CIRCUS MEMOIRS
My Boyhood - 3

 

We applied to the first boat that landed. Polk got the job as deck sweeper - they drove me ashore. Thus were my ambitions as a river man crushed. Polk had the shirt, the knife and the belt; the bell rang, the boat steamed out, and I stood on the shore and watched the boat float away. Poor Polk afterward went to war and lost his life.


I learned years afterward that my father was acquainted with the stewards on the boats and had told them never to take me. The extent of my boating was limited to when a steamboat coming up the river would coal, taking in tow a barge, from which the coal would be transferred to the boat while on its way up the river, so as not to lose time. The empty barges were then floated back, and in that way I got a ride.


About this time I began to think of making money and would go out and pick wild blackberries and bring them into town, where they sold for ten cents a gallon. At the end of the berry season I became a sheep butcher, going out among the farmers for miles around to buy sheep after shearing time. Costing about a dollar apiece, we would kill them, market them by the quarter at twenty-five cents a quarter, leaving us the sheep pelt as a profit. I was fairly successful at this until I went into the adjoining county and bought eighty head of a Henry Charlton. Driving them home, I met my father riding horseback on his way to look at some cattle. He asked me what price I had paid for the sheep. I told him one dollar a head. He said: "It will be the last, my son, that you will buy, for you will lose your money." This was true, for they were just skin and bone. I will here say that on these trips I bought eggs for five cents a dozen. Since that time I have seen them sell for sixty-five cents.
My father was a strong Republican, so I was one likewise. My only reason at that time was that the campaign of Fremont and Buchanan was opening up, which furnished plenty of excitement for me to take part in; so off I went to the woods to cut a flag pole from which to fly a streamer with the names of Fremont and Dayton.


The meetings and barbecues of both parties were held quite often and I always managed to attend, not to hear the speakers but to see the fights, which never failed to take place. I remember when a man living at Brooksburg up the river six miles from Madison, came down the day before election and was asked, "How are things at Brooksburg?" He replied, "There will be a great time there tomorrow, for when I left they were gathering rocks to fight with."


There were parades. One I remember very well. A forty-ox team was driven to one wagon in which ladies rode representing each state in the Union. There was a great deal of excitement and unrest along the border at this time. Things, however, became quiet until after the election of Lincoln. (Today as I write I find this is Lincoln's birthday, February 12th, 1912.) When the feeling of unrest became evident again, groups of young men formed into home guards, as the temper was strong for "war", which came sooner than was expected. I was anxious to be among them, but was refused because of my youth. But I found pleasure and excitement in going to the steamboat landing to see them off. On one occasion I went aboard and as far as Louisville without a cent of money.


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