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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 3. How We Got Our Sweet, and the History of My First Pig


WE made troughs, tapped hard ma- pies on each side of the creek; took our oxen, sled and two barrels (as the trees were scattered) to draw the sap to the place we had prepared for boiling it.

Now I had an employment entirely new to me: boiling down sap and making sugar, in the woods of Michigan. This was quite a help to us in getting along. We made our own "sweet" and vinegar, also some sugar and molasses to sell. Some springs, we made three or four hundred pounds of sugar. Sugar was not all the good things we had, for there was one added to my father's family, a little sister, who was none the less lovely, in my eye, because she was of Michigan, a native "Wolverine.". [It seems impossible to determine how, or precisely when, the name "Wolverine" came to be applied to the people of Michigan. The trite explanation that the nickname was given because of the former abundance here of the quadruped in question finds no support in the numerous contemporary records from the fur trade era. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the name came into general use about the middle of the decade of the thirties. A significant bit of evidence in this con- nection is found in a letter from Lucius Lyon of Detroit to Henry D. Gilpin of Philadelphia in the autumn of 1835 describing current developments in the Toledo War. "The Wolverines, as we are sometimes called, will be slow to give up the tract in dispute," wrote Lyons. An item in the Detroit Free Press, Sept. 12, 1837, incidentally discloses that by this time the terms "Hoosier" and "Wolverine" were in use in distant New England.]

Now father's family, all told, consisted of mother and six children. The children grew to be men and women, and are all alive to this day, January 26, 1875.

After we came to Michigan mother's health constantly improved. She soon began to like her new home and became more cheerful and happy. I told her we had, what would be, a beautiful place; far better than the rocks and hills we left. I often renewed my promise that if she and I lived and I grew to be a man, we would go back, visit her friends and see again the land of her nativity.

To cheer her still more we received a letter from Mr. G. Purdy of York State, telling us that he was coming to Michigan in the fall, with his wife (mother's beloved sister, Abbie,) and her youngest sister, Sarah, was coming with them.

Asa Blare, the young man who picked up the Indian's knife, bought forty acres of government land joining us on the east, built him a house, went to Ohio, married and brought his wife back with him.

Now we had neighbors on the east of us, and Mr. Henry Travis (a brother-in-law of Mr. Pardee) came, bought land joining Mr. Pardee on the west, built and settled with a large family. About the same time many families from the East came and settled along the creek, for miles west of us.

Now we were on the border of civilization. Our next clearing of any importance was the little ridge. Father commenced around the edge, cut the brush and threw them from the ridge all around it to form a brush fence; then all the trees that would fall into the line of the fence were next felled, also, all that would fall over it, then those which would reach the fence were felled toward it. Then we trimmed them, cut the logs and piled the brush on the fence. I felt very much interested in clearing this piece. When father took his axe and started for work I took mine and was immediately at his side or a little behind him. In this manner we returned and we soon had the two acres cut off and surrounded by an immense log, tree-top and brush fence; at least, I thought it was a great fence. Now came the logging and burning, father worked with his oxen and handspike, I with my handspike. Some of the large logs near the fence he swung round with the oxen and left them by jr. Others we drew together and when we piled them up, father took his handspike and rolled the log, I held it with mine until he got a new hold. In that way I helped him roll hundreds and thousands of logs. We soon had them all in heaps but they were green and burned slowly, some of them would not burn at all then. We scratched round them and put some seeds in every spot. We could do but very little with a plow. Father made a drag out of the crotch of a tree and put iron teeth in it; this did us some service as the land was exceedingly rooty.

In raising our summer crops we had to do most of the work with a hoe. Sometimes where it was very rooty we planted corn with an axe. In order to do this we struck the blade into the ground and roots about two inches, then dropped the corn in and struck again two or three inches from the first place which closed it and the hill of corn was planted.

Now I must go back to the first season and tell how I got my first pig. It was the first of the hog species we owned in Michigan. Father went to the village and I with him. From there we went down to Mr. Thompson's (the man who moved us out from Detroit). Be wished father to see his hogs. They went to the yard, and as was my habit, I followed along. Mr. Thompson called the hogs up. I thought he had some very fine ones. Among them was an old sow that had some beautiful pigs. She seemed to be very cross, raised her bristles and growled at us, as much as to say, "Let my pigs alone."

I suppose Mr. Thompson thought he would have some sport with me, and being generous, he said: "If the boy will catch one I will give it to him." I selected one and started; I paid no attention to the old sow, but kept my eye on the pig I wanted, and the way I went for it was a caution. I caught it and ran for the fence, with the old sow after me. I got over very quickly and was safe with my pig in my arms. I started home; it kicked and squealed and tried to get away, but I held it tightly, patted it and called it "piggy." I said to myself, "Now I have a pig of my own, it will soon grow up to be a hog, and we'll have pork" When I got home I put it in a barrel, covered it up so it could not get out and then took my ax, cut poles, and made it a new pen and put it on one place in Adam's world where pig and pig-pen had never been before. Now, thought I, I've got an ax, a pig and a gun.

One morning, a day or two after this, I went out and the pig was gone. Thinking it might have gone home, I went to Mr. Thompson's and enquired if they had seen t. I looked in the yard but the pig was not there. I made up my mind that it was lost, and started home. I followed the old trail, and when within sixty rods of the place where I now live, I met my pig. I was very glad to see it, but it turned from me and ran right into the woods. Now followed a chase which was very exciting to me. The pig seemed running for its life, I for my property which was going off, over logs and through the brush, as fast as its legs could carry it. It was a hard chase, but I caught the pig and took it back. I made the pen stronger, and put it in again, but it would not eat much and in a few days after died, and away went all my imaginary pork.

Mr. Pardee had bought a piece of land for a Mr. Clapp, of Peekskill, New York, and was agent for the same. He said the south end of this land was openings. It was about one mile from our place, and Mr. Pardee offered to join with father and put corn on it, accordingly, we went to see it. There was some brush, but it was mostly covered with what we called "buffalo grass," which grew spontaneously. Cattle loved it very much in the summer, but their grazing it seemed to destroy it. It soon died out and mostly disappeared, scrub-oak and other brush coming up in its place.

Mr. Pardee and father soon cleared five or six acres of this land, and with the brush they cut made a light brush fence around it, then tore up three or four acres and planted it with corn. The soil was light yellow sand. When the corn came up it was small and yellow. They put in about two acres of buckwheat. A young man by the name of William Beal worked for Pardee. He helped to tend the corn. One morning, as they were going up to hoe the corn, William Beal took his gun and started ahead; this he frequently did very early. He said, when about half way to the corn, he looked toward the creek and saw a black bear coming toward him. He stood in the path, leading to the corn-field, which they had under- brushed. The bear did not discover him until he was near enough, when he fired and shot him dead. This raised quite an excitement among us. I went to see the bear. It was the first wild one I saw in Michigan. They dressed it, and so far as I know, the neighbors each had a piece; at all events, we had some.

They hoed the corn once or twice, and then made up their minds it was no use, as it would not amount to much, the land being too poor. The whole crop of corn, gathered there, green at that, nubbins and all, was put into a half bushel handle basket, excepting what the squirrels took.

The buckwheat didn't amount to much, either. Wild turkeys trampled it down and ate the grain, in doing which, many of them lost their lives. I began to consider myself quite a marksman. I had already, with father's rifle, shot two deer, and had gotten some of the turkeys.

Father never cropped it any more on the openings, and his experience there made him much more pleased with his own farm. That land is near me, and I have seen a great many crops growing on it, both grain and other crops, but never one which I thought would pay the husbandman for his labor.

Father's partnership with Mr. Pardee was so unsuccessful on the openings, and in having to take the oxen back, and buy hay for them when that article was very high (their running out helped him some) that he concluded to go into partnership with Mr. Pardee, no more.

He sold half of his oxen to Asa Blare, who paid the money down, so their partnership opened in a little better shape. This partnership, father said, was necessary as our money had become very much reduced, and everything we bought, (such as flour and pork) was extremely dear; besides, we had no way to make a farthing except with our "maple-sweet" or the hide of a deer.

Father could not get work, for there were but few settlers, and none near him, who were able to hire. So he economized to save his money as much as possible, and worked at home. The clearing near the house grew larger and larger, and now we could see the beautiful sun earlier.

Father worked very hard, got three acres cleared and ready for wheat. Then he went away and bought about four bushels of white wheat for seed. This cost a snug sum in those days. About the last of August he sowed it and dragged it in with his drag. He sowed about a bushel and a peck to the acre. (I have for many years back, and to the present time, sowed two bushels to the acre.)

His wheat came up and looked beautiful. The next spring and early summer it was very nice. One day a neighbor's unruly ox broke into it. I went through it to drive him out and it was knee high. Father said take the ox home. I did so. The neighbor was eating dinner. I told him his ox had been in our wheat and that father wished him to keep the ox away. He said we must make the fence better and he would not get in. This was the first unkind word I had received from a neighbor in Michigan. The wheat escaped the rust, headed and filled well and was an excellent crop. It helped us a great deal and was our manna in the wilderness.

Father and I continued our chopping until we connected the two clearings. Then we commenced to see the sun in the morning and we thought it shone brighter here than it did in York State. Some of the neighbors said that it really did, and that it might be on account of a reflection from the water of the great lakes. Perhaps it was because the deep gloom of the forest had shaded us so long and was now removed. Israel like, we looked back and longed for the good things we had left, viz:—apples, pears and the quince sauce. Even apples were luxuries we could not have and we greatly missed them. We cleared new ground, sowed turnip seed, dragged it in and raised some very large nice turnips. At this time there was not a wagon in the neighborhood, but Mr. Travis, being a mechanic and ingenious, cut down a tree, sawed off two short logs, used them for hubs and made the wheels for a cart. These he took to Dearbornville and had them ironed off. He made the body himself and then had an ox-cart. This was the only wheeled vehicle in the place for some years. As Mr. Travis was an obliging man the neighbors borrowed his cart. Some- times it went to Dearbornville to bring in provision, or other things, and sometimes it went to mill. (There was a mill on the river Rouge, one mile north of Dearbornville.) With this cart and oxen the neighbors carried some of their first products, sugar, butter, eggs, &c., to Detroit. Some young sightseers, who had not seen Detroit since they moved into the woods and wished to see it, were on board. They had to start before midnight so it would be cool traveling for the oxen. This was the first cart and oxen ever seen in Detroit from our part of the town of Dearborn.

They reached home the following night, at about ten o'clock, and told me about the trip.

We wanted apples, so father took his oxen, vent and borrowed the cart, loaded it with turnips, went down the river road half way to Detroit, traded them with a Frenchman for apples and brought home a load which were to us delicious fruit. In this way we got our apples for many years. These apples were small, not so large and nice as those we had been used to having; but they were Michigan apples and we appreciated them very much. They lasted us through the winter and did us much good.


 


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