Copyright
Nelson Armstrong.

Nuggets of experience: narratives of the sixties and other days, with ... online

. (page 10 of 12)
Online LibraryNelson ArmstrongNuggets of experience: narratives of the sixties and other days, with ... → online text (page 10 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


accordingly. I might start the mare with the understand-
ing that I would withdraw her from the race after the
first heat if likely to receive injury. In fine, they won my
consent

The afternoon of the third day of July came, and we
went out to trot the three minutes' race. There was a veiy
large gathering of people on the ground, and all were ex-
pecting to see an interesting race, but no one thought of its
terminating as they saw it. I suppose ninety per cent, of
all the people who were present expected to see the favorite
the winner, and I confess I had but little hope of winning
with the Belle myself.

After arriving on the ground, I found a great prejudice
existing towards Dakota Belle. This was caused by er-



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE 203

roneous reports which had been circulated for the purpose
of gaining sympathy in favor of Mitchell's favorite. Some
one had reported that the Belle was an old trotter, rung in
to unjustly deprive the home horses of their rights. The
driver of the favorite, who was adversely disposed, claimed
to have seen her trot races in Iowa, and that she had a fast
record. A protest was entered against Dakota Belle, and I
was called to the Judge's stand to answer the same. When
I stated the name and place of residence of the owner of
the mare, I declared that if the Belle was not eligible to the
class I did not want to start her, but I believed she was, as
Mr. Grange, her owner, had told me she had no race record.
After considerable parley among a great many, she was
permitted to start under the protest.

Considering the many rumors concerning the Belle, she
being entirely strange, and I having been in the place but
a short time, we had but few friends when starting in the
race.

All drivers were called to the Judge's stand to receive
position. Seven horses answered the bell, and fortune de-
creed that Dakota Belle drew seventh position, which placed
her in the rear rank and on the outside. We were sent up
the stretch to come for the word, and to all appearance I
had no trotter. The Belle was acting in an exceedingly
dull manner and I was not pleased with her. She seemed
to have no conception of the requirements of a race horse,
and every horse in the race would go to the wire two or
three lengths ahead of her. The third time down we were



Digitized by VjOOQIC



*>4 NUGGETS OP EXPERIENCE

sent away for the heat, with the Belle far in the rear, and
to make the matter more embarrassing, she made a break at
the first torn, and no sooner was she to her gait than she
broke again, and I was loudly hooted at by the immense
crowd of people. I have no doubt the chances for Dakota
Belle's success had a disastrous appearance, for when I
turned her into the back stretch, the other horses were all
well away towards the quarter pole. The local favorite, the
gray mare, which, for the want of a better name I shall call
the Skipper, was leading the party, and I will say this
much in her favor, that a more determined Skipper I never
saw in a trotting race.

I was lenient and patient with the Belle, kindly dis-
cussing the matter with her, fervently hoping she would
soon wake up to the situation. After passing the quarter
pole she seemed to move with more elasticity, and when
again turning into the back stretch, she pointed her ears
forward and seemed more animated, which gave me some
encouragement, as I regarded this as corroborative evi-
dence of her racing qualities, and that I was not to be dis-
appointed in her. A newly aroused intelligence seemed to
flash upon her, as if receiving from me, at least, an under-
standing of her responsiblities. I now began to help her
along, and nobly she responded to every call. As she
flew, to close up the gap, she passed one horse after an-
other, as if to say: "I am a contestant in this affair; if
you beat me, you will race for it." While rounding the
turn she shook off four of her competitors; swinging into



Digitized by VjOOQIC



•;' l/NivtrtSiTY }

NUGGBTS OF EXPERIENCE ~~ 205

the home stretch, she made a strong effort to close on the
leaders, and it was good to hear the comments, as she came
in a close third at the finish. The high rate of speed
shown by Dakota Belle in this last half mile won golden
opinions, even from some of the sports, but while some were
willing to place their money on my side, the heat was
awarded to the Skipper, and many stood by the favorite
gray.

While refreshing the Belle in the rear of the Judge's
stand, I could hear above the din of confusion furious pro-
fanity, and the bold shouts— anything to beat the big mare.
They declared she should be permitted to gain no position
in the contest, and Wright rushed about swearing like a
pirate, but their abusive language only drove me to a more
desperate determination. I was carefully watching and
tending the big gray mare, and did not leave her between
the heats. To my satisfaction, she was sweating freely
and breathed out nicely. I felt confident now that she
would endure the fatigue, and I had concluded we were
there to remain to the end of the conflict. When we were
called for the second heat, I went out fully determined to
win.

This start was almost a repetition of the first. The
Belle did not leave her gait, but every horse in the race
was around the turn ahead of her. Once in the back
stretch, however, she got to work, -and was soon in the
midst of the gang, heroically struggling for the front I
was now reminded of running a blockade of torpedoes.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



jo6 NUGGETS OP EXPERIENCE

As I moved forward, the hindmost horse was pulled in
front of the Belle, then another and so on through as I
succeeded them. At times the Belle would be on the turf
on one side, and again on the grass on the other side, so
the battle raged; though every imaginable scheme was
practiced to assist their favorite to win, the five were left
behind, and the favorite attacked on the home stretch,
when the battle was renewed, and a hot contest witnessed
the last half mile. The Skipper being hard pressed, ran
and trotted in a wild mingling of steps. When turning into
the home stretch, the Belle made a rush for the finish, trot-
ting nicely, while the Skipper went the entire distance to
the wire on a run.

After a long consultation among the judges, the de-
cision was announced in favor of Dakota Belle. This
caused a good deal of loud dissatisfaction among the back-
ers of the favorite. Now the Belle had one heat, the pros-
pects for the former winning the race were less bright. In
jest, I said to the driver of the favorite: "Can't you make
your mare trot a Uttlet" With this the old man grew
furious, and performed antics about over the prairie as
if simulating the actions of a wild buffalo in the coils of a
cowboy's lasso.

We were run up for the third heat, and with it came
the great effort, (as the boys have it.) Any old kind of
complaints were being entered against Dakota Belle and
her driver, and patrol judges were posted to protect the



Digitized by VjOOQIC




<

I

I"



I



Digitized by VjOOQIC



. Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGBTS OF EXPERIENCE 209

favorite from foul. The word was given us, the first time
to the wire, with the Belle bringing up the rear as usual,
but we caught the Skipper at the quarter pole, and could
have trotted past her any part of the mile after, but each
time I moved up, Wright would set his mare to running
and cross the track in front of us. When going up the
back stretch the second half mile, the Skipper putting in
her jumps in great shape, I worked the Belle to her ut-
most, keeping as little space between the horses as pos-
sible, and when the Skipper was pulled to her gait (or
rather to the gait she should have gone) the Belle brushed
up, and showed her nose in front. My wheel was a little
in advance of Wright's; I looked over and quietly re-
marked: "I have got you, old man." The old man's re-
ply was a curse, with a demand for more room, and when
his mare left her trot, she swerved toward the Belle; the
sulkies collided, five spokes flew from Wright's wheel and
one from mine. The Belle trotted steadily on, while the
Skipper running to equal a short dash bang-tail, carried
me to the extreme outside of the turn. Wright then pulled
for the pole; when turning to the stretch, the Belle was
again, pressing her hard, when she made another run,
carrying me to the outside of the track. At this time Toby
came along with State-line, hugging the inside, and had
gained a position ahead of us. This was a great surprise
to Wright, and caused him to leave me and go after State-
line. Down the stretch we went for the finish, a desperate

18



Digitized by VjOOQIC



sio NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE

trio; State-line to the pole, the Belle on the outside;
Wright's cap had dipped from his head, and with the
string around his neck was dangling down his back; his
gray locks were streaming in the breeze, and the Skipper
was putting in her kangaroo leaps down the center, while
cheer after cheer went up from the mouths of thousands
of enthusiastic spectators.

I never knew which of the three outstretched noses
went under the wire first. The judges proclaimed a dead
heat, which was far from being satisfactory to the friends
of the favorite gray, and for some mysterious reason she
did not start in the race again.

Three other horses were also withdrawn, leaving Da-
kota Belle, State-line and Lady Sanford to finish the race.
The Belle won the fourth and fifth heats, and the race
was hers, and the Belle was now a favorite at Mitchell,
where I started her again, as in other places, always
with success; but the first race at Mitchell, as regards both
drivers and spectators, was, I think, the most sensational
contest I have ever taken part in. The anxiety of each
individual seemed strained to its greatest capacity, while
the immense gathering jostled turbulently, and were ap-
parently prepared for open hostilities at a single tap of
the bell.

I had the pleasure of a hard-won victory, and the
only pleasure that my opponents seemed to enjoy was hold-
ing my money under protest twenty-one days, which they



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE 211

claimed to be the rule. No reason could be shown why
Dakota Belle should not have started in the race, and
after the expiration of the three weeks, with a good deal of
reluctance, the protest was withdrawn and the money was
paid over to me, and I had plenty of ice the balance of the
season.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



E jfeast wttb tbe Mawke^es



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



CHAPTER XIX



UNLIKE UNCLE ISAAC CROSSMAN*— THE HAWKEYE CLUB— SO
SAYS THE DOCTOR— BEACH AND GOULD— NATURAL SCEN-
ERY—MORE EXPERIENCE THAN CAPITAL— ALL SMILES
AND ATTENTION— INVITED FOR AN OUTING— A TAM-O-
SHANTER RIDE— THE OLD MARE'S BLOOD WAS ROILED—
JACK'S OBLIGATED DUTY.

Some years ago, in a busy town far down the Colum-
bia River, dwelt many good people, who, unlike " Cross
Isaac" of Uncleman's Cross-Corners fame, long after Hor-
ace Greeley gave his celebrated advice, "Go West, young
man, and grow up with the country/ ' remained East, but
after years advanced and the country had grown, took the
advice and the trail West.

Now, being far from their native State, and lest many
things should be forgotten, it was deemed advisable to
form an association under the name of the Hawkeye Club ;
and a spacious room was procured where meetings could
be held, for the purpose of visits, talks and debates, to
keep in mind old friends, the land of birth, and "auld
lang syne."

One evening, late in Spring time, when the thermome-
ter was away above zero, and there was no snow or frost



Digitized by VjOOQIC



216 NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE

on the ground, so that it was not necessary that the Host
should remain indoors, sit in a big arm chair in the cor-
ner, smoke a corn cob pipe, talk race horse, drink hot
whiskey toddies and hug a redhot stove to avoid congela-
tion, the Hawkeye Club assembled in regular meeting,
which, by reason of the liberal attendance on that par-
ticular date, reverted into a very amusing evening's en-
tertainment, consisting of reading, singing, narrative, per-
sonation and oratory. A corps of ability being selected
for the evening, and all required to participate,

So Says the Doctor.
Gentlemen:

I assure you that I regard this a most gratifying meet-
ing, and that I am much pleased to be with you upon this
joyous occasion. It reminds me of many agreeable occur-
rences, and of some occurrences that were not so very
agreeable, all of which find place in the merry-go-round
of life.

As we are seated here before this smiling, intelli-
gent, and apparently happy gathering, I am very natur-
ally reminded of the fact, that I was once connected with
the merry making minstrelsy, and, as I am expected in
some way to contribute to the entertainment of our little
party, I will relate some of my experiences, which, I ven-
ture to say, did not differ widely from those of many
others who have participated in similar undertakings.

Having had, in my earlier years, a fondness for negro
minstrelsy, and being desirous in later years of making



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE 217

that a profession, I some years after the Rebellion, adver-
tised for, procured, organized, drilled and prepared a
troupe of excellent amateur talent, for the purpose of per-
manent investment, and to travel in whatever part of the
country might prove most fruitful, I having the honor of
being proprietor, manager, secretary, and cashier of the
noble body, an experience which any one who has been in
a similar position knows well how to appreciate.

Our first tour was through some of the principal
towns in Wisconsin and other neighboring States, and I
am happy to say that at times we exhibited with fair
success. With Beach and Gould (Beach of the renowned
Beach and Bowers minstrels) added to our party, we later
played an extended, erratic season in the wilds of Dakota,
where at that time were but sixty miles of railway mean-
dering through the Missouri River bottom lands, between
Sioux City, Iowa, and Yankton, Dakota,— Yankton was the
capital of the territory, with a population of about three
thousand, composed principally of government officials
and contractors.

Journeying farther west, and up the Missouri River
to Springfield, Niobrara, and some of the military posts,
we were compelled to use teams for conveyance, as no rail-
road magnate had, as yet, penetrated the land of the red
man, the coyote and the buffalo.

Our travels were necessarily slow, and in some degree,
tedious, but this we did not regret, as we felt we were
amply rewarded in the pleasure enjoyed seeing that new



Digitized by VjOOQIC



218 NUGGETS OP EXPERIENCE

and unsettled country, and its natural scenery during the
beautiful autumn peculiar to Dakota, a country which has
developed into a part of the wealthiest and most product-
ive land in the Northwest.

We were honored with the credit of being the first
minstrel company to vocalize in those parts, and the first
that many of the people had ever seen. And this was our
programme :



ARMSTRONG'S MINSTRELS!!!

PROGRAMME FOR THIS EVENING.

Part First.

Introductory Overture , Company

All Among the Flowers Beach and Gould

Susan Jane Jack Briggs

Sweet Katie Killaire Tommy Gould

Will Be Dar Bobby Beach

Take This Letter to My Mother Mr. McLeliand

GRAND FINALE

FAMOUS BRANAGAN BAND.
Overture ,. . Orchestra



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE 219

Part Second.

DOCTOR'S TROUBLES.

Doctor Courtwright N. C. Armstrong

Pete Bobby Beach

Jimmy .Jack Briggs

Mr. McCarthy _ Durbin McLelland

Mir. Buck Tommy Gould

Selection of Songs and Harmonican Solos. . . .D. McLelland

Acrobatic and Breakneck Songs and Dances,
Beach and Gould.

Bone Solo N. C. Armstrong

Old Virginia Essences Tommy Keating

Arrival of Jack Briggs from South Carolina.

Champion Execution Trick Clog of America
Beach and Gould.

SELECTIONS FROM ORCHESTRA.

The whole to Conclude With the Military Farce, Entitled

OBEYING ORDERS.

General Bullet .N. C. Armstrong

Corporal Powder Jack Briggs

Mary Jane Gunn Tommy Keating



Digitized by VjOOQIC



220 NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE

After a series of entertainments along the Big Muddy,
among the natives (Indians), and return (with an abund-
ance of experience and exhausted capital), to civilization, I
located for a summer season in a pleasant little town in Da-
kota, one member of my company, a particular friend,
who, for convenience sake we commonly called Jack, also
remained at that place. Jack and I were frequently hav-
ing recreations during the warm season, and the months,
seemingly as but weeks, very pleasantly passed away. For,
although our amusements were not all of the most agree-
able kind to all parties, we were not burdened with griev-
ances of a serious nature.

On one particular occasion, a circumstance occurred
which proved of slight annoyance to my friend Jack,
though when assembled with friends in our usual diver-
sions, he appeared to enjoy the joke as hugely as any of us.

In my stable was a pacing mare that had won (if
nothing more), Jack's affections, also a black gelding that
was classed with the trotters. This pacing mare, in my
opinion, was one of the living curiosities. She had been:
in the eastern states in her former years something of a
speedy animal, and evidently a victim of many experi-
ments and erroneous teachings. She was willful, ugly, full
of vicious habits, but withal, an inveterate puller. In fact,
so established was she in this habit that the strength of the
ablest man would make but slight impression in the way
of controlling her when she felt disposed to have her own



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE 221

way. When speeding, I had found her so completely un-
controllable that I gave her up as an incurable case.

Jack, in his accustomed mood, in the evening, all
smiles and attention, inquired as usual after the welfare
of the pacer.

"Jack," said I, "she is speedy, but she is a bad one.
I find I have not strength enough to manage her, she has
pulled me until I feel as if I were stretched from ocean
to ocean."

"What," exclaimed Jack, "can't hold a horse! I
should like to see the horse I can't hold!" Thus he pro-
ceeded in a ridiculing manner regarding imbecility and
incapability, boldly expressing confidence in his own abil-
ity to successfully manipulate any unruly steed that had
ever worn harness.

I had frankly acknowledged my inability to master
the brute. She had fairly defeated me in a straight tug,
and so I resolved to patiently receive all the hot shot my
friend might be pleased to send, and to remain quiet and
undisturbed.

•When sufficient time had been given to allow the mare
to recover from her severe work-out, I invited Jack for a
day's outing and recreation with the horses, an oppor-
tunity which he was eager to grasp.

Arriving at the stables, the horses were hitched to

sulkies,, and Jack invited to a seat behind the pacer. I

was to give my attention to the trotter, as he was of a

nervous disposition and required but one driver. Jack





Digitized by VjOOQIC



222 NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE

was duly cautioned to handle the mare with care, as she
waa soon to start in a race, and under no circumstances
should she be permitted to speed. This I impressed upon
him, knowing well that all the power and ingenuity he
possessed could not prevent her speeding when she felt so
disposed.

Jack promised to be very careful, and started away
with the pacer, doomed to a "Tam-O-Shanter" ride, while
I posed as a spectator, up behind the black gelding.

After reaching the course, and about a quarter of a
mile had been covered, a sudden thought seemed to rush to
the old mare's brain that she was being teamed entirely
too slow,— that she would be late. She began to hasten
her steps, and disagreement was already visible. Jack,
with unsuccessful effort, labored to control her to his lik-
ing, but the more he would pull the faster she would go,
till round and round the course they went with ghostly
speed, Jack determined to sooth the ardorous disposition
of the mare, and the mare as thoroughly determined that
her liberties should not be interf erred with.

In the midst of the conflict, hoofs were divested of
turf appliances, which were cast hither and thither, while
horse shoes flew promiscuously through the air, all adding
flame to Jack's perplexity of mind, causing him again and
again to vigorously renew his exertions, but the old mare
went along all the same, continuing her relentless career
until, confident gf yictory secured. Then slowing her pace



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE 223

she walked leisurely back to the starting point, with Jack
looking weary of his job.

With as grave a countenance as could be commanded,
under the pressure of circumstances, I inquired: "Jack,
could you not hold her!"

"I have come to the conclusion,' ' answered Jack,
"that of all her kind I have come in contact with, this is
the most obstinate one."

"She was a little unsteady," I replied. "You may
jog her around two or three times more, if you please.
This fellow has had work enough, I will take him to the
barn."

Jack made no audible response, but plainly evinced
his desire for a discontinuance of track work. Hurrying
to the stable, I closed the heavy gate, for I knew the old
mare's blood was roiled, and she soon hove in sight, with
her head high, mouth wide stretched, Jack leaning far
back on the seat, both hands as one gripping the reins,
pulling with all the strength he had left, and calling for
the gate to be opened.

The old mare had no time to wait the opening. She
struck the gate at about a two-forty clip, and stopped
very abruptly, allowing Jack time to slide to the earth and
drag himself from behind the sulky, the most defeated
and disgusted looking man I had seen for many many
days. References to pacing horses at our social gatherings
seemed to animate Jack ever after to his customary obli-
gated duty of passing the cigars.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



H Comrabe's Xettet



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



2



o



w
u

Q
O
O

s
frH



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



CHAPTEWXX



Some years ago, a comrade residing in a far eastern
state, many miles away, who had seen hard service during
the Rebellion, was touring Southern California for his
health. One year after his return, he wrote to Califor-
nia. He gave a description of his trip, its pleasures, and
the points of interest he had visited, and particularly
mentioned Son Bernardino Valley and Redlands, and as
he put it, Redlands, the most beautiful little city I have
ever seen, or ever expect to see.

And this, I am informed, is a copy of the letter which
he received in return, and much enjoyed reading:

Dear Comrade: I deem it not necessary to say that
I am glad to hear from you, or to receive the letter I have
so long waited and hoped for. The letter that is, as the
letter from far across the deep blue sea; the letter that
calls to my memory the days when we were younger than
we now are, and the many pleasant occurrences, and some
occurrences that were not so delightfully pleasant in that
long ago, when, together we toddled through boyhood's
days; when, together,- we signed an allegiance to our coun-
try in her hour of need; together, we passed through the
bloody angles in battle, which the fortune of war decreed



Digitized by VjOOQIC



238 NUGGETS OF EXPERIENCE

the Invincible? Second Army Corps. After the disband-
ment of the volunteers, together, we returned to our home,
and peaceful life; thirty-seven years having elapsed, we
met in this land of wonder and perpetual summer, which,
to me, was the most pleasing event of my years' experi-
ence along the coast of California, all of which must
be added to fill the pages of the life of the wanderer,
still buffeting the waves of a turbulent sea.

I have thought of many things since your departure
from this fair city ; oh, for the touch of a vanished hand,
and the sound of a voice that is still I My heart has
yearned for the dear ones that have long passed beyond
the beautiful river; for the land of my childhood (bless
those happy days), Auld Lang Syne, and the dear old
folks at home.

But, I pray you, do not think me lamenting my lot


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12

Online LibraryNelson ArmstrongNuggets of experience: narratives of the sixties and other days, with ... → online text (page 10 of 12)