived in a big freestone house within eight or ten yards of
the schools, so that they could easily step out for anything they
wanted or send one of the scholars. The moment our master disappeared,
perhaps for a book or a drink, every scholar left his seat and his
lessons, jumped on top of the benches and desks or crawled beneath
them, tugging, rolling, wrestling, accomplishing in a minute a depth
of [37]disorder and din unbelievable save by a Scottish scholar. We even
carried on war, class against class, in those wild, precious minutes.
A watcher gave the alarm when the master opened his house-door to
return, and it was a great feat to get into our places before he
entered, adorned in awful majestic authority, shouting “Silence!” and
striking resounding blows with his cane on a desk or on some
unfortunate scholar’s back.

Forty-seven years after leaving this fighting school, I returned on a
visit to Scotland, and a cousin in Dunbar introduced me to a minister
who was acquainted with the history of the school, and obtained for me
an invitation to dine with the new master. Of course I gladly
accepted, for I wanted to see the old place of fun and pain, and the
battleground on the sands. Mr. Lyon, our able teacher and thrasher, I
learned, had held his place as master of the school for twenty or
thirty years after I left it, and had recently died in London, after
preparing many young men for the English [38]Universities. At the
dinner-table, while I was recalling the amusements and fights of my
old schooldays, the minister remarked to the new master, “Now, don’t
you wish that you had been teacher in those days, and gained the honor
of walloping John Muir?” This pleasure so merrily suggested showed
that the minister also had been a fighter in his youth. The old
freestone school building was still perfectly sound, but the carved,
ink-stained desks were almost whittled away.

The highest part of our playground back of the school commanded a view
of the sea, and we loved to watch the passing ships and, judging by
their rigging, make guesses as to the ports they had sailed from,
those to which they were bound, what they were loaded with, their
tonnage, etc. In stormy weather they were all smothered in clouds and
spray, and showers of salt scud torn from the tops of the waves came
flying over the playground wall. In those tremendous storms many a
brave ship foundered or was tossed and smashed on the rocky shore.
[39]When a wreck occurred within a mile or two of the town, we often
managed by running fast to reach it and pick up some of the spoils. In
particular I remember visiting the battered fragments of an
unfortunate brig or schooner that had been loaded with apples, and
finding fine unpitiful sport in rushing into the spent waves and
picking up the red-cheeked fruit from the frothy, seething foam.

All our school-books were extravagantly illustrated with drawings of
every kind of sailing-vessel, and every boy owned some sort of craft
whittled from a block of wood and trimmed with infinite
pains,—sloops, schooners, brigs, and full-rigged ships, with their
sails and string ropes properly adjusted and named for us by some old
sailor. These precious toy craft with lead keels we learned to sail on
a pond near the town. With the sails set at the proper angle to the
wind, they made fast straight voyages across the pond to boys on the
other side, who readjusted the sails and started them back on the
return voyages. Oftentimes fleets of half a [40]dozen or more were
started together in exciting races.

Our most exciting sport, however, was playing with gunpowder. We made
guns out of gas-pipe, mounted them on sticks of any shape, clubbed our
pennies together for powder, gleaned pieces of lead here and there and
cut them into slugs, and, while one aimed, another applied a match to
the touch-hole. With these awful weapons we wandered along the beach
and fired at the gulls and solan-geese as they passed us. Fortunately
we never hurt any of them that we knew of. We also dug holes in the
ground, put in a handful or two of powder, tamped it well around a
fuse made of a wheat-stalk, and, reaching cautiously forward, touched
a match to the straw. This we called making earthquakes. Oftentimes we
went home with singed hair and faces well peppered with powder-grains
that could not be washed out. Then, of course, came a correspondingly
severe punishment from both father and teacher.

Another favorite sport was climbing trees [41]and scaling garden-walls.
Boys eight or ten years of age could get over almost any wall by
standing on each other’s shoulders, thus making living ladders. To
make walls secure against marauders, many of them were finished on top
with broken bottles imbedded in lime, leaving the cutting edges
sticking up; but with bunches of grass and weeds we could sit or stand
in comfort on top of the jaggedest of them.

Like squirrels that begin to eat nuts before they are ripe, we began
to eat apples about as soon as they were formed, causing, of course,
desperate gastric disturbances to be cured by castor oil. Serious were
the risks we ran in climbing and squeezing through hedges, and, of
course, among the country folk we were far from welcome. Farmers
passing us on the roads often shouted by way of greeting: “Oh, you
vagabonds! Back to the toon wi’ ye. Gang back where ye belang. You’re
up to mischief, Ise warrant. I can see it. The gamekeeper’ll catch ye,
and maist like ye’ll a’ be hanged some day.”

[42]Breakfast in those auld-lang-syne days was simple oatmeal porridge,
usually with a little milk or treacle, served in wooden dishes called
“luggies,” formed of staves hooped together like miniature tubs about
four or five inches in diameter. One of the staves, the lug or ear, a
few inches longer than the others, served as a handle, while the
number of luggies ranged in a row on a dresser indicated the size of
the family. We never dreamed of anything to come after the porridge,
or of asking for more. Our portions were consumed in about a couple of
minutes; then off to school. At noon we came racing home ravenously
hungry. The midday meal, called dinner, was usually vegetable broth, a
small piece of boiled mutton, and barley-meal scone. None of us liked
the barley scone bread, therefore we got all we wanted of it, and in
desperation had to eat it, for we were always hungry, about as hungry
after as before meals. The evening meal was called “tea” and was
served on our return from school. It consisted, as far as we children
were [43]concerned, of half a slice of white bread without butter,
barley scone, and warm water with a little milk and sugar in it, a
beverage called “content,” which warmed but neither cheered nor
inebriated. Immediately after tea we ran across the street with our
books to Grandfather Gilrye, who took pleasure in seeing us and
hearing us recite our next day’s lessons. Then back home to supper,
usually a boiled potato and piece of barley scone. Then family
worship, and to bed.

Our amusements on Saturday afternoons and vacations depended mostly on
getting away from home into the country, especially in the spring when
the birds were calling loudest. Father sternly forbade David and me
from playing truant in the fields with plundering wanderers like
ourselves, fearing we might go on from bad to worse, get hurt in
climbing over walls, caught by gamekeepers, or lost by falling over a
cliff into the sea. “Play as much as you like in the back yard and
garden,” he said, “and mind what you’ll get when you [44]forget and
disobey.” Thus he warned us with an awfully stern countenance, looking
very hard-hearted, while naturally his heart was far from hard, though
he devoutly believed in eternal punishment for bad boys both here and
hereafter. Nevertheless, like devout martyrs of wildness, we stole
away to the seashore or the green, sunny fields with almost religious
regularity, taking advantage of opportunities when father was very
busy, to join our companions, oftenest to hear the birds sing and hunt
their nests, glorying in the number we had discovered and called our
own. A sample of our nest chatter was something like this: Willie
Chisholm would proudly exclaim—“I ken (know) seventeen nests, and
you, Johnnie, ken only fifteen.”

“But I wouldna gie my fifteen for your seventeen, for five of mine are
larks and mavises. You ken only three o’ the best singers.”

“Yes, Johnnie, but I ken six goldies and you ken only one. Maist of
yours are only sparrows and linties and robin-redbreasts.”

[45]Then perhaps Bob Richardson would loudly declare that he “kenned mair
nests than onybody, for he kenned twenty-three, with about fifty eggs
in them and mair than fifty young birds—maybe a hundred. Some of them
naething but raw gorblings but lots of them as big as their mithers
and ready to flee. And aboot fifty craw’s nests and three fox dens.”

“Oh, yes, Bob, but that’s no fair, for naebody counts craw’s nests and
fox holes, and then you live in the country at Belle-haven where ye
have the best chance.”

“Yes, but I ken a lot of bumbee’s nests, baith the red-legged and the
yellow-legged kind.”

“Oh, wha cares for bumbee’s nests!”

“Weel, but here’s something! Ma father let me gang to a fox hunt, and
man, it was grand to see the hounds and the lang-legged horses lowpin
the dykes and burns and hedges!”

The nests, I fear, with the beautiful eggs and young birds, were
prized quite as highly as the songs of the glad parents, but no Scotch
boy [46]that I know of ever failed to listen with enthusiasm to the songs
of the skylarks. Oftentimes on a broad meadow near Dunbar we stood for
hours enjoying their marvelous singing and soaring. From the grass
where the nest was hidden the male would suddenly rise, as straight as
if shot up, to a height of perhaps thirty or forty feet, and,
sustaining himself with rapid wing-beats, pour down the most delicious
melody, sweet and clear and strong, overflowing all bounds, then
suddenly he would soar higher again and again, ever higher and higher,
soaring and singing until lost to sight even on perfectly clear days,
and oftentimes in cloudy weather “far in the downy cloud,” as the poet
says.

To test our eyes we often watched a lark until he seemed a faint speck
in the sky and finally passed beyond the keenest-sighted of us all. “I
see him yet!” we would cry, “I see him yet!” “I see him yet!” “I see
him yet!” as he soared. And finally only one of us would be left to
claim that he still saw him. At last [47]he, too, would have to admit
that the singer had soared beyond his sight, and still the music came
pouring down to us in glorious profusion, from a height far above our
vision, requiring marvelous power of wing and marvelous power of
voice, for that rich, delicious, soft, and yet clear music was
distinctly heard long after the bird was out of sight. Then, suddenly
ceasing, the glorious singer would appear, falling like a bolt
straight down to his nest, where his mate was sitting on the eggs.

It was far too common a practice among us to carry off a young lark
just before it could fly, place it in a cage, and fondly, laboriously
feed it. Sometimes we succeeded in keeping one alive for a year or
two, and when awakened by the spring weather it was pitiful to see the
quivering imprisoned soarer of the heavens rapidly beating its wings
and singing as though it were flying and hovering in the air like its
parents. To keep it in health we were taught that we must supply it
with a sod of grass the size of the bottom of the cage, to make the
[48]poor bird feel as though it were at home on its native meadow,—a
meadow perhaps a foot or at most two feet square. Again and again it
would try to hover over that miniature meadow from its miniature sky
just underneath the top of the cage. At last, conscience-stricken, we
carried the beloved prisoner to the meadow west of Dunbar where it was
born, and, blessing its sweet heart, bravely set it free, and our
exceeding great reward was to see it fly and sing in the sky.

In the winter, when there was but little doing in the fields, we
organized running-matches. A dozen or so of us would start out on
races that were simply tests of endurance, running on and on along a
public road over the breezy hills like hounds, without stopping or
getting tired. The only serious trouble we ever felt in these long
races was an occasional stitch in our sides. One of the boys started
the story that sucking raw eggs was a sure cure for the stitches. We
had hens in our back yard, and on the next Saturday we managed to
swallow [49]a couple of eggs apiece, a disgusting job, but we would do
almost anything to mend our speed, and as soon as we could get away
after taking the cure we set out on a ten or twenty mile run to prove
its worth. We thought nothing of running right ahead ten or a dozen
miles before turning back; for we knew nothing about taking time by
the sun, and none of us had a watch in those days. Indeed, we never
cared about time until it began to get dark. Then we thought of home
and the thrashing that awaited us. Late or early, the thrashing was
sure, unless father happened to be away. If he was expected to return
soon, mother made haste to get us to bed before his arrival. We
escaped the thrashing next morning, for father never felt like
thrashing us in cold blood on the calm holy Sabbath. But no
punishment, however sure and severe, was of any avail against the
attraction of the fields and woods. It had other uses, developing
memory, etc., but in keeping us at home it was of no use at all.
Wildness was ever sounding in our ears, and [50]Nature saw to it that
besides school lessons and church lessons some of her own lessons
should be learned, perhaps with a view to the time when we should be
called to wander in wildness to our heart’s content. Oh, the blessed
enchantment of those Saturday runaways in the prime of the spring! How
our young wondering eyes reveled in the sunny, breezy glory of the
hills and the sky, every particle of us thrilling and tingling with
the bees and glad birds and glad streams! Kings may be blessed; we
were glorious, we were free,—school cares and scoldings, heart
thrashings and flesh thrashings alike, were forgotten in the fullness
of Nature’s glad wildness. These were my first excursions,—the
beginnings of lifelong wanderings.


[51]

IIToC

A NEW WORLD

Stories of America—Glorious News—Crossing the Atlantic—The
New Home—A Baptism in Nature—New Birds—The Adventures of
Watch—Scotch Correction—Marauding Indians.

Our grammar-school reader, called, I think, “Maccoulough’s Course of
Reading,” contained a few natural-history sketches that excited me
very much and left a deep impression, especially a fine description of
the fish hawk and the bald eagle by the Scotch ornithologist Wilson,
who had the good fortune to wander for years in the American woods
while the country was yet mostly wild. I read his description over and
over again, till I got the vivid picture he drew by heart,—the
long-winged hawk circling over the heaving waves, every motion watched
by the eagle perched on the top of a crag or dead tree; the fish hawk
poising for a moment [52]to take aim at a fish and plunging under the
water; the eagle with kindling eye spreading his wings ready for
instant flight in case the attack should prove successful; the hawk
emerging with a struggling fish in his talons, and proud flight; the
eagle launching himself in pursuit; the wonderful wing-work in the
sky, the fish hawk, though encumbered with his prey, circling higher,
higher, striving hard to keep above the robber eagle; the eagle at
length soaring above him, compelling him with a cry of despair to drop
his hard-won prey; then the eagle steadying himself for a moment to
take aim, descending swift as a lightning-bolt, and seizing the
falling fish before it reached the sea.

Not less exciting and memorable was Audubon’s wonderful story of the
passenger pigeon, a beautiful bird flying in vast flocks that darkened
the sky like clouds, countless millions assembling to rest and sleep
and rear their young in certain forests, miles in length and breadth,
fifty or a hundred nests on a single tree; the overloaded branches
bending low and [53]often breaking; the farmers gathering from far and
near, beating down countless thousands of the young and old birds from
their nests and roosts with long poles at night, and in the morning
driving their bands of hogs, some of them brought from farms a hundred
miles distant, to fatten on the dead and wounded covering the ground.

In another of our reading-lessons some of the American forests were
described. The most interesting of the trees to us boys was the sugar
maple, and soon after we had learned this sweet story we heard
everybody talking about the discovery of gold in the same
wonder-filled country.

One night, when David and I were at grandfather’s fireside solemnly
learning our lessons as usual, my father came in with news, the most
wonderful, most glorious, that wild boys ever heard. “Bairns,” he
said, “you needna learn your lessons the nicht, for we’re gan to
America the morn!” No more grammar, but boundless woods full of
mysterious good things; [54]trees full of sugar, growing in ground full
of gold; hawks, eagles, pigeons, filling the sky; millions of birds’
nests, and no gamekeepers to stop us in all the wild, happy land. We
were utterly, blindly glorious. After father left the room,
grandfather gave David and me a gold coin apiece for a keepsake, and
looked very serious, for he was about to be deserted in his lonely old
age. And when we in fullness of young joy spoke of what we were going
to do, of the wonderful birds and their nests that we should find, the
sugar and gold, etc., and promised to send him a big box full of that
tree sugar packed in gold from the glorious paradise over the sea,
poor lonely grandfather, about to be forsaken, looked with downcast
eyes on the floor and said in a low, trembling, troubled voice, “Ah,
poor laddies, poor laddies, you’ll find something else ower the sea
forbye gold and sugar, birds’ nests and freedom fra lessons and
schools. You’ll find plenty hard, hard work.” And so we did. But
nothing he could say could cloud our joy or abate the fire of
[55]youthful, hopeful, fearless adventure. Nor could we in the midst of
such measureless excitement see or feel the shadows and sorrows of his
darkening old age. To my schoolmates, met that night on the street, I
shouted the glorious news, “I’m gan to Amaraka the morn!” None could
believe it. I said, “Weel, just you see if I am at the skule the
morn!”

Next morning we went by rail to Glasgow and thence joyfully sailed
away from beloved Scotland, flying to our fortunes on the wings of the
winds, care-free as thistle seeds. We could not then know what we were
leaving, what we were to encounter in the New World, nor what our
gains were likely to be. We were too young and full of hope for fear
or regret, but not too young to look forward with eager enthusiasm to
the wonderful schoolless bookless American wilderness. Even the
natural heart-pain of parting from grandfather and grandmother Gilrye,
who loved us so well, and from mother and sisters and brother was
quickly quenched in young joy. Father took with him only [56]my sister
Sarah (thirteen years of age), myself (eleven), and brother David
(nine), leaving my eldest sister, Margaret, and the three youngest of
the family, Daniel, Mary, and Anna, with mother, to join us after a
farm had been found in the wilderness and a comfortable house made to
receive them.

In crossing the Atlantic before the days of steamships, or even the
American clippers, the voyages made in old-fashioned sailing-vessels
were very long. Ours was six weeks and three days. But because we had
no lessons to get, that long voyage had not a dull moment for us boys.
Father and sister Sarah, with most of the old folk, stayed below in
rough weather, groaning in the miseries of seasickness, many of the
passengers wishing they had never ventured in “the auld rockin’
creel,” as they called our bluff-bowed, wave-beating ship, and, when
the weather was moderately calm, singing songs in the evenings,—“The
Youthful Sailor Frank and Bold,” “Oh, why left I my hame, why did I
cross the deep,” etc. But no matter how [57]much the old tub tossed about
and battered the waves, we were on deck every day, not in the least
seasick, watching the sailors at their rope-hauling and climbing work;
joining in their songs, learning the names of the ropes and sails, and
helping them as far as they would let us; playing games with other
boys in calm weather when the deck was dry, and in stormy weather
rejoicing in sympathy with the big curly-topped waves.

The captain occasionally called David and me into his cabin and asked
us about our schools, handed us books to read, and seemed surprised to
find that Scotch boys could read and pronounce English with perfect
accent and knew so much Latin and French. In Scotch schools only pure
English was taught, although not a word of English was spoken out of
school. All through life, however well educated, the Scotch spoke
Scotch among their own folk, except at times when unduly excited on
the only two subjects on which Scotchmen get much excited, namely
religion and politics. So long [58]as the controversy went on with fairly
level temper, only gude braid Scots was used, but if one became angry,
as was likely to happen, then he immediately began speaking severely
correct English, while his antagonist, drawing himself up, would say:
“Weel, there’s na use pursuing this subject ony further, for I see ye
hae gotten to your English.”

As we neared the shore of the great new land, with what eager wonder
we watched the whales and dolphins and porpoises and seabirds, and
made the good-natured sailors teach us their names and tell us stories
about them!

There were quite a large number of emigrants aboard, many of them
newly married couples, and the advantages of the different parts of
the New World they expected to settle in were often discussed. My
father started with the intention of going to the backwoods of Upper
Canada. Before the end of the voyage, however, he was persuaded that
the States offered superior advantages, especially Wisconsin and
Michigan, where the land was said to be as [59]good as in Canada and far
more easily brought under cultivation; for in Canada the woods were so
close and heavy that a man might wear out his life in getting a few
acres cleared of trees and stumps. So he changed his mind and
concluded to go to one of the Western States.

On our wavering westward way a grain-dealer in Buffalo told father
that most of the wheat he handled came from Wisconsin; and this
influential information finally determined my father’s choice. At
Milwaukee a farmer who had come in from the country near Fort
Winnebago with a load of wheat agreed to haul us and our formidable
load of stuff to a little town called Kingston for thirty dollars. On
that hundred-mile journey, just after the spring thaw, the roads over
the prairies were heavy and miry, causing no end of lamentation, for
we often got stuck in the mud, and the poor farmer sadly declared that
never, never again would he be tempted to try to haul such a cruel,
heart-breaking, wagon-breaking, horse-killing load, no, not for a
hundred dollars. In leaving [60]Scotland, father, like many other
homeseekers, burdened himself with far too much luggage, as if all
America were still a wilderness in which little or nothing could be
bought. One of his big iron-bound boxes must have weighed about four
hundred pounds, for it contained an old-fashioned beam-scales with a
complete set of cast-iron counterweights, two of them fifty-six pounds
each, a twenty-eight, and so on down to a single pound. Also a lot of
iron wedges, carpenter’s tools, and so forth, and at Buffalo, as if on
the very edge of the wilderness, he gladly added to his burden a big
cast-iron stove with pots and pans, provisions enough for a long
siege, and a scythe and cumbersome cradle for cutting wheat, all of
which he succeeded in landing in the primeval Wisconsin woods.

A land-agent at Kingston gave father a note to a farmer by the name of
Alexander Gray, who lived on the border of the settled part of the
country, knew the section-lines, and would probably help him to find a
good [61]place for a farm. So father went away to spy out the land, and
in the mean time left us children in Kingston in a rented room. It
took us less than an hour to get acquainted with some of the boys in
the village; we challenged them to wrestle, run races, climb trees,
etc., and in a day or two we felt at home, carefree and happy,
notwithstanding our family was so widely divided. When father returned
he told us that he had found fine land for a farm in sunny open woods
on the side of a lake, and that a team of three yoke of oxen with a
big wagon was coming to haul us to Mr. Gray’s place.

We enjoyed the strange ten-mile ride through the woods very much,
wondering how the great oxen could be so strong and wise and tame as
to pull so heavy a load with no other harness than a chain and a
crooked piece of wood on their necks, and how they could sway so
obediently to right and left past roadside trees and stumps when the
driver said and . At Mr. Gray’s house, father again left us
for a few days to build a shanty on the [62]quarter-section he had
selected four or five miles to the westward. In the mean while we
enjoyed our freedom as usual, wandering in the fields and meadows,
looking at the trees and flowers, snakes and birds and squirrels. With
the help of the nearest neighbors the little shanty was built in less
than a day after the rough bur-oak logs for the walls and the
white-oak boards for the floor and roof were got together.

To this charming hut, in the sunny woods, overlooking a flowery
glacier meadow and a lake rimmed with white water-lilies, we were
hauled by an ox-team across trackless carex swamps and low rolling
hills sparsely dotted with round-headed oaks. Just as we arrived at
the shanty, before we had time to look at it or the scenery about it,
David and I jumped down in a hurry off the load of household goods,
for we had discovered a blue jay’s nest, and in a minute or so we were
up the tree beside it, feasting our eyes on the beautiful green eggs
and beautiful birds,—our first memorable discovery. The handsome
birds had not seen [63]Scotch boys before and made a desperate
screaming as if we were robbers like themselves; though we left the
eggs untouched, feeling that we were already beginning to get rich,
and wondering how many more nests we should find in the grand sunny
woods. Then we ran along the brow of the hill that the shanty stood
on, and down to the meadow, searching the trees and grass tufts and
bushes, and soon discovered a bluebird’s and a woodpecker’s nest, and
began an acquaintance with the frogs and snakes and turtles in the
creeks and springs.



MUIR'S LAKE (FOUNTAIN LAKE) AND THE GARDEN MEADOW

MUIR’S LAKE (FOUNTAIN LAKE) AND THE GARDEN MEADOW
Sketched from the roof of the Bur-Oak ShantyToList

This sudden plash into pure wildness—baptism in Nature’s warm
heart—how utterly happy it made us! Nature streaming into us,
wooingly teaching her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal
grammar ashes and cinders so long thrashed into us. Here without
knowing it we still were at school; every wild lesson a love lesson,
not whipped but charmed into us. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin
wilderness! Everything new and pure in the very prime of the spring
when Nature’s pulses [64]were beating highest and mysteriously keeping
time with our own! Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the
winds and the streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly
rejoicing together!

Next morning, when we climbed to the precious jay nest to take another
admiring look at the eggs, we found it empty. Not a shell-fragment was
left, and we wondered how in the world the birds were able to carry
off their thin-shelled eggs either in their bills or in their feet
without breaking them, and how they could be kept warm while a new
nest was being built. Well, I am still asking these questions. When I
was on the Harriman Expedition I asked Robert Ridgway, the eminent
ornithologist, how these sudden flittings were accomplished, and he
frankly confessed that he didn’t know, but guessed that jays and many
other birds carried their eggs in their mouths; and when I objected
that a jay’s mouth seemed too small to hold its eggs, he replied that
birds’ mouths were larger than the narrowness of their bills
[65]indicated. Then I asked him what he thought they did with the eggs
while a new nest was being prepared. He didn’t know; neither do I to
this day. A specimen of the many puzzling problems presented to the
naturalist.

We soon found many more nests belonging to birds that were not half so
suspicious. The handsome and notorious blue jay plunders the nests of
other birds and of course he could not trust us. Almost all the
others—brown thrushes, bluebirds, song sparrows, kingbirds,
hen-hawks, nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, woodpeckers, etc.—simply
tried to avoid being seen, to draw or drive us away, or paid no
attention to us.

We used to wonder how the woodpeckers could bore holes so perfectly
round, true mathematical circles. We ourselves could not have done it
even with gouges and chisels. We loved to watch them feeding their
young, and wondered how they could glean food enough for so many
clamorous, hungry, unsatisfiable babies, and how they managed to give
each one its [66]share; for after the young grew strong, one would get
his head out of the door-hole and try to hold possession of it to meet
the food-laden parents. How hard they worked to support their
families, especially the red-headed and speckledy woodpeckers and
flickers; digging, hammering on scaly bark and decaying trunks and
branches from dawn to dark, coming and going at intervals of a few
minutes all the livelong day!

We discovered a hen-hawk’s nest on the top of a tall oak thirty or
forty rods from the shanty and approached it cautiously. One of the
pair always kept watch, soaring in wide circles high above the tree,
and when we attempted to climb it, the big dangerous-looking bird came
swooping down at us and drove us away.

We greatly admired the plucky kingbird. In Scotland our great ambition
was to be good fighters, and we admired this quality in the handsome
little chattering flycatcher that whips all the other birds. He was
particularly angry when plundering jays and hawks came near his home,
and took pains to thrash them not [67]only away from the nest-tree but
out of the neighborhood. The nest was usually built on a bur oak near
a meadow where insects were abundant, and where no undesirable visitor
could approach without being discovered. When a hen-hawk hove in
sight, the male immediately set off after him, and it was ridiculous
to see that great, strong bird hurrying away as fast as his clumsy
wings would carry him, as soon as he saw the little, waspish kingbird
coming. But the kingbird easily overtook him, flew just a few feet
above him, and with a lot of chattering, scolding notes kept diving
and striking him on the back of the head until tired; then he alighted
to rest on the hawk’s broad shoulders, still scolding and chattering
as he rode along, like an angry boy pouring out vials of wrath. Then,
up and at him again with his sharp bill; and after he had thus driven
and ridden his big enemy a mile or so from the nest, he went home to
his mate, chuckling and bragging as if trying to tell her what a
wonderful fellow he was.

[68]This first spring, while some of the birds were still building their
nests and very few young ones had yet tried to fly, father hired a
Yankee to assist in clearing eight or ten acres of the best ground for
a field. We found new wonders every day and often had to call on this
Yankee to solve puzzling questions. We asked him one day if there was
any bird in America that the kingbird couldn’t whip. What about the
sandhill crane? Could he whip that long-legged, long-billed fellow?

“A crane never goes near kingbirds’ nests or notices so small a bird,”
he said, “and therefore there could be no fighting between them.” So
we hastily concluded that our hero could whip every bird in the
country except perhaps the sandhill crane.

We never tired listening to the wonderful whip-poor-will. One came
every night about dusk and sat on a log about twenty or thirty feet
from our cabin door and began shouting “Whip poor Will! Whip poor
Will!” with loud emphatic earnestness. “What’s that? What’s [69]that?” we
cried when this startling visitor first announced himself. “What do
you call it?”

“Why, it’s telling you its name,” said the Yankee. “Don’t you hear it
and what he wants you to do? He says his name is ‘Poor Will’ and he
wants you to whip him, and you may if you are able to catch him.” Poor
Will seemed the most wonderful of all the strange creatures we had
seen. What a wild, strong, bold voice he had, unlike any other we had
ever heard on sea or land!

A near relative, the bull-bat, or nighthawk, seemed hardly less
wonderful. Towards evening scattered flocks kept the sky lively as
they circled around on their long wings a hundred feet or more above
the ground, hunting moths and beetles, interrupting their rather slow
but strong, regular wing-beats at short intervals with quick quivering
strokes while uttering keen, squeaky cries something like ,
, and every now and then diving nearly to the ground with a loud
ripping, bellowing sound, like bull-roaring, suggesting its name;
then [70]turning and gliding swiftly up again. These fine wild gray
birds, about the size of a pigeon, lay their two eggs on bare ground
without anything like a nest or even a concealing bush or grass-tuft.
Nevertheless they are not easily seen, for they are colored like the
ground. While sitting on their eggs, they depend so much upon not
being noticed that if you are walking rapidly ahead they allow you to
step within an inch or two of them without flinching. But if they see
by your looks that you have discovered them, they leave their eggs or
young, and, like a good many other birds, pretend that they are sorely
wounded, fluttering and rolling over on the ground and gasping as if
dying, to draw you away. When pursued we were surprised to find that
just when we were on the point of overtaking them they were always
able to flutter a few yards farther, until they had led us about a
quarter of a mile from the nest; then, suddenly getting well, they
quietly flew home by a roundabout way to their precious babies or
eggs, o’er a’ the ills of life victorious, bad boys [71]among the worst.
The Yankee took particular pleasure in encouraging us to pursue them.

Everything about us was so novel and wonderful that we could hardly
believe our senses except when hungry or while father was thrashing
us. When we first saw Fountain Lake Meadow, on a sultry evening,
sprinkled with millions of lightning-bugs throbbing with light, the
effect was so strange and beautiful that it seemed far too marvelous
to be real. Looking from our shanty on the hill, I thought that the
whole wonderful fairy show must be in my eyes; for only in fighting,
when my eyes were struck, had I ever seen anything in the least like
it. But when I asked my brother if he saw anything strange in the
meadow he said, “Yes, it’s all covered with shaky fire-sparks.” Then I
guessed that it might be something outside of us, and applied to our
all-knowing Yankee to explain it. “Oh, it’s nothing but
lightnin’-bugs,” he said, and kindly led us down the hill to the edge
of the fiery meadow, caught a few of the wonderful bugs, dropped them
into a [72]cup, and carried them to the shanty, where we watched them
throbbing and flashing out their mysterious light at regular
intervals, as if each little passionate glow were caused by the
beating of a heart. Once I saw a splendid display of glow-worm light
in the foothills of the Himalayas, north of Calcutta, but glorious as
it appeared in pure starry radiance, it was far less impressive than
the extravagant abounding, quivering, dancing fire on our Wisconsin
meadow.

Partridge drumming was another great marvel. When I first heard the
low, soft, solemn sound I thought it must be made by some strange
disturbance in my head or stomach, but as all seemed serene within, I
asked David whether he heard anything queer. “Yes,” he said, “I hear
something saying , , , and I’m wondering at it.”
Then I was half satisfied that the source of the mysterious sound must
be in something outside of us, coming perhaps from the ground or from
some ghost or bogie or woodland fairy. Only after [73]long watching and
listening did we at last discover it in the wings of the plump brown
bird.

The love-song of the common jack snipe seemed not a whit less
mysterious than partridge drumming. It was usually heard on cloudy
evenings, a strange, unearthly, winnowing, spiritlike sound, yet
easily heard at a distance of a third of a mile. Our sharp eyes soon
detected the bird while making it, as it circled high in the air over
the meadow with wonderfully strong and rapid wing-beats, suddenly
descending and rising, again and again, in deep, wide loops; the tones
being very low and smooth at the beginning of the descent, rapidly
increasing to a curious little whirling storm-roar at the bottom, and
gradually fading lower and lower until the top was reached. It was
long, however, before we identified this mysterious wing-singer as the
little brown jack snipe that we knew so well and had so often watched
as he silently probed the mud around the edges of our meadow stream
and spring-holes, and [74]made short zigzag flights over the grass
uttering only little short, crisp quacks and chucks.

The love-songs of the frogs seemed hardly less wonderful than those of
the birds, their musical notes varying from the sweet, tranquil,
soothing peeping and purring of the hylas to the awfully deep low-bass
blunt bellowing of the bullfrogs. Some of the smaller species have
wonderfully clear, sharp voices and told us their good Bible names in
musical tones about as plainly as the whip-poor-will. ; shouted in sharp, ringing, far-reaching
tones, as if they had all been to school and severely drilled in
elocution. In the still, warm evenings, big bunchy bullfrogs bellowed,
! and early in the
spring, countless thousands of the commonest species, up to the throat
in cold water, sang in concert, making a mass of music, such as it
was, loud enough to be heard at a distance of more than half a mile.

Far, far apart from this loud marsh music is [75]that of the many species
of hyla, a sort of soothing immortal melody filling the air like
light.

We reveled in the glory of the sky scenery as well as that of the
woods and meadows and rushy, lily-bordered lakes. The great
thunderstorms in particular interested us, so unlike any seen in
Scotland, exciting awful, wondering admiration. Gazing awe-stricken,
we watched the upbuilding of the sublime cloud-mountains,—glowing,
sun-beaten pearl and alabaster cumuli, glorious in beauty and majesty
and looking so firm and lasting that birds, we thought, might build
their nests amid their downy bosses; the black-browed storm-clouds
marching in awful grandeur across the landscape, trailing broad gray
sheets of hail and rain like vast cataracts, and ever and anon
flashing down vivid zigzag lightning followed by terrible crashing
thunder. We saw several trees shattered, and one of them, a punky old
oak, was set on fire, while we wondered why all the trees and
everybody and everything did [76]not share the same fate, for oftentimes
the whole sky blazed. After sultry storm days, many of the nights were
darkened by smooth black apparently structureless cloud-mantles which
at short intervals were illumined with startling suddenness to a fiery
glow by quick, quivering lightning-flashes, revealing the landscape in
almost noonday brightness, to be instantly quenched in solid
blackness.

But those first days and weeks of unmixed enjoyment and freedom,
reveling in the wonderful wildness about us, were soon to be mingled
with the hard work of making a farm. I was first put to burning brush
in clearing land for the plough. Those magnificent brush fires with
great white hearts and red flames, the first big, wild outdoor fires I
had ever seen, were wonderful sights for young eyes. Again and again,
when they were burning fiercest so that we could hardly approach near
enough to throw on another branch, father put them to awfully
practical use as warning lessons, comparing their heat with that of
hell, and the [77]branches with bad boys. “Now, John,” he would
say,—“now, John, just think what an awful thing it would be to be
thrown into that fire:—and then think of hellfire, that is so many
times hotter. Into that fire all bad boys, with sinners of every sort
who disobey God, will be cast as we are casting branches into this
brush fire, and although suffering so much, their sufferings will
never never end, because neither the fire nor the sinners can die.”
But those terrible fire lessons quickly faded away in the blithe
wilderness air; for no fire can be hotter than the heavenly fire of
faith and hope that burns in every healthy boy’s heart.

Soon after our arrival in the woods some one added a cat and puppy to
the animals father had bought. The cat soon had kittens, and it was
interesting to watch her feeding, protecting, and training them. After
they were able to leave their nest and play, she went out hunting and
brought in many kinds of birds and squirrels for them, mostly ground
squirrels (spermophiles), called “gophers” in Wisconsin. [78]When she got
within a dozen yards or so of the shanty, she announced her approach
by a peculiar call, and the sleeping kittens immediately bounced up
and ran to meet her, all racing for the first bite of they knew not
what, and we too ran to see what she brought. She then lay down a few
minutes to rest and enjoy the enjoyment of her feasting family, and
again vanished in the grass and flowers, coming and going every
half-hour or so. Sometimes she brought in birds that we had never seen
before, and occasionally a flying squirrel, chipmunk, or big fox
squirrel. We were just old enough, David and I, to regard all these
creatures as wonders, the strange inhabitants of our new world.

The pup was a common cur, though very uncommon to us, a black and
white short-haired mongrel that we named “Watch.” We always gave him a
pan of milk in the evening just before we knelt in family worship,
while daylight still lingered in the shanty. And, instead of attending
to the prayers, I too often studied [79]the small wild creatures playing
around us. Field mice scampered about the cabin as though it had been
built for them alone, and their performances were very amusing. About
dusk, on one of the calm, sultry nights so grateful to moths and
beetles, when the puppy was lapping his milk, and we were on our
knees, in through the door came a heavy broad-shouldered beetle about
as big as a mouse, and after it had droned and boomed round the cabin
two or three times, the pan of milk, showing white in the gloaming,
caught its eyes, and, taking good aim, it alighted with a slanting,
glinting plash in the middle of the pan like a duck alighting in a
lake. Baby Watch, having never before seen anything like that beetle,
started back, gazing in dumb astonishment and fear at the black
sprawling monster trying to swim. Recovering somewhat from his fright,
he began to bark at the creature, and ran round and round his
milk-pan, wouf-woufing, gurring, growling, like an old dog barking at
a wild-cat or a bear. The natural astonishment and curiosity of that
[80]boy dog getting his first entomological lesson in this wonderful world
was so immoderately funny that I had great difficulty in keeping from
laughing out loud.

Snapping turtles were common throughout the woods, and we were
delighted to find that they would snap at a stick and hang on like
bull-dogs; and we amused ourselves by introducing Watch to them,
enjoying his curious behavior and theirs in getting acquainted with
each other. One day we assisted one of the smallest of the turtles to
get a good grip of poor Watch’s ear. Then away he rushed, holding his
head sidewise, yelping and terror-stricken, with the strange buglike
reptile biting hard and clinging fast,—a shameful amusement even for
wild boys.

As a playmate Watch was too serious, though he learned more than any
stranger would judge him capable of, was a bold, faithful watch-dog,
and in his prime a grand fighter, able to whip all the other dogs in
the neighborhood. Comparing him with ourselves, we soon learned that
[81]although he could not read books he could read faces, was a good judge
of character, always knew what was going on and what we were about to
do, and liked to help us. We could run nearly as fast as he could, see
about as far, and perhaps hear as well, but in sense of smell his nose
was incomparably better than ours. One sharp winter morning when the
ground was covered with snow, I noticed that when he was yawning and
stretching himself after leaving his bed he suddenly caught the scent
of something that excited him, went round the corner of the house, and
looked intently to the westward across a tongue of land that we called
West Bank, eagerly questioning the air with quivering nostrils, and
bristling up as though he felt sure that there was something dangerous
in that direction and had actually caught sight of it. Then he ran
toward the Bank, and I followed him, curious to see what his nose had
discovered. The top of the Bank commanded a view of the north end of
our lake and meadow, and when we got there we saw an Indian hunter
[82]with a long spear, going from one muskrat cabin to another,
approaching cautiously, careful to make no noise, and then suddenly
thrusting his spear down through the house. If well aimed, the spear
went through the poor beaver rat as it lay cuddled up in the snug nest
it had made for itself in the fall with so much far-seeing care, and
when the hunter felt the spear quivering, he dug down the mossy hut
with his tomahawk and secured his prey,—the flesh for food, and the
skin to sell for a dime or so. This was a clear object lesson on dogs’
keenness of scent. That Indian was more than half a mile away across a
wooded ridge. Had the hunter been a white man, I suppose Watch would
not have noticed him.

When he was about six or seven years old, he not only became cross, so
that he would do only what he liked, but he fell on evil ways, and was
accused by the neighbors who had settled around us of catching and
devouring whole broods of chickens, some of them only a day or two out
of the shell. We never imagined he [83]would do anything so grossly
undoglike. He never did at home. But several of the neighbors declared
over and over again that they had caught him in the act, and insisted
that he must be shot. At last, in spite of tearful protests, he was
condemned and executed. Father examined the poor fellow’s stomach in
search of sure evidence, and discovered the heads of eight chickens
that he had devoured at his last meal. So poor Watch was killed simply
because his taste for chickens was too much like our own. Think of the
millions of squabs that preaching, praying men and women kill and eat,
with all sorts of other animals great and small, young and old, while
eloquently discoursing on the coming of the blessed peaceful,
bloodless millennium! Think of the passenger pigeons that fifty or
sixty years ago filled the woods and sky over half the continent, now
exterminated by beating down the young from the nests together with
the brooding parents, before they could try their wonderful wings; by
trapping them in nets, feeding them to [84]hogs, etc. None of our fellow
mortals is safe who eats what we eat, who in any way interferes with
our pleasures, or who may be used for work or food, clothing or
ornament, or mere cruel, sportish amusement. Fortunately many are too
small to be seen, and therefore enjoy life beyond our reach. And in
looking through God’s great stone books made up of records reaching
back millions and millions of years, it is a great comfort to learn
that vast multitudes of creatures, great and small and infinite in
number, lived and had a good time in God’s love before man was
created.

The old Scotch fashion of whipping for every act of disobedience or of
simple, playful forgetfulness was still kept up in the wilderness, and
of course many of those whippings fell upon me. Most of them were
outrageously severe, and utterly barren of fun. But here is one that
was nearly all fun.

Father was busy hauling lumber for the frame house that was to be got
ready for the arrival of my mother, sisters, and brother, left behind
[85]in Scotland. One morning, when he was ready to start for another load,
his ox-whip was not to be found. He asked me if I knew anything about
it. I told him I didn’t know where it was, but Scotch conscience
compelled me to confess that when I was playing with it I had tied it
to Watch’s tail, and that he ran away, dragging it through the grass,
and came back without it. “It must have slipped off his tail,” I said,
and so I didn’t know where it was. This honest, straightforward little
story made father so angry that he exclaimed with heavy, foreboding
emphasis: “The very deevil’s in that boy!” David, who had been playing
with me and was perhaps about as responsible for the loss of the whip
as I was, said never a word, for he was always prudent enough to hold
his tongue when the parental weather was stormy, and so escaped nearly
all punishment. And, strange to say, this time I also escaped, all
except a terrible scolding, though the thrashing weather seemed darker
than ever. As if unwilling to let the sun see the [86]shameful job,
father took me into the cabin where the storm was to fall, and sent
David to the woods for a switch. While he was out selecting the
switch, father put in the spare time sketching my play-wickedness in
awful colors, and of course referred again and again to the place
prepared for bad boys. In the midst of this terrible word-storm,
dreading most the impending thrashing, I whimpered that I was only
playing because I couldn’t help it; didn’t know I was doing wrong;
wouldn’t do it again, and so forth. After this miserable dialogue was
about exhausted, father became impatient at my brother for taking so
long to find the switch; and so was I, for I wanted to have the thing
over and done with. At last, in came David, a picture of open-hearted
innocence, solemnly dragging a young bur-oak sapling, and handed the
end of it to father, saying it was the best switch he could find. It
was an awfully heavy one, about two and a half inches thick at the
butt and ten feet long, almost big enough for a fence-pole. There
[87]wasn’t room enough in the cabin to swing it, and the moment I saw it I
burst out laughing in the midst of my fears. But father failed to see
the fun and was very angry at David, heaved the bur-oak outside and
passionately demanded his reason for fetching “sic a muckle rail like
that instead o’ a switch? Do ye ca’ that a switch? I have a gude mind
to thrash you insteed o’ John.” David, with demure, downcast eyes,
looked preternaturally righteous, but as usual prudently answered
never a word.

It was a hard job in those days to bring up Scotch boys in the way
they should go; and poor overworked father was determined to do it if
enough of the right kind of switches could be found. But this time, as
the sun was getting high, he hitched up old Tom and Jerry and made
haste to the Kingston lumber-yard, leaving me unscathed and as
innocently wicked as ever; for hardly had father got fairly out of
sight among the oaks and hickories, ere all our troubles,
hell-threatenings, and exhortations [88]were forgotten in the fun we had
lassoing a stubborn old sow and laboriously trying to teach her to go
reasonably steady in rope harness. She was the first hog that father
bought to stock the farm, and we boys regarded her as a very wonderful
beast. In a few weeks she had a lot of pigs, and of all the queer,
funny, animal children we had yet seen, none amused us more. They were
so comic in size and shape, in their gait and gestures, their merry
sham fights, and the false alarms they got up for the fun of
scampering back to their mother and begging her in most persuasive
little squeals to lie down and give them a drink.

After her darling short-snouted babies were about a month old, she
took them out to the woods and gradually roamed farther and farther
from the shanty in search of acorns and roots. One afternoon we heard
a rifle-shot, a very noticeable thing, as we had no near neighbors, as
yet. We thought it must have been fired by an Indian on the trail that
followed the right bank of the Fox River between [89]Portage and
Packwaukee Lake and passed our shanty at a distance of about three
quarters of a mile. Just a few minutes after that shot was heard,
along came the poor mother rushing up to the shanty for protection,
with her pigs, all out of breath and terror-stricken. One of them was
missing, and we supposed of course that an Indian had shot it for
food. Next day, I discovered a blood-puddle where the Indian trail
crossed the outlet of our lake. One of father’s hired men told us that
the Indians thought nothing of levying this sort of blackmail whenever
they were hungry. The solemn awe and fear in the eyes of that old
mother and those little pigs I never can forget; it was as
unmistakable and deadly a fear as I ever saw expressed by any human
eye, and corroborates in no uncertain way the oneness of all of us.


[90]

IIIToC

LIFE ON A WISCONSIN FARM

Humanity in Oxen—Jack, the Pony—Learning to Ride—Nob and
Nell—Snakes—Mosquitoes and their Kin—Fish and
Fishing—Considering the Lilies—Learning to Swim—A Narrow
Escape from Drowning and a Victory—Accidents to Animals.

Coming direct from school in Scotland while we were still hopefully
ignorant and far from tame,—notwithstanding the unnatural profusion
of teaching and thrashing lavished upon us,—getting acquainted with
the animals about us was a never-failing source of wonder and delight.
At first my father, like nearly all the backwoods settlers, bought a
yoke of oxen to do the farm work, and as field after field was
cleared, the number was gradually increased until we had five yoke.
These wise, patient, plodding animals did all the ploughing, logging,
hauling, and hard work of every sort for the first four or [91]five
years, and, never having seen oxen before, we looked at them with the
same eager freshness of conception as we did at the wild animals. We
worked with them, sympathized with them in their rest and toil and
play, and thus learned to know them far better than we should had we
been only trained scientific naturalists. We soon learned that each ox
and cow and calf had individual character. Old white-faced Buck, one
of the second yoke of oxen we owned, was a notably sagacious fellow.
He seemed to reason sometimes almost like ourselves. In the fall we
fed the cattle lots of pumpkins and had to split them open so that
mouthfuls could be readily broken off. But Buck never waited for us to
come to his help. The others, when they were hungry and impatient,
tried to break through the hard rind with their teeth, but seldom with
success if the pumpkin was full grown. Buck never wasted time in this
mumbling, slavering way, but crushed them with his head. He went to
the pile, picked out a good one, like a boy choosing an orange or
[92]apple, rolled it down on to the open ground, deliberately kneeled in
front of it, placed his broad, flat brow on top of it, brought his
weight hard down and crushed it, then quietly arose and went on with
his meal in comfort. Some would call this “instinct,” as if so-called
“blind instinct” must necessarily make an ox stand on its head to
break pumpkins when its teeth got sore, or when nobody came with an
axe to split them. Another fine ox showed his skill when hungry by
opening all the fences that stood in his way to the corn-fields.

The humanity we found in them came partly through the expression of
their eyes when tired, their tones of voice when hungry and calling
for food, their patient plodding and pulling in hot weather, their
long-drawn-out sighing breath when exhausted and suffering like
ourselves, and their enjoyment of rest with the same grateful looks as
ours. We recognized their kinship also by their yawning like ourselves
when sleepy and evidently enjoying the same peculiar pleasure at the
roots [93]of their jaws; by the way they stretched themselves in the
morning after a good rest; by learning languages,—Scotch, English,
Irish, French, Dutch,—a smattering of each as required in the
faithful service they so willingly, wisely rendered; by their
intelligent, alert curiosity, manifested in listening to strange
sounds; their love of play; the attachments they made; and their
mourning, long continued, when a companion was killed.

When we went to Portage, our nearest town, about ten or twelve miles
from the farm, it would oftentimes be late before we got back, and in
the summer-time, in sultry, rainy weather, the clouds were full of
sheet lightning which every minute or two would suddenly illumine the
landscape, revealing all its features, the hills and valleys, meadows
and trees, about as fully and clearly as the noonday sunshine; then as
suddenly the glorious light would be quenched, making the darkness
seem denser than before. On such nights the cattle had to find the way
home without any help from us, [94]but they never got off the track, for
they followed it by scent like dogs. Once, father, returning late from
Portage or Kingston, compelled Tom and Jerry, our first oxen, to leave
the dim track, imagining they must be going wrong. At last they
stopped and refused to go farther. Then father unhitched them from the
wagon, took hold of Tom’s tail, and was thus led straight to the
shanty. Next morning he set out to seek his wagon and found it on the
brow of a steep hill above an impassable swamp. We learned less from
the cows, because we did not enter so far into their lives, working
with them, suffering heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and almost
deadly weariness with them; but none with natural charity could fail
to sympathize with them in their love for their calves, and to feel
that it in no way differed from the divine mother-love of a woman in
thoughtful, self-sacrificing care; for they would brave every danger,
giving their lives for their offspring. Nor could we fail to
sympathize with their awkward, blunt-nosed baby calves, with [95]such
beautiful, wondering eyes looking out on the world and slowly getting
acquainted with things, all so strange to them, and awkwardly learning
to use their legs, and play and fight.

Before leaving Scotland, father promised us a pony to ride when we got
to America, and we saw to it that this promise was not forgotten. Only
a week or two after our arrival in the woods he bought us a little
Indian pony for thirteen dollars from a store-keeper in Kingston who
had obtained him from a Winnebago or Menominee Indian in trade for
goods. He was a stout handsome bay with long black mane and tail, and,
though he was only two years old, the Indians had already taught him
to carry all sorts of burdens, to stand without being tied, to go
anywhere over all sorts of ground fast or slow, and to jump and swim
and fear nothing,—a truly wonderful creature, strangely different
from shy, skittish, nervous, superstitious civilized beasts. We turned
him loose, and, strange to say, he never ran away from us or refused
to be caught, but behaved [96]as if he had known Scotch boys all his
life; probably because we were about as wild as young Indians.

One day when father happened to have a little leisure, he said, “Noo,
bairns, rin doon the meadow and get your powny and learn to ride him.”
So we led him out to a smooth place near an Indian mound back of the
shanty, where father directed us to begin. I mounted for the first
memorable lesson, crossed the mound, and set out at a slow walk along
the wagon-track made in hauling lumber; then father shouted: “Whup him
up, John, whup him up! Make him gallop; gallopin’ is easier and better
than walkin’ or trottin’.” Jack was willing, and away he sped at a
good fast gallop. I managed to keep my balance fairly well by holding
fast to the mane, but could not keep from bumping up and down, for I
was plump and elastic and so was Jack; therefore about half of the
time I was in the air.

After a quarter of a mile or so of this [97]curious transportation, I
cried, “Whoa, Jack!” The wonderful creature seemed to understand
Scotch, for he stopped so suddenly I flew over his head, but he stood
perfectly still as if that flying method of dismounting were the
regular way. Jumping on again, I bumped and bobbed back along the
grassy, flowery track, over the Indian mound, cried, “Whoa, Jack!”
flew over his head, and alighted in father’s arms as gracefully as if
it were all intended for circus work.

After going over the course five or six times in the same free,
picturesque style, I gave place to brother David, whose performances
were much like my own. In a few weeks, however, or a month, we were
taking adventurous rides more than a mile long out to a big meadow
frequented by sandhill cranes, and returning safely with wonderful
stories of the great long-legged birds we had seen, and how on the
whole journey away and back we had fallen off only five or six times.
Gradually we learned to gallop through the woods without [98]roads of any
sort, bareback and without rope or bridle, guiding only by leaning
from side to side or by slight knee pressure. In this free way we used
to amuse ourselves, riding at full speed across a big “kettle” that
was on our farm, without holding on by either mane or tail.

These so-called “kettles” were formed by the melting of large detached
blocks of ice that had been buried in moraine material thousands of
years ago when the ice-sheet that covered all this region was
receding. As the buried ice melted, of course the moraine material
above and about it fell in, forming hopper-shaped hollows, while the
grass growing on their sides and around them prevented the rain and
wind from filling them up. The one we performed in was perhaps seventy
or eighty feet wide and twenty or thirty feet deep; and without a
saddle or hold of any kind it was not easy to keep from slipping over
Jack’s head in diving into it, or over his tail climbing out. This was
fine sport on the long summer [99]Sundays when we were able to steal away
before meeting-time without being seen. We got very warm and red at
it, and oftentimes poor Jack, dripping with sweat like his riders,
seemed to have been boiled in that kettle.

In Scotland we had often been admonished to be bold, and this advice
we passed on to Jack, who had already got many a wild lesson from
Indian boys. Once, when teaching him to jump muddy streams, I made him
try the creek in our meadow at a place where it is about twelve feet
wide. He jumped bravely enough, but came down with a grand splash
hardly more than halfway over. The water was only about a foot in
depth, but the black vegetable mud half afloat was unfathomable. I
managed to wallow ashore, but poor Jack sank deeper and deeper until
only his head was visible in the black abyss, and his Indian fortitude
was desperately tried. His foundering so suddenly in the treacherous
gulf recalled the story of the Abbot of Aberbrothok’s bell, which went
down with a gurgling sound while [100]bubbles rose and burst around. I had
to go to father for help. He tied a long hemp rope brought from
Scotland around Jack’s neck, and Tom and Jerry seemed to have all they
could do to pull him out. After which I got a solemn scolding for
asking the “puir beast to jump intil sic a saft bottomless place.”

We moved into our frame house in the fall, when mother with the rest
of the family arrived from Scotland, and, when the winter snow began
to fly, the bur-oak shanty was made into a stable for Jack. Father
told us that good meadow hay was all he required, but we fed him corn,
lots of it, and he grew very frisky and fat. About the middle of
winter his long hair was full of dust and, as we thought, required
washing. So, without taking the frosty weather into account, we gave
him a thorough soap and water scouring, and as we failed to get him
rubbed dry, a row of icicles formed under his belly. Father happened
to see him in this condition and angrily asked what we had been about.
We said Jack was dirty and [101]we had washed him to make him healthy.
He told us we ought to be ashamed of ourselves, “soaking the puir
beast in cauld water at this time o’ year”; that when we wanted to
clean him we should have sense enough to use the brush and curry-comb.



OUR FIRST WISCONSIN HOME

OUR FIRST WISCONSIN HOME
On the hill near the shanty built in the summer of 1849ToList

In summer Dave or I had to ride after the cows every evening about
sundown, and Jack got so accustomed to bringing in the drove that when
we happened to be a few minutes late he used to go off alone at the
regular time and bring them home at a gallop. It used to make father
very angry to see Jack chasing the cows like a shepherd dog, running
from one to the other and giving each a bite on the rump to keep them
on the run, flying before him as if pursued by wolves. Father would
declare at times that the wicked beast had the deevil in him and would
be the death of the cattle. The corral and barn were just at the foot
of a hill, and he made a great display of the drove on the home
stretch as they walloped down that hill with their tails on end.

[102]One evening when the pell-mell Wild West show was at its wildest, it
made father so extravagantly mad that he ordered me to “Shoot Jack!” I
went to the house and brought the gun, suffering most horrible mental
anguish, such as I suppose unhappy Abraham felt when commanded to slay
Isaac. Jack’s life was spared, however, though I can’t tell what
finally became of him. I wish I could. After father bought a span of
work horses he was sold to a man who said he was going to ride him
across the plains to California. We had him, I think, some five or six
years. He was the stoutest, gentlest, bravest little horse I ever saw.
He never seemed tired, could canter all day with a man about as heavy
as himself on his back, and feared nothing. Once fifty or sixty pounds
of beef that was tied on his back slid over his shoulders along his
neck and weighed down his head to the ground, fairly anchoring him;
but he stood patient and still for half an hour or so without making
the slightest struggle to free himself, while I was [103]away getting help
to untie the pack-rope and set the load back in its place.

As I was the eldest boy I had the care of our first span of work
horses. Their names were Nob and Nell. Nob was very intelligent, and
even affectionate, and could learn almost anything. Nell was entirely
different; balky and stubborn, though we managed to teach her a good
many circus tricks; but she never seemed to like to play with us in
anything like an affectionate way as Nob did. We turned them out one
day into the pasture, and an Indian, hiding in the brush that had
sprung up after the grass fires had been kept out, managed to catch
Nob, tied a rope to her jaw for a bridle, rode her to Green Lake,
about thirty or forty miles away, and tried to sell her for fifteen
dollars. All our hearts were sore, as if one of the family had been
lost. We hunted everywhere and could not at first imagine what had
become of her. We discovered her track where the fence was broken
down, and, following it for a few miles, made sure the track was
Nob’s; and a [104]neighbor told us he had seen an Indian riding fast
through the woods on a horse that looked like Nob. But we could find
no farther trace of her until a month or two after she was lost, and
we had given up hope of ever seeing her again. Then we learned that
she had been taken from an Indian by a farmer at Green Lake because he
saw that she had been shod and had worked in harness. So when the
Indian tried to sell her the farmer said: “You are a thief. That is a
white man’s horse. You stole her.”

“No,” said the Indian, “I brought her from Prairie du Chien and she
has always been mine.”

The man, pointing to her feet and the marks of the harness, said: “You
are lying. I will take that horse away from you and put her in my
pasture, and if you come near it I will set the dogs on you.” Then he
advertised her. One of our neighbors happened to see the advertisement
and brought us the glad news, and great was our rejoicing when father
brought her home. That Indian must have treated her with [105]terrible
cruelty, for when I was riding her through the pasture several years
afterward, looking for another horse that we wanted to catch, as we
approached the place where she had been captured she stood stock still
gazing through the bushes, fearing the Indian might still be hiding
there ready to spring; and she was so excited that she trembled, and
her heartbeats were so loud that I could hear them distinctly as I sat
on her back, , , , like the drumming of a
partridge. So vividly had she remembered her terrible experiences.

She was a great pet and favorite with the whole family, quickly
learned playful tricks, came running when we called, seemed to know
everything we said to her, and had the utmost confidence in our
friendly kindness.

We used to cut and shock and husk the Indian corn in the fall, until a
keen Yankee stopped overnight at our house and among other
labor-saving notions convinced father that it was better to let it
stand, and husk it [106]at his leisure during the winter, then turn in the
cattle to eat the leaves and trample down the stalks, so that they
could be ploughed under in the spring. In this winter method each of
us took two rows and husked into baskets, and emptied the corn on the
ground in piles of fifteen to twenty basketfuls, then loaded it into
the wagon to be hauled to the crib. This was cold, painful work, the
temperature being oftentimes far below zero and the ground covered
with dry, frosty snow, giving rise to miserable crops of chilblains
and frosted fingers,—a sad change from the merry Indian-summer
husking, when the big yellow pumpkins covered the cleared
fields;—golden corn, golden pumpkins, gathered in the hazy golden
weather. Sad change, indeed, but we occasionally got some fun out of
the nipping, shivery work from hungry prairie chickens, and squirrels
and mice that came about us.

The piles of corn were often left in the field several days, and while
loading them into the wagon we usually found field mice in
[107]them,—big, blunt-nosed, strong-scented fellows that we were taught to
kill just because they nibbled a few grains of corn. I used to hold
one while it was still warm, up to Nob’s nose for the fun of seeing
her make faces and snort at the smell of it; and I would say: “Here,
Nob,” as if offering her a lump of sugar. One day I offered her an
extra fine, fat, plump specimen, something like a little woodchuck, or
muskrat, and to my astonishment, after smelling it curiously and
doubtfully, as if wondering what the gift might be, and rubbing it
back and forth in the palm of my hand with her upper lip, she
deliberately took it into her mouth, crunched and munched and chewed
it fine and swallowed it, bones, teeth, head, tail, everything. Not a
single hair of that mouse was wasted. When she was chewing it she
nodded and grunted, as though critically tasting and relishing it.

My father was a steadfast enthusiast on religious matters, and, of
course, attended almost every sort of church-meeting, especially
revival meetings. They were occasionally held [108]in summer, but mostly
in winter when the sleighing was good and plenty of time available.
One hot summer day father drove Nob to Portage and back, twenty-four
miles over a sandy road. It was a hot, hard, sultry day’s work, and
she had evidently been over-driven in order to get home in time for
one of these meetings. I shall never forget how tired and wilted she
looked that evening when I unhitched her; how she drooped in her
stall, too tired to eat or even to lie down. Next morning it was plain
that her lungs were inflamed; all the dreadful symptoms were just the
same as my own when I had pneumonia. Father sent for a Methodist
minister, a very energetic, resourceful man, who was a blacksmith,
farmer, butcher, and horse-doctor as well as minister; but all his
gifts and skill were of no avail. Nob was doomed. We bathed her head
and tried to get her to eat something, but she couldn’t eat, and in
about a couple of weeks we turned her loose to let her come around the
house and see us in the weary suffering and loneliness of the [109]shadow
of death. She tried to follow us children, so long her friends and
workmates and playmates. It was awfully touching. She had several
hemorrhages, and in the forenoon of her last day, after she had had
one of her dreadful spells of bleeding and gasping for breath, she
came to me trembling, with beseeching, heartbreaking looks, and after
I had bathed her head and tried to soothe and pet her, she lay down
and gasped and died. All the family gathered about her, weeping, with
aching hearts. Then dust to dust.

She was the most faithful, intelligent, playful, affectionate,
human-like horse I ever knew, and she won all our hearts. Of the many
advantages of farm life for boys one of the greatest is the gaining a
real knowledge of animals as fellow-mortals, learning to respect them
and love them, and even to win some of their love. Thus godlike
sympathy grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of
churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless
doctrine is taught that animals [110]have neither mind nor soul, have no
rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for man, to be
petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.

At first we were afraid of snakes, but soon learned that most of them
were harmless. The only venomous species seen on our farm were the
rattlesnake and the copperhead, one of each. David saw the rattler,
and we both saw the copperhead. One day, when my brother came in from
his work, he reported that he had seen a snake that made a queer buzzy
noise with its tail. This was the only rattlesnake seen on our farm,
though we heard of them being common on limestone hills eight or ten
miles distant. We discovered the copperhead when we were ploughing,
and we saw and felt at the first long, fixed, half-charmed, admiring
stare at him that he was an awfully dangerous fellow. Every fibre of
his strong, lithe, quivering body, his burnished copper-colored head,
and above all his fierce, able eyes, seemed to be overflowing full of
deadly power, and bade us [111]beware. And yet it is only fair to say that
this terrible, beautiful reptile showed no disposition to hurt us
until we threw clods at him and tried to head him off from a log fence
into which he was trying to escape. We were barefooted and of course
afraid to let him get very near, while we vainly battered him with the
loose sandy clods of the freshly ploughed field to hold him back until
we could get a stick. Looking us in the eyes after a moment’s pause,
he probably saw we were afraid, and he came right straight at us,
snapping and looking terrible, drove us out of his way, and won his
fight.

Out on the open sandy hills there were a good many thick burly blow
snakes, the kind that puff themselves up and hiss. Our Yankee declared
that their breath was very poisonous and that we must not go near
them. A handsome ringed species common in damp, shady places was, he
told us, the most wonderful of all the snakes, for if chopped into
pieces, however small, the fragments would wriggle themselves together
again, and the restored snake [112]would go on about its business as if
nothing had happened. The commonest kinds were the striped slender
species of the meadows and streams, good swimmers, that lived mostly
on frogs.

Once I observed one of the larger ones, about two feet long, pursuing
a frog in our meadow, and it was wonderful to see how fast the
legless, footless, wingless, finless hunter could run. The frog, of
course, knew its enemy and was making desperate efforts to escape to
the water and hide in the marsh mud. He was a fine, sleek yellow
muscular fellow and was springing over the tall grass in wide-arching
jumps. The green-striped snake, gliding swiftly and steadily, was
keeping the frog in sight and, had I not interfered, would probably
have tired out the poor jumper. Then, perhaps, while digesting and
enjoying his meal, the happy snake would himself be swallowed frog and
all by a hawk. Again, to our astonishment, the small specimens were
attacked by our hens. They pursued and pecked away at them until [113]they
killed and devoured them, oftentimes quarreling over the division of
the spoil, though it was not easily divided.

We watched the habits of the swift-darting dragonflies, wild bees,
butterflies, wasps, beetles, etc., and soon learned to discriminate
between those that might be safely handled and the pinching or
stinging species. But of all our wild neighbors the mosquitoes were
the first with which we became very intimately acquainted.

The beautiful meadow lying warm in the spring sunshine, outspread
between our lily-rimmed lake and the hill-slope that our shanty stood
on, sent forth thirsty swarms of the little gray, speckledy, singing,
stinging pests; and how tellingly they introduced themselves! Of
little avail were the smudges that we made on muggy evenings to drive
them away; and amid the many lessons which they insisted upon teaching
us we wondered more and more at the extent of their knowledge,
especially that in their tiny, flimsy bodies room could be found [114]for
such cunning palates. They would drink their fill from brown, smoky
Indians, or from old white folk flavored with tobacco and whiskey,
when no better could be had. But the surpassing fineness of their
taste was best manifested by their enthusiastic appreciation of boys
full of lively red blood, and of girls in full bloom fresh from cool
Scotland or England. On these it was pleasant to witness their
enjoyment as they feasted. Indians, we were told, believed that if
they were brave fighters they would go after death to a happy country
abounding in game, where there were no mosquitoes and no cowards. For
cowards were driven away by themselves to a miserable country where
there was no game fit to eat, and where the sky was always dark with
huge gnats and mosquitoes as big as pigeons.

We were great admirers of the little black water-bugs. Their whole
lives seemed to be play, skimming, swimming, swirling, and waltzing
together in little groups on the edge of the lake and in the meadow
springs, dancing to [115]music we never could hear. The long-legged
skaters, too, seemed wonderful fellows, shuffling about on top of the
water, with air-bubbles like little bladders tangled under their hairy
feet; and we often wished that we also might be shod in the same way
to enable us to skate on the lake in summer as well as in icy winter.
Not less wonderful were the boatmen, swimming on their backs, pulling
themselves along with a pair of oar-like legs.

Great was the delight of brothers David and Daniel and myself when
father gave us a few pine boards for a boat, and it was a memorable
day when we got that boat built and launched into the lake. Never
shall I forget our first sail over the gradually deepening water, the
sunbeams pouring through it revealing the strange plants covering the
bottom, and the fishes coming about us, staring and wondering as if
the boat were a monstrous strange fish.

The water was so clear that it was almost invisible, and when we
floated slowly out over the plants and fishes, we seemed to be
[116]miraculously sustained in the air while silently exploring a veritable
fairyland.

We always had to work hard, but if we worked still harder we were
occasionally allowed a little spell in the long summer evenings about
sundown to fish, and on Sundays an hour or two to sail quietly without
fishing-rod or gun when the lake was calm. Therefore we gradually
learned something about its inhabitants,—pickerel, sunfish, black
bass, perch, shiners, pumpkin-seeds, ducks, loons, turtles, muskrats,
etc. We saw the sunfishes making their nests in little openings in the
rushes where the water was only a few feet deep, ploughing up and
shoving away the soft gray mud with their noses, like pigs, forming
round bowls five or six inches in depth and about two feet in
diameter, in which their eggs were deposited. And with what beautiful,
unweariable devotion they watched and hovered over them and chased
away prowling spawn-eating enemies that ventured within a rod or two
of the precious nest!

The pickerel is a savage fish endowed with [117]marvelous strength and
speed. It lies in wait for its prey on the bottom, perfectly
motionless like a waterlogged stick, watching everything that moves,
with fierce, hungry eyes. Oftentimes when we were fishing for some
other kinds over the edge of the boat, a pickerel that we had not
noticed would come like a bolt of lightning and seize the fish we had
caught before we could get it into the boat. The very first pickerel
that I ever caught jumped into the air to seize a small fish dangling
on my line, and, missing its aim, fell plump into the boat as if it
had dropped from the sky.

Some of our neighbors fished for pickerel through the ice in
midwinter. They usually drove a wagon out on the lake, set a large
number of lines baited with live minnows, hung a loop of the lines
over a small bush planted at the side of each hole, and watched to see
the loops pulled off when a fish had taken the bait. Large quantities
of pickerel were often caught in this cruel way.

Our beautiful lake, named Fountain Lake by [118]father, but Muir’s Lake by
the neighbors, is one of the many small glacier lakes that adorn the
Wisconsin landscapes. It is fed by twenty or thirty meadow springs, is
about half a mile long, half as wide, and surrounded by low
finely-modeled hills dotted with oak and hickory, and meadows full of
grasses and sedges and many beautiful orchids and ferns. First there
is a zone of green, shining rushes, and just beyond the rushes a zone
of white and orange water-lilies fifty or sixty feet wide forming a
magnificent border. On bright days, when the lake was rippled by a
breeze, the lilies and sun-spangles danced together in radiant beauty,
and it became difficult to discriminate between them.

On Sundays, after or before chores and sermons and Bible-lessons, we
drifted about on the lake for hours, especially in lily time, getting
finest lessons and sermons from the water and flowers, ducks, fishes,
and muskrats. In particular we took Christ’s advice and devoutly
“considered the lilies”—how they [119]grow up in beauty out of gray lime
mud, and ride gloriously among the breezy sun-spangles. On our way
home we gathered grand bouquets of them to be kept fresh all the week.
No flower was hailed with greater wonder and admiration by the
European settlers in general—Scotch, English, and Irish—than this
white water-lily (). It is a magnificent plant, queen
of the inland waters, pure white, three or four inches in diameter,
the most beautiful, sumptuous, and deliciously fragrant of all our
Wisconsin flowers. No lily garden in civilization we had ever seen
could compare with our lake garden.

The next most admirable flower in the estimation of settlers in this
part of the new world was the pasque-flower or wind-flower ( var. ). It is the very first to appear in the
spring, covering the cold gray-black ground with cheery blossoms.
Before the axe or plough had touched the “oak openings” of Wisconsin,
they were swept by running fires almost every autumn after the [120]grass
became dry. If from any cause, such as early snowstorms or late rains,
they happened to escape the autumn fire besom, they were likely to be
burned in the spring after the snow melted. But whether burned in the
spring or fall, ashes and bits of charred twigs and grass stems made
the whole country look dismal. Then, before a single grass-blade had
sprouted, a hopeful multitude of large hairy, silky buds about as
thick as one’s thumb came to light, pushing up through the black and
gray ashes and cinders, and before these buds were fairly free from
the ground they opened wide and displayed purple blossoms about two
inches in diameter, giving beauty for ashes in glorious abundance.
Instead of remaining in the ground waiting for warm weather and
companions, this admirable plant seemed to be in haste to rise and
cheer the desolate landscape. Then at its leisure, after other plants
had come to its help, it spread its leaves and grew up to a height of
about two or three feet. The spreading leaves formed a whorl on the
ground, and [121]another about the middle of the stem as an involucre, and
on the top of the stem the silky, hairy long-tailed seeds formed a
head like a second flower. A little church was established among the
earlier settlers and the meetings at first were held in our house.
After working hard all the week it was difficult for boys to sit still
through long sermons without falling asleep, especially in warm
weather. In this drowsy trouble the charming anemone came to our help.
A pocketful of the pungent seeds industriously nibbled while the
discourses were at their dullest kept us awake and filled our minds
with flowers.

The next great flower wonders on which we lavished admiration, not
only for beauty of color and size, but for their curious shapes, were
the cypripediums, called “lady’s-slippers” or “Indian moccasins.” They
were so different from the familiar flowers of old Scotland. Several
species grew in our meadow and on shady hillsides,—yellow,
rose-colored, and some nearly white, an inch or more in diameter, [122]and
shaped exactly like Indian moccasins. They caught the eye of all the
European settlers and made them gaze and wonder like children. And so
did calopogon, pogonia, spiranthes, and many other fine plant people
that lived in our meadow. The beautiful Turk’s-turban () growing on stream-banks was rare in our neighborhood, but
the orange lily grew in abundance on dry ground beneath the bur-oaks
and often brought Aunt Ray’s lily-bed in Scotland to mind. The
butterfly-weed, with its brilliant scarlet flowers, attracted flocks
of butterflies and made fine masses of color. With autumn came a
glorious abundance and variety of asters, those beautiful plant stars,
together with goldenrods, sunflowers, daisies, and liatris of
different species, while around the shady margin of the meadow many
ferns in beds and vaselike groups spread their beautiful fronds,
especially the osmundas (, and )
and the sensitive and ostrich ferns.

Early in summer we feasted on strawberries, [123]that grew in rich beds
beneath the meadow grasses and sedges as well as in the dry sunny
woods. And in different bogs and marshes, and around their borders on
our own farm and along the Fox River, we found dewberries and
cranberries, and a glorious profusion of huckleberries, the
fountain-heads of pies of wondrous taste and size, colored in the
heart like sunsets. Nor were we slow to discover the value of the
hickory trees yielding both sugar and nuts. We carefully counted the
different kinds on our farm, and every morning when we could steal a
few minutes before breakfast after doing the chores, we visited the
trees that had been wounded by the axe, to scrape off and enjoy the
thick white delicious syrup that exuded from them, and gathered the
nuts as they fell in the mellow Indian summer, making haste to get a
fair share with the sapsuckers and squirrels. The hickory makes fine
masses of color in the fall, every leaf a flower, but it was the sweet
sap and sweet nuts that first interested us. No harvest in the
Wisconsin woods was ever [124]gathered with more pleasure and care. Also,
to our delight, we found plenty of hazelnuts, and in a few places
abundance of wild apples. They were desperately sour, and we used to
fill our pockets with them and dare each other to eat one without
making a face,—no easy feat.

One hot summer day father told us that we ought to learn to swim. This
was one of the most interesting suggestions he had ever offered, but
precious little time was allowed for trips to the lake, and he seldom
tried to show us how. “Go to the frogs,” he said, “and they will give
you all the lessons you need. Watch their arms and legs and see how
smoothly they kick themselves along and dive and come up. When you
want to dive, keep your arms by your side or over your head, and kick,
and when you want to come up, let your legs drag and paddle with your
hands.”

We found a little basin among the rushes at the south end of the lake,
about waist-deep and a rod or two wide, shaped like a sunfish’s nest.
Here we kicked and plashed for many a lesson, [125]faithfully trying to
imitate frogs; but the smooth, comfortable sliding gait of our
amphibious teachers seemed hopelessly hard to learn. When we tried to
kick frog-fashion, down went our heads as if weighted with lead the
moment our feet left the ground. One day it occurred to me to hold my
breath as long as I could and let my head sink as far as it liked
without paying any attention to it, and try to swim under the water
instead of on the surface. This method was a great success, for at the
very first trial I managed to cross the basin without touching bottom,
and soon learned the use of my limbs. Then, of course, swimming with
my head above water soon became so easy that it seemed perfectly
natural. David tried the plan with the same success. Then we began to
count the number of times that we could swim around the basin without
stopping to rest, and after twenty or thirty rounds failed to tire us,
we proudly thought that a little more practice would make us about as
amphibious as frogs.

[126]On the fourth of July of this swimming year one of the Lawson boys
came to visit us, and we went down to the lake to spend the great warm
day with the fishes and ducks and turtles. After gliding about on the
smooth mirror water, telling stories and enjoying the company of the
happy creatures about us, we rowed to our bathing-pool, and David and
I went in for a swim, while our companion fished from the boat a
little way out beyond the rushes. After a few turns in the pool, it
occurred to me that it was now about time to try deep water. Swimming
through the thick growth of rushes and lilies was somewhat dangerous,
especially for a beginner, because one’s arms and legs might be
entangled among the long, limber stems; nevertheless I ventured and
struck out boldly enough for the boat, where the water was twenty or
thirty feet deep. When I reached the end of the little skiff I raised
my right hand to take hold of it to surprise Lawson, whose back was
toward me and who was not aware of my approach; but I failed [127]to reach
high enough, and, of course, the weight of my arm and the stroke
against the overleaning stern of the boat shoved me down and I sank,
struggling, frightened and confused. As soon as my feet touched the
bottom, I slowly rose to the surface, but before I could get breath
enough to call for help, sank back again and lost all control of
myself. After sinking and rising I don’t know how many times, some
water got into my lungs and I began to drown. Then suddenly my mind
seemed to clear. I remembered that I could swim under water, and,
making a desperate struggle toward the shore, I reached a point where
with my toes on the bottom I got my mouth above the surface, gasped
for help, and was pulled into the boat.

This humiliating accident spoiled the day, and we all agreed to keep
it a profound secret. My sister Sarah had heard my cry for help, and
on our arrival at the house inquired what had happened. “Were you
drowning, John? I heard you cry you couldna get oot.” Lawson [128]made
haste to reply, “Oh, no! He was juist haverin (making fun).”

I was very much ashamed of myself, and at night, after calmly
reviewing the affair, concluded that there had been no reasonable
cause for the accident, and that I ought to punish myself for so
nearly losing my life from unmanly fear. Accordingly at the very first
opportunity, I stole away to the lake by myself, got into my boat, and
instead of going back to the old swimming-bowl for further practice,
or to try to do sanely and well what I had so ignominiously failed to
do in my first adventure, that is, to swim out through the rushes and
lilies, I rowed directly out to the middle of the lake, stripped,
stood up on the seat in the stern, and with grim deliberation took a
header and dove straight down thirty or forty feet, turned easily,
and, letting my feet drag, paddled straight to the surface with my
hands as father had at first directed me to do. I then swam round the
boat, glorying in my suddenly acquired confidence and victory over
myself, climbed into it, [129]and dived again, with the same triumphant
success. I think I went down four or five times, and each time as I
made the dive-spring shouted aloud, “Take that!” feeling that I was
getting most gloriously even with myself.

Never again from that day to this have I lost control of myself in
water. If suddenly thrown overboard at sea in the dark, or even while
asleep, I think I would immediately right myself in a way some would
call “instinct,” rise among the waves, catch my breath, and try to plan
what would better be done. Never was victory over self more complete. I
have been a good swimmer ever since. At a slow gait I think I could
swim all day in smooth water moderate in temperature. When I was a
student at Madison, I used to go on long swimming-journeys, called
exploring expeditions, along the south shore of Lake Mendota, on
Saturdays, sometimes alone, sometimes with another amphibious explorer
by the name of Fuller.

My adventures in Fountain Lake call to [130]mind the story of a boy who in
climbing a tree to rob a crow’s nest fell and broke his leg, but as
soon as it healed compelled himself to climb to the top of the tree he
had fallen from.

Like Scotch children in general we were taught grim self-denial, in
season and out of season, to mortify the flesh, keep our bodies in
subjection to Bible laws, and mercilessly punish ourselves for every
fault imagined or committed. A little boy, while helping his sister to
drive home the cows, happened to use a forbidden word. “I’ll have to
tell fayther on ye,” said the horrified sister. “I’ll tell him that ye
said a bad word.” “Weel,” said the boy, by way of excuse, “I couldna
help the word comin’ into me, and it’s na waur to speak it oot than to
let it rin through ye.”

A Scotch fiddler playing at a wedding drank so much whiskey that on
the way home he fell by the roadside. In the morning he was ashamed
and angry and determined to punish himself. Making haste to the house
of a friend, a gamekeeper, he called him out, and requested [131]the loan
of a gun. The alarmed gamekeeper, not liking the fiddler’s looks and
voice, anxiously inquired what he was going to do with it. “Surely,”
said he, “you’re no gan to shoot yoursel.” “No-o,” with characteristic
candor replied the penitent fiddler, “I dinna think that I’ll juist
exactly kill mysel, but I’m gaun to tak a dander doon the burn (brook)
wi’ the gun and gie mysel a deevil o’ a fleg (fright).”

One calm summer evening a red-headed woodpecker was drowned in our
lake. The accident happened at the south end, opposite our memorable
swimming-hole, a few rods from the place where I came so near being
drowned years before. I had returned to the old home during a summer
vacation of the State University, and, having made a beginning in
botany, I was, of course, full of enthusiasm and ran eagerly to my
beloved pogonia, calopogon, and cypripedium gardens, osmunda
ferneries, and the lake lilies and pitcher-plants. A little before
sundown the day-breeze died away, and the lake, reflecting the wooded
hills like a mirror, [132]was dimpled and dotted and streaked here and
there where fishes and turtles were poking out their heads and
muskrats were sculling themselves along with their flat tails making
glittering tracks. After lingering a while, dreamily recalling the
old, hard, half-happy days, and watching my favorite red-headed
woodpeckers pursuing moths like regular flycatchers, I swam out
through the rushes and up the middle of the lake to the north end and
back, gliding slowly, looking about me, enjoying the scenery as I
would in a saunter along the shore, and studying the habits of the
animals as they were explained and recorded on the smooth glassy
water.



CLOCK. THE STAR HAND RISING AND SETTING WITH THE SUN ALL THE YEAR

CLOCK. THE STAR HAND RISING AND SETTING WITH THE SUN ALL THE YEAR
Invented by the author in his boyhoodToList

On the way back, when I was within a hundred rods or so of the end of
my voyage, I noticed a peculiar plashing disturbance that could not, I
thought, be made by a jumping fish or any other inhabitant of the
lake; for instead of low regular out-circling ripples such as are made
by the popping up of a head, or like those raised by the quick splash
of a leaping [133]fish, or diving loon or muskrat, a continuous struggle
was kept up for several minutes ere the outspreading, interfering
ring-waves began to die away. Swimming hastily to the spot to try to
discover what had happened, I found one of my woodpeckers floating
motionless with outspread wings. All was over. Had I been a minute or
two earlier, I might have saved him. He had glanced on the water I
suppose in pursuit of a moth, was unable to rise from it, and died
struggling, as I nearly did at this same spot. Like me he seemed to
have lost his mind in blind confusion and fear. The water was warm,
and had he kept still with his head a little above the surface, he
would sooner or later have been wafted ashore. The best aimed flights
of birds and man “gang aft agley,” but this was the first case I had
witnessed of a bird losing its life by drowning.

Doubtless accidents to animals are far more common than is generally
known. I have seen quails killed by flying against our house when
suddenly startled. Some birds get entangled [134]in hairs of their own
nests and die. Once I found a poor snipe in our meadow that was unable
to fly on account of difficult egg-birth. Pitying the poor mother, I
picked her up out of the grass and helped her as gently as I could,
and as soon as the egg was born she flew gladly away. Oftentimes I
have thought it strange that one could walk through the woods and
mountains and plains for years without seeing a single blood-spot.
Most wild animals get into the world and out of it without being
noticed. Nevertheless we at last sadly learn that they are all subject
to the vicissitudes of fortune like ourselves. Many birds lose their
lives in storms. I remember a particularly severe Wisconsin winter,
when the temperature was many degrees below zero and the snow was
deep, preventing the quail, which feed on the ground, from getting
anything like enough of food, as was pitifully shown by a flock I
found on our farm frozen solid in a thicket of oak sprouts. They were
in a circle about a foot wide, with their heads outward, packed close
[135]together for warmth. Yet all had died without a struggle, perhaps more
from starvation than frost. Many small birds lose their lives in the
storms of early spring, or even summer. One mild spring morning I
picked up more than a score out of the grass and flowers, most of them
darling singers that had perished in a sudden storm of sleety rain and
hail.

In a hollow at the foot of an oak tree that I had chopped down one
cold winter day, I found a poor ground squirrel frozen solid in its
snug grassy nest, in the middle of a store of nearly a peck of wheat
it had carefully gathered. I carried it home and gradually thawed and
warmed it in the kitchen, hoping it would come to life like a pickerel
I caught in our lake through a hole in the ice, which, after being
frozen as hard as a bone and thawed at the fireside, squirmed itself
out of the grasp of the cook when she began to scrape it, bounced off
the table, and danced about on the floor, making wonderful springy
jumps as if trying to find its way back home to the lake. But for [136]the
poor spermophile nothing I could do in the way of revival was of any
avail. Its life had passed away without the slightest struggle, as it
lay asleep curled up like a ball, with its tail wrapped about it.


[137]

IVToC

A PARADISE OF BIRDS

Bird Favorites—The Prairie Chickens—Water-Fowl—A Loon on
the Defensive—Passenger Pigeons.

The Wisconsin oak openings were a summer paradise for song birds, and
a fine place to get acquainted with them; for the trees stood wide
apart, allowing one to see the happy homeseekers as they arrived in
the spring, their mating, nest-building, the brooding and feeding of
the young, and, after they were full-fledged and strong, to see all
the families of the neighborhood gathering and getting ready to leave
in the fall. Excepting the geese and ducks and pigeons nearly all our
summer birds arrived singly or in small draggled flocks, but when
frost and falling leaves brought their winter homes to mind they
assembled in large flocks on dead or leafless trees by the side of a
meadow or field, perhaps [138]to get acquainted and talk the thing over.
Some species held regular daily meetings for several weeks before
finally setting forth on their long southern journeys. Strange to say,
we never saw them start. Some morning we would find them gone.
Doubtless they migrated in the night time. Comparatively few species
remained all winter, the nuthatch, chickadee, owl, prairie chicken,
quail, and a few stragglers from the main flocks of ducks, jays,
hawks, and bluebirds. Only after the country was settled did either
jays or bluebirds winter with us.

The brave, frost-defying chickadees and nuthatches stayed all the year
wholly independent of farms and man’s food and affairs.

With the first hints of spring came the brave little bluebirds,
darling singers as blue as the best sky, and of course we all loved
them. Their rich, crispy warbling is perfectly delightful, soothing
and cheering, sweet and whisperingly low, Nature’s fine love touches,
every note going straight home into one’s heart. And [139]withal they are
hardy and brave, fearless fighters in defense of home. When we boys
approached their knot-hole nests, the bold little fellows kept
scolding and diving at us and tried to strike us in the face, and
oftentimes we were afraid they would prick our eyes. But the boldness
of the little housekeepers only made us love them the more.

None of the bird people of Wisconsin welcomed us more heartily than
the common robin. Far from showing alarm at the coming of settlers
into their native woods, they reared their young around our gardens as
if they liked us, and how heartily we admired the beauty and fine
manners of these graceful birds and their loud cheery song of . It was easy to love them for they
reminded us of the robin redbreast of Scotland. Like the bluebirds
they dared every danger in defense of home, and we often wondered that
birds so gentle could be so bold and that sweet-voiced singers could
so fiercely fight and scold.

Of all the great singers that sweeten [140]Wisconsin one of the best known
and best loved is the brown thrush or thrasher, strong and able
without being familiar, and easily seen and heard. Rosy purple
evenings after thundershowers are the favorite song-times, when the
winds have died away and the steaming ground and the leaves and
flowers fill the air with fragrance. Then the male makes haste to the
topmost spray of an oak tree and sings loud and clear with delightful
enthusiasm until sundown, mostly I suppose for his mate sitting on the
precious eggs in a brush heap. And how faithful and watchful and
daring he is! Woe to the snake or squirrel that ventured to go nigh
the nest! We often saw him diving on them, pecking them about the head
and driving them away as bravely as the kingbird drives away hawks.
Their rich and varied strains make the air fairly quiver. We boys
often tried to interpret the wild ringing melody and put it into
words.

After the arrival of the thrushes came the bobolinks, gushing,
gurgling, inexhaustible [141]fountains of song, pouring forth floods of
sweet notes over the broad Fox River meadows in wonderful variety and
volume, crowded and mixed beyond description, as they hovered on
quivering wings above their hidden nests in the grass. It seemed
marvelous to us that birds so moderate in size could hold so much of
this wonderful song stuff. Each one of them poured forth music enough
for a whole flock, singing as if its whole body, feathers and all,
were made up of music, flowing, glowing, bubbling melody
interpenetrated here and there with small scintillating prickles and
spicules. We never became so intimately acquainted with the bobolinks
as with the thrushes, for they lived far out on the broad Fox River
meadows, while the thrushes sang on the tree-tops around every home.
The bobolinks were among the first of our great singers to leave us in
the fall, going apparently direct to the rice-fields of the Southern
States, where they grew fat and were slaughtered in countless numbers
for food. Sad fate for singers so purely divine.

[142]One of the gayest of the singers is the redwing blackbird. In the
spring, when his scarlet epaulets shine brightest, and his little
modest gray wife is sitting on the nest, built on rushes in a swamp,
he sits on a nearby oak and devotedly sings almost all day. His rich
simple strain is , , or as interpreted
by some. In summer, after nesting cares are over, they assemble in
flocks of hundreds and thousands to feast on Indian corn when it is in
the milk. Scattering over a field, each selects an ear, strips the
husk down far enough to lay bare an inch or two of the end of it,
enjoys an exhilarating feast, and after all are full they rise
simultaneously with a quick birr of wings like an old-fashioned church
congregation fluttering to their feet when the minister after giving
out the hymn says, “Let the congregation arise and sing.” Alighting on
nearby trees, they sing with a hearty vengeance, bursting out without
any puttering prelude in gloriously glad concert, hundreds or
thousands of exulting voices with sweet gurgling [143] mingled
with chippy vibrant and exploding globules of musical notes, making a
most enthusiastic, indescribable joy-song, a combination unlike
anything to be heard elsewhere in the bird kingdom; something like
bagpipes, flutes, violins, pianos, and human-like voices all bursting
and bubbling at once. Then suddenly some one of the joyful
congregation shouts Chirr! Chirr! and all stop as if shot.

The sweet-voiced meadowlark with its placid, simple song of
was another favorite, and we soon learned to
admire the Baltimore oriole and its wonderful hanging nests, and the
scarlet tanager glowing like fire amid the green leaves.

But no singer of them all got farther into our hearts than the little
speckle-breasted song sparrow, one of the first to arrive and begin
nest-building and singing. The richness, sweetness, and pathos of this
small darling’s song as he sat on a low bush often brought tears to
our eyes.

The little cheery, modest chickadee midget, [144]loved by every innocent
boy and girl, man and woman, and by many not altogether innocent, was
one of the first of the birds to attract our attention, drawing nearer
and nearer to us as the winter advanced, bravely singing his faint
silvery, lisping, tinkling notes ending with a bright !
however frosty the weather.

The nuthatches, who also stayed all winter with us, were favorites
with us boys. We loved to watch them as they traced the bark-furrows
of the oaks and hickories head downward, deftly flicking off loose
scales and splinters in search of insects, and braving the coldest
weather as if their little sparks of life were as safely warm in
winter as in summer, unquenchable by the severest frost. With the help
of the chickadees they made a delightful stir in the solemn winter
days, and when we were out chopping we never ceased to wonder how
their slender naked toes could be kept warm when our own were so
painfully frosted though clad in thick socks and boots. And we
wondered and admired the more when we thought of the [145]little midgets
sleeping in knot-holes when the temperature was far below zero,
sometimes thirty-five degrees below, and in the morning, after a
minute breakfast of a few frozen insects and hoarfrost crystals,
playing and chatting in cheery tones as if food, weather, and
everything was according to their own warm hearts. Our Yankee told us
that the name of this darling was Devil-downhead.

Their big neighbors the owls also made good winter music, singing out
loud in wild, gallant strains bespeaking brave comfort, let the frost
bite as it might. The solemn hooting of the species with the widest
throat seemed to us the very wildest of all the winter sounds.

Prairie chickens came strolling in family flocks about the shanty,
picking seeds and grasshoppers like domestic fowls, and they became
still more abundant as wheat-and corn-fields were multiplied, but also
wilder, of course, when every shotgun in the country was aimed at
them. The booming of the males during the mating-season was one of the
loudest and [146]strangest of the early spring sounds, being easily heard
on calm mornings at a distance of a half or three fourths of a mile.
As soon as the snow was off the ground, they assembled in flocks of a
dozen or two on an open spot, usually on the side of a ploughed field,
ruffled up their feathers, inflated the curious colored sacks on the
sides of their necks, and strutted about with queer gestures something
like turkey gobblers, uttering strange loud, rounded, drumming
calls,— interrupted by choking sounds. My brother
Daniel caught one while she was sitting on her nest in our corn-field.
The young are just like domestic chicks, run with the mother as soon
as hatched, and stay with her until autumn, feeding on the ground,
never taking wing unless disturbed. In winter, when full-grown, they
assemble in large flocks, fly about sundown to selected
roosting-places on tall trees, and to feeding-places in the
morning,—unhusked corn-fields, if any are to be found in the
neighborhood, or thickets of dwarf birch and willows, the buds [147]of
which furnish a considerable part of their food when snow covers the
ground.

The wild rice-marshes along the Fox River and around Pucaway Lake were
the summer homes of millions of ducks, and in the Indian summer, when
the rice was ripe, they grew very fat. The magnificent mallards in
particular afforded our Yankee neighbors royal feasts almost without
price, for often as many as a half-dozen were killed at a shot, but we
seldom were allowed a single hour for hunting and so got very few. The
autumn duck season was a glad time for the Indians also, for they
feasted and grew fat not only on the ducks but on the wild rice, large
quantities of which they gathered as they glided through the midst of
the generous crop in canoes, bending down handfuls over the sides, and
beating out the grain with small paddles.

The warmth of the deep spring fountains of the creek in our meadow
kept it open all the year, and a few pairs of wood ducks, the most
beautiful, we thought, of all the ducks, [148]wintered in it. I well
remember the first specimen I ever saw. Father shot it in the creek
during a snowstorm, brought it into the house, and called us around
him, saying: “Come, bairns, and admire the work of God displayed in
this bonnie bird. Naebody but God could paint feathers like these.
Juist look at the colors, hoo they shine, and hoo fine they overlap
and blend thegether like the colors o’ the rainbow.” And we all agreed
that never, never before had we seen so awfu’ bonnie a bird. A pair
nested every year in the hollow top of an oak stump about fifteen feet
high that stood on the side of the meadow, and we used to wonder how
they got the fluffy young ones down from the nest and across the
meadow to the lake when they were only helpless, featherless midgets;
whether the mother carried them to the water on her back or in her
mouth. I never saw the thing done or found anybody who had until this
summer, when Mr. Holabird, a keen observer, told me that he once saw
the mother carry them from the nest tree in her mouth, [149]quickly coming
and going to a nearby stream, and in a few minutes get them all
together and proudly sail away.

Sometimes a flock of swans were seen passing over at a great height on
their long journeys, and we admired their clear bugle notes, but they
seldom visited any of the lakes in our neighborhood, so seldom that
when they did it was talked of for years. One was shot by a blacksmith
on a millpond with a long-range Sharp’s rifle, and many of the
neighbors went far to see it.

The common gray goose, Canada honker, flying in regular harrow-shaped
flocks, was one of the wildest and wariest of all the large birds that
enlivened the spring and autumn. They seldom ventured to alight in our
small lake, fearing, I suppose, that hunters might be concealed in the
rushes, but on account of their fondness for the young leaves of
winter wheat when they were a few inches high, they often alighted on
our fields when passing on their way south, and occasionally even in
our [150]corn-fields when a snowstorm was blowing and they were hungry and
wing-weary, with nearly an inch of snow on their backs. In such times
of distress we used to pity them, even while trying to get a shot at
them. They were exceedingly cautious and circumspect; usually flew
several times round the adjacent thickets and fences to make sure that
no enemy was near before settling down, and one always stood on guard,
relieved from time to time, while the flock was feeding. Therefore
there was no chance to creep up on them unobserved; you had to be well
hidden before the flock arrived. It was the ambition of boys to be
able to shoot these wary birds. I never got but two, both of them at
one so-called lucky shot. When I ran to pick them up, one of them flew
away, but as the poor fellow was sorely wounded he didn’t fly far.
When I caught him after a short chase, he uttered a piercing cry of
terror and despair, which the leader of the flock heard at a distance
of about a hundred rods. They had flown off in frightened disorder, of
course, but had got into [151]the regular harrow-shape order when the
leader heard the cry, and I shall never forget how bravely he left his
place at the head of the flock and hurried back screaming and struck
at me in trying to save his companion. I dodged down and held my hands
over my head, and thus escaped a blow of his elbows. Fortunately I had
left my gun at the fence, and the life of this noble bird was spared
after he had risked it in trying to save his wounded friend or
neighbor or family relation. For so shy a bird boldly to attack a
hunter showed wonderful sympathy and courage. This is one of my
strangest hunting experiences. Never before had I regarded wild geese
as dangerous, or capable of such noble self-sacrificing devotion.

The loud clear call of the handsome bob-whites was one of the
pleasantest and most characteristic of our spring sounds, and we soon
learned to imitate it so well that a bold cock often accepted our
challenge and came flying to fight. The young run as soon as they are
hatched and follow their parents until [152]spring, roosting on the ground
in a close bunch, heads out ready to scatter and fly. These fine birds
were seldom seen when we first arrived in the wilderness, but when
wheat-fields supplied abundance of food they multiplied very fast,
although oftentimes sore pressed during hard winters when the snow
reached a depth of two or three feet, covering their food, while the
mercury fell to twenty or thirty degrees below zero. Occasionally,
although shy on account of being persistently hunted, under pressure
of extreme hunger in the very coldest weather when the snow was
deepest they ventured into barnyards and even approached the doorsteps
of houses, searching for any sort of scraps and crumbs, as if
piteously begging for food. One of our neighbors saw a flock come
creeping up through the snow, unable to fly, hardly able to walk, and
while approaching the door several of them actually fell down and
died; showing that birds, usually so vigorous and apparently
independent of fortune, suffer and lose their lives in extreme weather
like the rest of us, [153]frozen to death like settlers caught in
blizzards. None of our neighbors perished in storms, though many had
feet, ears, and fingers frost-nipped or solidly frozen.

As soon as the lake ice melted, we heard the lonely cry of the loon,
one of the wildest and most striking of all the wilderness sounds, a
strange, sad, mournful, unearthly cry, half laughing, half wailing.
Nevertheless the great northern diver, as our species is called, is a
brave, hardy, beautiful bird, able to fly under water about as well as
above it, and to spear and capture the swiftest fishes for food. Those
that haunted our lake were so wary none was shot for years, though
every boy hunter in the neighborhood was ambitious to get one to prove
his skill. On one of our bitter cold New Year holidays I was surprised
to see a loon in the small open part of the lake at the mouth of the
inlet that was kept from freezing by the warm spring water. I knew
that it could not fly out of so small a place, for these heavy birds
have to beat the water for half a mile or so [154]before they can get
fairly on the wing. Their narrow, finlike wings are very small as
compared with the weight of the body and are evidently made for flying
through water as well as through the air, and it is by means of their
swift flight through the water and the swiftness of the blow they
strike with their long, spear-like bills that they are able to capture
the fishes on which they feed. I ran down the meadow with the gun, got
into my boat, and pursued that poor winter-bound straggler. Of course
he dived again and again, but had to come up to breathe, and I at
length got a quick shot at his head and slightly wounded or stunned
him, caught him, and ran proudly back to the house with my prize. I
carried him in my arms; he didn’t struggle to get away or offer to
strike me, and when I put him on the floor in front of the kitchen
stove, he just rested quietly on his belly as noiseless and motionless
as if he were a stuffed specimen on a shelf, held his neck erect, gave
no sign of suffering from any wound, and though he was motionless, his
small black eyes [155]seemed to be ever keenly watchful. His formidable
bill, very sharp, three or three and a half inches long, and shaped
like a pickaxe, was held perfectly level. But the wonder was that he
did not struggle or make the slightest movement. We had a
tortoise-shell cat, an old Tom of great experience, who was so fond of
lying under the stove in frosty weather that it was difficult even to
poke him out with a broom; but when he saw and smelled that strange
big fishy, black and white, speckledy bird, the like of which he had
never before seen, he rushed wildly to the farther corner of the
kitchen, looked back cautiously and suspiciously, and began to make a
careful study of the handsome but dangerous-looking stranger. Becoming
more and more curious and interested, he at length advanced a step or
two for a nearer view and nearer smell; and as the wonderful bird kept
absolutely motionless, he was encouraged to venture gradually nearer
and nearer until within perhaps five or six feet of its breast. Then
the wary loon, not liking Tom’s looks in so near a [156]view, which
perhaps recalled to his mind the plundering minks and muskrats he had
to fight when they approached his nest, prepared to defend himself by
slowly, almost imperceptibly drawing back his long pickaxe bill, and
without the slightest fuss or stir held it level and ready just over
his tail. With that dangerous bill drawn so far back out of the way,
Tom’s confidence in the stranger’s peaceful intentions seemed almost
complete, and, thus encouraged, he at last ventured forward with
wondering, questioning eyes and quivering nostrils until he was only
eighteen or twenty inches from the loon’s smooth white breast. When
the beautiful bird, apparently as peaceful and inoffensive as a
flower, saw that his hairy yellow enemy had arrived at the right
distance, the loon, who evidently was a fine judge of the reach of his
spear, shot it forward quick as a lightning-flash, in marvelous
contrast to the wonderful slowness of the preparatory poising,
backward motion. The aim was true to a hair-breadth. Tom was struck
right in the centre of his forehead, [157]between the eyes. I thought his
skull was cracked. Perhaps it was. The sudden astonishment of that
outraged cat, the virtuous indignation and wrath, terror, and pain,
are far beyond description. His eyes and screams and desperate retreat
told all that. When the blow was received, he made a noise that I
never heard a cat make before or since; an awfully deep, condensed,
screechy, explosive as he bounced straight up in the air like
a bucking bronco; and when he alighted after his spring, he rushed
madly across the room and made frantic efforts to climb up the
hard-finished plaster wall. Not satisfied to get the width of the
kitchen away from his mysterious enemy, for the first time that cold
winter he tried to get out of the house, anyhow, anywhere out of that
loon-infested room. When he finally ventured to look back and saw that
the barbarous bird was still there, tranquil and motionless in front
of the stove, he regained command of some of his shattered senses and
carefully commenced to examine his wound. Backed against [158]the wall in
the farthest corner, and keeping his eye on the outrageous bird, he
tenderly touched and washed the sore spot, wetting his paw with his
tongue, pausing now and then as his courage increased to glare and
stare and growl at his enemy with looks and tones wonderfully human,
as if saying: “You confounded fishy, unfair rascal! What did you do
that for? What had I done to you? Faithless, legless, long-nosed
wretch!” Intense experiences like the above bring out the humanity
that is in all animals. One touch of nature, even a cat-and-loon
touch, makes all the world kin.

It was a great memorable day when the first flock of passenger pigeons
came to our farm, calling to mind the story we had read about them
when we were at school in Scotland. Of all God’s feathered people that
sailed the Wisconsin sky, no other bird seemed to us so wonderful. The
beautiful wanderers flew like the winds in flocks of millions from
climate to climate in accord with the weather, finding their
food—acorns, beechnuts, pine-nuts, [159]cranberries, strawberries,
huckleberries, juniper berries, hackberries, buckwheat, rice, wheat,
oats, corn—in fields and forests thousands of miles apart. I have
seen flocks streaming south in the fall so large that they were
flowing over from horizon to horizon in an almost continuous stream
all day long, at the rate of forty or fifty miles an hour, like a
mighty river in the sky, widening, contracting, descending like falls
and cataracts, and rising suddenly here and there in huge ragged
masses like high-plashing spray. How wonderful the distances they flew
in a day—in a year—in a lifetime! They arrived in Wisconsin in the
spring just after the sun had cleared away the snow, and alighted in
the woods to feed on the fallen acorns that they had missed the
previous autumn. A comparatively small flock swept thousands of acres
perfectly clean of acorns in a few minutes, by moving straight ahead
with a broad front. All got their share, for the rear constantly
became the van by flying over the flock and alighting in front, the
entire flock constantly changing [160]from rear to front, revolving
something like a wheel with a low buzzing wing roar that could be
heard a long way off. In summer they feasted on wheat and oats and
were easily approached as they rested on the trees along the sides of
the field after a good full meal, displaying beautiful iridescent
colors as they moved their necks backward and forward when we went
very near them. Every shotgun was aimed at them and everybody feasted
on pigeon pies, and not a few of the settlers feasted also on the
beauty of the wonderful birds. The breast of the male is a fine rosy
red, the lower part of the neck behind and along the sides changing
from the red of the breast to gold, emerald green and rich crimson.
The general color of the upper parts is grayish blue, the under parts
white. The extreme length of the bird is about seventeen inches; the
finely modeled slender tail about eight inches, and extent of wings
twenty-four inches. The females are scarcely less beautiful. “Oh, what
bonnie, bonnie birds!” we exclaimed over the first that fell into our
[161]hands. “Oh, what colors! Look at their breasts, bonnie as roses, and
at their necks aglow wi’ every color juist like the wonderfu’ wood
ducks. Oh, the bonnie, bonnie creatures, they beat a’! Where did they
a’ come fra, and where are they a’ gan? It’s awfu’ like a sin to kill
them!” To this some smug, practical old sinner would remark: “Aye,
it’s a peety, as ye say, to kill the bonnie things, but they were made
to be killed, and sent for us to eat as the quails were sent to God’s
chosen people, the Israelites, when they were starving in the desert
ayont the Red Sea. And I must confess that meat was never put up in
neater, handsomer-painted packages.”

In the New England and Canada woods beechnuts were their best and most
abundant food, farther north, cranberries and huckleberries. After
everything was cleaned up in the north and winter was coming on, they
went south for rice, corn, acorns, haws, wild grapes, crab-apples,
sparkle-berries, etc. They seemed to require more than half of the
continent for [162]feeding-grounds, moving from one table to another,
field to field, forest to forest, finding something ripe and wholesome
all the year round. In going south in the fine Indian-summer weather
they flew high and followed one another, though the head of the flock
might be hundreds of miles in advance. But against head winds they
took advantage of the inequalities of the ground, flying comparatively
low. All followed the leader’s ups and downs over hill and dale though
far out of sight, never hesitating at any turn of the way, vertical or
horizontal that the leaders had taken, though the largest flocks
stretched across several States, and belts of different kinds of
weather.

There were no roosting-or breeding-places near our farm, and I never
saw any of them until long after the great flocks were exterminated. I
therefore quote, from Audubon’s and Pokagon’s vivid descriptions.

“Toward evening,” Audubon says, “they depart for the roosting-place,
which may be hundreds of miles distant. One on the banks of [163]Green
River, Kentucky, was over three miles wide and forty long.”

“My first view of it,” says the great naturalist, “was about a
fortnight after it had been chosen by the birds, and I arrived there
nearly two hours before sunset. Few pigeons were then to be seen, but
a great many persons with horses and wagons and armed with guns, long
poles, sulphur pots, pine pitch torches, etc., had already established
encampments on the borders. Two farmers had driven upwards of three
hundred hogs a distance of more than a hundred miles to be fattened on
slaughtered pigeons. Here and there the people employed in plucking
and salting what had already been secured were sitting in the midst of
piles of birds. Dung several inches thick covered the ground. Many
trees two feet in diameter were broken off at no great distance from
the ground, and the branches of many of the tallest and largest had
given way, as if the forest had been swept by a tornado.

“Not a pigeon had arrived at sundown. [164]Suddenly a general cry
arose—‘Here they come!’ The noise they made, though still distant,
reminded me of a hard gale at sea passing through the rigging of a
close-reefed ship. Thousands were soon knocked down by the pole-men.
The birds continued to pour in. The fires were lighted and a
magnificent as well as terrifying sight presented itself. The pigeons
pouring in alighted everywhere, one above another, until solid masses
were formed on the branches all around. Here and there the perches
gave way with a crash, and falling destroyed hundreds beneath, forcing
down the dense groups with which every stick was loaded; a scene of
uproar and conflict. I found it useless to speak or even to shout to
those persons nearest me. Even the reports of the guns were seldom
heard, and I was made aware of the firing only by seeing the shooters
reloading. None dared venture within the line of devastation. The hogs
had been penned up in due time, the picking up of the dead and wounded
being left for the next morning’s employment. The pigeons [165]were
constantly coming in and it was after midnight before I perceived a
decrease in the number of those that arrived. The uproar continued all
night, and anxious to know how far the sound reached I sent off a man
who, returning two hours after, informed me that he had heard it
distinctly three miles distant.



BAROMETER

BAROMETER
Invented by the author in his boyhoodToList

“Toward daylight the noise in some measure subsided; long before
objects were distinguishable the pigeons began to move off in a
direction quite different from that in which they had arrived the
evening before, and at sunrise all that were able to fly had
disappeared. The howling of the wolves now reached our ears, and the
foxes, lynxes, cougars, bears, coons, opossums, and polecats were seen
sneaking off, while eagles and hawks of different species, accompanied
by a crowd of vultures, came to supplant them and enjoy a share of the
spoil.

“Then the authors of all this devastation began their entry amongst
the dead, the dying and mangled. The pigeons were picked up and piled
in heaps until each had as many as [166]they could possible dispose of,
when the hogs were let loose to feed on the remainder.

“The breeding-places are selected with reference to abundance of food,
and countless myriads resort to them. At this period the note of the
pigeon is coo coo coo, like that of the domestic species but much
shorter. They caress by billing, and during incubation the male
supplies the female with food. As the young grow, the tyrant of
creation appears to disturb the peaceful scene, armed with axes to
chop down the squab-laden trees, and the abomination of desolation and
destruction produced far surpasses even that of the roosting places.”

Pokagon, an educated Indian writer, says: “I saw one nesting-place in
Wisconsin one hundred miles long and from three to ten miles wide.
Every tree, some of them quite low and scrubby, had from one to fifty
nests on each. Some of the nests overflow from the oaks to the hemlock
and pine woods. When the pigeon hunters attack the breeding-places
they [167]sometimes cut the timber from thousands of acres. Millions are
caught in nets with salt or grain for bait, and schooners, sometimes
loaded down with the birds, are taken to New York where they are sold
for a cent apiece.”


[168]

VToC

YOUNG HUNTERS

American Head-hunters—Deer—A Resurrected
Woodpecker—Muskrats—Foxes and Badgers—A Pet
Coon—Bathing—Squirrels—Gophers—A Burglarious Shrike.

In the older eastern States it used to be considered great sport for
an army of boys to assemble to hunt birds, squirrels, and every other
unclaimed, unprotected live thing of shootable size. They divided into
two squads, and, choosing leaders, scattered through the woods in
different directions, and the party that killed the greatest number
enjoyed a supper at the expense of the other. The whole neighborhood
seemed to enjoy the shameful sport especially the farmers afraid of
their crops. With a great air of importance, laws were enacted to
govern the gory business. For example, a gray squirrel must count four
heads, a woodchuck six heads, common red squirrel two heads, black
squirrel ten heads, a partridge [169]five heads, the larger birds, such as
whip-poor-wills and nighthawks two heads each, the wary crows three,
and bob-whites three. But all the blessed company of mere songbirds,
warblers, robins, thrushes, orioles, with nuthatches, chickadees, blue
jays, woodpeckers, etc., counted only one head each. The heads of the
birds were hastily wrung off and thrust into the game-bags to be
counted, saving the bodies only of what were called game, the larger
squirrels, bob-whites, partridges, etc. The blood-stained bags of the
best slayers were soon bulging full. Then at a given hour all had to
stop and repair to the town, empty their dripping sacks, count the
heads, and go rejoicing to their dinner. Although, like other wild
boys, I was fond of shooting, I never had anything to do with these
abominable head-hunts. And now the farmers having learned that birds
are their friends wholesale slaughter has been abolished.

We seldom saw deer, though their tracks were common. The Yankee
explained that [170]they traveled and fed mostly at night, and hid in
tamarack swamps and brushy places in the daytime, and how the Indians
knew all about them and could find them whenever they were hungry.

Indians belonging to the Menominee and Winnebago tribes occasionally
visited us at our cabin to get a piece of bread or some matches, or to
sharpen their knives on our grindstone, and we boys watched them
closely to see that they didn’t steal Jack. We wondered at their
knowledge of animals when we saw them go direct to trees on our farm,
chop holes in them with their tomahawks and take out coons, of the
existence of which we had never noticed the slightest trace. In
winter, after the first snow, we frequently saw three or four Indians
hunting deer in company, running like hounds on the fresh, exciting
tracks. The escape of the deer from these noiseless, tireless hunters
was said to be well-nigh impossible; they were followed to the death.

Most of our neighbors brought some sort of [171]gun from the old country,
but seldom took time to hunt, even after the first hard work of
fencing and clearing was over, except to shoot a duck or prairie
chicken now and then that happened to come in their way. It was only
the less industrious American settlers who left their work to go far
a-hunting. Two or three of our most enterprising American neighbors
went off every fall with their teams to the pine regions and cranberry
marshes in the northern part of the State to hunt and gather berries.
I well remember seeing their wagons loaded with game when they
returned from a successful hunt. Their loads consisted usually of half
a dozen deer or more, one or two black bears, and fifteen or twenty
bushels of cranberries; all solidly frozen. Part of both the berries
and meat was usually sold in Portage; the balance furnished their
families with abundance of venison, bear grease, and pies.

Winter wheat is sown in the fall, and when it is a month or so old the
deer, like the wild geese, are very fond of it, especially since
other [172]kinds of food are then becoming scarce. One of our neighbors
across the Fox River killed a large number, some thirty or forty, on a
small patch of wheat, simply by lying in wait for them every night.
Our wheat-field was the first that was sown in the neighborhood. The
deer soon found it and came in every night to feast, but it was eight
or nine years before we ever disturbed them. David then killed one
deer, the only one killed by any of our family. He went out shortly
after sundown at the time of full moon to one of our wheat-fields,
carrying a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot. After lying
in wait an hour or so, he saw a doe and her fawn jump the fence and
come cautiously into the wheat. After they were within sixty or
seventy yards of him, he was surprised when he tried to take aim that
about half of the moon’s disc was mysteriously darkened as if covered
by the edge of a dense cloud. This proved to be an eclipse.
Nevertheless, he fired at the mother, and she immediately ran off,
jumped the fence, and took to the woods by [173]the way she came. The fawn
danced about bewildered, wondering what had become of its mother, but
finally fled to the woods. David fired at the poor deserted thing as
it ran past him but happily missed it. Hearing the shots, I joined
David to learn his luck. He said he thought he must have wounded the
mother, and when we were strolling about in the woods in search of her
we saw three or four deer on their way to the wheat-field, led by a
fine buck. They were walking rapidly, but cautiously halted at
intervals of a few rods to listen and look ahead and scent the air.
They failed to notice us, though by this time the moon was out of the
eclipse shadow and we were standing only about fifty yards from them.
I was carrying the gun. David had fired both barrels but when he was
reloading one of them he happened to put the wad intended to cover the
shot into the empty barrel, and so when we were climbing over the
fence the buckshot had rolled out, and when I fired at the big buck I
knew by the report that there was nothing but powder in the [174]charge.
The startled deer danced about in confusion for a few seconds,
uncertain which way to run until they caught sight of us, when they
bounded off through the woods. Next morning we found the poor mother
lying about three hundred yards from the place where she was shot. She
had run this distance and jumped a high fence after one of the
buckshot had passed through her heart.

Excepting Sundays we boys had only two days of the year to ourselves,
the 4th of July and the 1st of January. Sundays were less than half
our own, on account of Bible lessons, Sunday-school lessons and church
services; all the others were labor days, rain or shine, cold or warm.
No wonder, then, that our two holidays were precious and that it was
not easy to decide what to do with them. They were usually spent on
the highest rocky hill in the neighborhood, called the Observatory; in
visiting our boy friends on adjacent farms to hunt, fish, wrestle, and
play games; in reading some new favorite book we had managed to borrow
or [175]buy; or in making models of machines I had invented.

One of our July days was spent with two Scotch boys of our own age
hunting redwing blackbirds then busy in the corn-fields. Our party had
only one single-barreled shotgun, which, as the oldest and perhaps
because I was thought to be the best shot, I had the honor of
carrying. We marched through the corn without getting sight of a
single redwing, but just as we reached the far side of the field, a
red-headed woodpecker flew up, and the Lawson boys cried: “Shoot him!
Shoot him! he is just as bad as a blackbird. He eats corn!” This
memorable woodpecker alighted in the top of a white oak tree about
fifty feet high. I fired from a position almost immediately beneath
him, and he fell straight down at my feet. When I picked him up and
was admiring his plumage, he moved his legs slightly, and I said,
“Poor bird, he’s no deed yet and we’ll hae to kill him to put him oot
o’ pain,”—sincerely pitying him, after we had taken pleasure in
[176]shooting him. I had seen servant girls wringing chicken necks, so with
desperate humanity I took the limp unfortunate by the head, swung him
around three or four times thinking I was wringing his neck, and then
threw him hard on the ground to quench the last possible spark of life
and make quick death doubly sure. But to our astonishment the moment
he struck the ground he gave a cry of alarm and flew right straight up
like a rejoicing lark into the top of the same tree, and perhaps to
the same branch he had fallen from, and began to adjust his ruffled
feathers, nodding and chirping and looking down at us as if wondering
what in the bird world we had been doing to him. This of course
banished all thought of killing, as far as that revived woodpecker was
concerned, no matter how many ears of corn he might spoil, and we all
heartily congratulated him on his wonderful, triumphant resurrection
from three kinds of death,—shooting, neck-wringing, and destructive
concussion. I suppose only one pellet had touched him, glancing on his
head.

[177]Another extraordinary shooting-affair happened one summer morning
shortly after daybreak. When I went to the stable to feed the horses I
noticed a big white-breasted hawk on a tall oak in front of the
chicken-house, evidently waiting for a chicken breakfast. I ran to the
house for the gun, and when I fired he fell about halfway down the
tree, caught a branch with his claws, hung back downward and fluttered
a few seconds, then managed to stand erect. I fired again to put him
out of pain, and to my surprise the second shot seemed to restore his
strength instead of killing him, for he flew out of the tree and over
the meadow with strong and regular wing-beats for thirty or forty rods
apparently as well as ever, but died suddenly in the air and dropped
like a stone.

We hunted muskrats whenever we had time to run down to the lake. They
are brown bunchy animals about twenty-three inches long, the tail
being about nine inches in length, black in color and flattened
vertically for [178]sculling, and the hind feet are half-webbed. They look
like little beavers, usually have from ten to a dozen young, are
easily tamed and make interesting pets. We liked to watch them at
their work and at their meals. In the spring when the snow vanishes
and the lake ice begins to melt, the first open spot is always used as
a feeding-place, where they dive from the edge of the ice and in a
minute or less reappear with a mussel or a mouthful of pontederia or
water-lily leaves, climb back on to the ice and sit up to nibble their
food, handling it very much like squirrels or marmots. It is then that
they are most easily shot, a solitary hunter oftentimes shooting
thirty or forty in a single day. Their nests on the rushy margins of
lakes and streams, far from being hidden like those of most birds, are
conspicuously large, and conical in shape like Indian wigwams. They
are built of plants—rushes, sedges, mosses, etc.—and ornamented
around the base with mussel-shells. It was always pleasant and
interesting to see them in the fall as soon as the nights began to be
[179]frosty, hard at work cutting sedges on the edge of the meadow or
swimming out through the rushes, making long glittering ripples as
they sculled themselves along, diving where the water is perhaps six
or eight feet deep and reappearing in a minute or so with large
mouthfuls of the weedy tangled plants gathered from the bottom,
returning to their big wigwams, climbing up and depositing their loads
where most needed to make them yet larger and firmer and warmer,
foreseeing the freezing weather just like ourselves when we banked up
our house to keep out the frost.

They lie snug and invisible all winter but do not hibernate. Through a
channel carefully kept open they swim out under the ice for mussels,
and the roots and stems of water-lilies, etc., on which they feed just
as they do in summer. Sometimes the oldest and most enterprising of
them venture to orchards near the water in search of fallen apples;
very seldom, however, do they interfere with anything belonging to
their mortal enemy man. Notwithstanding [180]they are so well hidden and
protected during the winter, many of them are killed by Indian
hunters, who creep up softly and spear them through the thick walls of
their cabins. Indians are fond of their flesh, and so are some of the
wildest of the white trappers. They are easily caught in steel traps,
and after vainly trying to drag their feet from the cruel crushing
jaws, they sometimes in their agony gnaw them off. Even after having
gnawed off a leg they are so guileless that they never seem to learn
to know and fear traps, for some are occasionally found that have been
caught twice and have gnawed off a second foot. Many other animals
suffering excruciating pain in these cruel traps gnaw off their legs.
Crabs and lobsters are so fortunate as to be able to shed their limbs
when caught or merely frightened, apparently without suffering any
pain, simply by giving themselves a little shivery shake.

The muskrat is one of the most notable and widely distributed of
American animals, and millions of the gentle, industrious,
beaver-like [181]creatures are shot and trapped and speared every season
for their skins, worth a dime or so,—like shooting boys and girls for
their garments.

Surely a better time must be drawing nigh when godlike human beings
will become truly humane, and learn to put their animal fellow mortals
in their hearts instead of on their backs or in their dinners. In the
mean time we may just as well as not learn to live clean, innocent
lives instead of slimy, bloody ones. All hale, red-blooded boys are
savage, the best and boldest the savagest, fond of hunting and
fishing. But when thoughtless childhood is past, the best rise the
highest above all this bloody flesh and sport business, the wild
foundational animal dying out day by day, as divine uplifting,
transfiguring charity grows in.

Hares and rabbits were seldom seen when we first settled in the
Wisconsin woods, but they multiplied rapidly after the animals that
preyed upon them had been thinned out or exterminated, and food and
shelter supplied [182]in grain-fields and log fences and the thickets of
young oaks that grew up in pastures after the annual grass fires were
kept out. Catching hares in the winter-time, when they were hidden in
hollow fence-logs, was a favorite pastime with many of the boys whose
fathers allowed them time to enjoy the sport. Occasionally a stout,
lithe hare was carried out into an open snow-covered field, set free,
and given a chance for its life in a race with a dog. When the snow
was not too soft and deep, it usually made good its escape, for our
dogs were only fat, short-legged mongrels. We sometimes discovered
hares in standing hollow trees, crouching on decayed punky wood at the
bottom, as far back as possible from the opening, but when alarmed
they managed to climb to a considerable height if the hollow was not
too wide, by bracing themselves against the sides.

Foxes, though not uncommon, we boys held steadily to work seldom saw,
and as they found plenty of prairie chickens for themselves and
families, they did not often come near the [183]farmer’s hen-roosts.
Nevertheless the discovery of their dens was considered important. No
matter how deep the den might be, it was thoroughly explored with pick
and shovel by sport-loving settlers at a time when they judged the fox
was likely to be at home, but I cannot remember any case in our
neighborhood where the fox was actually captured. In one of the dens a
mile or two from our farm a lot of prairie chickens were found and
some smaller birds.

Badger dens were far more common than fox dens. One of our fields was
named Badger Hill from the number of badger holes in a hill at the end
of it, but I cannot remember seeing a single one of the inhabitants.

On a stormy day in the middle of an unusually severe winter, a black
bear, hungry, no doubt, and seeking something to eat, came strolling
down through our neighborhood from the northern pine woods. None had
been seen here before, and it caused no little excitement and alarm,
for the European settlers imagined [184]that these poor, timid, bashful
bears were as dangerous as man-eating lions and tigers, and that they
would pursue any human being that came in their way. This species is
common in the north part of the State, and few of our enterprising
Yankee hunters who went to the pineries in the fall failed to shoot at
least one of them.

We saw very little of the owlish, serious-looking coons, and no
wonder, since they lie hidden nearly all day in hollow trees and we
never had time to hunt them. We often heard their curious, quavering,
whinnying cries on still evenings, but only once succeeded in tracing
an unfortunate family through our corn-field to their den in a big oak
and catching them all. One of our neighbors, Mr. McRath, a Highland
Scotchman, caught one and made a pet of it. It became very tame and
had perfect confidence in the good intentions of its kind friend and
master. He always addressed it in speaking to it as a “little man.”
When it came running to him and jumped on his lap [185]or climbed up his
trousers, he would say, while patting its head as if it were a dog or
a child, “Coonie, ma mannie, Coonie, ma mannie, hoo are ye the day? I
think you’re hungry,”—as the comical pet began to examine his pockets
for nuts and bits of bread,—“Na, na, there’s nathing in my pooch for
ye the day, my wee mannie, but I’ll get ye something.” He would then
fetch something it liked,—bread, nuts, a carrot, or perhaps a piece
of fresh meat. Anything scattered for it on the floor it felt with its
paw instead of looking at it, judging of its worth more by touch than
sight.

The outlet of our Fountain Lake flowed past Mr. McRath’s door, and the
coon was very fond of swimming in it and searching for frogs and
mussels. It seemed perfectly satisfied to stay about the house without
being confined, occupied a comfortable bed in a section of a hollow
tree, and never wandered far. How long it lived after the death of its
kind master I don’t know.

I suppose that almost any wild animal may [186]be made a pet, simply by
sympathizing with it and entering as much as possible into its life.
In Alaska I saw one of the common gray mountain marmots kept as a pet
in an Indian family. When its master entered the house it always
seemed glad, almost like a dog, and when cold or tired it snuggled up
in a fold of his blanket with the utmost confidence.

We have all heard of ferocious animals, lions and tigers, etc., that
were fed and spoken to only by their masters, becoming perfectly tame;
and, as is well known, the faithful dog that follows man and serves
him, and looks up to him and loves him as if he were a god, is a
descendant of the blood-thirsty wolf or jackal. Even frogs and toads
and fishes may be tamed, provided they have the uniform sympathy of
one person, with whom they become intimately acquainted without the
distracting and varying attentions of strangers. And surely all God’s
people, however serious and savage, great or small, like to play.
Whales and elephants, dancing, humming gnats, and invisibly small
[187]mischievous microbes,—all are warm with divine radium and must have
lots of fun in them.

As far as I know, all wild creatures keep themselves clean. Birds, it
seems to me, take more pains to bathe and dress themselves than any
other animals. Even ducks, though living so much in water, dip and
scatter cleansing showers over their backs, and shake and preen their
feathers as carefully as land-birds. Watching small singers taking
their morning baths is very interesting, particularly when the weather
is cold. Alighting in a shallow pool, they oftentimes show a sort of
dread of dipping into it, like children hesitating about taking a
plunge, as if they felt the same kind of shock, and this makes it easy
for us to sympathize with the little feathered people.

Occasionally I have seen from my study-window red-headed linnets
bathing in dew when water elsewhere was scarce. A large Monterey
cypress with broad branches and innumerable leaves on which the dew
lodges in still nights made favorite bathing-places. [188]Alighting
gently, as if afraid to waste the dew, they would pause and fidget as
they do before beginning to plash in pools, then dip and scatter the
drops in showers and get as thorough a bath as they would in a pool. I
have also seen the same kind of baths taken by birds on the boughs of
silver firs on the edge of a glacier meadow, but nowhere have I seen
the dewdrops so abundant as on the Monterey cypress; and the picture
made by the quivering wings and irised dew was memorably beautiful.
Children, too, make fine pictures plashing and crowing in their little
tubs. How widely different from wallowing pigs, bathing with great
show of comfort and rubbing themselves dry against rough-barked trees!

Some of our own species seem fairly to dread the touch of water. When
the necessity of absolute cleanliness by means of frequent baths was
being preached by a friend who had been reading Combe’s Physiology, in
which he had learned something of the wonders of the skin with its
millions of pores that had to be kept [189]open for health, one of our
neighbors remarked: “Oh! that’s unnatural. It’s well enough to wash in
a tub maybe once or twice a year, but not to be paddling in the water
all the time like a frog in a spring-hole.” Another neighbor, who
prided himself on his knowledge of big words, said with great
solemnity: “I never can believe that man is amphibious!”

Natives of tropic islands pass a large part of their lives in water,
and seem as much at home in the sea as on the land; swim and dive,
pursue fishes, play in the waves like surf-ducks and seals, and
explore the coral gardens and groves and seaweed meadows as if truly
amphibious. Even the natives of the far north bathe at times. I once
saw a lot of Eskimo boys ducking and plashing right merrily in the
Arctic Ocean.

It seemed very wonderful to us that the wild animals could keep
themselves warm and strong in winter when the temperature was far
below zero. Feeble-looking rabbits scud away over the snow, lithe and
elastic, as if glorying in the frosty, sparkling weather and sure of
their [190]dinners. I have seen gray squirrels dragging ears of corn about
as heavy as themselves out of our field through loose snow and up a
tree, balancing them on limbs and eating in comfort with their dry,
electric tails spread airily over their backs. Once I saw a fine hardy
fellow go into a knot-hole. Thrusting in my hand I caught him and
pulled him out. As soon as he guessed what I was up to, he took the
end of my thumb in his mouth and sunk his teeth right through it, but
I gripped him hard by the neck, carried him home, and shut him up in a
box that contained about half a bushel of hazel-and hickory-nuts,
hoping that he would not be too much frightened and discouraged to eat
while thus imprisoned after the rough handling he had suffered. I soon
learned, however, that sympathy in this direction was wasted, for no
sooner did I pop him in than he fell to with right hearty appetite,
gnawing and munching the nuts as if he had gathered them himself and
was very hungry that day. Therefore, after allowing time enough for a
good square meal, I made [191]haste to get him out of the nut-box and shut
him up in a spare bedroom, in which father had hung a lot of selected
ears of Indian corn for seed. They were hung up by the husks on cords
stretched across from side to side of the room. The squirrel managed
to jump from the top of one of the bed-posts to the cord, cut off an
ear, and let it drop to the floor. He then jumped down, got a good
grip of the heavy ear, carried it to the top of one of the slippery,
polished bed-posts, seated himself comfortably, and, holding it well
balanced, deliberately pried out one kernel at a time with his long
chisel teeth, ate the soft, sweet germ, and dropped the hard part of
the kernel. In this masterly way, working at high speed, he demolished
several ears a day, and with a good warm bed in a box made himself at
home and grew fat. Then naturally, I suppose, free romping in the snow
and tree-tops with companions came to mind. Anyhow he began to look
for a way of escape. Of course he first tried the window, but found
that his teeth made no impression on the [192]glass. Next he tried the
sash and gnawed the wood off level with the glass; then father
happened to come upstairs and discovered the mischief that was being
done to his seed corn and window and immediately ordered him out of
the house.

The flying squirrel was one of the most interesting of the little
animals we found in the woods, a beautiful brown creature, with fine
eyes and smooth, soft fur like that of a mole or field mouse. He is
about half as long as the gray squirrel, but his wide-spread tail and
the folds of skin along his sides that form the wings make him look
broad and flat, something like a kite. In the evenings our cat often
brought them to her kittens at the shanty, and later we saw them fly
during the day from the trees we were chopping. They jumped and glided
off smoothly and apparently without effort, like birds, as soon as
they heard and felt the breaking shock of the strained fibres at the
stump, when the trees they were in began to totter and groan. They can
fly, or rather glide, twenty or [193]thirty yards from the top of a tree
twenty or thirty feet high to the foot of another, gliding upward as
they reach the trunk, or if the distance is too great they alight
comfortably on the ground and make haste to the nearest tree, and
climb just like the wingless squirrels.

Every boy and girl loves the little fairy, airy striped chipmunk, half
squirrel, half spermophile. He is about the size of a field mouse, and
often made us think of linnets and song sparrows as he frisked about
gathering nuts and berries. He likes almost all kinds of grain,
berries, and nuts,—hazel-nuts, hickory-nuts, strawberries,
huckleberries, wheat, oats, corn,—he is fond of them all and thrives
on them. Most of the hazel bushes on our farm grew along the fences as
if they had been planted for the chipmunks alone, for the rail fences
were their favorite highways. We never wearied watching them,
especially when the hazel-nuts were ripe and the little fellows were
sitting on the rails nibbling and handling them like tree-squirrels.
We used to notice too that, although [194]they are very neat animals,
their lips and fingers were dyed red like our own, when the
strawberries and huckleberries were ripe. We could always tell when
the wheat and oats were in the milk by seeing the chipmunks feeding on
the ears. They kept nibbling at the wheat until it was harvested and
then gleaned in the stubble, keeping up a careful watch for their
enemies,—dogs, hawks, and shrikes. They are as widely distributed
over the continent as the squirrels, various species inhabiting
different regions on the mountains and lowlands, but all the different
kinds have the same general characteristics of light, airy
cheerfulness and good nature.

Before the arrival of farmers in the Wisconsin woods the small ground
squirrels, called “gophers,” lived chiefly on the seeds of wild
grasses and weeds, but after the country was cleared and ploughed no
feasting animal fell to more heartily on the farmer’s wheat and corn.
Increasing rapidly in numbers and knowledge, they became very
destructive, especially in the [195]spring when the corn was planted, for
they learned to trace the rows and dig up and eat the three or four
seeds in each hill about as fast as the poor farmers could cover them.
And unless great pains were taken to diminish the numbers of the
cunning little robbers, the fields had to be planted two or three
times over, and even then large gaps in the rows would be found. The
loss of the grain they consumed after it was ripe, together with the
winter stores laid up in their burrows, amounted to little as compared
with the loss of the seed on which the whole crop depended.

One evening about sundown, when my father sent me out with the shotgun
to hunt them in a stubble field, I learned something curious and
interesting in connection with these mischievous gophers, though just
then they were doing no harm. As I strolled through the stubble
watching for a chance for a shot, a shrike flew past me and alighted
on an open spot at the mouth of a burrow about thirty yards ahead of
me. Curious to see what he was up to, I stood [196]still to watch him. He
looked down the gopher hole in a listening attitude, then looked back
at me to see if I was coming, looked down again and listened, and
looked back at me. I stood perfectly still, and he kept twitching his
tail, seeming uneasy and doubtful about venturing to do the savage job
that I soon learned he had in his mind. Finally, encouraged by my
keeping so still, to my astonishment he suddenly vanished in the
gopher hole.



COMBINED THERMOMETER, HYGROMETER, BAROMETER AND PYROMETER

COMBINED THERMOMETER, HYGROMETER, BAROMETER AND PYROMETER
Invented by the author in his boyhoodToList

A bird going down a deep narrow hole in the ground like a ferret or a
weasel seemed very strange, and I thought it would be a fine thing to
run forward, clap my hand over the hole, and have the fun of
imprisoning him and seeing what he would do when he tried to get out.
So I ran forward but stopped when I got within a dozen or fifteen
yards of the hole, thinking it might perhaps be more interesting to
wait and see what would naturally happen without my interference.
While I stood there looking and listening, I heard a great disturbance
going on in the burrow, a mixed lot of keen [197]squeaking, shrieking,
distressful cries, telling that down in the dark something terrible
was being done. Then suddenly out popped a half-grown gopher, four and
a half or five inches long, and, without stopping a single moment to
choose a way of escape, ran screaming through the stubble straight
away from its home, quickly followed by another and another, until
some half-dozen were driven out, all of them crying and running in
different directions as if at this dreadful time home, sweet home, was
the most dangerous and least desirable of any place in the wide world.
Then out came the shrike, flew above the run-away gopher children,
and, diving on them, killed them one after another with blows at the
back of the skull. He then seized one of them, dragged it to the top
of a small clod so as to be able to get a start, and laboriously made
out to fly with it about ten or fifteen yards, when he alighted to
rest. Then he dragged it to the top of another clod and flew with it
about the same distance, repeating this hard work over and over again
until he managed to get one [198]of the gophers on to the top of a log
fence. How much he ate of his hard-won prey, or what he did with the
others, I can’t tell, for by this time the sun was down and I had to
hurry home to my chores.


[199]

VIToC

THE PLOUGHBOY

The Crops—Doing Chores—The Sights and Sounds of
Winter—Road-making—The Spirit-rapping Craze—Tuberculosis
among the Settlers—A Cruel Brother—The Rights of the
Indians—Put to the Plough at the Age of Twelve—In the
Harvest-Field—Over-Industry among the Settlers—Running the
Breaking-Plough—Digging a Well—Choke-Damp—Lining Bees.

At first, wheat, corn, and potatoes were the principal crops we
raised; wheat especially. But in four or five years the soil was so
exhausted that only five or six bushels an acre, even in the better
fields, was obtained, although when first ploughed twenty and
twenty-five bushels was about the ordinary yield. More attention was
then paid to corn, but without fertilizers the corn-crop also became
very meagre. At last it was discovered that English clover would grow
on even the exhausted fields, and that when ploughed under and planted
with corn, or even wheat, [200]wonderful crops were raised. This caused a
complete change in farming methods; the farmers raised fertilizing
clover, planted corn, and fed the crop to cattle and hogs.

But no crop raised in our wilderness was so surprisingly rich and
sweet and purely generous to us boys and, indeed, to everybody as the
watermelons and muskmelons. We planted a large patch on a sunny
hill-slope the very first spring, and it seemed miraculous that a few
handfuls of little flat seeds should in a few months send up a hundred
wagon-loads of crisp, sumptuous, red-hearted and yellow-hearted fruits
covering all the hill. We soon learned to know when they were in their
prime, and when over-ripe and mealy. Also that if a second crop was
taken from the same ground without fertilizing it, the melons would be
small and what we called soapy; that is, soft and smooth, utterly
uncrisp, and without a trace of the lively freshness and sweetness of
those raised on virgin soil. Coming in from the farm work at noon, the
half-dozen or so of [201]melons we had placed in our cold spring were a
glorious luxury that only weary barefooted farm boys can ever know.

Spring was not very trying as to temperature, and refreshing rains
fell at short intervals. The work of ploughing commenced as soon as
the frost was out of the ground. Corn-and potato-planting and the
sowing of spring wheat was comparatively light work, while the nesting
birds sang cheerily, grass and flowers covered the marshes and meadows
and all the wild, uncleared parts of the farm, and the trees put forth
their new leaves, those of the oaks forming beautiful purple masses as
if every leaf were a petal; and with all this we enjoyed the mild
soothing winds, the humming of innumerable small insects and hylas,
and the freshness and fragrance of everything. Then, too, came the
wonderful passenger pigeons streaming from the south, and flocks of
geese and cranes, filling all the sky with whistling wings.

The summer work, on the contrary, was deadly heavy, especially
harvesting and [202]corn-hoeing. All the ground had to be hoed over for
the first few years, before father bought cultivators or small
weed-covering ploughs, and we were not allowed a moment’s rest. The
hoes had to be kept working up and down as steadily as if they were
moved by machinery. Ploughing for winter wheat was comparatively easy,
when we walked barefooted in the furrows, while the fine autumn tints
kindled in the woods, and the hillsides were covered with golden
pumpkins.

In summer the chores were grinding scythes, feeding the animals,
chopping stove-wood, and carrying water up the hill from the spring on
the edge of the meadow, etc. Then breakfast, and to the harvest or
hay-field. I was foolishly ambitious to be first in mowing and
cradling, and by the time I was sixteen led all the hired men. An hour
was allowed at noon for dinner and more chores. We stayed in the field
until dark, then supper, and still more chores, family worship, and to
bed; making altogether a hard, sweaty day of about sixteen or
seventeen hours. [203]Think of that, ye blessed eight-hour-day laborers!

In winter father came to the foot of the stairs and called us at six
o’clock to feed the horses and cattle, grind axes, bring in wood, and
do any other chores required, then breakfast, and out to work in the
mealy, frosty snow by daybreak, chopping, fencing, etc. So in general
our winter work was about as restless and trying as that of the
long-day summer. No matter what the weather, there was always
something to do. During heavy rains or snowstorms we worked in the
barn, shelling corn, fanning wheat, thrashing with the flail, making
axe-handles or ox-yokes, mending things, or sprouting and sorting
potatoes in the cellar.

No pains were taken to diminish or in any way soften the natural
hardships of this pioneer farm life; nor did any of the Europeans seem
to know how to find reasonable ease and comfort if they would. The
very best oak and hickory fuel was embarrassingly abundant and cost
nothing but cutting and common sense; but [204]instead of hauling great
heart-cheering loads of it for wide, open, all-welcoming,
climate-changing, beauty-making, Godlike ingle-fires, it was hauled
with weary heart-breaking industry into fences and waste places to get
it out of the way of the plough, and out of the way of doing good. The
only fire for the whole house was the kitchen stove, with a fire-box
about eighteen inches long and eight inches wide and deep,—scant
space for three or four small sticks, around which in hard zero
weather all the family of ten persons shivered, and beneath which in
the morning we found our socks and coarse, soggy boots frozen solid.
We were not allowed to start even this despicable little fire in its
black box to thaw them. No, we had to squeeze our throbbing, aching,
chilblained feet into them, causing greater pain than toothache, and
hurry out to chores. Fortunately the miserable chilblain pain began to
abate as soon as the temperature of our feet approached the
freezing-point, enabling us in spite of hard work and hard frost to
enjoy the [205]winter beauty,—the wonderful radiance of the snow when it
was starry with crystals, and the dawns and the sunsets and white
noons, and the cheery, enlivening company of the brave chickadees and
nuthatches.

The winter stars far surpassed those of our stormy Scotland in
brightness, and we gazed and gazed as though we had never seen stars
before. Oftentimes the heavens were made still more glorious by
auroras, the long lance rays, called “Merry Dancers” in Scotland,
streaming with startling tremulous motion to the zenith. Usually the
electric auroral light is white or pale yellow, but in the third or
fourth of our Wisconsin winters there was a magnificently colored
aurora that was seen and admired over nearly all the continent. The
whole sky was draped in graceful purple and crimson folds glorious
beyond description. Father called us out into the yard in front of the
house where we had a wide view, crying, “Come! Come, mother! Come,
bairns! and see the glory of God. All the sky is clad in a robe of red
light. [206]Look straight up to the crown where the folds are gathered.
Hush and wonder and adore, for surely this is the clothing of the Lord
Himself, and perhaps He will even now appear looking down from his
high heaven.” This celestial show was far more glorious than anything
we had ever yet beheld, and throughout that wonderful winter hardly
anything else was spoken of.

We even enjoyed the snowstorms, the thronging crystals, like daisies,
coming down separate and distinct, were very different from the tufted
flakes we enjoyed so much in Scotland, when we ran into the midst of
the slow-falling feathery throng shouting with enthusiasm: “Jennie’s
plucking her doos! Jennie’s plucking her doos (doves)!”

Nature has many ways of thinning and pruning and trimming her
forests,—lightning-strokes, heavy snow, and storm-winds to shatter
and blow down whole trees here and there or break off branches as
required. The results of these methods I have observed in different
[207]forests, but only once have I seen pruning by rain. The rain froze on
the trees as it fell and grew so thick and heavy that many of them
lost a third or more of their branches. The view of the woods after
the storm had passed and the sun shone forth was something never to be
forgotten. Every twig and branch and rugged trunk was encased in pure
crystal ice, and each oak and hickory and willow became a fairy
crystal palace. Such dazzling brilliance, such effects of white light
and irised light glowing and flashing I had never seen before, nor
have I since. This sudden change of the leafless woods to glowing
silver was, like the great aurora, spoken of for years, and is one of
the most beautiful of the many pictures that enriches my life. And
besides the great shows there were thousands of others even in the
coldest weather manifesting the utmost fineness and tenderness of
beauty and affording noble compensation for hardship and pain.

One of the most striking of the winter sounds was the loud roaring and
rumbling of the ice [208]on our lake, from its shrinking and expanding
with the changes of the weather. The fishermen who were catching
pickerel said that they had no luck when this roaring was going on
above the fish. I remember how frightened we boys were when on one of
our New Year holidays we were taking a walk on the ice and heard for
the first time the sudden rumbling roar beneath our feet and running
on ahead of us, creaking and whooping as if all the ice eighteen or
twenty inches thick was breaking.

In the neighborhood of our Wisconsin farm there were extensive swamps
consisting in great part of a thick sod of very tough carex roots
covering thin, watery lakes of mud. They originated in glacier lakes
that were gradually overgrown. This sod was so tough that oxen with
loaded wagons could be driven over it without cutting down through it,
although it was afloat. The carpenters who came to build our frame
house, noticing how the sedges sunk beneath their feet, said that if
they should break through, they would probably be well on [209]their way
to California before touching bottom. On the contrary, all these
lake-basins are shallow as compared with their width. When we went
into the Wisconsin woods there was not a single wheel-track or
cattle-track. The only man-made road was an Indian trail along the Fox
River between Portage and Packwauckee Lake. Of course the deer, foxes,
badgers, coons, skunks, and even the squirrels had well-beaten tracks
from their dens and hiding-places in thickets, hollow trees, and the
ground, but they did not reach far, and but little noise was made by
the soft-footed travelers in passing over them, only a slight rustling
and swishing among fallen leaves and grass.

Corduroying the swamps formed the principal part of road-making among
the early settlers for many a day. At these annual road-making
gatherings opportunity was offered for discussion of the news,
politics, religion, war, the state of the crops, comparative
advantages of the new country over the old, and so forth, but the
principal opportunities, recurring every [210]week, were the hours after
Sunday church services. I remember hearing long talks on the wonderful
beauty of the Indian corn; the wonderful melons, so wondrous fine for
“sloken a body on hot days”; their contempt for tomatoes, so fine to
look at with their sunny colors and so disappointing in taste; the
miserable cucumbers the “Yankee bodies” ate, though tasteless as
rushes; the character of the Yankees, etcetera. Then there were long
discussions about the Russian war, news of which was eagerly gleaned
from Greeley’s “New York Tribune”; the great battles of the Alma, the
charges at Balaklava and Inkerman; the siege of Sebastopol; the
military genius of Todleben; the character of Nicholas; the character
of the Russian soldier, his stubborn bravery, who for the first time
in history withstood the British bayonet charges; the probable outcome
of the terrible war; the fate of Turkey, and so forth.

Very few of our old-country neighbors gave much heed to what are
called spirit-rappings. On the contrary, they were regarded as a sort
[211]of sleight-of-hand humbug. Some of these spirits seem to be stout
able-bodied fellows, judging by the weights they lift and the heavy
furniture they bang about. But they do no good work that I know of;
never saw wood, grind corn, cook, feed the hungry, or go to the help
of poor anxious mothers at the bedsides of their sick children. I
noticed when I was a boy that it was not the strongest characters who
followed so-called mediums. When a rapping-storm was at its height in
Wisconsin, one of our neighbors, an old Scotchman, remarked, “Thay
puir silly medium-bodies may gang to the deil wi’ their rappin’
speerits, for they dae nae gude, and I think the deil’s their
fayther.”

Although in the spring of 1849 there was no other settler within a
radius of four miles of our Fountain Lake farm, in three or four years
almost every quarter-section of government land was taken up, mostly
by enthusiastic homeseekers from Great Britain, with only here and
there Yankee families from adjacent states, [212]who had come drifting
indefinitely westward in covered wagons, seeking their fortunes like
winged seeds; all alike striking root and gripping the glacial drift
soil as naturally as oak and hickory trees; happy and hopeful,
establishing homes and making wider and wider fields in the hospitable
wilderness. The axe and plough were kept very busy; cattle, horses,
sheep, and pigs multiplied; barns and corn-cribs were filled up, and
man and beast were well fed; a schoolhouse was built, which was used
also for a church; and in a very short time the new country began to
look like an old one.

Comparatively few of the first settlers suffered from serious
accidents. One of our neighbors had a finger shot off, and on a
bitter, frosty night had to be taken to a surgeon in Portage, in a
sled drawn by slow, plodding oxen, to have the shattered stump
dressed. Another fell from his wagon and was killed by the wheel
passing over his body. An acre of ground was reserved and fenced for
graves, and soon consumption came to fill it. One of the saddest
instances [213]was that of a Scotch family from Edinburgh, consisting of a
father, son, and daughter, who settled on eighty acres of land within
half a mile of our place. The daughter died of consumption the third
year after their arrival, the son one or two years later, and at last
the father followed his two children. Thus sadly ended bright hopes
and dreams of a happy home in rich and free America.

Another neighbor, I remember, after a lingering illness died of the
same disease in midwinter, and his funeral was attended by the
neighbors in sleighs during a driving snowstorm when the thermometer
was fifteen or twenty degrees below zero. The great white plague
carried off another of our near neighbors, a fine Scotchman, the
father of eight promising boys, when he was only about forty-five
years of age. Most of those who suffered from this disease seemed
hopeful and cheerful up to a very short time before their death, but
Mr. Reid, I remember, on one of his last visits to our house, said
with brave resignation: “I know that [214]never more in this world can I
be well, but I must just submit. I must just submit.”

One of the saddest deaths from other causes than consumption was that
of a poor feeble-minded man whose brother, a sturdy, devout, severe
puritan, was a very hard taskmaster. Poor half-witted Charlie was kept
steadily at work,—although he was not able to do much, for his body
was about as feeble as his mind. He never could be taught the right
use of an axe, and when he was set to chopping down trees for firewood
he feebly hacked and chipped round and round them, sometimes spending
several days in nibbling down a tree that a beaver might have gnawed
down in half the time. Occasionally when he had an extra large tree to
chop, he would go home and report that the tree was too tough and
strong for him and that he could never make it fall. Then his brother,
calling him a useless creature, would fell it with a few well-directed
strokes, and leave Charlie to nibble away at it for weeks trying to
make it into stove-wood.

[215]His guardian brother, delighting in hard work and able for anything,
was as remarkable for strength of body and mind as poor Charlie for
childishness. All the neighbors pitied Charlie, especially the women,
who never missed an opportunity to give him kind words, cookies, and
pie; above all, they bestowed natural sympathy on the poor imbecile as
if he were an unfortunate motherless child. In particular, his nearest
neighbors, Scotch Highlanders, warmly welcomed him to their home and
never wearied in doing everything that tender sympathy could suggest.
To those friends he ran gladly at every opportunity. But after years
of suffering from overwork and illness his feeble health failed, and
he told his Scotch friends one day that he was not able to work any
more or do anything that his brother wanted him to do, that he was
tired of life, and that he had come to thank them for their kindness
and to bid them good-bye, for he was going to drown himself in Muir’s
lake. “Oh, Charlie! Charlie!” they cried, “you mustn’t talk that way.
[216]Cheer up! You will soon be stronger. We all love you. Cheer up! Cheer
up! And always come here whenever you need anything.”

“Oh, no! my friends,” he pathetically replied, “I know you love me,
but I can’t cheer up any more. My heart’s gone, and I want to die.”

Next day, when Mr. Anderson, a carpenter whose house was on the west
shore of our lake, was going to a spring he saw a man wade out through
the rushes and lily-pads and throw himself forward into deep water.
This was poor Charlie. Fortunately, Mr. Anderson had a skiff close by,
and as the distance was not great he reached the broken-hearted
imbecile in time to save his life, and after trying to cheer him took
him home to his brother. But even this terrible proof of despair
failed to soften his brother. He seemed to regard the attempt at
suicide simply as a crime calculated to bring harm to religion. Though
snatched from the lake to his bed, poor Charlie lived only a few days
longer. A physician who was called when [217]his health first became
seriously impaired reported that he was suffering from Bright’s
disease. After all was over, the stoical brother walked over to the
neighbor who had saved Charlie from drowning, and, after talking on
ordinary affairs, crops, the weather, etc., said in a careless tone:
“I have a little job of carpenter work for you, Mr. Anderson.” “What
is it, Mr. ——?” “I want you to make a coffin.” “A coffin!” said the
startled carpenter. “Who is dead?” “Charlie,” he coolly replied. All
the neighbors were in tears over the poor child man’s fate. But,
strange to say, the brother who had faithfully cared for him
controlled and concealed all his natural affection as incompatible
with sound faith.

The mixed lot of settlers around us offered a favorable field for
observation of the different kinds of people of our own race. We were
swift to note the way they behaved, the differences in their religion
and morals, and in their ways of drawing a living from the same kind
of soil under the same general conditions; how they [218]protected
themselves from the weather; how they were influenced by new doctrines
and old ones seen in new lights in preaching, lecturing, debating,
bringing up their children, etc., and how they regarded the Indians,
those first settlers and owners of the ground that was being made into
farms.

I well remember my father’s discussing with a Scotch neighbor, a Mr.
George Mair, the Indian question as to the rightful ownership of the
soil. Mr. Mair remarked one day that it was pitiful to see how the
unfortunate Indians, children of Nature, living on the natural
products of the soil, hunting, fishing, and even cultivating small
corn-fields on the most fertile spots, were now being robbed of their
lands and pushed ruthlessly back into narrower and narrower limits by
alien races who were cutting off their means of livelihood. Father
replied that surely it could never have been the intention of God to
allow Indians to rove and hunt over so fertile a country and hold it
forever in unproductive wildness, while Scotch and Irish [219]and English
farmers could put it to so much better use. Where an Indian required
thousands of acres for his family, these acres in the hands of
industrious, God-fearing farmers would support ten or a hundred times
more people in a far worthier manner, while at the same time helping
to spread the gospel.

Mr. Mair urged that such farming as our first immigrants were
practicing was in many ways rude and full of the mistakes of
ignorance, yet, rude as it was, and ill-tilled as were most of our
Wisconsin farms by unskillful, inexperienced settlers who had been
merchants and mechanics and servants in the old countries, how should
we like to have specially trained and educated farmers drive us out of
our homes and farms, such as they were, making use of the same
argument, that God could never have intended such ignorant,
unprofitable, devastating farmers as we were to occupy land upon which
scientific farmers could raise five or ten times as much on each acre
as we did? And I well remember thinking that Mr. Mair had the [220]better
side of the argument. It then seemed to me that, whatever the final
outcome might be, it was at this stage of the fight only an example of
the rule of might with but little or no thought for the right or
welfare of the other fellow if he were the weaker; that “they should
take who had the power, and they should keep who can,” as Wordsworth
makes the marauding Scottish Highlanders say.

Many of our old neighbors toiled and sweated and grubbed themselves
into their graves years before their natural dying days, in getting a
living on a quarter-section of land and vaguely trying to get rich,
while bread and raiment might have been serenely won on less than a
fourth of this land, and time gained to get better acquainted with
God.

I was put to the plough at the age of twelve, when my head reached but
little above the handles, and for many years I had to do the greater
part of the ploughing. It was hard work for so small a boy;
nevertheless, as good ploughing was exacted from me as if I were a
man, and [221]very soon I had to become a good ploughman, or rather
ploughboy. None could draw a straighter furrow. For the first few
years the work was particularly hard on account of the tree-stumps
that had to be dodged. Later the stumps were all dug and chopped out
to make way for the McCormick reaper, and because I proved to be the
best chopper and stump-digger I had nearly all of it to myself. It was
dull, hard work leaning over on my knees all day, chopping out those
tough oak and hickory stumps, deep down below the crowns of the big
roots. Some, though fortunately not many, were two feet or more in
diameter.

And as I was the eldest boy, the greater part of all the other hard
work of the farm quite naturally fell on me. I had to split rails for
long lines of zigzag fences. The trees that were tall enough and
straight enough to afford one or two logs ten feet long were used for
rails, the others, too knotty or cross-grained, were disposed of in
log and cordwood fences. Making rails was hard work and required no
little [222]skill. I used to cut and split a hundred a day from our short,
knotty oak timber, swinging the axe and heavy mallet, often with sore
hands, from early morning to night. Father was not successful as a
rail-splitter. After trying the work with me a day or two, he in
despair left it all to me. I rather liked it, for I was proud of my
skill, and tried to believe that I was as tough as the timber I
mauled, though this and other heavy jobs stopped my growth and earned
for me the title “Runt of the family.”

In those early days, long before the great labor-saving machines came
to our help, almost everything connected with wheat-raising abounded
in trying work,—cradling in the long, sweaty dog-days, raking and
binding, stacking, thrashing,—and it often seemed to me that our
fierce, over-industrious way of getting the grain from the ground was
too closely connected with grave-digging. The staff of life, naturally
beautiful, oftentimes suggested the grave-digger’s spade. Men and
boys, and in those days even women and girls, were cut [223]down while
cutting the wheat. The fat folk grew lean and the lean leaner, while
the rosy cheeks brought from Scotland and other cool countries across
the sea faded to yellow like the wheat. We were all made slaves
through the vice of over-industry. The same was in great part true in
making hay to keep the cattle and horses through the long winters. We
were called in the morning at four o’clock and seldom got to bed
before nine, making a broiling, seething day seventeen hours long
loaded with heavy work, while I was only a small stunted boy; and a
few years later my brothers David and Daniel and my older sisters had
to endure about as much as I did. In the harvest dog-days and
dog-nights and dog-mornings, when we arose from our clammy beds, our
cotton shirts clung to our backs as wet with sweat as the
bathing-suits of swimmers, and remained so all the long, sweltering
days. In mowing and cradling, the most exhausting of all the farm
work, I made matters worse by foolish ambition in keeping ahead of the
hired men. Never a [224]warning word was spoken of the dangers of
over-work. On the contrary, even when sick we were held to our tasks
as long as we could stand. Once in harvest-time I had the mumps and
was unable to swallow any food except milk, but this was not allowed
to make any difference, while I staggered with weakness and sometimes
fell headlong among the sheaves. Only once was I allowed to leave the
harvest-field—when I was stricken down with pneumonia. I lay gasping
for weeks, but the Scotch are hard to kill and I pulled through. No
physician was called, for father was an enthusiast, and always said
and believed that God and hard work were by far the best doctors.

None of our neighbors were so excessively industrious as father;
though nearly all of the Scotch, English, and Irish worked too hard,
trying to make good homes and to lay up money enough for comfortable
independence. Excepting small garden-patches, few of them had owned
land in the old country. Here their craving land-hunger was satisfied,
and they [225]were naturally proud of their farms and tried to keep them
as neat and clean and well-tilled as gardens. To accomplish this
without the means for hiring help was impossible. Flowers were planted
about the neatly kept log or frame houses; barnyards, granaries, etc.,
were kept in about as neat order as the homes, and the fences and
corn-rows were rigidly straight. But every uncut weed distressed them;
so also did every ungathered ear of grain, and all that was lost by
birds and gophers; and this overcarefulness bred endless work and
worry.

As for money, for many a year there was precious little of it in the
country for anybody. Eggs sold at six cents a dozen in trade, and
five-cent calico was exchanged at twenty-five cents a yard. Wheat
brought fifty cents a bushel in trade. To get cash for it before the
Portage Railway was built, it had to be hauled to Milwaukee, a hundred
miles away. On the other hand, food was abundant,—eggs, chickens,
pigs, cattle, wheat, corn, potatoes, garden vegetables of the best,
and wonderful melons [226]as luxuries. No other wild country I have ever
known extended a kinder welcome to poor immigrants. On the arrival in
the spring, a log house could be built, a few acres ploughed, the
virgin sod planted with corn, potatoes, etc., and enough raised to
keep a family comfortably the very first year; and wild hay for cows
and oxen grew in abundance on the numerous meadows. The American
settlers were wisely content with smaller fields and less of
everything, kept indoors during excessively hot or cold weather,
rested when tired, went off fishing and hunting at the most favorable
times and seasons of the day and year, gathered nuts and berries, and
in general tranquilly accepted all the good things the fertile
wilderness offered.

After eight years of this dreary work of clearing the Fountain Lake
farm, fencing it and getting it in perfect order, building a frame
house and the necessary outbuildings for the cattle and horses,—after
all this had been victoriously accomplished, and we had made out to
escape with life,—father bought a [227]half-section of wild land about
four or five miles to the eastward and began all over again to clear
and fence and break up other fields for a new farm, doubling all the
stunting, heartbreaking chopping, grubbing, stump-digging,
rail-splitting, fence-building, barn-building, house-building, and so
forth.

By this time I had learned to run the breaking plough. Most of these
ploughs were very large, turning furrows from eighteen inches to two
feet wide, and were drawn by four or five yoke of oxen. They were used
only for the first ploughing, in breaking up the wild sod woven into a
tough mass, chiefly by the cordlike roots of perennial grasses,
reinforced by the tap-roots of oak and hickory bushes, called “grubs,”
some of which were more than a century old and four or five inches in
diameter. In the hardest ploughing on the most difficult ground, the
grubs were said to be as thick as the hair on a dog’s back. If in good
trim, the plough cut through and turned over these grubs as if the
century-old wood were soft like the flesh of [228]carrots and turnips; but
if not in good trim the grubs promptly tossed the plough out of the
ground. A stout Highland Scot, our neighbor, whose plough was in bad
order and who did not know how to trim it, was vainly trying to keep
it in the ground by main strength, while his son, who was driving and
merrily whipping up the cattle, would cry encouragingly, “Haud her in,
fayther! Haud her in!”

“But hoo i’ the deil can I haud her in when she’ll no in?” his
perspiring father would reply, gasping for breath between each word.
On the contrary, with the share and coulter sharp and nicely adjusted,
the plough, instead of shying at every grub and jumping out, ran
straight ahead without need of steering or holding, and gripped the
ground so firmly that it could hardly be thrown out at the end of the
furrow.

Our breaker turned a furrow two feet wide, and on our best land, where
the sod was toughest, held so firm a grip that at the end of the field
my brother, who was driving the oxen, [229]had to come to my assistance in
throwing it over on its side to be drawn around the end of the
landing; and it was all I could do to set it up again. But I learned
to keep that plough in such trim that after I got started on a new
furrow I used to ride on the crossbar between the handles with my feet
resting comfortably on the beam, without having to steady or steer it
in any way on the whole length of the field, unless we had to go round
a stump, for it sawed through the biggest grubs without flinching.

The growth of these grubs was interesting to me. When an acorn or
hickory-nut had sent up its first season’s sprout, a few inches long,
it was burned off in the autumn grass fires; but the root continued to
hold on to life, formed a callus over the wound and sent up one or
more shoots the next spring. Next autumn these new shoots were burned
off, but the root and calloused head, about level with the surface of
the ground, continued to grow and send up more new shoots; and so on,
almost every year until very old, probably far more than a [230]century,
while the tops, which would naturally have become tall broad-headed
trees, were only mere sprouts seldom more than two years old. Thus the
ground was kept open like a prairie, with only five or six trees to
the acre, which had escaped the fire by having the good fortune to
grow on a bare spot at the door of a fox or badger den, or between
straggling grass-tufts wide apart on the poorest sandy soil.

The uniformly rich soil of the Illinois and Wisconsin prairies
produced so close and tall a growth of grasses for fires that no tree
could live on it. Had there been no fires, these fine prairies, so
marked a feature of the country, would have been covered by the
heaviest forests. As soon as the oak openings in our neighborhood were
settled, and the farmers had prevented running grass-fires, the grubs
grew up into trees and formed tall thickets so dense that it was
difficult to walk through them and every trace of the sunny “openings”
vanished.



THE HICKORY HILL HOUSE, BUILT IN 1857

THE HICKORY HILL HOUSE, BUILT IN 1857ToList

We called our second farm Hickory Hill, from [231]its many fine hickory
trees and the long gentle slope leading up to it. Compared with
Fountain Lake farm it lay high and dry. The land was better, but it
had no living water, no spring or stream or meadow or lake. A well
ninety feet deep had to be dug, all except the first ten feet or so in
fine-grained sandstone. When the sandstone was struck, my father, on
the advice of a man who had worked in mines, tried to blast the rock;
but from lack of skill the blasting went on very slowly, and father
decided to have me do all the work with mason’s chisels, a long, hard
job, with a good deal of danger in it. I had to sit cramped in a space
about three feet in diameter, and wearily chip, chip, with heavy
hammer and chisels from early morning until dark, day after day, for
weeks and months. In the morning, father and David lowered me in a
wooden bucket by a windlass, hauled up what chips were left from the
night before, then went away to the farm work and left me until noon,
when they hoisted me out for dinner. After dinner I was promptly
lowered again, the [232]forenoon’s accumulation of chips hoisted out of
the way, and I was left until night.

One morning, after the dreary bore was about eighty feet deep, my life
was all but lost in deadly choke-damp,—carbonic acid gas that had
settled at the bottom during the night. Instead of clearing away the
chips as usual when I was lowered to the bottom, I swayed back and
forth and began to sink under the poison. Father, alarmed that I did
not make any noise, shouted, “What’s keeping you so still?” to which
he got no reply. Just as I was settling down against the side of the
wall, I happened to catch a glimpse of a branch of a bur-oak tree
which leaned out over the mouth of the shaft. This suddenly awakened
me, and to father’s excited shouting I feebly murmured, “Take me out.”
But when he began to hoist he found I was not in the bucket and in
wild alarm shouted, “Get in! Get in the bucket and hold on! Hold on!”
Somehow I managed to get into the bucket, and that is all I remembered
until I was dragged out, violently gasping for breath.

[233]One of our near neighbors, a stone mason and miner by the name of
William Duncan, came to see me, and after hearing the particulars of the
accident he solemnly said: “Weel, Johnnie, it’s God’s mercy that you’re
alive. Many a companion of mine have I seen dead with choke-damp, but
none that I ever saw or heard of was so near to death in it as you were
and escaped without help.” Mr. Duncan taught father to throw water down
the shaft to absorb the gas, and also to drop a bundle of brush or hay
attached to a light rope, dropping it again and again to carry down pure
air and stir up the poison. When, after a day or two, I had recovered
from the shock, father lowered me again to my work, after taking the
precaution to test the air with a candle and stir it up well with a
brush-and-hay bundle. The weary hammer-and-chisel-chipping went on as
before, only more slowly, until ninety feet down, when at last I struck
a fine, hearty gush of water. Constant dropping wears away stone. So
does constant chipping, while at the same time [234]wearing away the
chipper. Father never spent an hour in that well. He trusted me to sink
it straight and plumb, and I did, and built a fine covered top over it,
and swung two iron-bound buckets in it from which we all drank for many
a day.

The honey-bee arrived in America long before we boys did, but several
years passed ere we noticed any on our farm. The introduction of the
honey-bee into flowery America formed a grand epoch in bee history.
This sweet humming creature, companion and friend of the flowers, is
now distributed over the greater part of the continent, filling
countless hollows in rocks and trees with honey as well as the
millions of hives prepared for them by honey-farmers, who keep and
tend their flocks of sweet winged cattle, as shepherds keep sheep,—a
charming employment, “like directing sunbeams,” as Thoreau says. The
Indians call the honey-bee the white man’s fly; and though they had
long been acquainted with several species of bumblebees that yielded
more or [235]less honey, how gladly surprised they must have been when
they discovered that, in the hollow trees where before they had found
only coons or squirrels, they found swarms of brown flies with fifty
or even a hundred pounds of honey sealed up in beautiful cells. With
their keen hunting senses they of course were not slow to learn the
habits of the little brown immigrants and the best methods of tracing
them to their sweet homes, however well hidden. During the first few
years none were seen on our farm, though we sometimes heard father’s
hired men talking about “lining bees.” None of us boys ever found a
bee tree, or tried to find any until about ten years after our arrival
in the woods. On the Hickory Hill farm there is a ridge of moraine
material, rather dry, but flowery with goldenrods and asters of many
species, upon which we saw bees feeding in the late autumn just when
their hives were fullest of honey, and it occurred to me one day after
I was of age and my own master that I must try to find a bee tree. I
made a [236]little box about six inches long and four inches deep and
wide; bought half a pound of honey, went to the goldenrod hill, swept
a bee into the box and closed it. The lid had a pane of glass in it so
I could see when the bee had sucked its fill and was ready to go home.
At first it groped around trying to get out, but, smelling the honey,
it seemed to forget everything else, and while it was feasting I
carried the box and a small sharp-pointed stake to an open spot, where
I could see about me, fixed the stake in the ground, and placed the
box on the flat top of it. When I thought that the little feaster must
be about full, I opened the box, but it was in no hurry to fly. It
slowly crawled up to the edge of the box, lingered a minute or two
cleaning its legs that had become sticky with honey, and when it took
wing, instead of making what is called a bee-line for home, it buzzed
around the box and minutely examined it as if trying to fix a clear
picture of it in its mind so as to be able to recognize it when it
returned for another load, then circled around at a little distance
as [237]if looking for something to locate it by. I was the nearest
object, and the thoughtful worker buzzed in front of my face and took
a good stare at me, and then flew up on to the top of an oak on the
side of the open spot in the centre of which the honey-box was.
Keeping a keen watch, after a minute or two of rest or wing-cleaning,
I saw it fly in wide circles round the tops of the trees nearest the
honey-box, and, after apparently satisfying itself, make a bee-line
for the hive. Looking endwise on the line of flight, I saw that what
is called a bee-line is not an absolutely straight line, but a line in
general straight made of many slight, wavering, lateral curves. After
taking as true a bearing as I could, I waited and watched. In a few
minutes, probably ten, I was surprised to see that bee arrive at the
end of the outleaning limb of the oak mentioned above, as though that
was the first point it had fixed in its memory to be depended on in
retracing the way back to the honey-box. From the tree-top it came
straight to my head, thence straight to the box, [238]entered without the
least hesitation, filled up and started off after the same preparatory
dressing and taking of bearings as before. Then I took particular
pains to lay down the exact course so I would be able to trace it to
the hive. Before doing so, however, I made an experiment to test the
worth of the impression I had that the little insect found the way
back to the box by fixing telling points in its mind. While it was
away, I picked up the honey-box and set it on the stake a few rods
from the position it had thus far occupied, and stood there watching.
In a few minutes I saw the bee arrive at its guide-mark, the
overleaning branch on the tree-top, and thence came bouncing down
right to the spaces in the air which had been occupied by my head and
the honey-box, and when the cunning little honey-gleaner found nothing
there but empty air it whirled round and round as if confused and
lost; and although I was standing with the open honey-box within fifty
or sixty feet of the former feasting-spot, it could not, or at least
did not, find it.

[239]Now that I had learned the general direction of the hive, I pushed on
in search of it. I had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile when I caught
another bee, which, after getting loaded, went through the same
performance of circling round and round the honey-box, buzzing in
front of me and staring me in the face to be able to recognize me; but
as if the adjacent trees and bushes were sufficiently well known, it
simply looked around at them and bolted off without much dressing,
indicating, I thought, that the distance to the hive was not great. I
followed on and very soon discovered it in the bottom log of a
corn-field fence, but some lucky fellow had discovered it before me
and robbed it. The robbers had chopped a large hole in the log, taken
out most of the honey, and left the poor bees late in the fall, when
winter was approaching, to make haste to gather all the honey they
could from the latest flowers to avoid starvation in the winter.


[240]

VIIToC

KNOWLEDGE AND INVENTIONS

Hungry for Knowledge—Borrowing Books—Paternal
Opposition—Snatched Moments—Early Rising proves a Way out of
Difficulties—The Cellar Workshop—Inventions—An Early-Rising
Machine—Novel Clocks—Hygrometers, etc.—A Neighbor’s Advice.

I learned arithmetic in Scotland without understanding any of it,
though I had the rules by heart. But when I was about fifteen or
sixteen years of age, I began to grow hungry for real knowledge, and
persuaded father, who was willing enough to have me study provided my
farm work was kept up, to buy me a higher arithmetic. Beginning at the
beginning, in one summer I easily finished it without assistance, in
the short intervals between the end of dinner and the afternoon start
for the harvest-and hay-fields, accomplishing more without a teacher
in a few scraps of time than in years in school before my mind was
ready for such work. Then in succession I [241]took up algebra, geometry,
and trigonometry and made some little progress in each, and reviewed
grammar. I was fond of reading, but father had brought only a few
religious books from Scotland. Fortunately, several of our neighbors
had brought a dozen or two of all sorts of books, which I borrowed and
read, keeping all of them except the religious ones carefully hidden
from father’s eye. Among these were Scott’s novels, which, like all
other novels, were strictly forbidden, but devoured with glorious
pleasure in secret. Father was easily persuaded to buy Josephus’ “Wars
of the Jews,” and D’Aubigné’s “History of the Reformation,” and I
tried hard to get him to buy Plutarch’s Lives, which, as I told him,
everybody, even religious people, praised as a grand good book; but he
would have nothing to do with the old pagan until the graham bread and
anti-flesh doctrines came suddenly into our backwoods neighborhood,
making a stir something like phrenology and spirit-rappings, which
were as mysterious in their [242]attacks as influenza. He then thought it
possible that Plutarch might be turned to account on the food question
by revealing what those old Greeks and Romans ate to make them strong;
and so at last we gained our glorious Plutarch. Dick’s “Christian
Philosopher,” which I borrowed from a neighbor, I thought I might
venture to read in the open, trusting that the word “Christian” would
be proof against its cautious condemnation. But father balked at the
word “Philosopher,” and quoted from the Bible a verse which spoke of
“philosophy falsely so-called.” I then ventured to speak in defense of
the book, arguing that we could not do without at least a little of
the most useful kinds of philosophy.

“Yes, we can,” he said with enthusiasm, “the Bible is the only book
human beings can possibly require throughout all the journey from
earth to heaven.”

“But how,” I contended, “can we find the way to heaven without the
Bible, and how after we grow old can we read the Bible [243]without a
little helpful science? Just think, father, you cannot read your Bible
without spectacles, and millions of others are in the same fix; and
spectacles cannot be made without some knowledge of the science of
optics.”

“Oh!” he replied, perceiving the drift of the argument, “there will
always be plenty of worldly people to make spectacles.”

To this I stubbornly replied with a quotation from the Bible with
reference to the time coming when “all shall know the Lord from the
least even to the greatest,” and then who will make the spectacles?
But he still objected to my reading that book, called me a
contumacious quibbler too fond of disputation, and ordered me to
return it to the accommodating owner. I managed, however, to read it
later.

On the food question father insisted that those who argued for a
vegetable diet were in the right, because our teeth showed plainly
that they were made with reference to fruit and grain and not for
flesh like those of dogs and wolves and tigers. He therefore promptly
[244]adopted a vegetable diet and requested mother to make the bread from
graham flour instead of bolted flour. Mother put both kinds on the
table, and meat also, to let all the family take their choice, and
while father was insisting on the foolishness of eating flesh, I came
to her help by calling father’s attention to the passage in the Bible
which told the story of Elijah the prophet who, when he was pursued by
enemies who wanted to take his life, was hidden by the Lord by the
brook Cherith, and fed by ravens; and surely the Lord knew what was
good to eat, whether bread or meat. And on what, I asked, did the Lord
feed Elijah? On vegetables or graham bread? No, he directed the ravens
to feed his prophet on flesh. The Bible being the sole rule, father at
once acknowledged that he was mistaken. The Lord never would have sent
flesh to Elijah by the ravens if graham bread were better.

I remember as a great and sudden discovery that the poetry of the
Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton was a source of inspiring,
exhilarating, [245]uplifting pleasure; and I became anxious to know all
the poets, and saved up small sums to buy as many of their books as
possible. Within three or four years I was the proud possessor of
parts of Shakespeare’s, Milton’s, Cowper’s, Henry Kirke White’s,
Campbell’s, and Akenside’s works, and quite a number of others seldom
read nowadays. I think it was in my fifteenth year that I began to
relish good literature with enthusiasm, and smack my lips over
favorite lines, but there was desperately little time for reading,
even in the winter evenings,—only a few stolen minutes now and then.
Father’s strict rule was, straight to bed immediately after family
worship, which in winter was usually over by eight o’clock. I was in
the habit of lingering in the kitchen with a book and candle after the
rest of the family had retired, and considered myself fortunate if I
got five minutes’ reading before father noticed the light and ordered
me to bed; an order that of course I immediately obeyed. But night
after night I tried to steal minutes in the same [246]lingering way, and
how keenly precious those minutes were, few nowadays can know. Father
failed perhaps two or three times in a whole winter to notice my light
for nearly ten minutes, magnificent golden blocks of time, long to be
remembered like holidays or geological periods. One evening when I was
reading Church history father was particularly irritable, and called
out with hope-killing emphasis, “ Must I give you a
separate order every night to get you to go to bed? Now, I will have
no irregularity in the family; you go when the rest go, and
without my having to tell you.” Then, as an afterthought, as if
judging that his words and tone of voice were too severe for so
pardonable an offense as reading a religious book he unwarily added:
“If you read, get up in the morning and read. You may get up in
the morning as early as you like.”

That night I went to bed wishing with all my heart and soul that
somebody or something might call me out of sleep to avail myself of
[247]this wonderful indulgence; and next morning to my joyful surprise I
awoke before father called me. A boy sleeps soundly after working all
day in the snowy woods, but that frosty morning I sprang out of bed as
if called by a trumpet blast, rushed downstairs, scarce feeling my
chilblains, enormously eager to see how much time I had won; and when
I held up my candle to a little clock that stood on a bracket in the
kitchen I found that it was only one o’clock. I had gained five hours,
almost half a day “Five hours to myself!” I said, “five huge, solid
hours!” I can hardly think of any other event in my life, any
discovery I ever made that gave birth to joy so transportingly
glorious as the possession of these five frosty hours.

In the glad, tumultuous excitement of so much suddenly acquired
time-wealth, I hardly knew what to do with it. I first thought of
going on with my reading, but the zero weather would make a fire
necessary, and it occurred to me that father might object to the cost
of [248]firewood that took time to chop. Therefore, I prudently decided to
go down cellar, and begin work on a model of a self-setting sawmill I
had invented. Next morning I managed to get up at the same gloriously
early hour, and though the temperature of the cellar was a little
below the freezing point, and my light was only a tallow candle the
mill work went joyfully on. There were a few tools in a corner of the
cellar,—a vise, files, a hammer, chisels, etc., that father had
brought from Scotland, but no saw excepting a coarse crooked one that
was unfit for sawing dry hickory or oak. So I made a fine-tooth saw
suitable for my work out of a strip of steel that had formed part of
an old-fashioned corset, that cut the hardest wood smoothly. I also
made my own bradawls, punches, and a pair of compasses, out of wire
and old files.

My workshop was immediately under father’s bed, and the filing and
tapping in making cogwheels, journals, cams, etc., must, no doubt,
have annoyed him, but with the permission he [249]had granted in his mind,
and doubtless hoping that I would soon tire of getting up at one
o’clock, he impatiently waited about two weeks before saying a word. I
did not vary more than five minutes from one o’clock all winter, nor
did I feel any bad effects whatever, nor did I think at all about the
subject as to whether so little sleep might be in any way injurious;
it was a grand triumph of will-power over cold and common comfort and
work-weariness in abruptly cutting down my ten hours’ allowance of
sleep to five. I simply felt that I was rich beyond anything I could
have dreamed of or hoped for. I was far more than happy. Like Tam o’
Shanter I was glorious, “O’er a’ the ills o’ life victorious.”

Father, as was customary in Scotland, gave thanks and asked a blessing
before meals, not merely as a matter of form and decent Christian
manners, for he regarded food as a gift derived directly from the
hands of the Father in heaven. Therefore every meal to him was a
sacrament requiring conduct and attitude of mind not [250]unlike that
befitting the Lord’s Supper. No idle word was allowed to be spoken at
our table, much less any laughing or fun or story-telling. When we
were at the breakfast-table, about two weeks after the great golden
time-discovery, father cleared his throat preliminary, as we all knew,
to saying something considered important. I feared that it was to be
on the subject of my early rising, and dreaded the withdrawal of the
permission he had granted on account of the noise I made, but still
hoping that, as he had given his word that I might get up as early as
I wished, he would as a Scotchman stand to it, even though it was
given in an unguarded moment and taken in a sense unreasonably
far-reaching. The solemn sacramental silence was broken by the dreaded
question:—

“John, what time is it when you get up in the morning?”

“About one o’clock,” I replied in a low, meek, guilty tone of voice.

“And what kind of a time is that, getting up [251]in the middle of the
night and disturbing the whole family?”

I simply reminded him of the permission he had freely granted me to
get up as early as I wished.

“I it,” he said, in an almost agonized tone of voice, “I
I gave you that miserable permission, but I never imagined that you
would get up in the middle of the night.”

To this I cautiously made no reply, but continued to listen for the
heavenly one-o’clock call, and it never failed.

After completing my self-setting sawmill I dammed one of the streams in
the meadow and put the mill in operation. This invention was speedily
followed by a lot of others,—water-wheels, curious doorlocks and
latches, thermometers, hygrometers, pyrometers, clocks, a barometer, an
automatic contrivance for feeding the horses at any required hour, a
lamp-lighter and fire-lighter, an early-or-late-rising machine, and so
forth.

After the sawmill was proved and discharged [252]from my mind, I happened
to think it would be a fine thing to make a timekeeper which would
tell the day of the week and the day of the month, as well as strike
like a common clock and point out the hours; also to have an
attachment whereby it could be connected with a bedstead to set me on
my feet at any hour in the morning; also to start fires, light lamps,
etc. I had learned the time laws of the pendulum from a book, but with
this exception I knew nothing of timekeepers, for I had never seen the
inside of any sort of clock or watch. After long brooding, the novel
clock was at length completed in my mind, and was tried and found to
be durable and to work well and look well before I had begun to build
it in wood. I carried small parts of it in my pocket to whittle at
when I was out at work on the farm, using every spare or stolen moment
within reach without father’s knowing anything about it. In the middle
of summer, when harvesting was in progress, the novel time-machine was
nearly completed. It was hidden upstairs in a [253]spare bedroom where
some tools were kept. I did the making and mending on the farm, but
one day at noon, when I happened to be away, father went upstairs for
a hammer or something and discovered the mysterious machine back of
the bedstead. My sister Margaret saw him on his knees examining it,
and at the first opportunity whispered in my ear, “John, fayther saw
that thing you’re making upstairs.” None of the family knew what I was
doing, but they knew very well that all such work was frowned on by
father, and kindly warned me of any danger that threatened my plans.
The fine invention seemed doomed to destruction before its
time-ticking commenced, though I thought it handsome, had so long
carried it in my mind, and like the nest of Burns’s wee mousie it had
cost me mony a weary whittling nibble. When we were at dinner several
days after the sad discovery, father began to clear his throat to
speak, and I feared the doom of martyrdom was about to be pronounced
on my grand clock.

[254]“John,” he inquired, “what is that thing you are making upstairs?”

I replied in desperation that I didn’t know what to call it.

“What! You mean to say you don’t know what you are trying to do?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I know very well what I am doing.”

“What, then, is the thing for?”

“It’s for a lot of things,” I replied, “but getting people up early in
the morning is one of the main things it is intended for; therefore it
might perhaps be called an early-rising machine.”

After getting up so extravagantly early, all the last memorable winter
to make a machine for getting up perhaps still earlier seemed so
ridiculous that he very nearly laughed. But after controlling himself
and getting command of a sufficiently solemn face and voice he said
severely, “Do you not think it is very wrong to waste your time on
such nonsense?”

“No,” I said meekly, “I don’t think I’m doing any wrong.”

[255]“Well,” he replied, “I assure you I do; and if you were only half as
zealous in the study of religion as you are in contriving and
whittling these useless, nonsensical things, it would be infinitely
better for you. I want you to be like Paul, who said that he desired
to know nothing among men but Christ and Him crucified.”

To this I made no reply, gloomily believing my fine machine was to be
burned, but still taking what comfort I could in realizing that anyhow
I had enjoyed inventing and making it.

After a few days, finding that nothing more was to be said, and that
father after all had not had the heart to destroy it, all necessity
for secrecy being ended, I finished it in the half-hours that we had
at noon and set it in the parlor between two chairs, hung moraine
boulders that had come from the direction of Lake Superior on it for
weights, and set it running. We were then hauling grain into the barn.
Father at this period devoted himself entirely to the Bible and did no
farm work [256]whatever. The clock had a good loud tick, and when he heard
it strike, one of my sisters told me that he left his study, went to
the parlor, got down on his knees and carefully examined the
machinery, which was all in plain sight, not being enclosed in a case.
This he did repeatedly, and evidently seemed a little proud of my
ability to invent and whittle such a thing, though careful to give no
encouragement for anything more of the kind in future.

But somehow it seemed impossible to stop. Inventing and whittling
faster than ever, I made another hickory clock, shaped like a scythe
to symbolize the scythe of Father Time. The pendulum is a bunch of
arrows symbolizing the flight of time. It hangs on a leafless mossy
oak snag showing the effect of time, and on the snath is written, “All
flesh is grass.” This, especially the inscription, rather pleased
father, and, of course, mother and all my sisters and brothers admired
it. Like the first it indicates the days of the week and month, starts
fires and beds at any given hour and minute, and, [257]though made more
than fifty years ago, is still a good timekeeper.

My mind still running on clocks, I invented a big one like a town
clock with four dials, with the time-figures so large they could be
read by all our immediate neighbors as well as ourselves when at work
in the fields, and on the side next the house the days of the week and
month were indicated. It was to be placed on the peak of the barn
roof. But just as it was all but finished, father stopped me, saying
that it would bring too many people around the barn. I then asked
permission to put it on the top of a black-oak tree near the house.
Studying the larger main branches, I thought I could secure a
sufficiently rigid foundation for it, while the trimmed sprays and
leaves would conceal the angles of the cabin required to shelter the
works from the weather, and the two-second pendulum, fourteen feet
long, could be snugly encased on the side of the trunk. Nothing about
the grand, useful timekeeper, I argued, would disfigure the tree, for
it would look something like [258]a big hawk’s nest. “But that,” he
objected, “would draw still bigger bothersome trampling crowds about
the place, for who ever heard of anything so queer as a big clock on
the top of a tree?” So I had to lay aside its big wheels and cams and
rest content with the pleasure of inventing it, and looking at it in
my mind and listening to the deep solemn throbbing of its long
two-second pendulum with its two old axes back to back for the bob.

One of my inventions was a large thermometer made of an iron rod,
about three feet long and five eighths of an inch in diameter, that
had formed part of a wagon-box. The expansion and contraction of this
rod was multiplied by a series of levers made of strips of hoop iron.
The pressure of the rod against the levers was kept constant by a
small counterweight, so that the slightest change in the length of the
rod was instantly shown on a dial about three feet wide multiplied
about thirty-two thousand times. The zero-point was gained by packing
the rod in wet snow. The scale was so large [259]that the big black hand
on the white-painted dial could be seen distinctly and the temperature
read while we were ploughing in the field below the house. The
extremes of heat and cold caused the hand to make several revolutions.
The number of these revolutions was indicated on a small dial marked
on the larger one. This thermometer was fastened on the side of the
house, and was so sensitive that when any one approached it within
four or five feet the heat radiated from the observer’s body caused
the hand of the dial to move so fast that the motion was plainly
visible, and when he stepped back, the hand moved slowly back to its
normal position. It was regarded as a great wonder by the neighbors
and even by my own all-Bible father.



THERMOMETER

THERMOMETERToList



SELF-SETTING SAWMILL

SELF-SETTING SAWMILL
Model built in cellarToList

Boys are fond of the books of travelers, and I remember that one day,
after I had been reading Mungo Park’s travels in Africa, mother said:
“Weel, John, maybe you will travel like Park and Humboldt some day.”
Father overheard her and cried out in solemn deprecation, [260]“Oh, Anne!
dinna put sic notions in the laddie’s heed.” But at this time there
was precious little need of such prayers. My brothers left the farm
when they came of age, but I stayed a year longer, loath to leave
home. Mother hoped I might be a minister some day; my sisters that I
would be a great inventor. I often thought I should like to be a
physician, but I saw no way of making money and getting the necessary
education, excepting as an inventor. So, as a beginning, I decided to
try to get into a big shop or factory and live a while among machines.
But I was naturally extremely shy and had been taught to have a poor
opinion of myself, as of no account, though all our neighbors
encouragingly called me a genius, sure to rise in the world. When I
was talking over plans one day with a friendly neighbor, he said:
“Now, John, if you wish to get into a machine-shop, just take some of
your inventions to the State Fair, and you may be sure that as soon as
they are seen they will open the door of any shop in the country for
you. You will be [261]welcomed everywhere.” And when I doubtingly asked if
people would care to look at things made of wood, he said, “Made of
wood! Made of wood! What does it matter what they’re made of when they
are so out-and-out original. There’s nothing else like them in the
world. That is what will attract attention, and besides they’re mighty
handsome things anyway to come from the backwoods.” So I was
encouraged to leave home and go at his direction to the State Fair
when it was being held in Madison.


[262]

VIIIToC

THE WORLD AND THE UNIVERSITY

Leaving Home—Creating a Sensation in Pardeeville—A Ride on a
Locomotive—At the State Fair in Madison—Employment in a
Machine-Shop at Prairie du Chien—Back to Madison—Entering
the University—Teaching School—First Lesson in Botany—More
Inventions—The University of the Wilderness.

When I told father that I was about to leave home, and inquired
whether, if I should happen to be in need of money, he would send me a
little, he said, “No; depend entirely on yourself.” Good advice, I
suppose, but surely needlessly severe for a bashful, home-loving boy
who had worked so hard. I had the gold sovereign that my grandfather
had given me when I left Scotland, and a few dollars, perhaps ten,
that I had made by raising a few bushels of grain on a little patch of
sandy abandoned ground. So when I left home to try the world I had
only about fifteen dollars in my pocket.

[263]Strange to say, father carefully taught us to consider ourselves very
poor worms of the dust, conceived in sin, etc., and devoutly believed
that quenching every spark of pride and self-confidence was a sacred
duty, without realizing that in so doing he might at the same time be
quenching everything else. Praise he considered most venomous, and
tried to assure me that when I was fairly out in the wicked world
making my own way I would soon learn that although I might have
thought him a hard taskmaster at times, strangers were far harder. On
the contrary, I found no lack of kindness and sympathy. All the
baggage I carried was a package made up of the two clocks and a small
thermometer made of a piece of old washboard, all three tied together,
with no covering or case of any sort, the whole looking like one very
complicated machine.

The aching parting from mother and my sisters was, of course, hard to
bear. Father let David drive me down to Pardeeville, a place I had
never before seen, though it was only nine [264]miles south of the Hickory
Hill home. When we arrived at the village tavern, it seemed deserted.
Not a single person was in sight. I set my clock baggage on the
rickety platform. David said good-bye and started for home, leaving me
alone in the world. The grinding noise made by the wagon in turning
short brought out the landlord, and the first thing that caught his
eye was my strange bundle. Then he looked at me and said, “Hello,
young man, what’s this?”

“Machines,” I said, “for keeping time and getting up in the morning,
and so forth.”

“Well! Well! That’s a mighty queer get-up. You must be a Down-East
Yankee. Where did you get the pattern for such a thing?”

“In my head,” I said.

Some one down the street happened to notice the landlord looking
intently at something and came up to see what it was. Three or four
people in that little village formed an attractive crowd, and in
fifteen or twenty minutes the greater part of the population of
Pardeeville [265]stood gazing in a circle around my strange hickory
belongings. I kept outside of the circle to avoid being seen, and had
the advantage of hearing the remarks without being embarrassed. Almost
every one as he came up would say, “What’s that? What’s it for? Who
made it?” The landlord would answer them all alike, “Why, a young man
that lives out in the country somewhere made it, and he says it’s a
thing for keeping time, getting up in the morning, and something that
I didn’t understand. I don’t know what he meant.” “Oh, no!” one of the
crowd would say, “that can’t be. It’s for something else—something
mysterious. Mark my words, you’ll see all about it in the newspapers
some of these days.” A curious little fellow came running up the
street, joined the crowd, stood on tiptoe to get sight of the wonder,
quickly made up his mind, and shouted in crisp, confident,
cock-crowing style, “I know what that contraption’s for. It’s a
machine for taking the bones out of fish.”

This was in the time of the great popular [266]phrenology craze, when the
fences and barns along the roads throughout the country were plastered
with big skull-bump posters, headed, “Know Thyself,” and advising
everybody to attend schoolhouse lectures to have their heads explained
and be told what they were good for and whom they ought to marry. My
mechanical bundle seemed to bring a good deal of this phrenology to
mind, for many of the onlookers would say, “I wish I could see that
boy’s head,—he must have a tremendous bump of invention.” Others
complimented me by saying, “I wish I had that fellow’s head. I’d
rather have it than the best farm in the State.”

I stayed overnight at this little tavern, waiting for a train. In the
morning I went to the station, and set my bundle on the platform.
Along came the thundering train, a glorious sight, the first train I
had ever waited for. When the conductor saw my queer baggage, he
cried, “Hello! What have we here?”

“Inventions for keeping time, early rising, [267]and so forth. May I take
them into the car with me?”

“You can take them where you like,” he replied, “but you had better
give them to the baggage-master. If you take them into the car they
will draw a crowd and might get broken.”

So I gave them to the baggage-master and made haste to ask the
conductor whether I might ride on the engine. He good-naturedly said:
“Yes, it’s the right place for you. Run ahead, and tell the engineer
what I say.” But the engineer bluntly refused to let me on, saying:
“It don’t matter what the conductor told you. say you can’t ride
on my engine.”

By this time the conductor, standing ready to start his train, was
watching to see what luck I had, and when he saw me returning came
ahead to meet me.

“The engineer won’t let me on,” I reported.

“Won’t he?” said the kind conductor. “Oh! I guess he will. You come
down with me.” And so he actually took the time and patience [268]to walk
the length of that long train to get me on to the engine.

“Charlie,” said he, addressing the engineer, “don’t you ever take a
passenger?”

“Very seldom,” he replied.

“Anyhow, I wish you would take this young man on. He has the strangest
machines in the baggage-car I ever saw in my life. I believe he could
make a locomotive. He wants to see the engine running. Let him on.”
Then in a low whisper he told me to jump on, which I did gladly, the
engineer offering neither encouragement nor objection.

As soon as the train was started, the engineer asked what the “strange
thing” the conductor spoke of really was.

“Only inventions for keeping time, getting folk up in the morning, and
so forth,” I hastily replied, and before he could ask any more
questions I asked permission to go outside of the cab to see the
machinery. This he kindly granted, adding, “Be careful not to fall
off, and when you hear me whistling for a station [269]you come back,
because if it is reported against me to the superintendent that I
allow boys to run all over my engine I might lose my job.”

Assuring him that I would come back promptly, I went out and walked
along the foot-board on the side of the boiler, watching the
magnificent machine rushing through the landscapes as if glorying in
its strength like a living creature. While seated on the cow-catcher
platform, I seemed to be fairly flying, and the wonderful display of
power and motion was enchanting. This was the first time I had ever
been on a train, much less a locomotive, since I had left Scotland.
When I got to Madison, I thanked the kind conductor and engineer for
my glorious ride, inquired the way to the Fair, shouldered my
inventions, and walked to the Fair Ground.

When I applied for an admission ticket at a window by the gate I told
the agent that I had something to exhibit.

“What is it?” he inquired.

“Well, here it is. Look at it.”

[270]When he craned his neck through the window and got a glimpse of my
bundle, he cried excitedly, “Oh! don’t need a ticket,—come
right in.”

When I inquired of the agent where such things as mine should be
exhibited, he said, “You see that building up on the hill with a big
flag on it? That’s the Fine Arts Hall, and it’s just the place for
your wonderful invention.”

So I went up to the Fine Arts Hall and looked in, wondering if they
would allow wooden things in so fine a place.

I was met at the door by a dignified gentleman, who greeted me kindly
and said, “Young man, what have we got here?”

“Two clocks and a thermometer,” I replied.

“Did you make these? They look wonderfully beautiful and novel and
must, I think, prove the most interesting feature of the fair.”

“Where shall I place them?” I inquired.

“Just look around, young man, and choose the place you like best,
whether it is occupied or not. You can have your pick of all the
[271]building, and a carpenter to make the necessary shelving and assist
you every way possible!”

So I quickly had a shelf made large enough for all of them, went out
on the hill and picked up some glacial boulders of the right size for
weights, and in fifteen or twenty minutes the clocks were running.
They seemed to attract more attention than anything else in the hall I
got lots of praise from the crowd and the newspaper-reporters. The
local press reports were copied into the Eastern papers. It was
considered wonderful that a boy on a farm had been able to invent and
make such things, and almost every spectator foretold good fortune.
But I had been so lectured by my father above all things to avoid
praise that I was afraid to read those kind newspaper notices, and
never clipped out or preserved any of them, just glanced at them and
turned away my eyes from beholding vanity. They gave me a prize of ten
or fifteen dollars and a diploma for wonderful things not down in the
list of exhibits.

[272]Many years later, after I had written articles and books, I received a
letter from the gentleman who had charge of the Fine Arts Hall. He
proved to be the Professor of English Literature in the University of
Wisconsin at this Fair time, and long afterward he sent me clippings
of reports of his lectures. He had a lecture on me, discussing style,
etcetera, and telling how well he remembered my arrival at the Hall in
my shirt-sleeves with those mechanical wonders on my shoulder, and so
forth, and so forth. These inventions, though of little importance,
opened all doors for me and made marks that have lasted many years,
simply, I suppose, because they were original and promising.

I was looking around in the mean time to find out where I should go to
seek my fortune. An inventor at the Fair, by the name of Wiard, was
exhibiting an iceboat he had invented to run on the upper Mississippi
from Prairie du Chien to St. Paul during the winter months, explaining
how useful it would be thus to make [273]a highway of the river while it
was closed to ordinary navigation by ice. After he saw my inventions
he offered me a place in his foundry and machine-shop in Prairie du
Chien and promised to assist me all he could. So I made up my mind to
accept his offer and rode with him to Prairie du Chien in his iceboat,
which was mounted on a flat car. I soon found, however, that he was
seldom at home and that I was not likely to learn much at his small
shop. I found a place where I could work for my board and devote my
spare hours to mechanical drawing, geometry, and physics, making but
little headway, however, although the Pelton family, for whom I
worked, were very kind. I made up my mind after a few months’ stay in
Prairie du Chien to return to Madison, hoping that in some way I might
be able to gain an education.

At Madison I raised a few dollars by making and selling a few of those
bedsteads that set the sleepers on their feet in the morning,—inserting
in the footboard the works of an [274]ordinary clock that could be bought
for a dollar. I also made a few dollars addressing circulars in an
insurance office, while at the same time I was paying my board by taking
care of a pair of horses and going errands. This is of no great interest
except that I was thus winning my bread while hoping that something
would turn up that might enable me to make money enough to enter the
State University. This was my ambition, and it never wavered no matter
what I was doing. No University, it seemed to me, could be more
admirably, situated, and as I sauntered about it, charmed with its fine
lawns and trees and beautiful lakes, and saw the students going and
coming with their books, and occasionally practising with a theodolite
in measuring distances, I thought that if I could only join them it
would be the greatest joy of life. I was desperately hungry and thirsty
for knowledge and willing to endure anything to get it.

One day I chanced to meet a student who had noticed my inventions at
the Fair and now [275]recognized me. And when I said, “You are fortunate
fellows to be allowed to study in this beautiful place. I wish I could
join you.” “Well, why don’t you?” he asked. “I haven’t money enough,”
I said. “Oh, as to money,” he reassuringly explained, “very little is
required. I presume you’re able to enter the Freshman class, and you
can board yourself as quite a number of us do at a cost of about a
dollar a week. The baker and milkman come every day. You can live on
bread and milk.” Well, I thought, maybe I have money enough for at
least one beginning term. Anyhow I couldn’t help trying.

With fear and trembling, overladen with ignorance, I called on
Professor Stirling, the Dean of the Faculty, who was then Acting
President, presented my case, and told him how far I had got on with
my studies at home, and that I hadn’t been to school since leaving
Scotland at the age of eleven years, excepting one short term of a
couple of months at a district school, because I could not be spared
[276]from the farm work. After hearing my story, the kind professor
welcomed me to the glorious University—next, it seemed to me, to the
Kingdom of Heaven. After a few weeks in the preparatory department I
entered the Freshman class. In Latin I found that one of the books in
use I had already studied in Scotland. So, after an interruption of a
dozen years, I began my Latin over again where I had left off; and,
strange to say, most of it came back to me, especially the grammar
which I had committed to memory at the Dunbar Grammar School.

During the four years that I was in the University, I earned enough in
the harvest-fields during the long summer vacations to carry me
through the balance of each year, working very hard, cutting with a
cradle four acres of wheat a day, and helping to put it in the shock.
But, having to buy books and paying, I think, thirty-two dollars a
year for instruction, and occasionally buying acids and retorts, glass
tubing, bell-glasses, flasks, etc., [277]I had to cut down expenses for
board now and then to half a dollar a week.

One winter I taught school ten miles south of Madison, earning
much-needed money at the rate of twenty dollars a month, “boarding
round,” and keeping up my University work by studying at night. As I
was not then well enough off to own a watch, I used one of my hickory
clocks, not only for keeping time, but for starting the school fire in
the cold mornings, and regulating class-times. I carried it out on my
shoulder to the old log schoolhouse, and set it to work on a little
shelf nailed to one of the knotty, bulging logs. The winter was very
cold, and I had to go to the schoolhouse and start the fire about
eight o’clock to warm it before the arrival of the scholars. This was
a rather trying job, and one that my clock might easily be made to do.
Therefore, after supper one evening I told the head of the family with
whom I was boarding that if he would give me a candle I would go back
to the schoolhouse and make arrangements for lighting the fire at
[278]eight o’clock, without my having to be present until time to open the
school at nine. He said, “Oh! young man, you have some curious things
in the school-room, but I don’t think you can do that.” I said, “Oh,
yes! It’s easy,” and in hardly more than an hour the simple job was
completed. I had only to place a teaspoonful of powdered chlorate of
potash and sugar on the stove-hearth near a few shavings and kindling,
and at the required time make the clock, through a simple arrangement,
touch the inflammable mixture with a drop of sulphuric acid. Every
evening after school was dismissed, I shoveled out what was left of
the fire into the snow, put in a little kindling, filled up the big
box stove with heavy oak wood, placed the lighting arrangement on the
hearth, and set the clock to drop the acid at the hour of eight; all
this requiring only a few minutes.

The first morning after I had made this simple arrangement I invited
the doubting farmer to watch the old squat schoolhouse from a window
that overlooked it, to see if a good [279]smoke did not rise from the
stovepipe. Sure enough, on the minute, he saw a tall column curling
gracefully up through the frosty air, but instead of congratulating me
on my success he solemnly shook his head and said in a hollow,
lugubrious voice, “Young man, you will be setting fire to the
schoolhouse.” All winter long that faithful clock fire never failed,
and by the time I got to the schoolhouse the stove was usually
red-hot.

At the beginning of the long summer vacations I returned to the
Hickory Hill farm to earn the means in the harvest-fields to continue
my University course, walking all the way to save railroad fares. And
although I cradled four acres of wheat a day, I made the long, hard,
sweaty day’s work still longer and harder by keeping up my study of
plants. At the noon hour I collected a large handful, put them in
water to keep them fresh, and after supper got to work on them and sat
up till after midnight, analyzing and classifying, thus leaving only
four hours for sleep; and by the end of the [280]first year, after taking
up botany, I knew the principal flowering plants of the region.

I received my first lesson in botany from a student by the name of
Griswold, who is now County Judge of the County of Waukesha,
Wisconsin. In the University he was often laughed at on account of his
anxiety to instruct others, and his frequently saying with fine
emphasis, “Imparting instruction is my greatest enjoyment.” One
memorable day in June, when I was standing on the stone steps of the
north dormitory, Mr. Griswold joined me and at once began to teach. He
reached up, plucked a flower from an overspreading branch of a locust
tree, and, handing it to me, said, “Muir, do you know what family this
tree belongs to?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know anything about botany.”

“Well, no matter,” said he, “what is it like?”

“It’s like a pea flower,” I replied.

“That’s right. You’re right,” he said, “it belongs to the Pea Family.”

“But how can that be,” I objected, “when [281]the pea is a weak, clinging,
straggling herb, and the locust a big, thorny hardwood tree?”

“Yes, that is true,” he replied, “as to the difference in size, but it
is also true that in all their essential characters they are alike,
and therefore they must belong to one and the same family. Just look
at the peculiar form of the locust flower; you see that the upper
petal, called the banner, is broad and erect, and so is the upper
petal of the pea flower; the two lower petals, called the wings, are
outspread and wing-shaped; so are those of the pea; and the two petals
below the wings are united on their edges, curve upward, and form what
is called the keel, and so you see are the corresponding petals of the
pea flower. And now look at the stamens and pistils. You see that nine
of the ten stamens have their filaments united into a sheath around
the pistil, but the tenth stamen has its filament free. These are very
marked characters, are they not? And, strange to say, you will find
them the same in the tree and in the vine. Now look at the ovules or
seeds of [282]the locust, and you will see that they are arranged in a pod
or legume like those of the pea. And look at the leaves. You see the
leaf of the locust is made up of several leaflets, and so also is the
leaf of the pea. Now taste the locust leaf.”

I did so and found that it tasted like the leaf of the pea. Nature has
used the same seasoning for both, though one is a straggling vine, the
other a big tree.

“Now, surely you cannot imagine that all these similar characters are
mere coincidences. Do they not rather go to show that the Creator in
making the pea vine and locust tree had the same idea in mind, and
that plants are not classified arbitrarily? Man has nothing to do with
their classification. Nature has attended to all that, giving
essential unity with boundless variety, so that the botanist has only
to examine plants to learn the harmony of their relations.”

This fine lesson charmed me and sent me to the woods and meadows in
wild [283]enthusiasm. Like everybody else I was always fond of flowers,
attracted by their external beauty and purity. Now my eyes were opened
to their inner beauty, all alike revealing glorious traces of the
thoughts of God, and leading on and on into the infinite cosmos. I
wandered away at every opportunity, making long excursions round the
lakes, gathering specimens and keeping them fresh in a bucket in my
room to study at night after my regular class tasks were learned; for
my eyes never closed on the plant glory I had seen.

Nevertheless, I still indulged my love of mechanical inventions. I
invented a desk in which the books I had to study were arranged in
order at the beginning of each term. I also made a bed which set me on
my feet every morning at the hour determined on, and in dark winter
mornings just as the bed set me on the floor it lighted a lamp. Then,
after the minutes allowed for dressing had elapsed, a click was heard
and the first book to be studied was pushed up from a rack below the
top of [284]the desk, thrown open, and allowed to remain there the number
of minutes required. Then the machinery closed the book and allowed it
to drop back into its stall, then moved the rack forward and threw up
the next in order, and so on, all the day being divided according to
the times of recitation, and time required and allotted to each study.
Besides this, I thought it would be a fine thing in the summer-time
when the sun rose early, to dispense with the clock-controlled bed
machinery, and make use of sunbeams instead. This I did simply by
taking a lens out of my small spy-glass, fixing it on a frame on the
sill of my bedroom window, and pointing it to the sunrise; the
sunbeams focused on a thread burned it through, allowing the bed
machinery to put me on my feet. When I wished to arise at any given
time after sunrise, I had only to turn the pivoted frame that held the
lens the requisite number of degrees or minutes. Thus I took Emerson’s
advice and hitched my dumping-wagon bed to a star.



MY DESK

MY DESK
Made and used at the Wisconsin State UniversityToList

[285]I also invented a machine to make visible the growth of plants and the
action of the sunlight, a very delicate contrivance, enclosed in
glass. Besides this I invented a barometer and a lot of novel
scientific apparatus. My room was regarded as a sort of show place by
the professors, who oftentimes brought visitors to it on Saturdays and
holidays. And when, some eighteen years after I had left the
University, I was sauntering over the campus in time of vacation, and
spoke to a man who seemed to be taking some charge of the grounds, he
informed me that he was the janitor; and when I inquired what had
become of Pat, the janitor in my time, and a favorite with the
students, he replied that Pat was still alive and well, but now too
old to do much work. And when I pointed to the dormitory room that I
long ago occupied, he said: “Oh! then I know who you are,” and
mentioned my name. “How comes it that you know my name?” I inquired.
He explained that “Pat always pointed out that room to newcomers and
told long stories [286]about the wonders that used to be in it.” So long
had the memory of my little inventions survived.

Although I was four years at the University, I did not take the
regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would
be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new
world, and mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany
and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and
should have stayed longer. Anyhow I wandered away on a glorious
botanical and geological excursion, which has lasted nearly fifty
years and is not yet completed, always happy and free, poor and rich,
without thought of a diploma or of making a name, urged on and on
through endless, inspiring, Godful beauty.

From the top of a hill on the north side of Lake Mendota I gained a
last wistful, lingering view of the beautiful University grounds and
buildings where I had spent so many hungry and happy and hopeful days.
There with [287]streaming eyes I bade my blessed Alma Mater farewell. But
I was only leaving one University for another, the Wisconsin
University for the University of the Wilderness.

THE END

[288]


[289]

ToC

  • America,
    • early interest in, 51-53;
    • emigration to, 53-59.
  • Anderson, Mr., 216, 217.
  • var. , 119-121.
  • Animals,
    • man’s tyranny over, 83, 84, 109, 110, 181;
    • accidents to, 133-136;
    • the taming of, 185, 186;
    • cleanliness, 187, 188;
    • endurance of cold, 189, 190.
  • Apples, wild, 124.
  • Audubon, John James, on the passenger pigeon, 52, 53, 162-166.
  • Aurora borealis, 205, 206.
  • Badgers, 183.
  • Bathing, 16, 17;
    • of animals, 187, 188;
    • of man, 188, 189.
    • Swimming.
  • Bear, black, 171, 183, 184.
  • Bees, 234-239.
  • Beetle, whirligig, 114.
  • Berries, 122, 123.
  • Bible, the, 242-244.
  • Birds,
    • removing their eggs, 64, 65;
    • met with in Wisconsin, 64-75, 137-167;
    • accidents to, 131-135;
    • bathing, 187, 188.
  • Birds’-nesting, 27, 28, 44-48.
  • Blackbird,
    • red-winged, 142, 143;
    • hunting, 175.
  • Blacksmith,
    • the minister, 108;
    • his cruelty to his brother, 214-217.
  • Bluebird,
    • nest, 62, 139;
    • a favorite, 138, 139.
  • Boat, 115.
  • Boatmen (insects), 115.
  • Bobolink, 140, 141.
  • Bob-white, or quail,
    • accidents to, 133-135;
    • habits, 151, 152.
  • Books, 241-245.
  • Botany, first lessons in, 280-283.
  • Boys, savagery of, 23-26.
  • Brush fires, 76, 77.
  • Bull-bat, or nighthawk, 69-71.
  • Bullfrogs, 74.
  • Butterfly-weed, 122.
  • Cats,
    • a boy’s cruel prank, 23-26;
    • a cat with kittens, 77, 78;
    • old Tom and the loon, 155-158.
  • Charlie, the feeble-minded man, 214-217.
  • Chickadee, 143, 144.
  • Chickens, prairie, 145, 146.
  • Chipmunk, 193, 194.[290]
  • Choke-damp, 232, 233.
  • Chores, 202-204.
  • , , by Thomas Dick, 242.
  • Clocks, 252-258.
  • Clover, 199, 200.
  • Combe’s Physiology, 188.
  • Consumption, 212, 213.
  • Coons, 170, 184, 185.
  • Copperhead, 110, 111.
  • Corn, husking, 105, 106.
  • Cows, sympathy with, 94.
  • Crane, sandhill, 68, 97.
  • Crops, Wisconsin, 199, 200.
  • Cypripedium, 121, 122.
  • Dandy Doctor terror, the, 6-9.
  • Davel Brae, 28-30.
  • Deer, 169-174.
  • Desk, a student’s, 283, 284.
  • Dick, Thomas, his , 242.
  • Dog, Watch, the mongrel, 77-83.
  • Duck, wood, 147, 148.
  • Ducks, wild, 147, 148.
  • Dunbar, Scotland,
    • a boyhood in, 1-55;
    • later visit to, 37, 38.
  • Dunbar Castle, 17.
  • Duncan, William, 233.
  • Eagle, bald, and fish hawk, 51, 52.
  • Early-rising machine, 252-256, 284.
  • Ferns, 122.
  • Fiddler, story of a Scotch, 130, 131.
  • Fighting, boys’, 28-30, 33-37.
  • Fireflies, 71, 72.
  • Fires,
    • brush, 76, 77;
    • household, 204;
    • grass, 230;
    • lighting the schoolhouse fire, 277-279.
  • Fishes, 115-117.
  • Fishing, 116, 117.
  • Flicker, 66.
  • Flowers,
    • at Dunbar, 12-14;
    • wild, in Wisconsin, 118-122.
  • Food question, the, 241-244.
  • Fountain Lake, 62, 115-118, 124-129.
  • Fountain Lake Meadow, 62, 71.
  • Fox River, 123, 141, 147.
  • Foxes, 182, 183.
  • Frogs, love-songs of, 74.
  • Fuller, 129.
  • Ghosts, 18, 19.
  • Gilrye, Grandfather, 2-4, 43, 54, 55.
  • Glow-worms, 72.
  • Goose, Canada, 149-151.
  • Gophers, 194-198.
  • Grandfather. Gilrye, Grandfather.
  • Gray, Alexander, 60, 61.
  • Green Lake, 103, 104.
  • Griswold, Judge, 280-282.
  • Grouse, ruffed, or partridge, drumming, 72.
  • Grubs, 229.
  • Half-witted man, 214-217.[291]
  • Hare, Dr., 7.
  • Hares, 181, 182.
  • Hawk, fish, and bald eagle, 51, 52.
  • Hawks, 66, 177.
  • Hell, warnings as to, 76, 77.
  • Hen-hawk, 66.
  • Hickory, 123.
  • Hickory Hill,
    • purchase and development of the farm, 226-234;
    • life at, 234-263;
    • vacation work at, 279.
  • Holabird, Mr., 148.
  • Holidays, 174.
  • Honey-bees, 234-239.
  • Horses,
    • the pony Jack, 95-102;
    • Nob and Nell, 103-105, 107-109.
  • Hunt, the side, 168, 169.
  • Hunting expeditions, 171.
  • Hyla, 75.
  • Ice, whooping of, 207, 208.
  • Ice-storm, 206, 207.
  • “Inchcape Bell, The,” 5, 6.
  • Indian moccasins (flowers), 121, 122.
  • Indians,
    • hunting muskrats, 81, 82;
    • killing pigs, 88, 89;
    • stealing a horse, 103-105;
    • getting ducks and wild rice, 147;
    • hunting coons and deer, 170;
    • fond of muskrat flesh, 180;
    • rights of, 218-220.
  • Industry, excessive, 222-226.
  • Insects, 113-115.
  • Inventions,
    • on the farm, 248-261;
    • introduced to the world, 260-272;
    • the clock fire, 277-279;
    • at the University, 283-286.

  • Jack, the pony, 95-102.
  • Jay, blue, nest, 62-65.
  • Kettle-holes, 98.
  • Kingbird, 66, 67.
  • Kingston, Wis., 59-61.
  • Lady’s-slippers, 121, 122.
  • Lake Mendota, 129.
  • Landlord, a friendly, 264, 265.
  • Lark. Skylark.
  • Lauderdale, Lord, his gardens, 2.
  • Lawson, Peter, 13, 14.
  • Lawson boys, 126, 127, 175.
  • Lightning-bugs, 71, 72.
  • , 122.
  • Linnet, red-headed, 187, 188.
  • “Llewellyn’s Dog,” 4, 5.
  • Locomotive, riding on a, 267-269.
  • Loon, 153-158.
  • Lyon, Mr., teacher, 30, 37.
  • , 51.
  • McRath, Mr., 184, 185.
  • Madison, Wis.,
    • State Fair at, 260, 261, 269-272;
    • life in, 273-287.
  • Mair, George, 218, 219.
  • Mallard, 147.[292]
  • Marmot, mountain, 186.
  • Meadowlark, 143.
  • Meals, 42, 43;
    • the Scotch religious view of, 249, 250.
  • Melons, 200.
  • Minister, the blacksmith, 108;
    • his cruelty to his brother, 214-217.
  • Moccasins, Indian, 121, 122.
  • Mosquitoes, 113, 114.
  • Mouse, European field, with young, 3.
  • Mouse,
    • meadow, field, 106, 107;
    • eaten by a horse, 107.
  • Muir, Anna, 56.
  • Muir, Anne (Gilrye) (mother), 11, 15, 16, 20, 22, 23, 28, 49, 256, 259, 260, 263.
  • Muir, Daniel (brother), 56, 115, 146, 223.
  • Muir, Daniel (father), 10, 11, 24, 31, 43, 44, 49, 53-56, 58-61, 83, 90, 94-96, 100-102, 115, 148, 191, 195, 203, 205, 218, 222, 224, 226, 231-234;
    • admonitions, 76, 77;
    • Scotch correction, 84-87;
    • as a church-goer, 107, 108;
    • his advice as to swimming, 124;
    • his ideas about books and the Bible, 241-244;
    • rules as to going to bed and getting up, 245-251;
    • his religious view of meals, 249, 250;
    • and his son’s inventions, 253-258;
    • his parting advice to his son, 262;
    • theories on bringing up children, 263.
  • Muir, David, 11, 20-22, 43, 53, 54, 56, 62, 78, 85-87, 97, 110, 115, 125, 126, 223, 231, 263, 264;
    • kills a deer, 172-174.
  • Muir, John,
    • fondness for the wild, 1, 49, 50;
    • earliest recollections, 1-3;
    • first school, 3-10, 28-30;
    • favorite stories in reading-book, 4-6;
    • favorite hymns and songs, 9, 10;
    • early fondness for flowers, 12-14;
    • an early accident, 15, 16;
    • bathing, 16, 17;
    • boyish sports, 17-26, 40, 41;
    • grammar school, 30-39;
    • birds’-nesting, 44-48;
    • early interest in America, 51-53;
    • emigration to America, 53-59;
    • settling in Wisconsin, 58-62;
    • life on the Fountain Lake farm, 62-226;
    • escaping a whipping, 84-87;
    • learning to ride, 95-100;
    • learning to swim, 124-129;
    • ambition in mowing and cradling, 202, 223;
    • put to the plough, 220, 221;
    • hard work, 221-224;
    • running the breaking plough, 227-229;
    • life at Hickory Hill, 230-263;
    • adventure in digging a well, 231-234;
    • educating himself, 240-247;
    • early rising proves a way out of difficulties, 245-251;[293]
    • inventions, 248-261;
    • deciding on an occupation, 259-261;
    • determines to take his inventions to the State Fair, 260-262;
    • starting out into the world, 262-269;
    • at the State Fair, 269-272;
    • enters a machine-shop at Prairie du Chien, 272, 273;
    • odd jobs at Madison, 273, 274;
    • enters the University, 274-276;
    • life at the University, 276-287;
    • teaching school, 277-279;
    • vacation work at Hickory Hill, 279;
    • first lessons in botany, 280-283;
    • more inventions, 283-286;
    • enters the University of the Wilderness, 286, 287.
  • Muir, Margaret, 56, 253.
  • Muir, Mary, 56.
  • Muir, Sarah, 15, 56, 127.
  • Muir’s Lake. Fountain Lake.
  • Muskrats,
    • an Indian hunting, 81, 82;
    • habits, 177-181.

  • Nighthawk, 69-71.
  • Nob and Nell, the horses, 103-105, 107-109.
  • Nuthatches, 144, 145.
  • Nuts, 123, 124.
  • Oriole, Baltimore, 143.
  • Owls, 145.
  • Oxen, humanity in, 90-94.
  • Pardeeville, Wis., 263-266.
  • Partridge, ruffed grouse, drumming, 72.
  • Pasque-flower, 119-121.
  • Phrenology, 266.
  • Pickerel, 116, 117.
  • Pigeon, passenger,
    • Audubon’s account, 52, 53, 162-166;
    • extermination, 83;
    • in Wisconsin, 158-162;
    • Pokagon’s account, 166, 167.
  • Ploughing, 201, 202, 220, 221;
    • the breaking plough, 227-229.
  • Plutarch’s Lives, 241, 242.
  • Pokagon, his account of the passenger pigeon, 166, 167.
  • Portage, Wis., 93, 94, 108.
  • Prairie chickens, 145, 146.
  • Prairie du Chien, 272, 273.
  • Pucaway Lake, 147.
  • Quail. Bob-white.
  • Rabbits, 181, 189.
  • Raccoon, 170, 184, 185.
  • Rails, splitting, 221, 222.
  • Rattlesnakes, 110.
  • Reid, Mr., 213, 214.
  • Ridgway, Robert, 64.
  • Road-making, 209.
  • Robin, American, 139.
  • Robin, European, 27, 28.
  • Scootchers, 20-22.
  • Scotch, the, their ideas of self-punishment, 130, 131.
  • Scotch, the language, 57.
  • Scottish Grays, 27.[294]
  • Self-punishment, 130, 131.
  • Settlers in Wisconsin, 211-220, 222-226.
  • Shrike, a burglarious, 195-198.
  • Siddons, Mungo, 8, 9, 12, 30.
  • Skaters (insects), 115.
  • Skylark, 46-48.
  • Snake, blow, 111.
  • Snakes, 110-112.
  • Snipe, a case of difficult parturition, 134.
  • Snipe, jack, 73.
  • Snowstorms, 206.
  • Southey, Robert, his “Inchcape Bell,” 5, 6.
  • Sow, the old, 88, 89.
  • Sparrow, song, 143.
  • Spermophile, ground squirrel, a frozen, 135, 136.
  • Spirit-rappings, 210, 211.
  • Squirrel, flying, 192.
  • Squirrel, gray, 190-192.
  • Squirrel, ground. Gophers Spermophile.
  • State Fair, 260, 261, 269-272.
  • Stirling, Professor, 275, 276.
  • Strawberries, wild, 122.
  • Sunfish, 116.
  • Swamps, 208, 209.
  • Swans, wild, 149.
  • Swimming, 124-129.
  • Tanager, scarlet, 143.
  • Thermometer, a large, 258, 259.
  • Thrasher, brown, 139, 140.
  • Thrush, brown. Thrasher.
  • Thunder-storms, 75, 76.
  • Trap, the steel, 180.
  • Tuberculosis, 212, 213.
  • Turk’s-turban, 122.
  • Turtle, snapping, 80.
  • Vaccination, 11.
  • Water-boatmen, 115.
  • Water-bugs, 114.
  • Water-lily, 118, 119.
  • Well, digging a, 231-234.
  • Whippings, 84-87.
  • Whip-poor-will, 68, 69.
  • Wiard, an inventor, 272, 273.
  • Wilson, Alexander, account of fish hawk and bald eagle, 51, 52.
  • Wind-flower, 119-121.
  • Wisconsin, settling in, 58-62;
    • life in, 62-287.
  • Woodpecker, red-headed, 66;
    • drowning, 131-133;
    • shot and resurrected, 175, 176.
  • Woodpeckers, nest-holes and young, 65, 66.
  • Wrecks, 38, 39.

Inconsistently hyphenated words in text:

Page 55: care-free and Page 61: carefree
Page 59: heart-breaking and Page 109 and 227: heartbreaking
Page 102: pell-mell and Page 8: pellmell
Page 193: hazel-nuts and Page 124: hazelnuts
Page 224: over-work and Page 215: overwork
Page 269: foot-board and Page 273: footboard
Page 278: school-room and Page 8: schoolroom

Page 55: care-free and Page 61: carefreePage 59: heart-breaking and Page 109 and 227: heartbreakingPage 102: pell-mell and Page 8: pellmellPage 193: hazel-nuts and Page 124: hazelnutsPage 224: over-work and Page 215: overworkPage 269: foot-board and Page 273: footboardPage 278: school-room and Page 8: schoolroom






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