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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 4. Our Second House and First Apple Trees


FATHER said he would get us some apple trees. He had heard there was a small nursery below Dearbornville. One morning he and I started for the village; from there, we went to Mr. McVay's, about two miles east, near the Rouge.

Of him father bought thirteen apple trees, did them up in two bundles, his large, mine small. We took them on our shoulders and started home, through the woods, thus saving two miles travel. On our way we explored woods we had never seen before.

We planted the apple trees on the west end of the little ridge. They are now old trees. I passed them the other day and thought of the time we set them. Now some of them look as if they were dying with old age. I counted and found that some of them were gone. I thought there was no one but me, who could tell how, or when, those trees were planted, as they are nearly forty years old.

East of those trees father built his second house in 1836. He made the body of this house of large white-wood logs, split oak shakes with which to cover it, and dug a well east of the house. Into this well he put the shell of a large buttonwood log; we called it a "gum." It was said that water would not taste of buttonwood; we had very good water there.

Father borrowed Mr. Travis's cart, loaded up our things and we were glad to leave our Bark Covered house, clay door-yard and Mr. Pardee's woods, to which we had lived so near, that we could see the sun only for a short time in the afternoon.

In the house we were leaving we had some unwelcome visitors, an Indian, John Williams, and a snake. One day, towards evening, mother was getting supper, and as the floor boards were lain down loosely they would shake as she walked across the floor. Some member of the family heard a strange noise (something rattling) which seemed to come from a chest that stood in the back part of the room on legs about six inches high. Every time mother stepped on the hoard upon which he was coiled up, his snakeship felt insulted and he would rattle to let them know that he was there and felt indignant at being disturbed. Mother said they all tried to find out what it was; they finally looked under the chest and there, to their astonishment, they saw a large black rattlesnake all curled up watching their movements and ready, with his poisonous fangs, to strike any one that came within his reach. He was an interloper, a little too bold. He had, however, gotten in the wrong place and was killed in the room. He had, no doubt, crawled up through a hole in the floor at the end of a board.

The children were very much alarmed and mother was frightened. She said she thought it was a terrible place where poisonous reptiles would crawl into the house. Near the house sometime after, brother John S. and sister Sarah were out raking up some scattering hay. I suppose sister was out for the sake of being out, or for her own amusement. While she was raking she saw a large blue racer close by her with his head up nearly as high as her own, looking at her and not seeming inclined to leave her. I never heard of a blue racer hurting any one and this was the only one I ever knew to make the attempt. Sister was greatly scared and hallooed and screamed, as if struck with terror. Brother John S., then a little way off ran to her as quickly as possible; while he was running the snake circled around her but a few feet off and seemed determined to attack her. Though brother was the younger of the two his courage was good. With the handle of his pitchfork he struck the snake across the back, a little below the head, and wounded him. Then he succeeded in sticking the tine of the pitchfork through the snake's head; at that sister Sarah took courage and tried with her rake to help brother in the combat. As she held up the handle the snake wound himself around it so tightly that he did not loosen his coils until he was dead. That snake measured between six and seven feet in length.

We knew nothing of this species of reptile until we came to Michigan. I have killed a great many of them, but have found that if one gets a rod or two the start, it is impossible to catch him. I well recollect having run after them across our clearing (where we first settled). They would go like a streak of blue, ahead. I make this statement of the reptiles, so that the people of Wane County, or Michigan, who have no knowledge of such things may know something about the vexatious and fearful annoyances we had to contend with after we settled in Michigan.

We were all pleased when we got into the new house. We had a sand door-yard, and lived near the centre of our place. East of this house, on the little ridge, we raised our first patch of water-melons, in Michigan. Father said they raised good melons on Long Island, where it was sandy soil, and he thought he could raise good ones there. He tried, and it proved to be a success; the melons were excellent. When they were ripe father borrowed the cart, picked a load of melons and (just before sundown) started for Detroit. Mother and my little Michigan sister, Abbie, went with us. I think it was the first time mother saw Detroit after she left it, on the morning following her first arrival there. She wished to do some trading, of course. Father and I walked. We took a little hay to feed the oxen on the road. The next morning we reached Detroit. The little market then stood near where the "Biddle House" now stands, or between that and the river. [The Biddle House, erected in 1848, was the successor of the American Hotel, burned in the same year. The site of these hostelries was the south side of Michigan Avenue, just east of Randolph Street, whereon Governor Hull in 1807 erected the first brick house in Detroit. Harriet Martineau, who was entertained at the American House in 1836, has preserved an interesting picture of the rush of business which then prevailed in Detroit. The ancient markets of Detroit were famous—or nefarious, depending upon the point of view. Rev. John Monteith, dour-faced co-founder of the University of Michigan, in 1817 observed: "The profaneness of the soldiers exceeds anything I ever imagined. There is no sabbath in this country." Rev. Alfred Bronson, pioneer Methodist zealot, proposed to do something about it— and did. He testifies: "When I first came to the place (1822), Sunday markets were as common as week-day ones. The French [farmers] brought in their meats, fowls, vegetables, etc., on Sunday as regularly as on week-days. . . On this practice I proclaimed a war of extermination. At first it made a stir. But a young Presbyterian preacher [Monteith?] who was there, joined me in the denunciation of the practice, and in a short time the city council decreed that Sunday markets should cease." But like most reforms imposed from above, this one proved to be of limited scope and doubtful value. For "it raised a great fuss among the French, who from time immemorial had thus broken the Sabbath, and, after market, gone to mass, then to the horse-races in the afternoon, and fiddled and danced and played cards at night; but they made a virtue of necessity, and soon yielded to authority and gave up the Sunday market, but adhered to the other practices."]

Father sold his melons to a Frenchman for one shilling apiece. The market men said this was the first full load of melons ever on Detroit market; at all events, I know it was the first load of melons ever drawn from the town of Dearborn.

Mother's youngest sister lived in the city, and was at the store of Mr. Cook, or "Cook & Burns," where we did some of our trading. Their store was on Jefferson avenue. Mr. Cook was an eccentric man, and had his own way of recommending his goods, and one which made much sport. Auntie called for some calico. Mr. Cook took a piece off the shelf, threw it on the counter, threw up both arms, put his hands higher than his head, then picked it up again shook it and said: "There, who ever saw the like of that in Michigan? Two shillings a yard! A yard wide, foot thick and the colors as firm as the Alleghany Mountains!" [However eccentric he may have been, Levi Cook was a man of character and forceful personality. A native of Massachusetts, he came to Detroit about the year 1816, and after teaching school for a short time engaged in business. He was active in civic affairs and held numerous offices, among them that of mayor for three terms. He was a huge man physically, and an excellent mixer. As an illustration of his energy, it is related that early in his business career he went East to purchase a supply of goods for his store. Near Sandusky, the vessel on which they were being shipped to Detroit was frozen up in the ice. Cook thereupon went ashore, purchased skates, and on them skated ioo miles to Detroit, where he sent out sleighs to bring on his marooned merchandise. He lived in Detroit half a century, dying wealthy and childless in 1866.]

But an old colored woman came in who rather beat the clerk. She inquired for cheap calico; the clerk threw down some and told her the price. She said, "Oh that is too much! I want some cheap." Then the clerk threw down some that looked old and faded. With a broad grin, showing her teeth and the white of her eves not a little, she said: "Oh, ho! my goot Lo'd dat war made when Jope war paby!"

When father and mother had traded all they could afford, it was nearly night, and we all got into the cart and started for home. We got upon the Chicago road opposite where the Grand Trunk Junction now is, and stopped. Mother thought she could not go any farther, and the oxen were tired. Father went into a log house on the north side of the Chicago road and asked them if they could keep us all night. They said they would, and we turned in. They used us first-rate, and treated us with much respect. Next morning after breakfast we went home.


 


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