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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 8. Hard Times for Us in Michigan, 1836-7


THE oxen having worked hard and been used to good hay, which we bought for them, grew poor when they were fed on marsh hay. Then Mr. Blare wanted to sell his part to father; then the cattle would not have so much to do. Father was not able to buy them, as his money was nearly gone. He said he would mortgage his lot for one hundred dollars, buy them back, buy another cow and have a little money to use.

He said he could do his spring's work with the cattle, then turn them off, fatten them, and sell them in the fall for enough to pay the mortgage. Mother said all she could to prevent it, for she could not bear the idea of having her home mortgaged. It seemed actually awful to me, for I thought we should not be able to pay it, and in all probability we should lose the place. I said all I could, but to no avail. The whole family was alarmed; one of the small children asked mother what a mortgage was, she replied that it was something that would take our home away from us, if not paid.

Father went to Dearbornville and mortgaged his lot to Mrs. Phlihaven, a widow woman, for one hundred dollars, said to be at seven per cent., as that was lawful interest then. We supposed, at the time, he got a hundred dollars, but he got only eighty. Probably the reason he did not let us know the hard conditions of the mortgage, was because we opposed it so. Mrs. Phlihaven said as long as he would pay the twenty dollars shave money, and the seven dollars interest annually, she would let it run. And it did run until the shave money and interest more than ate up the principal.

Father bought the oxen back for the old price, forty dollars, and bought another cow, of Mr. McVay for which he paid eighteen dollars, leaving him twenty-two dollars of the hired money.

It was now spring, the oxen became very poor, one of them was taken sick and got down. Father said he had the hollow horn and doctored him for that; but I think to day, if the oxen had had a little corn meal, and good hay through the winter, they would have been all right.

After the ox got down, and we could not get him up he still ate and seemed to have a good appetite. I went to Dearbornville, bought hay at the tavern and paid at the rate of a dollar a hundred. I tied it up in a rope, carried it home on my back and fed it to him. Then I went into the woods, with some of the other children, and gathered small brakes that lay flat on the ground. They grew on beech and maple land, and kept green all winter. The ox ate some of them, but he died; our new cow, also, died in less than two weeks after father bought her. Then we had one ox, our old cow, and two young cattle we had raised from her, that we kept through the spring. In the summer the other ox had the bloody murrain and he died.

Then we had no team, no money to get a team with, and our place was mortgaged. Now when father got anything for the family he had to bring it home himself. We got out of potatoes, these he bought at Dearbornville, paid a dollar a bushel for them, and brought them home on his back. He sent me to the village for meal. I called for it and the grocerman measured it to me in a quart measure which was little at the top, such as liquors are measured with. I carried the meal home. In this way we had to pack home everything we bought.

When potatoes got ripe we had plenty of the best. On father's first visit to Michigan he was told that the soil of Michigan would not produce good potatoes. We soon found that this was a mistake for we had raised some good ones before, but not enough to last through the summer.

We still had wheat but sometimes had to almost do without groceries. We always had something to eat but sometimes our living was very poor. Sometimes we had potatoes and milk and sometimes thickened milk. This was made by dampening flour, rolling it into fine lumps and putting them into boiling milk with a little salt, and stirring it until it boiled again. This was much more palatable than potatoes and milk.

One afternoon two neighbors' girls came to visit us. They stayed late. After they went away I asked mother why she didn't give them some tea; she said she had no tea to give them, and that if she had given them the best she had they would have gone away and told how poor we were.

Mother had been used to better days and to treating her guests well, and her early life in Michigan did not take all of her spirit away. She was a little proud as well as I, but I have learned that pride, hard times and poverty are very poor companions. It was no consolation to think that the neighbors, most of them, were as bad off as we were. This made the thing still worse.


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