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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter XI. Logging Bees and Dancing Sprees


"If you want knowledge, you must toil for it; if food, you must toil for it; and if pleasure, you must toil for it. Toil is the law. Pleasure comes through toil, and not by self-indulgence and indolence. When one gets to love work, his life is a happy one."—RUSKIN.

THERE may be no logical connection between logging bees and dancing sprees, but they were intimately associated in the experience of the Highland pioneers of Zorra. And their union illustrates the truth of Ruskin's statement, that "toil is a condition of enjoyment." It also shows that the pioneers were not a set of dullards, whose life consisted only in a weary round of hard, irksome duties. They were a hardy people, full of energy and vivacity. If they endured much, they enjoyed much.

There were three ways by which the first settlers cleared the land. The first was called "slashing." The farmer slashed the trees down in winnows, and let them thus lie on the ground for three or four yeal's. Then in dry weather he would set fire to the winnows, and soon the whole slashing of ten or twelve acres would be a great mass of smoke and flame. The brush and smaller timber would be burnt up; but the great logs, the beeches, elms, oaks, and maples, would still remain. It was necessary, therefore, to cut them up, so that they could be piled into heaps to be burnt. This was done not altogether with the axe, but largely by means of what were called "niggers," which consisted of fire placed on top of the logs at intervals of twenty or thirty feet, and by means of small dry timber laid across, kept burning until the big log was burnt through, and thus divided into several short sections, such as the oxen could haul.

It was a Zorra man who wrote a letter to his friends in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, declaring that he had a hundred "niggers" working for him. He mentioned that there were very dark people in America called "niggers." He then went on to give a minute description of his farm—so many acres cleared, such good crops from year to year, and how well off he was now, compared with what he was in Scotland. "Even to-day," said he, "I have no less than one hundred niggers working for me to clear my farm." Of course, he meant the fire used on the tree for cutting it instead of the axe; but he kept the explanation to himself. It is said the whole parish in Scotland was agog with excitement over the Zorra man's wonderful wealth in controlling the services of no less than one hundred negroes.

In the same spirit another pioneer informed his friends in Scotland that in Zorra men received five shillings ($1.25) for rocking a cradle. The "cradle" meant was that used in the harvest field, though a different one was suggested to the man in Scotland.

Another way to clear the bush was by "girdling." This consisted in hacking the tree all around, so that in the course of six or seven years it would decay and fall. This method of clearing was, however, found very dangerous for the cattle, and whenever the wind would blow limbs would be falling, and many a farmer had his ox or cow killed. It was wonderful, however, the instinct of danger which the animals acquired, so that as soon as they perceived the wind rising, they would rush terrified from the girdling. Another objection to this method of clearing was that, while the big trees were decaying, the underbrush would grow up to be small trees difficult to destroy. A man could girdle two acres a day.

The third way was the most laborious, but considered by far the quickest and best. It was to cut down the trees and make them into logs from fourteen to eighteen feet long, then pile the brush, and cut the underbrush. A good chopper would thus cut down an acre in about seven days.

When these people came to Zorra they knew nothing about chopping, most of them having never seen a chopping-axe, or its handle; everything had to be learned, All the more credit to them for their brave and successful fight with the forest.

These pioneers carried their religion into all the affairs of life. I have heard one of them state that before tackling a giant of the forest, he invariably knelt down and prayed for strength and protection. He evidently feared only the large trees, and was willing to take chances on the small ones, though, as a matter of fact, the small ones were the most dangerous. Notwithstanding all precautions, however, many a broken leg, cut foot, and crushed arm testified to the dangers incurred by our uninitiated forefathers in hewing out for themselves homes in the forest.

The first thing done on coming to the township was to choose a spot for a house. The spot selected was usually the highest hill or elevation that could be found on the farm. The next thing was to cut down all the trees that in falling might reach the building. Some instances, however, occurred in which through miscalculation, some tall tree was left, which in a storm fell upon the shanty, seldom, however, doing more damage than frightening the inmates, for the big logs of the shanty were strong enough to hold up the heaviest weight.

The immigrants usually arrived in August, and, having built the shanty, the next few weeks were given to underbrushing. Then all winter the forest resounded with the woodman's axe. In early spring there was the sugar-making. Not infrequently would the sugar-makers remain in the woods most of the night boiling down the sap.

It is related of a pioneer that one night he continued boiling down till two o'clock in the morning. He then started for home; but, leaving the bright blaze of the fire, and entering the dark woods, he got bewildered and lost his way. He travelled about for an hour, and then made up his mind that he had better remain where he was until daylight. With the first streak of dawn he descried in the distance a small shanty. He hastened towards it, and knocked loudly at the door. A small boy, deshabille, opened. Mr. W. inquired if anyone here knew where Mr. W.'s house was, The little fellow quickly ran back to another room, excitedly crying, "Mither, mither, faither has come hame, but he has gone daft." In his bewildered state Mr. W. failed to recognize his own house, or his boy.

The time for logging has come, and there is to be a great "bee" on the farm. Farmer Murray has six acres to log of heavy timber, and he will need six yoke of oxen and thirty men. So he goes round the district and invites all to his "bee." Those who have oxen are to bring them. Their wives and daughters are also invited to come and help prepare the dinner and supper, and also to make a quilt. Young farmer A. is told to bring along his bagpipes, and B. is to bring his fiddle. C. is to come to make handspikes, and D. is appointed butler.

In many cases, however, the handspikes were prepared previously to the day of the "bee." They were made mostly of ironwood, and were the shape of the well-known iron crowbar of to-day. Many kept them from year to year, until they got smooth from constant use, and light by seasoning.

Well, the day for the "bee" has come, and a beautiful, sunshiny day it is. By six o'clock in the morning the men and oxen are ready for work. The first thing done is to divide the field to be logged into strips of equal width, and running from one end to the other. Then a yoke of oxen, attended by five men, is put in charge of each strip. After each man has taken his "horn," or glass of whiskey, the work of the day begins in real earnest.

I was at that "bee," a very young boy, but the scene is vividly before me just now. Each driver has a long blue beech switch, specially prepared by twisting one end until it was quite limber, which he flourishes around the heads of the oxen. The men wear moleskin pants, and a belt around the waist. The shirt sleeves are rolled all the way up. The butler, or boss of the work, gives all necessary directions. The strength of the oxen is astonishing, and so is their instinct for the work. The stumps are so thick that it is hard to get room to build a heap. The chain is attached with a roll, so that the log, when moved, will turn partly over. This prevents the snags, which, of course, have not been cut away from the under part of the log, catching the ground and increasing the resistance. Then the log is pulled among the stumps to where the heap is to be built, and after the first log or two is placed, the oxen seem to know instinctively just where to go each time.

Here is a big oak tree, three feet through, and fifty-six feet long, hard to burn, stumps thick all around it. Farmer George is foreman for this gang. He has worked in France at a sawmill, and knows, or is supposed to know, how to handle logs. He claims also to be able to speak French, and he is not slow in parading his knowledge among the Zorra men. On he goes to build this heap. He says: "We'll give that cherry log a roll, swing her around beside this oak, and we'll draw them basswood and maple ones and put them in the bottom, and we'll put that rock-elm fellow on top."

Here are some of the cries constantly heard that day, as the log-heaps were being built: "Hip!" "Roll up!" "Up she goes!" "Skade!" "Hold that catch now!" "Now boys, push!" "Can you hold on?" "I'll try. No, I can't!" "Come here, driver, quick!" Driver runs, and, putting his breast against the log, pushes with all his might. "Yes, we can hold it." "You catch under !" "Now, get ready! He-ho-he!" The strength of five stalwart Highlanders is tested. Up goes the log, but the men are out of breath. Each removes the old straw hat from his head, and the red handkerchief is taken out to wipe the great beads of perspiration from the face.

The heap is completed. Foreman George puts in his French : "Bien! eh, bien, messieurs! That heap of logs would be worth thirty pounds in France." The butler now goes his round with the black bottle and glass. Thus the work goes on, until the call to dinner is heard. There are no horns to blow in these days, the distance from the house not being sufficient to make them necessary.

"We boys" were set to watch the oxen while feeding on the edge of the woods with the yoke on. There was no hay, but that did not matter much; the tall, rich grass afforded ample pasturage. I cannot report fidelity to duty on this occasion. We spent a considerable part of the dinner hour in trying to get the oxen to fight; but hard-working oxen, like hardworking men, are not disposed to fight, and no serious results followed.

After dinner, the work went on as before. There was whiskey galore, and as evening approached the butler was in greater demand, and the evil effects of the black bottle were becoming more manifest. The race was keen as to who should first reach the end of their strip.

Thus was Zorra cleared of its forests. Sometimes, with a blazing sun in the heavens, and log-heaps burning on every side, the heat was simply terrible and the smoke suffocating. What with the smoke-drawn tears running down the cheeks in streams, and the dust and ashes adhering, the men were scarcely recognizable.

The story is told of an Irishman who came to Zorra at this time. Shortly after arriving he one day lost himself in the woods. Hearing the shouting and noise of men who were logging, he turned his footsteps in that direction. The day was very hot, and the men very black. The Irishman soon found himself in the midst of a scene such as he had never before witnessed.

"Well, Pat, do you know where you are?"

"Faith!" was the reply, "joodging from the hate of the climate, and the coolur of the people, it must be perdition, sure!"

As I write the story of the difficulties encountered and overcome by these brave toilers of the forest, my heart thrills with admiration. How hard they wrought! How patiently they endured! How cheerfully they persevered! It matters little to me how humble their work was, the spirit in which they did it is everything. Their invincible courage, industry, determination, should put strength into the hearts of their descendants, if ever in the discharge of duty we feel disposed to yield to difficulties. Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.

It is now 7 o'clock p.m. The oxen are sent home, the workmen make good use of homemade soap and water, supplied them in a great oaken tub; soon hands and faces are washed, and the men are as clean and spruce as if they had never been near a log heap.

The young women of the neighborhood are gathered in or around the house, some quilting, and others attending to the cooking and serving necessary at a large gathering. Of course the tables were usually spread outside the house, and under the shade of a spreading beech or maple.

Farmer Murray had a big log house, with two windows in front, one in the back, and one in the end, and one in the top gable. After supper everything is prepared for the dance. All unnecessary furniture is put aside, boards with props underneath are put round the walls for seats, and the floor is cleared. A chair is put on top of a chest for the piper and fiddler, who are alternately to supply the music.

The piper takes the chair first, not however, till after he receives inspiration from the black bottle. And now for the dance. B. takes C.'s wife, and C. takes B.'s wife as partners in the first round. Afterthis the floor was free to all. There were no round dances in those days.

"But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels
Put life and mettle in their heels."

As the evening wears on the dancing becomes more lively. The butler becomes more liberal with his bottle. The piper becomes more enthusiastic.

"He screwed his pipes, and gart them skirl
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl."

At intervals songs are sung and stories told. Farmer Ross sits beside the ladder, telling a crowd of eagerly listening young people how William Wallace slaughtered the Englishmen, and of all Wallace's brave deeds for Scotland. Another tells of Samuel Macdonald, the Highland giant, who took hold of the hind axle-tree of the mail coach and held back four horses; how he raised a sixty-gallon barrel of whiskey between the palms of his hands, and took a drink out of the hung-hole. Another relates the adventures of a Highlandman in running away with the laird's daughter. He tells an admiring circle of young men and maidens how the pursued lover fled with his bride:-

"He set her on a coal-black steed,
Himsel' lap on behind her,
And he's awa' to the Hieland hills,
Where her frien's they canna find her."

Farmers M. and G. sat on the crockery side of the chimney, trying who could repeat and sing the most songs out of Robert Brown's song book, with a laughing, applauding crowd around them. M. beat G. at repeating the most, but G. was voted the best singer.

Every now and again the butler came round and treated.

The fiddler's turn came next to supply the music, and after a deep potation, he mounted the elevated chair. The butler calls for a Highland fling. D. takes M.'s wife, and M. takes D.'s wife for partners. All take their places and the music begins. The dancers hop and reel round, toes up and heels down, and turn to the right and left on one foot, and clap their hands, and snap their fingers, and whoop, with ever-increasing heartiness. The fiddler gets inspired, plays faster and faster, his foot keeping time on the big chest, making a loud hollow sound. The boys get around him, and every time he rises from the chair they move it a little nearer the edge of the chest. At last the excitement is at its height; up goes a whoop, and down comes the chair, fiddler and all, landing on Farmer M.'s head, and the heads of two or three others, bringing them to the floor in a heap. Soon order is restored, the fiddle starts again, and the fun grows fast and furious.

By-and-bye the grey streaks are seen in the east, the blue bonnet reel is danced, deoch-an-dorrus is taken, and all start for home. Some of those present had two, three, or even four miles to go, mostly through unbroken woods. There were of course no buggies or bicycles, but that did not in the least detract from the pleasure of the occasion. Every laddie took his lassie, and conveyed her safely to her home. On these journeys often were the tender words of love spoken, and vows of constancy given. Sometimes, too, one of the young people "had a crow to pick" with the other for devoting too much attention to some one else during the evening. But the spirit of manly chivalry actuated the great majority of the young men of the early days, while honest womanhood was the character of the women.

Occasionally, however, two jealous rivals would proceed to fisticuffs, while even among the women there were not wanting instances of something else than sisterly love.

The story is told of a belle of those days, commonly known as "the flower of the forest," being detained from a dance through the trick of a jealous rival. The beautiful maiden was suffering from a slight cold. Her rival called on her the day before that on which the dance was to take place, and, feigning much sympathy with her, assured her that a sure and speedy cure for a cold was too keep the feet for a couple of hours in a foot bath of hot water and mustard. The unsuspecting beauty at once complied. Result, blistered feet, no dance, and alienation of rival beauties.


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