There was no son of the Pioneers ever
attained the distinction of their fathers. It was no fault of theirs—no lack
of natural ability and enterprise, but was the result of their
environment—their limited opportunities and the insurmountable barriers that
circumscribed their means of developing the best that was in them.
It must be remembered that these sons
of the Pioneer first saw the light of day in the midst of the primitive
forests of the western slope of the Appalachian Range, far remote from
civilization and the influences and advantages of institutions of learning
and the associations of older settlements. Rude dwellings were their
habitations and patient toil their grinding lot. The Pioneers came out from
a land of culture and light and plunged into the wilds, but these sons came
forth in the wilds to fight their way to higher life and better conditions.
The act of the fathers was an act of voluntary selfabnegation and sacrifice
for the benefit of their posterity, but for the sons there was no volition—it
was fate—and right well did each perform his part, and handicapped as they
were death found each man under his own ample roof-tree surrounded by the
Arthur-son of Arthur-was born
in Northumberland county, Pennsylvania, at Duncan's Island, on the
Susquehanna, about A. D. 1790; and at the age of four years was brought to
the French Creek country. We have seen the kind of schooling he received.
When quite young he was on horseback carrying the mail between Pittsburg and
Erie. His education was gathered up on rough roads among rougher men. He
became connected with the Passenger Stage Coach and Mail business, and I
think continued some kind of association with it as long as he lived. He was
a great humorist, and the following clipping from the Western Press by the
facile pen of Archie Blakely will serve to illustrate some of his amiable
traits and irrepressible love of fun:
THE WESTERN PRESS.
(From the Butler Eagle.)
ARTHUR McGILL OF THE ERIE AND
PITTSBURG STAGE COMPANY.
I was chairman of the
Republican Executive Committee of Butler County in 1856-our committee,
hearing that Cassius M. Clay, of Kentucky, was on a speaking tour North, and
would be in Pittsburg, instructed me to go to Pittsburg and arrange for Clay
to come to Butler. The best I could get done was to have Mr. Clay brought
out during the early part of the night, after he had spoken in Pittsburg,
and then we were to take him back the next night.
Joseph Knox, a
bachelor-member of the Pittsburg bar, living at the Monongahela House,
having to make a business drive to Clarion, agreed to bring Mr. Clay out,
and we were to take him back. The plank road was then new and in fine
condition and good moonlight for the contemplated drive.
We arranged for quarters at
the Klingler, now the Lowry House. Mr. Clay slept late, and I was there in
waiting to see him when he came down. I expressed the hope that their night
ride had not been unpleasant. He said, No, excepting that they had struck a
toll-gatherer (he called him) on the way, who had been very insolent and
insulting. I asked him at what point, and he answered that Mr. Knox said it
was the Glades or something of that kind.
I saw Knox, and he said that
when they approached the toll-gate at Glade Mills it was about midnight, but
the moon was bright and clear, and the pole which constituted the gate was
drawn across the road. This was right in front of a dwelling house, and he
called several times and a man came out on the porch with nothing on but his
shirt, and answered
"What in h-l do you want?"
Knox answered : "We want to go
to Butler." The man replied : "Then, why in h-l don't you
Knox answered : `We can't go
until the gate is opened."
The man answered : "I don't
propose to open the gate after midnight for every fool, jail-bird,
night-hawk, sheep-thief or d-d black Republican that comes along."
Knox then asserted his legal
rights in the matter. The man on the porch answered : "You have no legal
rights until you pay your toll."
Knox then asked him to come
out to the carriage and get his toll. The man on the porch swore he wouldn't
go to the carriage, as they might murder or kidnap him. Knox then got out
and paid the toll, when the pole was raised and they passed through.
When I remembered that Arthur
McGill was the toll-keeper, I could understand the whole thing and told Knox
and Clay that he was a decided character, evidently knew who they were and
was having some fun.
Mr. Clay spoke the next day
and it fell to my lot to drive him to Pittsburg that night. We struck Glade
Mills about 10 o'clock. The pole was down and all was as quiet as the grave.
I halloed and yelled and screamed and made all kinds of noises. After awhile
McGill came and called out: "What in h-1 is the matter with you?"
I answered that we wanted to get
through the gate.
McGill said: "Oh, is that
all; I thought you had the toothache," and added, "I can't let every
foolkiller through who comes along at this time of night until he pays his
I answered, "Here is your toll;
come out and get it."
His house was on the right
side of the road, passing down, and I sat next the house, with Clay on my
left. McGill came out, and as I handed him the toll, he exclaimed :
"Oh, h-1, is this you,
Archie? I'll never throw a straw in the way of Lewis Blakely's white-headed
boy if I can help it."
Mr. Clay spoke up and said: "You
insulted me, sir, when I passed through here last night."
Mr. McGill replied : "Insult and
be d-d to you."
Mr. Clay drew a revolver very
deliberately from his side pocket, saying, "How do you fight, sir?"
McGill, reaching out his
hand, said: "Give me your hand ; you're Cassius M. Clay, I thought I could
smoke you out."
He called a man to take
charge of the team and had us both get out, took us in, introduced us to his
wife and daughter, and passed out to a large porch running the entire length
of the house, covered with vines, the moonlight streaming through them, the
valley of Glade Run running away westward-the foliage all bathed in the
richest moonlight I ever saw.
They had the great family
table set with snow-white tablecloth and napkins, and as fine a supper as I
ever tasted, and whiskies and wines galore. The play of wit and repartee
between Clay and McGill was one of the richest treats of my life.
In the first year of the
Civil War I met Gen. Clay in Kentucky and introduced myself, and he
immediately asked for the old toll-gatherer of the Glades.
I met General Clay again in
Washington, after his return from the Court of St. Petersburg, where he had
been serving as Minister from our Government, and his first question was for
the old toll-gatherer of the Glades, and amongst other things said that
moonlight scene was the richest he had ever seen.
I have spoken of McGill's
business methods, and should therefore add that he was Sheriff of the County
for three years, and if any one ever lost by him in his official capacity, I
never heard of it.
His kindness to the poor and
needy of the world was proverbial. He would see no one suffer if he had the
means to help him.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,
soon after the War, I was introduced to a number of very distinguished
gentlemen from Western Pennsylvania and the mention of my name immediately
recalled that of Arthur of the Glades, and many amusing incidents in the
career of the old humorist were related, and I learned that he was widely
known and held a high place in the esteem of many political leaders of the
time. Among many incidents mentioned was a clash of wits which occurred at
the Capital between McGill and the distinguished Thaddeus Stevens in which
that king of satire and "man of infinite jest," did not come out ahead.
It was told of him that when
Sheriff of Butler county, there was admitted to the bar a pale young man,
who had fought his way through privation and want and reached the goal of
his ambition, but he had also reached the crackers and cheese stage of the
profession. A troubled look was on his face, and something that seemed to
speak of hunger in his eyes when the Sheriff met him in the corridor slipped
a fifty-dollar bill into his hand and whispered: "You can pay me when you
When in the Stage Coach and
Hostelry line of business, he was, one stormy day, making his way over
execrable roads between Pittsburg and the Glade Mills with an empty
coach-and-four, and came across two Irishmen by the wayside.
"Boys, jump in and take a ride."
"Thank ye, Mr. McGill," came the
ready response; "we can't; we're in a hurry to get beyant."
"Whoa." The coach stopped.
"Now climb in," and they did.
He took them to the Glades; bade them clean the mud off their boots and
clothes - gave them an excellent supper - a warm, clean bed and a hearty
breakfast. Then chucking a bottle of whisky into one of their pockets, he
said: "Now, d-n you, be gone."
A neighbor called and asked
the loan of a farming implement. "No, sir; I don't lend my tools. There is
nothing in lending," was the gruff response. The man turned away with a look
of disappointment on his, face. "Hold on," said Arthur, impressively, "I
want to tell you something; when you see any implement or tool about my
place that you want to use - take it - use it, and bring it back when you
are through with it, and don't bother me about it. I have no time to waste
lending tools to my neighbors. I don't lend."
A few days ago an old
gentleman from Lynn, Mass., a sea coast town near Boston, who in his youth
lived in Butler County, Pennsylvania, said to me: "If Arthur McGill, in his
youth, had been afforded the advantages of a liberal education, he would
have ranked high among the greatest humorists of the age."
The versatility of the man
was wonderful-his wit was spontaneous and original. No stale jokes, nor
hackneyed tales found lodgment in his active brain. The humorous side of
life appealed to him and kept him always in a happy mood. He could be rough
when with rough men, gentle when with gentlemen, kind with kindred and
friends and had no enemies on earth.
His business led him away
from the ancestral home and he never returned after his permanent settlement
in Butler county, save once-when he passed through on the wing. It was when
he was Sheriff. His nephew, James D. McGill, was in the mercantile business
in Saegerstown. He was called to the door, and there in his buggy sat Uncle
Arthur. "Get off-Get off!" cried James.
"No, I cannot. Is Charlie at
home?" "I think he is," was the answer. Snap went the whip and away he
whirled to the old Patrick McGill home.
John E. was in front of the
house. "Tell Charlie to come out here quick." Uncle Charles came limping
over the old porch. "Hurry up, Charlie, I just have time to shake hands. I
have a warrant for a man who is ahead and I must catch him before
he gets into Erie. If I miss him I will stop when I come back;" and the whip
cracked and he was never again seen in
It is a matter of sincere
regret that we know so little of this man, nothing of his wife and family—for
he had children. Perhaps some of his descendants are yet living, but they
seem to be lost to us.