CIRCUS MEMOIRS
My Boyhood-1

 

My father, with my mother, came to this great and wonderful continent in 1842, landing at Quebec, Canada, my eldest brother, William, being born there. The family removed to Boston in 1845, where my father, James Haslam Middleton, was employed in the Charlestown Navy Yard. There we lived in sight of Bunker Hill for ten years. During this time three children were born, George, James Haslam and Charles. My father then succumbed to the western fever and with his little family, started for Indiana.


I was a youngster, but well do I recall the boat and its lights, and the excitement of being on the water from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Madison, Indiana, our objective point. As we were leaving the boat I looked back and exclaimed in delight, "Mother, the boat has an upstairs!"

We settled at Madison, Indiana, which in those days was a wide awake, thriving town, located on the Ohio river, surrounded by beautiful and attractive scenery. Madison lies huddled at the foot of beautiful hills overlooking the Ohio, and one can see beautiful trees swaying contentedly, tobacco fields and distilleries. I have traveled this old world a great deal, but it is difficult to find a more charming spot; Nature had indeed been more than kind to that part of the country.

The principal industry at Madison was the pork packing business, and more hogs were killed and packed there at that time than in Chicago. Madison had the first railway in the state, which was built to Indianapolis, the capital city. Up the hill from Madison was the heaviest railway grade in the world at that time. The principal freight that went over the
road was brought down the Ohio river from Pittsburg by boats, transferred to rail at Madison and shipped into the interior of the state.

The Reverend James Greenleaf, of Madison, corresponded with my father while he was in Boston and advised his going west. He wrote a glowing account of the possibilities in the quaint little place. On our arrival we stopped with a family by the name of Merens until the necessary arrangements could be made to start housekeeping. This good couple did not have a family, and I often think of how they must have enjoyed four boys as full of life as we were.  I fancy they did not regret being childless.

One of the principal characters living in Madison was an old gentleman known by the name of Gundy Lawrence. He had been elected to the Legislature.   When the time came to attend he rode to Indianapolis, a distance of eight-five miles, on a dray. This of course gave him great notoriety. In later years he was town crier, announcing public auctions, lost children, strayed or stolen horses and cows. When he was to announce political meetings he would mount his horse about three o'clock in the afternoon and swinging a big brass bell he would start out with his cry that such and such a prominent man would "speak at the Town Hall at early candle lighting." It was seldom he rode past a saloon without making a call, with the result that he would continue the cry of "speech making at early candle lighting," while the candles had been lighted and burning for at least two hours. He surely was a character long to be remembered.

After looking over the ground my father decided there was an opening for a meat shop, as there was not one in the town, all the meat being sold in the market house. On his small capital he opened a meat shop and grocery store. After the business was under way, and housekeeping affairs were adjusted, we youngsters were started off to school, which I am sorry to say I was not fond of attending, and did not do so when it was possible to avoid it. On my return home from school the first day my mother asked me: "George, how do you like school?" I replied: "I don't like that school."

 

"Don't like it! Why?"


"Because the room has no cupboard in it." This goes to show that early in life I was more fond of something
to eat than of knowledge.

The hills, the river, the surrounding country, all so new, had a great charm for me, so much more attractive than the school room. I loved the river, to fish, swim, to get into a skiff and take a ride, to paddle around on a board. The negro slaves coming over from Kentucky with their masters on trading trips were a new sight to me. The hair of men and women was done in pigtails bound around with string.

If down on the river bank was attractive to me, the surrounding hills, covered with nut-bearing trees of all kinds, grape vines, berries, orchards, May apples and other wonders were more so. How I loved to roam over those hills! What freedom I knew in my youth ! I often dream that part of my life over again when seated in a comfortable chair with a good cigar, before a log fire blazing away merrily.

About this time wild pigeons, which are now extinct, would fly in thousands from the hills of Kentucky across the river to the hills on the Indiana side. My father, who was a good shot, along with hundreds of others, would go up on the hills, taking my brother William and me along to gather up the pigeons. In a few hours shooting we would bag hundreds of them. It seems strange that these pigeons should become extinct, when at that time there were millions of them.


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