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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 30. Mother's Visit to the Eastó1861


I GO with her, accompanied by my wife and brother John S. As the train we wished to take did not stop at Dearborn I had a hired man, with my team, take us to Detroit. Father went with us to Detroit and to the Michigan Central Depot. We went aboard the railroad ferry boat and were soon across the river and on the cars on the "Great Western Railway." We were soon receding very fast from Michigan; going across lots and down through the woods of Upper Canada. [Until 1791 all Canada was embraced within the limits of the province of Quebec. In the French period the terms pay bas and pay d'haute (lower country and upper country) were commonly used to distinguish the older portion of the country, below Montreal, from the newer portion adjoining the Great Lakes. In 1793 Quebec Province was divided, the two new creations taking the names of Lower Canada and Upper Canada. Eventually, the name of Quebec was restored to the lower province, while Upper Canada was transformed into present-day Ontario.] I tried to see as much as I could of the country, while we were swiftly passing through it. I told mother we would manage it so as to see the whole route, either going or coming, by day- light. I didn't see anything in particular to admire in Canada until we got down near London and beyond. Then I saw some good country and I thought it would compare favorably with Michigan land. [The portion of Ontario which Nowlin viewed with disapproval is today a rich agricultural region. However the land is low and flat, and along the lower Thames River levees have been built to protect it from overflow. In 1861 there were more woods and fewer drainage ditches than now, and a cursory view of the country from the car window may have seemed to justify the opinion the traveler formed of it.]

Just before sundown we got to the swinging bridge, which hangs over and across Niagara River. We crossed it very carefully. Just as the sun was about half hid beyond the western horizon our car reached terra-firma in the state of New York. I felt a little more secure and at home, than I felt when leaving Canada, when we had reached our native state.

In a little while we were aboard the cars of the "New York Central Railroad" and making our way through the darkness rapidly, toward the east. I told mother we must try and get a good rest, that night, on the way to Albany. We located ourselves the best we could for the night. We had only gone a little ways when, all at once, there was a terrible rattling and jingling, made by the passing of another train. It made a noise something like the shelf of a crockery store tumbling down and breaking in pieces glass ware, earthen ware and all. This noise was accompanied with a heavy rumbling sound which shook the ground and the car we were in and caused them to tremble. The flash of the light of the passing train, as it sped on its way, was so quick by us that it was impossible to see whether it was a light or not. It appeared like the ghost of a light or a spectre in its flight through the darkness, for a moment and it was gone. It left no trace behind that I could see. There had two or three of those trains of cars passed us before I was able to make out what made the extra noise. Not having any knowledge that there was a double track there, and never having rode where there was one before, it took me a little while, to make up my mind in regard to it.

Both trains going at full speed, in the night, the one we passed vanishing so quickly, vet not taking the impression it made on us with its whizzing, hissing, tearing sound, it seemed like some fierce demon from Tartarus bent on an errand of annihilation. But it was only another train, like unto the one we were enjoying, and, if as successful as the officers of the "New York Central Railroad" wished, it would only seem to annihilate time for its transient occupants. For the coal miner's invention seemed to make as much discount on time as any wonder of the last age except our American Morse' lightning talker. [The electric telegraph had been invented by Samuel F. B. Morse about fifteen years before this journey. In recent decades telegraph lines have come to be associated with railroads; the earlier lines, however, were run through the country entirely apart from railroad rights of way, and frequently to places where no railroad ran. The memory of one such line is today embodied in the name Telegraph Road, the great highway which runs north and south just west of the William Nowlin farm.] We found there was but very little sleep or rest for us that night. I could look out of the car window and peer into the darkness and see lights dotted along here and there, every once in a while; they seemed low down and looked some like the lights from the back windows of low log cabins. I made out that they were lights on board of canal boats. I recollected having passed along there about thirty years before, and that I jumped into the canal and got terribly wet. Now we were traveling at a more rapid rate; yes, as far in one hour as we did in all day then, with a large train of passengers. It was impossible for mother to get any rest that night. Just as it got nicely light, in the morning, we arrived at Albany.

No doubt there were on that train, who rode through the night with us, the churchman, the statesman, the officer and men who would quickly dress themselves in blue and march, under the old flag to defend our country. Farmers and mechanics, men and women of almost every station in life were there. Some went one way and some another, each intent upon what they thought concerned them most at the time.
We went to a restaurant for breakfast and especially to get a good cup of tea for mother. (It had been rather a tedious night for her.) Then we went on board a ferry boat and crossed over the North River, ["North River" is but another name for the Hudson. "York State," "North River," and other terms local to New York were evidently used by Nowlin to the end of his life.] then took the "Harlem Railroad" for Pattison, where we arrived about noon. This was within three miles of where mother was brought up and I was born. We hired a livery team to take us to Uncle Allen Light's. In going we passed by a school house where I learned my "A, B, Abs."

Mother's heart beat high with emotions of joy as she neared her much beloved brother's dwelling. She had always thought of him as the young man she left thirty years before; but she found that the frosts of thirty winters had changed his locks as well as hers.

I asked the driver if Allen Light was much of a farmer; he said that he was. I asked him if he kept a good many cattle; he said he did. I told him when he got there to let the valises remain in the carriage, and to cover them up, after we got out, with the robes so they would not be seen, and that I wanted him to wait a little while, and I would try and buy uncle's fat cattle. At least, I would sound him a little and see what kind of mettle he was made of, and he would see the result. I made a special bargain with mother and she promised to keep still and keep her veil over her face until I introduced her. She told me afterward, she never would make another such a bargain as that with me. She said, it was too hard work for her, when she saw them to keep from speaking.

Just before we made this visit, my brother and I went to see friends west, and viewed some prairies of Illinois. We visited Chicago, the great city of the West, went through it where we saw a great deal of it. We went into the City Hall, or Court House, and up its winding stairs to a height so great, that we could overlook most of the city. I saw that the city covered a good deal of ground. From the elevated position we were occupying, we looked down and saw men and women walking, in the street below us, and they looked like a diminutive race. As I looked I thought the ground was rather flat and level for a city, but we made up our minds it was a great place. Some of the merchandise of all the world was there. We came home feeling very well satisfied with our own city, Detroit. For the beauty of its scenery and the location of the city I should give my preference to the "City of the Straits."

Now I had gotten away down east. I had rode a little ways on the outside of Cowper's wheel. We had all got out of the carriage, in front of uncle's house, went up to the door and knocked and all went in. I asked if Mr. Light lived there. Uncle said he was the man. Aunt brought chairs for the ladies and they sat down. She asked them if they would take off their things, they refused, as much as to say, they, were not going to stop but a few minutes. I asked uncle immediately, if he had some fat cattle to sell. He said he had some oxen that he would sell, and we went out to look at them. Of course I was more anxious to see how uncle appeared than I was to see the cattle. They were in the barnyard near the house. I tried to make uncle think, that I had cattle on the brain the most of anything. I walked around them, viewed them, felt of them, started them along, asked uncle how much they would weigh, &c. I kept a sly eye on uncle, to see how much in earnest he was and how he looked. He was a portly, splendid looking man. He appeared, to me, to be a good, hale, healthy, honest farmer, well kept and one who enjoyed life. He would sell his property if he got his price, not otherwise. He was rather austere and independent about it. He asked me my name and where I was from. (This is a trait of eastern men, down near Connecticut, to ask a man his name and where he lives and, sometimes, where he is going.) I saw that uncle was getting me in rather close quarters, but I talked away as fast as possible, walking around and looking at the cattle. I asked him what he would take for them, by the lump, I was trying to evade the questions, that he had asked me.

I told him that my home was wherever I happened to be, that I paid the cash for every thing which I bought, that I had just come from Illinois, where I had relatives, and down through Michigan. I told him that I was very well acquainted in some parts of Michigan, that I had been in Canada and that a great many people there called me a "Kentuckian;" and I didn't know as it mattered what I was called so long as I was able to pay him for his cattle. I wanted to know the least he would take for them; he told me. Then I said, I would consider it, we would go to the house and see how the ladies were getting along.

Going along I made up my mind that uncle thought I was rather an eccentric drover. He seemed to be interested in what I had said about Michigan and wanted to know something about the country. When we went into the house, I saw that mother was getting impatient and our livery driver sat there vet, waiting to hear how it came out and to deliver our satchels.

Mr. Light, your name sounds very familiar to me, I have heard the name, Light, often before. Have you any relatives living in the West, He said he had two sisters living in Michigan, in the town of Dearborn. Why, said I, I have been in the town often and am well acquainted there. I know a good many of the people. It is ten miles west of Detroit on the Chicago road. I saw he began to take great interest in what I said. I asked if he thought he would know one of his sisters if she were present. He said he thought he would. I told him there was one there.

Then they threw off all restraint and met as only loved ones can after so long a separation. Uncle was overjoyed to see her again, upon earth, and mother was delighted to see him and Aunt Betsey. The light of other days, youth and happy associations of life flashed up before them in memory clear and vivid, which touched the most sensitive chord of their hearts and caused them to vibrate, in love for one another. They visited as only two who love so well and have been separated so long can visit. Minds less sensitive, than theirs, cannot imagine with what degree of intensity of spirit and feeling, they told over to each other, first some of the scenes of their youth, which they enjoyed together so many years before, then the absence of loved ones dear to them both. A father, two brothers and a sister had departed their life since mother moved to Michigan. Ah! what changes thirty years had produced! Their voices, which mother had heard so often there, she never would hear again and the smile of their countenances would never greet her more. They were gone and their places left vacant. A great many former acquaintances of mother had also disappeared. They talked about the hardships they had endured while apart and of some things they had enjoyed which were as bright spots, or oases, in the desert of their separation.

Now as I was there, I wished to visit the place where I had been in days of yore, in my childhood. The places had changed some but I could go to every place I remembered. The distance, from one place to another, didn't seem more than half as far as I had it laid out in my mind.

The country appeared very rough to me. What we used to call hills, looked to me like small mountains. I supposed the reason was because I had been living so long in a level country. The rocks and stones appeared larger and the stones seemed to lie thicker on the ground than I had supposed. The ledges and boulders appeared very strange to me I had been gone so long. I found that the land was very natural for grass, where it wasn't too stony. It produced excellent pasture upon the hillsides, good meadow on the bottom and ridges, where it was smooth enough and not so stony but that it could be mowed.

I went to see our old spring. It was run- fling yet. Uncle had plenty of fruit. I looked for the apple trees that I used to know and they had almost entirely disappeared. I saw where they had raised good corn and potatoes on uncle's place. Oats, that season, had been a very poor crop. Wheat, uncle said they couldn't raise, but they could raise good crops of rye. I passed by another school house where I had attended school. The same building where I got one pretty warm whipping for failing to get a lesson. The school buildings which I saw there both looked old and dilapidated. I thought they looked poor in comparison to our common school houses in Michigan. I had a good many cousins, who lived there, scattered around. I went to see as many of them as I could. I had one cousin, who lived off about four or five miles. I wished very much to see her for I remembered her quite well we were young together. Uncle's folks said she was married and lived on a ridge that they named. Cousin Allen said he would go with me to see her, so we started. Before we got there we had about a mile to go up hill. Cousin got along very well and didn't seem to mind it, but it was up hill business for me to climb that ridge. I wondered how teams could get up and down safely; they must have understood ascending and descending better than our Michigan teams or, it seemed to me, they would have got into trouble. We finally got on to the top of what they called a ridge. I found some pretty nice table land up there, for that country, and two or three farms. After we reached the highest part of the ridge we stopped and I looked off at the scenery, it appeared wild and strange. I could look north and see miles beyond where uncle lived and see hills and ridges. I could look in every direction and the same strange sights met my view. I think my cousin told me, that to the southwest of us, we could see some of the mountains near the North river. While I looked at the rugged face of the country, it didn't seem hardly possible that that could be so old a country, and Michigan so new.

West of us we could look down into a hollow or valley. The flat appeared to be about eighty rods wide, on the bottom between the ridges. West of the hollow there arose another great ridge, like unto the one on which we stood. Along this hollow there was a creek and a road running lengthwise with the hollow. I saw a man, with a lumber wagon and horses, driving along the road; from where I stood, and looked at them, they didn't appear larger than Tom Thumb and his Shetland ponies.

We finally got to my cousin's, I found that she had changed from a little girl to an elderly woman. She was very glad to see me and wanted me to stay longer than I felt inclined to, for I wanted to be back to the old home again, viewing the scenes of my childhood as, to me, there was a sort of fascination about them.

Up there I noticed a small lake, near the top of the ridge. I thought it a strange place for a lake. I asked cousin if there were fish in it, he said there were, that they caught them there sometimes. I asked if the lake was deep; he said in some parts of it they could not find bottom. I looked over it away down into the hollow beyond, and thought there might be room enough below for it to be bottomless; it might head in China for all I knew. As I gazed I thought, can it be possible that this country appears so much rougher, to me, than it used to, and yet be the same? As I stood and peered away from one mountain and hill to another, at the gray and sunburnt rocks, jagged ledges, precipices and the second growth of scrubby timber, that dotted here and there and grew on the sides of hills, where it was too stony and steep for cultivation, it astonished me.

My friends appeared well pleased with their native hills and vales and I have no doubt they thought, as they expressed it to me, that they lived near the best market and that New York was ahead. But the place how changed to me! If I could have seen some wigwams and their half nude inhabitants, on the hill sides, in the room of the houses of white men, and have witnessed the waving of the feathery plume of the red man, above his long black hair, I should have thought, from the view and the face of the land, that that old country was very new and wild and that Michigan, where I lived at least, was the old country after all.

Nature seemed to be reversing the two countries. It appeared to me like the wild wildówest Yosemite valley and mountains, or some other place. How strange! Here I am standing upon my native soil. I used to think it was the brightest spot upon this dim place men call earth.

In coming down the hill, I had to be cautious how far I stepped, in order to keep upright, as I was liable to move too fast, get up too much motion, I had to hold back on myself and keep one knee at a time crooked. In that way I got safely down. I was a little cautious, for I had on me scars made by falling on stones and cutting myself, when near that place long years before, when I was a little boy driving father's cows, to and fro, night and morning, from the new place he bought, (the buying of which was one great reason of our going to Michigan to find a new home and live where white men had never lived before.)

I went back to uncle's and told him, that I had made him a pretty good visit. I tried to get him and some of the rest of my friends to promise me to go west and see our country and judge of it for themselves. They said we western men had to bring our produce, and whatever we had to sell, down to the New York market, in order to dispose of it. I made up my mind, if New York was the head and mouth of Uncle Sam, that his body and heart were in the great central West, his hands upon the treasury at Washington and his feet were of California, like unto polished gold, washed by the surf of the Pacific Ocean. When Uncle Sam wished them wiped he could easily place them on his snow topped foot-stool, the Rocky mountains, and Miss Columbia, with a smile would wipe them with the clouds and dry them in the winds of the Nevada, while she pillowed his head softly on the great metropolis, New York, where the Atlantic breeze fans his brow and lets him recline in his glory, the most rapidly risen representation of a great nation that the world has ever seen.

When Uncle Sam brings his hand from Washington it is full of green backs and gold, which he scatters broadcast among his subjects. Here and there across the continent it flies, like the leaves in autumn, so that it can be gathered by persevering men, who till the soil or follow other pursuits of industry. It is free for all who will get it honestly.

A little east and north of the garden city, [The allusion is to Chicago which was formerly called the Garden City, apparently because of the motto on the city seal.] is Michigan, one of Uncle Sam's gardens. I think it is a beautiful place, dotted here and there and nearly surrounded by great fountains that sparkle, glimmer and shine, in the sun, like the rays of the morningóbeautiful garden. It is interspersed, here and there, with groves of primeval evergreens and crossed now and then by beautiful valleys and dotted by flowery walks and pleasant homes of the gardeners. It abounds in picturesque scenery, has a very productive soil and helps to furnish some of Uncle Sam's family, of about forty millions, with many of the good things of life, even down in "Gotham." So we get some of their money, from down there, if they are ahead of us and the head of America. I am satisfied for one, to live in one of the peninsula gardens of the West.

As my wife wished to visit her native place on the Hudson River, we would have to stop there a short time, and as my wife and brother wished to visit the city of New York we bade goodby to uncle and his family and started. Took the "Harlem Railroad" and in a short time were in the city. We put up at the "Lovejoy Hotel" opposite the City Hall. We had rooms and everything comfortable. We visited the Washington market and some of the ships that lay in the harbor. We went on board one ocean steamer, went through it and examined it. We crossed the river to Brooklyn. Visited Greenwood Cemetery and saw all the sights we could conveniently, on that side of the river. One night we visited Barnum's American Museum, after this we went to see the Central Park and other places. We made up our minds that we had seen a good deal and that New York was an immense city.


 


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