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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
My landed estate on Brushy creek was not a valuable one from an agricultural standpoint, but there were some fine possibilities in the clay banks, which yielded a soft, fine-grained material, very pliable and adhesive, and would have yielded a handsome profit in the hands of any oldtime potter. To me it was useless except for the enjoyment my children extracted from it in the manufacture not only of mud pies, but of bowls, and even crude attempts at toys, their wares when dry being quite durable.
There was also a fertile field for the archaeologist in the ledges of limestone, which in many places were many feet in thickness, holding in their grasp many interesting fossils, both organic and casts, veritable picture books of the prehistoric age.
The most conspicuous objects in these ledges were what at first glance would be pronounced petrified snakes, but as they were all coiled and headless, they would probably be classified under the head of Ammonites. The coils, many of which measured eighteen inches across, were very symmetrical and well defined, but rather more flattened than those of a snake. The absence of a head would naturally suggest that they were only casts, but for the presence of a vertebral structure, the joints of which were separable by blows, even the spinal cord being traceable, a feature which would seem to separate them from the Ammonites. But on the other hand, I never saw a dead snake coiled. If they were really snakes, they must have curled up for the winter's nap and turned to stone while asleep; or perhaps St. Patrick passed that way. I presume there are still specimens embedded in those ledges, though many of them were removed during my occupancy of the place; and if any scientist cares to make a study of them he can no doubt determine their true character.
I don't remember the exact date, but think it was about 1848 that Fort Croggin was built on Hamilton's creek, where the town of Burnet now stands. Henry McCulloch had previously maintained a camp of rangers near there. Fort Croggin consisted of the usual log cabins, inclosed by a stout stockade, and was manned by one company of cavalry and one of infantry, the first commander being Captain Philip St. George Cook, who in 1812 arrested and disarmed a portion of the Snively expedition, for which act some of the parties so dealt with swore eternal vengeance on him.
Under these circumstances the position of post commander at Fort Croggin was not a comfortable one to Captain Cook, and he soon asked to be relieved. Lieutenant (afterward Captain) Blake succeeded to the command. Blake was in turn succeeded by Captain Lee, and Lee by Captain Sibley, later promoted to major, and to a general in the Confederate army. Christian Dorbandt, father of the present sheriff of Burnet county, was one of the men belonging to the post. Upon being discharged, he settled in the vicinity and is still there.
With this advance of the frontier the country between that and Austin settled up rapidly. As is usually the case, the fort attracted settlers, and thus the town of Burnet was born, though it was called Hamilton Valley for several years thereafter. Logan Vandever and William McGill, both San Jacinto veterans, were among the first arrivals, they having obtained a contract for furnishing supplies to the fort. Boland and McKee opened the first store. As was the case in every settlement, as soon as practicable a school was instituted, the promoters of the enterprise in Burnet securing the services of one W. H. Dixon, a graduate of Oxford university, as teacher. Under the efficient guidance of Professor Dixon the school attained high rank among the educational institutions of the western country and became an important factor in the growth of the town. There, in a little one-room log house, the young idea was taught to shoot straight toward Oxford, Greek, Latin and the higher mathematics sitting in the same room with the little tot with his pictured primer. As in most schools of that day, elocution was assigned a high place and embryo Websters and Adamses and Bentons harangued the school and its visitors at frequent intervals.
Finding a pastoral life unsuited to my taste, and the sparsely settled condition of the country in my vicinity rendering a blacksmith shop unremunerative, when the commander at Fort Croggin advertised for an armorer, I went up and worked a short time, long enough, however, to get an insight into the workings of the government machinery. There was a little upstart of a non-commissioned officer, who, having been made a sergeant, appropriated another fellow's wife and put on more airs than did the department commander. He set up a carriage and his wife had to have a servant and fine clothes. As his regular pay would not nearly pay his expenses he made up the deficit by cheating the government. He came into my shop one day with his scales, saying:
"I wish you would fix these scales for me so they will weigh a trifle light. The men all draw more rations than they can eat and it is just wasted. Now, if I could manage to save a little from each one they would never miss it, and where I issue several hundred a day it would amount to a good deal to me."
I told him that I was not employed to do that kind of business.
"O," said he, unable to understand my reason of refusal, "I'll pay you well for it."
In rather forcible language I rejected his offer, and he went away, a sadder if not wiser man.
Relating the incident to Logan Vandever, he laughed heartily at my verdancy.
"Why, that's nothing," said he. "When you've been here as long as I have, you will see that they all, from the commandant down, steal, each according to his opportunity. That man is only a poor little cuss. He has to steal by the ounce; others steal by the ton." A statement which I had an opportunity of verifying shortly after.
Some parties who had taken a contract for supplying corn for the horses drove up to the quartermaster's department late one afternoon and began to unload. The grain was put up in cotton bags supposed to contain two bushels. The "slack" of the bags, however, was so conspicuous that the commandant ordered them all weighed, calling on me as a civilian to witness the attempted fraud. Not one of those weighed fell short less than a peck, and some more. The quartermaster, with righteous indignation, ordered the guilty parties to reload the corn and take it away. Seemingly but little disturbed by the exposure of their dishonesty, the contractors drove across the creek and camped for the night. Early the next morning they drove back to the fort, where the corn was received without more ado, though the bags were just as slack as on the previous day. My observations since that time have not tended to disprove Vandever's assertion.
There was, however, one notable exception. Lieutenant Givens stands out in bold relief against this background of speculators and schemers. When the division headquarters were removed to San Antonio the quartermaster general arbitrarily usurped the functions of the local quartermasters, buying up supplies at San Antonio and hiring teams to distribute them among the posts, some of which were several hundred miles distant. The post at Burnet had been abandoned and the company to which Lieutenant Givens was attached moved out to some of the outside posts, where Givens was assigned the position of quartermaster, the responsibilities of which he accepted in good faith. Finding he could buy corn delivered to his post at a smaller cost to the government than that being sent out by the quartermaster general he proceeded to act on the information. This did not suit his highness, the quartermaster general, and seeing that corn in San Antonio was cheaper than corn nearer the post he sent on an accusation against Givens, charging him with fraud, also annulling Givens' contracts and placing him under arrest. The lieutenant was courtmartialed and dismissed from the service. He then sent on his report, showing the fraud that was being perpetrated, and having influential friends in congress his case was taken up in that body and resulted in his reinstatement and promotion.
After the Mormons were drowned out with their mill enterprise above Austin they went over on the Perdenales, about four miles from Fredericksburg, and built a mill, faring even worse than on the Colorado, the mill being entirely swept away and the burrs covered up in sand. Their village was also inundated. They had gotten a government contract and bought up corn and were in a fair way to retrieve their fortunes, but this new disaster blighted their prospects. Not to be discouraged, they went over on Hamilton's creek, eight miles below Burnet, where there was a fine site, and put in another mill. Their burrs being lost and having no money to buy new ones, they went out to the quarry and got out blocks of marble, of which they manufactured burrs, which answered for grinding corn, but they required frequent dressing.
Old Lyman Wight, the high priest, set about the task of recovering the lost stones. After wrestling alone with the spirits for some little time he arose one morning with joy in his heart, and summoning his people, announced to them that he had had a revelation, and bidding them take spades and crowbars and follow him, set out to locate the millstones. Straight ahead he bore as one in a dream, his divining rod in his hand; his awestruck disciples following in silence. Pausing at last in the middle of the sand bar deposited by the flood he stuck his rod down.
"Dig right here," he commanded. His followers, never doubting, set to work, and upon removing a few feet of sand, lo and behold, there were revealed the buried millstones. Wight said he saw them in a vision and his followers believed it.
Another miracle which the elder, in conjunction with the twelve disciples, performed, was related to me by one of the company. A boy fell from a tree and broke his leg. He was taken to the council chamber and the elder and his council were summoned. They laid their hands upon the broken limb and prayed; the boy then arose and walked. When the narrator had finished the above recital I looked him searchingly in the face and said: "Did you feel of that leg and satisfy yourself that it was really broken?"
"No, I didn't; but 'the twelve' did and they said it was broken," he replied, with an air of wonder that any one should have the audacity to question a verdict rendered by such authority.
"I'm glad you didn't," said I, "for if you had told me that you yourself felt of that boy's leg and found it broken, I should never believe another word you speak."
The poor dupe looked as if thunderstruck. I was not so much surprised at him, but there were some really intelligent men among them, and it was a mystery to me how they could lend themselves to such a course, when there was so little to be gained by it.
In addition to the grinding mill the Mormons put in a sawmill and turning lathes, manufacturing chairs, tables, bedsteads, etc., with which they supplied the whole country. The most of their chairs were made of hackberry, the wood of which, being so white, required a good deal of washing to preserve its purity. One lady in Burnet, to obviate the necessity of such frequent cleaning, concluded to paint her chairs; that was before the days of chemical paint. We bought the pigment and reduced it with linseed oil. This lady, having no oil, and arguing that oil was oil and so was butter, during the summer, mixed her paint with butter and applied the combination to her chairs; the effect can be better imagined than described.
While some of the Mormons were engaged about the mill, others opened a farm, and some were employed in hauling off and disposing of their wares among which were very pretty willow baskets made by the women. Their houses were small and their furnishings meager. But, in spite of their industrious habits and frugal living, they became involved in debt and offered their mill for sale.
Having all my life had a penchant for mills, I recognized this as "my long lost brother," and at once opened negotiations for it. The dream of my life was fulfilled and I was at last the proud possessor of a bona fide mill, and that in one of the most picturesque spots to be found. A mountain had been cleft from north to south, to permit the stream to pass through, and then from east to west, the southern portion having been entirely removed, so that the almost perpendicular walls between which flowed the creek, turned away at right angles at the mouth of the gorge, where the stream fell over a precipice twenty-eight feet or more in height into a deep pool below; thence rippling away between green banks, shaded by the various trees indigenous to the country. Just at the foot of the falls on the east stood the mill, a three-story frame building, the second story being on a level with the bank, with which it was connected by a gangway. A patriarchal pecan tree lifted its stately head beside the building, caressing it with its slender branches. On the upper side, connected with the falls by a flume, rose the huge overshot wheel, twenty-six feet in diameter, which furnished the power for the mill. The machinery was mostly of the rudest, clumsiest kind, manufactured by the Mormons of such material as was obtainable from natural sources. Great, clumsy, rattling wooden cog wheels and drum and fly-wheels filled up the lower stories, the upper one containing a small corn cracker mill and an old up-and-down sash saw, which, after all, had this advantage over the circular saw, that it could handle large timber. This was clearly demonstrated when a little later Swisher and Collins put in a circular saw over on Cypress creek, their saw being unable to cope with the largest and best timber, some of which was hauled to the Mormon mill a distance of fifteen miles.
And speaking of the circular saw, I shall always think myself the inventor of that useful device. I was born with a mechanical genius which I had ample opportunity of developing. My father, though not himself a smith, always kept a shop on his place, in which I early began to tinker; my first efforts being directed to the making of arrow points and putting pegs in tops, blades in knives and tongues in jewsharps. I had windmills on all the housetops and water mills - paddle wheels - in the creek wherever there was a little ripple. I presume everybody knows what a whirligig is. I had a varied assortment of them, some of which were made of scraps of tin. In these I conceived the idea of cutting teeth; then, while I operated the machine, my little brother fed it with cornstalks, turning out quantities of cornstalk lumber. To the shaft of one of my water wheels I at length attached a toothed whirligig, the power being sufficient to drive the miniature saw through a cornstalk. That was my idea of a sawmill; imagine, then, my surprise when on visiting for the first time a full grown mill I saw the old up-and-down sash saw, the operating of which I could not understand. That was years before Hoe patented the circular saw.
The sale of the Mormon mills created quite a little ripple in the vicinity. After I had concluded the bargain I set out for my home on Brushy. As I jogged along on my Spanish pony a stranger overtook me.
"Can you tell me whether Colonel Smithwick's carriage has passed down?" said he.
"I have seen nothing of it," I replied, and he spurred on to overtake the imaginary turn-out.
There being, no good milling timber in the vicinity we, my nephew, John Hubbard, having become a partner in the business, decided to throw out the saw and turn our attention to the manufacture of breadstuffs. In furtherance of this plan we decided to reorganize the machinery, throwing out all the old wooden cog work and substituting castings. And while we were about it we put in a new over-shot wheel, the shaft for which we procured on Cypress creek, selecting for the purpose a tree six feet through at the ground. This we dressed down to thirty-two inches square and eight feet in length. Into this shaft we inserted arms twelve feet long, upon which was built frame work supporting numerous buckets, each four feet in length, the completed wheel measuring twenty-eight feet in diameter. Besides the quantities of timber used in its construction, there was about a ton of iron. I have since seen a little turbine wheel one foot in diameter that I could lift with one hand running a six-foot circular saw. What a revolution!
We then put in a new set of burrs and added bolting works, the first flouring mill west of Georgetown. This gave a new direction to the farming interest, and soon the rattle of the threshing machine was heard in the land, and the reign of the corn-dodger was over in those parts. People came from all points to have their grain ground, and the capacity of the mill being very limited, sometimes when the mill was crowded they had to wait several days for their turn. Those who lived at a distance, many of them thirty or forty miles, struck camp and stayed it out. The Germans came from over at Fredericksburg. Like other German colonists, they had a hard scramble for the first few years, their crops failing, and for want of a knowledge of the use of firearms they were unable to utilize the game. Many of them gave away their children to keep them from starving. But when there was work to be done, the Germans could be relied upon to do it, and do it right, and were therefore an important factor in developing the country. They did not believe in wasting anything, as a story the miller told will show. McCartney, the miller, said that a German came into the mill one day, his clothes all patches and everything about him betokening extreme poverty. He looked around, and seeing flour and meal scattered around the room, where it had been spilled and trampled over and spit upon, asked if he might have it. Mac told him to take it. The thrifty Dutchman got a broom, and, sweeping it all up carefully, put it in a bag. Pursuing his researches further, he found a little heap of bran, and asked to be allowed to take that also. His sympathy being aroused, Mac gave him the bran also. Having thus collected all the sweepings, he then bought a peck of shorts and mixed with it, the whole making something like a bushel. "Huh, bread fourteen days," he exclaimed, as he shouldered the bag. McCartney said he felt so moved with pity for the family, which he naturally supposed must be on the verge of starvation, that he made up his mind to give the poor fellow a bushel of meal, and with that purpose followed him into a little store on the premises. Just as he stepped into the door the Dutchman laid down a $20 gold piece in payment for a bill of goods, among which were several plugs of tobacco. But the Germans throve.
The Mormons broke up and scattered in every direction after selling out. Old Lyman Wight, with those who adhered to him, went over on the Medina river, where they again planted a colony, Wight dying there. Quite a number of them remained on the village farm and several worked for a time in the mill. I found them just the same as other people in matters of business. While some of them were honest and industrious, others were shiftless and unreliable; and this must ever prove a potent argument against community holdings - the thriftless got just as much as the thrifty. But though the industrious saint was thus forced to contribute to the support of his idle brother, he drew the line to exclude the worthless dog that is generally considered an indispensable adjunct to thriftlessness, the canine family being conspicuous by its absence about the domicile of the Mormon. Nor was there anything objectionable in the Mormons as neighbors. If there were any polygamous families, I did not know of them. To still further emphasize the perfect equality of all members of the society, all titles of respect were discarded, men and women being universally called by their first names. And these first names, by the way, were perhaps the most striking peculiarity about the Mormons. The proselytes were permitted to retain their Gentile names, but those born in the fold received their baptismal names from the Book of Mormon; and have no counterpart elsewhere. There were Abinadi, Maroni, Luami, Lamoni, Romali, Cornoman and many others equally original. The female children, however, were apparently not permitted to participate in this saintly nomenclature. It might be that women cut no figure in the Book of Mormon; at any rate, there was nothing distinctive in the names of the girls.
One of my first efforts upon taking possession of the mill was to get a school, and in this those of the Mormons remaining, ably seconded me. We secured the services of a wandering pedagogue, known from the lakes to the gulf, Abijah Hopkins by name. He was an able teacher, but was never known to teach more than six months in a place. He tramped back and forth from Wisconsin to Texas, teaching a term here and there on the journey. His hobby was mathematics, which he had for the most part mastered unaided. He said that the first class he ever instructed in algebra, he had to study the lessons at night he taught the day following. "The rule of three" was his main reliance in all difficult problems. "State it in the rule of three, and go at it in a businesslike manner." Though not at all cross with his pupils, he held them under perfect control, seldom having to resort to the rod, the urchins quailing at a glance. He had four daughters living in Travis county, some of whom may still be there.
Our schools in those days were crude affairs, but the children learned more in a day than they do in a week - yes, in a month - in our modern schools. They were private enterprises, which, in a measure, accounts for their efficiency. There was no red tape connected with them.
The Mormons had nearly all left there before I did; there being but five families in 1861, three of whom came to California with me.
On a high plateau some half a mile from the mill, on the opposite side of the creek, was the cemetery, where, notwithstanding the miraculous healing powers of the "twelve," a comparatively large number of the saints had ended their earthly pilgrimage. A neat wall of red sandstone inclosed this last resting place, each grave being marked with a headstone of the same. That silent spot perhaps holds all of the once populous community that remains in Burnet county.
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