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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 14. Our Road—How I Was Wounded


FATHER got our road laid out and districted for a mile and a half on the north and south section line. One mile north of our place it struck the Dearborn road. Father cut it out, cut all the timber on the road two rods wide. After it was cut out I could get on the top of a stump in the road, by the side of our place, and look north carefully among the stumps, for a minute, and if there was any one coming, on the road, I could distinguish them from the stumps by seeing them move. In fact we thought we were almost getting out into the world. We could see the sand hill where father finally bought and built his house. [At the junction of Monroe Boulevard and Madison Street; see ante, p. 29 for identification of the road whose construction is here described.] Father was path-master for a number of years and he crosswayed the lowest spots and across the black ash swales. He cut logs twelve feet long and laid them side by side across the center of the road. Some of the logs, that he put into the road on the lowest ground, were more than a foot through; of course smaller poles answered where the ground was higher. We called this our corduroy road.

In doing our road work and others doing theirs, year after year, in course of time we had the log way built across the wettest parts of the road. When it was still I could hear a cart or wagon, coming or going, rattling and pounding over the logs for nearly a mile. But it was so much better than water and mud that we thought it quite passable. We threw some clay and dirt on to the logs and it made quite an improvement, especially in a dry time. But in a wet time it was then, and is now, a very disagreeable road to travel, as the clay gathers on the feet of the pedestrian, until it is a load for him to carry. This gave it, in after times, the name of the "Hardscrabhle Road." When it was wet it was almost impossible to get through with a team and load. At such times we had to cross Mr. Pardee's place and go around the ridge on a road running near the old trail. Now the "Hardscrahble Road" is an old road leading to the homes of hundreds. Sometimes there may be seen twelve or fifteen teams at once on the last half mile of that road, besides footmen, coming and going all in busy life. They little know the trouble we once had there in making that road.

Father had very hard work to get along. He had to pay Mrs. Phlihaven twenty-seven dollars every year to satisfy her on the mortgage, as he was not able to pay the principal. That took from us what we needed very much. If we could have had it to get us clothes it would have helped us, as we were all poorly clad. Some of the younger children went barefooted all winter a number of times. I often saw their little barefooted tracks in the snow.

As we had no team we had to get along the best we could. Father changed work with Mr. Pardee: he came with his oxen and plowed for us. Father had to work two days for one, to pay him. In this way we got some plowing done. There was a man by the name of Stockman who lived near Dearbornyule. He had a pair of young oxen. Being a carpenter, by trade, he worked at Detroit some of the time. He would let father use his oxen some of the time for their keeping, and that he might break them better, as they were not thoroughly broken. They would have been some profit to us if they had not crippled me.

One day I was drawing logs with them. I had hitched the chain around a log and they started. I hallooed, "Whoa!" but they wouldn't stop. They swung the log against me, caught my leg between the log they were drawing and the sharp end of another log and had me fast. It cut the calf of my leg nearly in two, and tore the flesh from the bone, but did not break it. I screamed and made an awful ado. Father and Mr. Purdy heard me and came running as fast as they could, they took me up and carried me to the house. It was over three long months before I could take another step with that leg. This accident made it still harder for father. I know I saved him a good many steps and some work. I am sure he was pleased when I got over my lameness and so I could help him again. I took a great interest in everything he did and helped him all I could.

Finally father got a chance to work by the day, for the government, at Dearbornville. He received six shillings a day in silver. He said he would leave me, to do what I could on the place, and he would try working for Uncle Sam a part of the time. In haying and harvesting he had to work at home. He cut all the grass himself and it grew very stout. We found our land was natural for timothy and white clover. The latter would come up thick in the bottom, of itself, and make the grass very heavy. It was my business to spread the hay and rake it up. In this way we soon got through with our having and harvesting. We had already seeded some land down for pasture. We went to Dearbornville and got hayseed off of a barn floor and scattered it on the ground, in this way we seeded our first pasture. Father sometimes let a small piece of timothy stand until it got ripe. Then took his cradle, cut it and I tied it up in small bundles and then stood it up until it was dry. When dry it was thrashed out; in this way we soon had plenty of grass seed of our own, without having to buy it. We began to have quite a stock of cows and young cattle. We had pasture for them a part of the time, but sometimes we had to let them run in the woods. At night I would go after them. When I got in sight of them I would count them, to see if they were all there. The old cow (which had been no small part of our support and our stand-by through thick and thin) would start and the rest followed her. When they were strung along ahead of me and I was driving them I would think to myself: now we've got quite a herd of cattle! From our first settlement mother wanted to, and did, raise every calf.

Father worked for the government what time he could spare. He had to go two miles morning and night. He carried his dinner in a little tin pail with a cover on it. When the days were short he had to start very early, and when he returned it would be in the evening. I recollect very well some things that he worked at. The arsenal and other buildings were up when we came here. They built a large brick wall from building to building, making the yard square. The top of the wall was about level. I think this wall was built twelve or fifteen feet high, it in- closes three or four acres. There thousands of soldiers put on their uniforms and with their bright muskets in their hands and knapsacks strapped upon their backs drilled and marched to and fro. There they prepared themselves for the service of the country and to die, if need be, in defending the old flag of stars and stripes which waved there above their heads. Little thought they that the ground under their feet, so beautiful and level inside that yard was made ground, in some places for six or eight feet deep, and that it was done at Uncle Sam's expense for the pleasure of his boys in blue. It was their school yard in which to learn the science of war. My father helped to grade this enclosure. They drew in sand from the sand ridge back of the yard, from where the government barn now stands, with one-horse carts. [The arsenal, which was responsible for Dearborn's first boom, was begun in the summer of 1833 and completed in 1837. It consisted of eleven brick buildings arranged around a square whose sides were 360 feet long. A wall of heavy masonry, 12 feet high, filled the spaces between the several buildings, thus providing a complete walled enclosure. The arsenal continued in service about forty years, and during the Civil War it became an organization camp for regiments of Michigan soldiers. The fine mansion built by Lieutenant Joshua Howard, the first commandant of the Arsenal, is still one of the show-places of Dearborn. The Arsenal buildings have largely disappeared, but one or two of them still survive. The commandant's quarters are today utilized as a police station, and the sutler's store is a private residence.]

Father was very fond of Indian bread which he called "Johnny cake." When mother had wheat bread for the rest of us she often baked a "Johnny cake" for him. One day he took a little "Johnny cake," a cup of butter and some venison, in his little tin pail, for his dinner. He left it as usual in the workshop. At noon he partook of his humble repast. He said he left a piece of his "Johnny cake" and some butter. He thought that would make him a lunch at night, when his day's work was done and he started home. He went for his pail and found that his lunch was gone, and in place of it a beautiful pocket knife.

He said there were two or three government officers viewing and inspecting the arsenal and ground that day. He said they went into the shop where he left his dinner pail and lunch. He was sure they were the ones who took his lunch. He said they knew what was good, for they ate all the "Johnny cake" and butter he had left. The knife was left open and he thought they forgot and left it through mistake. But I think more probably they knew something of father's history.

He was one who would have been noticed in a crowd of workmen. I have no doubt the boss told them that he was a splendid workman. That he had had bad luck, that he lived on a new place, two or three miles back in the woods, that he had a large family to support and came clear out there every day to work. "Here is his dinner pail" one says, "let's look in it" and what did they see but a piece of Indian bread and some butter? Methinks, one of the officers might have said: "I have not eaten any of that kind of bread since my mother baked it down in New England. Let's try it." Then took out his knife, cut it in three or four pieces, spread the butter on and they ate it. Then he said, "Here is my knife, worth twelve shillings, I will leave it open; he shall have it. I will give it to him as an honorary present, for his being a working man, and to compensate him for what we have eaten. It has reminded me of home." Now if the view I have taken is correct, it shows that they were noble, generous and manly; that they felt for the poor, in place of trifling with their feelings.

After father finished working there, he sold some young cattle and managed in some way to buy another yoke of oxen. We had good hay for them. Father went to the village and bought him a new wagon. It was a very good iron axletree wagon, made in Dearbornville by William Halpin. We were very much pleased to have a team again and delighted with our new wagon.

We had very good luck with these oxen and kept them until we got a horse team, and in fact longer, for after I left my father's house (and I was twenty-two years old when I left) he had them. Then he said his place was cleared up, and the roots rotted enough so that he could get along and do his work with horses. He sold his oxen to Mr. Purdy, and they were a good team then.


 


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