Nelson Armstrong.

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in life. "I am not" Although I have passed through
many reverses, if the old flag were in peril today, as in
the days of our youth, I would readily repeat the act. Tis
true, I regret the burden of broken health, which has been
a great obstruction to advancements and comfort in late
years, and at times I am sad at heart. Then I bethink
me, and congratulate myself that I am much better cir-
cumstanced than thousands of others, and I am grateful
that I am permitted to enjoy sufficient heialth to be on foot,
to move about as I do; to help comfort my comrades in
arms, and to write letters to them— dear to me as brothers.

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Comrade, have you ever realized the fact that one
blessed with so genial a disposition as yourself, who, seem-
ingly, can look upon the bright side of all things, can be
of material benefit to those with minds so differently con-
stituted as to see the dark side of many things t

I speak of this prevailing ailment of mankind not be-
cause I believe it to be an habitual preference. It may be
circumstantial, possibly inheritance, probably negligence,
which, in either case, in my mind, may be overcome by
proper associations and adherence to good and cheerful
thoughts. I have often thought of your urgent advice in
regard to happiness. I have long since become reconciled
to my lonely fate, the life of a hermit, and for the past
few months my time has been fully and pleasantly occu-
pied improving and beautifying the hermitage, "the little
redwood Qpbin on the hill."

I am happy in the thought that you have experienced
an enjoyable tour across the continent, along the coast of
California, and return to your home feeling that you have
been richly repaid for your time and expenditures, in
health, benefit and the pleasure of the beautiful scenery in
this Land of Gold and Sunshine ; and, my dear old friend,
my sincere wishes to you are, "That you may enjoy many
such pleasures, and may the evening of your years in this
sphere be a long and happy one."

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The poet writes:
Among the thoughts of youthful days

One thought I can recall,
" Twere better to have loved and lost,

Than never to have loved at all.
Again in later years he thought,

And that thought of his did run,
Twere better to have loved and lost,

Than to have loved and won!"

In those California days his thoughts would seem to

Oh, that some kind-hearted one might pity on me take,

And remove from my home the bitter pill !
The angels will bless her who will share my humble lot

In the little redwood cabin on the Trill !
When in later years our locks shall silvered be,

As two loving sweethearts we'll fill the bill
And we'll forget the trials and troubles of the past,

In the little redwood cabin on the hill.

I thank you for the visits you gave me,

In the redwood cabin so unexpectedly,
When you ponder on this golden shore,

And the blue Pacific's rolling sea,
Methinks your thoughts will wander far

To Redland's heights and valley free,
The beacon light of the harbor bar

And thus in candor, ever be.

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O, California, 'tis sad to leave you !

Thy land of flowers and scenic glee!
For sacred ties I will say "Good-by!"

I would my home might be with thee.
When far away in my native State,

Where the snow doth robe the grassy lee,
I will oft return to thy sunny clime,

In silent, blissful reverie.

Come again, comrade! We shall be prepared to en-
tertain you in a more royal manner than ever before.

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TEwfce an ©utcast

B Marten's Experience

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With justice to all and hopes for good results, I girt
this story to the public. I have no desire to heroize my-
self, I have reached the years beyond that point of life.
There shall be no joy in my bosom that any one shall be
displeased. I have simply related the facts as I knew and
remember them. If it shall save one from the fate that
befell the hero of my narrative, I shall feel that I have
done some good for mankind, and that I shall be amply
repaid for my services.

After the close of the Civil War, by reason of impaired
health, I had moved about a good deal over the territory
of the United States and Canada, and it was about the
first days of the seventies, when I reached the beautiful
little city of Janesville, with no definite period determined
upon as to residence.

Soon after my arrival, while being busily engaged one
afternoon about my temporized place of business, a boy
came to me, whose peculiar appearance caused me to defer
my affairs for a time, and to look upon him with some de-
gree of feeling. I had often seen his similar, but in the
combination of his make-up, was something different
from all others, that seemed to attract my attention and

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sympathy. He was but a small child, thin in flesh. The
garments he wore were in tatters that dangled and wound
around his little body as he moved about; they were un-
clean, and much too large for the frail looking little form
that they were intended to comfort. His head was a tang-
led mass of hair, with putrid sore and scab that covered
the entire scalp, where vermin were visible. As I gazed
upon him in wonder, I thought he certainly had acquired
all the symptoms of a much neglected child, a living waif
of the street. With all, there were an air of gentleness.

I was informed that his mother had died about the
time of his birth, and that his father, who was a tailor by
trade, was out of the city and did not often see his little
boy. That the boy had a step-mother, and no home. He
picked up something to eat as best he could, and usually
found a sleeping place in a dry goods box, or livery stable,
as the opportunity might be presented. I took the liberty
to apply a lotion to his afflicted head which in a few days
cleansed and healed the scalp, restoring it to a natural
condition of health, thereby allowing the use of a comb
in his hair. Advice in regard to neatness was also given
him, which he seemed to appreciate as being very kind.
The little one came often to see me after, and I, after*
some time, discovered that I had begun to feel pleased to
have him come.

One evening he came crying to tell me that that morn-
ing his father had been found dead in his room at the
hotel at a city some fifty miles distant, and. finished his

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story by asking if he could live with me. The question
was a serious one for me to consider, and I was at sea to
know how. to reply. I was, at that time, associated with a
gentleman in Illinois, furnishing horses from that state
and the state of Wisconsin, for the eastern markets. The
business, at times, called me to one state or to the other,
and as far east as Albany, Boston, and New York city. I
was likely to be in New York during a portion of the warm
season, and in the southeastern states for the winter. The
uppermost question in my mind was, "Can I properly rear
and care for a boy!"

I thought of the dead father, the indifference of a
step-mother. I saw the forsaken child before me, his up-
turned face, tears streaming down the wan and emaciated
cheeks, earnestly asking for a home and friend. Gould I
refuse the request of the orphan. The thought came to
me, if a man can ever do a Christian act, here is a splendid
opportunity. A little hand crept carefully into my own
and I was at once a captive. There was not cold blood
enough coursing through my heart to say no. For a few
moments I did not talk. We walked along, hand in hand,
when again the child voice spoke, "Can I stay!" "Yes,"
I replied, "come in, you shall live with me; you shall be
my boy, and I shall try to be a father to you." The facts
were made known to the step-mother, who appeared un-
concerned as to with whom, or where the child might be.

The boy was cleansed and clothed. His little cheeks soon
grew round and rosy ; he practiced no bad habits, and

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obeyed my every wish without a murmur. I never found it
necessary to punish him. It was his custom and delight to
sit on my knee and have me recite comic lines in the Irish
dialect, while he would caress me as a fond child with its
mother. He was affectionate and of sweet disposition. Our
attachment became mutual.

About one year after he came to live with me, I caused
to be executed Articles of Apprenticeship. This was done
solely for the purpose of binding us more closely to each
other, and that I could feel that whatever I did for the boy
I was doing for my own. To this, the relatives offered no
objections. The boy was started to school, and all went

Now feeling that greater responsibilities were resting
upon me, I endeavored to do the best possible for my little
ward. His studies and recitations I gave my personal at-
tention. I organized troupes and performed them for his
special benefit, that he might gain practical knowledge of
minstrelsy. When I went out with a troupe, he was always
with me. If I went to Chicago, or other cities, he was by
my side, and permitted to sit before the most talented
artists of the day, in the profession in which I was trying
to educate him, the art of which, he, as well as myself, so
much desired he should accomplish. I made myself his con-
stant companion. If I had an outing he was given all the
enjoyment it might afford. When I was called away on

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business, my greatest thought was to return to him at the
earliest practicable opportunity. No matter what my busi-
ness might be, he was always foremost in my mind. No
child was ever dearer to a parent than he to me, and I had
the pleasure of knowing that he loved me in return. I did
not know of a living relative of my own; he was my all, my
most sacred care. I did all in my power for his elevation
and advancement. For this, I have no regret. I crave no

The Peaks, who, as a family of father, mother, two
sons and two daughters, had gained some notoriety in years
past as Swiss Bell Ringers, now appeared at Janesville as a
comedy company, with Fannie (Mrs. Fitz) the only mem-
ber of the old family with it, as sole proprietress and still
retaining the original title.

When the Peak family managers came to me to negoti-
ate the services of the boy, I was reluctant to let him go.
He was young, small of his age, and I wanted him to attend
school, which I thought of greater importance at that
time. The troupe went away without him. Wyman (one
of the company) was sent back from the next town to make
the final effort to secure the boy. The boy wanted to go,
there was no salary, but the fact of the head of the troupe
being a woman who had children of her own, it seemed to
me that the boy would be safe with her, and derive some
benefit from practice. They finally succeeded in obtaining

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my consent to let him go for a ahort time, provided Fannie
would (as the had promised) devote at least two hours each
day to his studies and recitations, which I found later she
had entirely neglected. I visited him at different times,
always giving him such encouragement and advice a* I
thought necessary.

In the latter part of the summer I received a letter
from the manager of the Peak family, informing me that
my boy had become unmanageable and was needing my im-
mediate attention, and that it would be well if I would write
him a strong letter of instructions. Knowing that in such
a case as had been described to me, that my personal ap-
pearance would be the most efficient remedy, I accordingly
made preparations to meet the troupe at the place I had
been advised to address my letter. The boy did not know
there had been a complaint laid against him, and was de-
lighted to see me. I remained with him two or three days,
and our visit was a most pleasurable one. When he found
that Fannie had written and caused me to neglect my busi-
ness, by reason of his disobedience, when he had done noth-
ing contrary to her wishes but to play a game of billiards,
he wept bitterly, and expressed a desire to go home with me.
At this time he had been with the troupe more than a year,
the manager always requesting more time to fill his place in
the company. I had informed Fannie that the time would
necessarily soon arrive when the boy must leave her, as I

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wanted him to attend school the coming year. I assured
him that he should return to me, and school, and
we would then be together; this seemed to satisfy him and
we parted with all the affection of a father and son.

Some time later, I was informed that the Peak family
were contemplating a trip to California, and as my boy
was a valuable acquisition to the troupe, was determined to
take him with them, contrary to my wishes, and that cor-
respondence to that end had been going on for some time
between the Peaks and the relatives of the boy. This thun-
derbolt struck me to the heart. I had not heard, or thought
of such a move. I could not think that his sister, who was
perfectly familiar with the circumstances from the time of
my earliest giving the boy attention, and had always ap-
peared pleased that he was being kindly cared for, could be
so false. I called at her dwelling to ascertain the facts in
the matter, and received a bountiful supply of abuse for my
pains; for she had the tongue of a daughter of the Green

I walked away thoroughly convinced that the communi-
cation that had come to me was not a mistake, and that the
affair was a deeply seated one. I at once saw through it all ;
I saw that the battle of my life was fast approaching, and
that the destiny of the dearest one on earth to me was at
stake. I knew my boy well. It was my cherished hope and
ambition (as I replied to Bennett in the court, when he ap-

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plied the question "what do you want to do with the
boy!") to make a man of him. I held perfect control over
him; he, always receiving my advice in the most kindly and
submissive manner. He was free from vice, morally pure,
but I could plainly see his finish should he be deprived of
my influence at his present age of thirteen years, to which
he had barely attained. His ruin was staring me in the
face; my duty called me to his rescue, and I threw my ut-
most strength into the struggle to save him. I labored dili-
gently with his relatives and friends, I earnestly pleaded the
necessity of education ; I begged of them with all the force
and ingenuity within my ability to help me save the boy
from the hazardous step they were about to compel him to

All my efforts were fruitless. The Peak woman had
drawn an illustration that pleased the imaginary idea of the
relatives, they could not be induced to hear to reason, and
matters grew from bad to worse. The boy was sent to the
relatives to be near, but to be kept apart and not permitted
to converse or speak with me; by this strategy provoke an
attack that would aid the Peaks to secure control of the boy.
The Peaks came also, and the skirmish continued until the
final battle line was reached in the courts, of which the
proceedings and results will be found in the following notes,
clipped from the different journals of the city written by
the hands of those estimable gentlemen of the Janesville

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Gazette and the Bock County Recorder, who knew me well,
and knew my ward and the circumstances of hig life from
his earliest infancy.


The California MJnstrels appeared on Saturday night at
Lappin's hall before a good audience, and executed a pro-
gramme of interesting specialties to the entire satisfaction
of the spectators. The Rowan Brothers of this city, appear-
ed in connection with the company in double song and
dance. Johnny Shay, N. Armstrong, T. Nolen and Burt
Stow contributed their stage wit and musical talent to the
evening's entertainment, producing an enjoyable affair
throughout. The company goes west from this city.—
JcmesviUs Gazette*

Charley Rowan, our little bonist and great song and
dance artist, has joined the Peak Family Bell Ringers for
a trip through the eastern country. He was a favorite of
all who knew him, and will be missed by many friends who
have known him from infancy. To Mr. N. Armstrong much
credit is due for taking this little orphan to his arms at the
time of his father's death and tenderly watching over him
with a father's love. He will miss him more than alL—
Rock County Recorder.

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About two years ago little Charlie Rowan, of this City,
was employed by the Peak family to take part in its per-
formances. Since that time he has traveled over most of
the states of the Union, and has become a valuable acquisi-
tion to the troupe. The part he took in the "Flirtation
Duette" at Myer's Opera House last Monday evening was
well played and brought down the house. The "bone solo"
and "clog dance" in which he took an active part drew
forth rounds of applause from the audience, and as "Call
Boy" he was equally successful. He is graceful on the stage,
and with proper training is destined to make his mark in
the world. The company advertise him under the name of
"Dot" Years ago, when a small child, his parents died,
leaving him destitute and to the mercy of a cold world. Mr.
N. Armstrong, of this city, who has a big heart, took the
little fellow in care, and has ever since been as a father to
him, and no doubt loves him as if he were his own child.
Once during the past two years he went to West Virginia
where the company was playing to see him. "Dot" has
good reason for looking upon Mr. Armstrong as a father to
whom he is indebted for his present position and past cares
which he cannot very soon repay.— Rock County Recorder.

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Willie Knight Mr. Armstrong Charley Rowan

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A case came up in Justice Patten's court yesterday in-
volving the custody of Charley Rowan, who has been with
the Peak family for nearly two years. It appears from the
articles of indenture, that Nelson Armstrong, of this city,
took Charley as an apprentice, and bound himself to teach
him the trade and art of minstrelsy, and was to have his
services until the boy attained the age of 21 years. Arm-
strong took him in hand, taught him to dance and to man-
ipulate the bones, and today Charley has no superior in
these arts in the West. He is now one of the most valuable
members of the Peak family troupe, and pleases multitudes
wherever he appears. He is good property, and the Peaks
and Mr. Armstrong know it. On the 20th of March Charley
left the troupe temporarily, and came home to see his rela-
tives and friends. Mr. Armstrong, thinking that Charley
had unlawfully departed from his services, applied for a
warrant to apprehend him and return him to his custody.
The warrant was issued, and yesterday the case came up be-
fore Justice Patten. The articles of indenture of appren-
ticeship were given in evidence, and testimony taken as to
the care and treatment Charley Rowan had received from
Mr. Armstrong, which proved that the care and treatment
had been good. As there was no contradictory evidence, Mr.
Patten decided that Armstrong was entitled to the custody

of Charley. The only question is whether the art or trade

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of dancing and bone-playing is such as the law would hold
a proper and legitimate trade. Charley does not complain
of Mr. Armstrong's treatment, but says he has been very
kind to him. Armstrong now desires that Charley shall stay
at home this summer and attend school, and if he rejoins the
Peak family that he shall receive a larger salary than that
now paid him, which is only nominal. It is now agreed be-
tween Mr. Armstrong and the relatives of Charley that
while on a visit here, he may visit his friends during the
day, but must report himself to Mr. Armstrong at night.
Whether the question of custodianship will be carried be-
fore the county judge, remains to be seen.— Janesvitte (7o-


As we expected, the friends of Charley Rowan, the
dancer and bone soloist, who has been traveling with the
Peak family for two years, have taken his case before Amos
P. Prichard, County Judge, and will try and secure the
custody of the boy. Fannie Peak is also interested in the
proceedings, as Charley is the most valuable member of the
troupe. It will be remembered that only a few years ago,
Charley was running the street, destitute of sufficient
clothing, no permanent home and picked up his living as
best he could. He was a born dancer, as from early child-
hood he displayed unusual ability in dancing. Mr. Nelson
Armstrong took compassion on the lad, had articles of ap-

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prenticeship drawn up, duly signed, and then took the boy
home. He gave him instructions in dancing and general
minstrelsy, clothed him well, and two years ago secured him
a position in the Peak family. Now that Charley is
"somebody," and his services are of considerable value, his
friends and relatives, who once declared in a justice court
that he was a vagrant, now want a decision that the articles
of apprenticeship are a nullity, and that the custody of the
boy belongs to them and not to Mr. Armstrong, The matter
first came up before Justice Patten a few days ago, who
decided that Mr. Armstrong is entitled to the custody and
services of the boy. There is a large amount of evidence,
and the case, which commenced this morning, will continue
all day. Bennett & Sale are the attorneys for the relatives,
and Mr. Patterson and William Smith, Jr. for Mr. Arm-
strong.— Janesville Gazette.


The testimony and arguments in the Charley Rowan case
were finished today, and Judge Prichard has reserved his
opinion until tomorrow morning at nine o'clock. The
ground on which the relatives of the boy seek to get posses-
sion of him is that, in Armstrong allowing Charley to travel
with the Peak family, he passed from under his control,
and thereby neglected him. The question of the profession
of minstrelsy being a trade under the statutes, can only be
decided in the circuit court. The statutes provide that in

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cue any apprentice shall be misused, ill-treated or neglected
by his master, or by any person under the direction or by
the permission of such master, the next friend of the ap-
prentice, or any person in his behalf, may file a complaint
in the county court, setting forth the facts and circum-
stances of the case. It is not claimed that the boy had been
misused, ill-treated or actually neglected by Mr. Arm-
strong, but the simple act of allowing him to go with the
Peak family as a performer, was a sufficient neglect, under
the statute, to warrant the county court in breaking the
articles of apprenticeship, and compelling Armstrong to de-
liver the boy to his relatives.— Rock County Recorder.


Judge Prichard gave a decision in the case of Charley
Rowan this morning at nine o'clock. The statute in rela-
tion to apprentices requires that some profession, trade or
employment shall be specified in the articles establishing
the apprenticeship to be taught to the infant. The instru-
ment by which Charley Rowan was apprenticed to Mr.
Armstrong, required that the former should be taught the
art or trade of minstrelsy. This the court decided is not a
profession, trade or employment, within the meaning of the
law of this state; and, therefore, that the relation of master
and apprentice never legally existed between Armstrong
and Rowan. The proceedings in this case were for the re-

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moval of Mr. Armstrong for neglect of the boy. The order
for removal could only be made in case the relation of
master and apprentice legally existed, hence the only order
the court could make in the case was to dismiss the pro-
ceedings, which we understand was done. What will be the

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Online LibraryNelson ArmstrongNuggets of experience: narratives of the sixties and other days, with ... → online text (page 11 of 12)