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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
Hamilton's creek drains quite a scope of country, and when swelled by heavy rains, the flood being congested within the narrow gorge above the mill, rises rapidly and comes down in a solid wall of water which pours over the falls like a miniature Niagara. The mill, however, is protected by the bluff. I have often seen the creek, which is ordinarily a trivial stream, become a torrent within a few minutes. On one occasion a party of sightseers had a narrow escape. Having wended their way up into the gorge, along the margin of the shallow stream, they were startled by a roar above them, and the guide being acquainted with the vagaries of the stream, ordered them to climb for their lives. Laying hold of the bushes in the face of the steep declivity, they scrambled up out of harm's way and watched the angry flood of waters rush past and leap the falls with a report like thunder, sending up clouds of spray. The visitors were treated to more of a show than they had contracted for, as if the creek had got up a special benefit for them. They had to climb to the top of the bluff and cross over the table land and scramble down on the southern side. High up in the face of the cliff on the further side from the mill was a cave-like opening in which a colony of bees had taken up their abode. It was a source of much aggravation to the boys that there was no way of appropriating the store of honey which was doubtless concealed within the cave, there being millions of bees to protect it. No plan was devised to oust them during my regime, and they are probably still in possession.
Back from the mill on either side of the creek stretched vast cedar brakes, the abode of wild animals innumerable, affording abundant sport for lovers of the chase. The Indians were gone and likewise the buffalo. The black bear being the next biggest game, I made a specialty of bear hunting, and to assist me in ferreting them out I trained a pack of dogs that made it decidedly uncomfortable for Bruin. Rare sport we had chasing them through the brakes, where it was impossible to ride, for they instinctively made for the most inaccessible places, but we were oblivious to obstructions when the dogs opened on the trail of a bear; they knew as well as we that it was a hunt for bear and were not to be tempted by other game. I also had a pony so well trained that I could leave him anywhere and trust him to remain there till he was wanted. We often had to rush in and dispatch a bear with knives when he was brought to bay, the dogs closing in on him so that it was impossible to shoot without endangering them. Occasionally we jumped upon a Mexican lion and sometimes ran into a drove of javalinas - Mexican hogs - the latter sometimes cutting the dogs before we could get them away. We gave the javalinas a wide berth, but we gave chase to the lions which took to trees, from which well aimed rifle balls dislodged them.
The Mormon mills came to be quite a noted place. Candidates began to find their way through the dense cedar brakes, which shut it in, and thither in the summer of '54 came Richardson, the advance agent of the Galveston News, the first of his calling to brave the terrors of the wilderness, and dearly he paid for his rashness. My house, like that of all old Texans, was open to the public and consequently became headquarters for Richardson while sojourning in that vicinity. It therefore devolving on me to do the honors of the neighborhood, I conducted him to the Marble Falls on the Colorado, some five or six miles distant, where never the sound of the woodman's ax had broken the primeval solitude. We rode over in the afternoon and devoted so much time to the inspection of the falls and to the discussions of the possibilities lying therein that it was nearing sunset when we started on our return. Our road being only a bridle path we took it in Indian file. Richardson, being mounted on a fine American horse, being the most conspicuous figure, took the lead, myself on my hunting pony, coming next and my dogs bringing up the rear. In this order we had proceeded about half way home when our attention was attracted by a number of deer feeding at a distance. Thinking to wind up the day's pleasure by bringing down a fine buck, I told Richardson to ride on and attract the attention of the deer away from me while I crept up within rifle range. I slipped off my pony, and throwing the bridle over the saddle, turned him loose to follow on with the dogs. The deer caught sight of the cavalcade, and seemingly assured of its harmless intentions, contented themselves with watching it, while I, unobserved by them, crept up in good range and was just drawing a bead on a fine head of horns, when the band simultaneously threw up their tails and scampered away. Turning to see what had frightened them, I saw my pony dashing away toward home, pursued by Richardson and the dogs. "Let him alone!" I yelled at the top of my voice, but the dogs had by this time opened on the track and their clamor drowned my voice, and away they went, leaving me afoot. And worse still, I feared for the fate of my trusty pony if the dogs succeeded in overtaking him. The din of the chase died away, and full of wrath I shouldered my gun and started for home.
By and by I heard Richardson hallooing off to the left and knew that he was lost. The pony had made a bee line for home, taking a course that Richardson could not follow. I was so exasperated with him that I would not respond to his halloo, but kept straight on to the Mormon village, where I was relieved to find my pony safe and sound; he having been rescued from his pursuers by the inhabitants. I then began to feel some remorse for having failed to answer my guest's call for help. The night passed and still he did not put in an appearance, and I, having fully recovered from the annoyance caused by his mistaken effort to do me a kindness, was just getting ready to go out and hunt him up when he hove in sight, full of contrition for having failed to catch the pony for me. His gaze being riveted on the deer he did not see me dismount, and when the pony, after having stopped to graze a little, came trotting up behind him, he looked around, and not seeing me, naturally supposed the little mustang had run away from me; his first impulse, therefore, was to catch him, which he could easily have done by walking up to him, but instead he made a dash for him, frightening the pony, hence this tale. Richardson, after wandering around several hours, stumbled upon a cow camp, where he tarried till morning, when he was sent on his way. He was a genial, companionable fellow, and I felt no shadow of resentment for the transitory inconvenience to which his good intentions had subjected me, and we parted the best of friends. But the story found its way to Austin, where it was considered too good to be lost. Ford, editor of an Austin journal, was anxious to write it up in style, but I laid an injunction on it. I never again had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Richardson.
Here, too, came Gail Borden, of condensed milk fame, whom I had known in old San Felipe de Austin away back in the '20s, when he was only a blacksmith. I had lost sight of him for years, when he drove up to my door at the Mormon mills, he in the meantime having been to Europe in the interest of condensed milk. He had also taken up the homeopathic remedies, and prefixed a Dr. to his name. His business in Burnet county, however, had no connection with his inventions or his practice. He had land located on Sandy creek, and there had been some particles of gold found in the sand, which created considerable excitement, which Dr. Borden was curious to investigate. The gold mines didn't "pan out." There was an old silver mine in the vicinity, which had been worked by the Spaniards, but it had apparently "petered out."
Dr. Borden imparted to me the great secret of his school of medicine as he understood it. Said he: "It is no use to be a doctor unless you put on the airs of one. Nine times out of ten sickness is caused by overeating or eating unwholesome food, but a patient gets angry if you tell him so; you must humor him. This I do by talking one grain of calomel and dividing it into infinitesimal parts, adding sufficient starch to each part to make one of these little pellets (exhibiting a little vial of tiny white pills), then glaze them over with sugar. In prescribing for a patient I caution him about his diet, warning him that the pills have calomel in them. Well, the result is that he abstains from hurtful articles of food, which is all he needs to do anyway. But I have strong medicine to use in cases of need." It struck me that there was a good deal of truth in his argument. After spending a few days with us Gail Borden, too, went his way and was lost to view. Another old time friend, one of the original three hundred, I found settled in Burnet county, Captain Jesse Burnham, with whom I had sojourned at his home near the site of the present city of LaGrange in the summer of 1827. He, too, had been "crowded" and consequently sold out and moved to Burnet, where he engaged in the sheep business, one of the first men in the country to try the experiment.
Burnet had by this time grown to be quite a village, although the military having performed its part had moved on. There were several stores, among them being one owned by Jack Haynie, a brother of Dr. Haynie of Austin. The first substantial building in the town was a two-story stone, built by Vandever & Taylor, the lower story being occupied by them as a store and the upper floor fitted up for the use of a flourishing lodge of Free Masons.
The Masonic hall was dedicated on the 24th of June, 1855, a grand barbecue and ball being among the attractions of the occasion. The dinner was free to all and consisted of everything the country afforded, and in such abundance that after all who would had partaken freely there were quantities appropriated by the outside element. I saw one fellow who I knew had not contributed one cent to the dinner riding off on horseback with a quarter of roasted beef on his shoulder, upon which, with the assortment of cake, pies, etc., his thrifty helpmeet had collected from the table, the family no doubt feasted several days.
The houses of the early Texans were small, but their hearts were large enough to cover all deficiencies. No candidate for hospitality was ever turned away. After the danger from Indians was over we had all outdoors in which to entertain our friends. If there was a wedding everybody was invited and a long table set out in the yard, around which the guests stood while partaking of the cheer with which it was loaded. Then if the bridegroom had relatives they gave an "infair" on the day following the wedding, at which the outdoor dinner was repeated.
Among the early social events I recall an infair given by William McGill to his nephew; Louis Thomas, and bride, Miss Kates; also a dinner given by Logan Vandever at the closing exercises of the school, which was the pride of the town, besides several Masonic and Fourth of July dinners. These free-for-all dinners were discontinued after a few years; the hungry hordes that swarmed in from all parts of the country, not content with a hearty dinner, filled their pockets, reticules, baskets and handkerchiefs with the dessert provided by the ladies, till they went on a strike against the imposition, and thereafter only those having the password gained admittance.
Barbecues were a feature of all political gatherings, the most notable one in that part of the country being given at the Marble Falls on the Fourth of July, 1854, prior to which time only the sound of the water leaping down the successive steps or benches that form the falls, and the voices of occasional small parties that had visited the spot, had awakened the echoes of the surrounding hills.
Preparations on a scale proportionate to the place and the occasion were inaugurated several weeks in advance. Meetings were held, committees appointed with power to levy contributions indiscriminately, everybody cheerfully complying with the demands thereof and faithfully carrying out the parts assigned. The mills were called on for flour, and some of the Mormon ladies who were famous cooks manufactured it into bread. The Burnet merchants gave freely of their groceries. Old man Hirston, who lived on the creek which bears his name, a few miles below town, was put down for a wagon load of roasting ears; other farmers brought loads of watermelons and cantaloupes, together with such vegetables as were on hand. Huntsmen brought in venison and wild turkeys, and beef and pork galore were advanced. Nor were more delicate viands wanting; there were pound cakes worthy of the name, warranted full weight, that deluding inflationist, baking powder, not having, as yet, found its way into that neck of the woods. There were wild grape pies and dewberry pies and wild plum pies; as yet there was no cultivated fruit to be had except dried fruit, which was very scarce and high.
Several families from Burnet, among them the Vandevers and McGills, ever foremost in such enterprises, went down beforehand and camped on the ground to superintend the final arrangements. There was a wide spreading arbor covered with brush, beneath which seats and a speaker's stand were arranged, the ground being carpeted with a thick layer of sawdust, which served for a dancing floor. People came from far and near, on foot, on horseback, in carriages and farm wagons. None stayed away for want of conveyance, and the seating power of the spacious arbor was taxed to its utmost.
The first number on the programme was a national salute fired from holes drilled in the rock. The band, consisting of a lone fiddle manipulated by Jabez Brown, then played "Yankee Doodle" and "Hail Columbia," the only national airs in his repertoire.
The literary exercises began with the reading of the Declaration of Independence by the young son of the writer, a lad of fourteen, one of Professor Dixon's pupils, whom the professor had carefully drilled for the occasion.
Dr. Moore, the orator of the day, then took the stand. He was as long winded as a silver senator. His stentorian voice rolled out from his perspiring visage, contesting supremacy with the falls, while his rotund figure shook with the energy of his gesticulation. The sun mounted the zenith, and stooping far over to the westward, peered curiously beneath the arbor to see what all the noise was about. Still the doctor's sonorous voice rang out the paean of liberty above the nodding heads of the weary audience, mingling with the roar of the water and reverberating among the distant hills. At last it was finished, and the famished multitude made a rush for the dinner which had long been waiting, the odor therefrom aggravating the impatience of the throng, to a large number of which the dinner was the principal feature of the occasion, they presumably having risen early and breakfasted on the anticipation of the feast. But there was enough and to spare for supper and breakfast for those who remained to participate in the sawdust dance which closed the performance. Long before night a space was cleared of seats and Jabez Brown took his place on the stand and sawed out reels, which he also called, until daylight the next morning, occasionally varying the programme by singing, in a strong, musical, though uncultivated voice, "The Maid of Monterey," and "The Destruction of Sennacherib."
It was the greatest event the country had every enjoyed, and we did have a royal time, some of the participants remaining on the ground several days later, presumably to live it all over again in imagination.
Some months later Colonel Todd came out from Kentucky, purchased the land on the east side of the river, and laid out a town. He advertised a sale of lots on the ground, to which quite a crowd turned out. A number of lots were sold, some of them bringing as high as $200, but beyond one or two dwelling houses the city existed only in name when I left the country in 1861.
Camp meetings, too, became a recognized institution among the annual gatherings. The first one held in Burnet county, if I rightly remember, was by the Methodists at Sand Springs on the road midway between Burnet and the Mormon mills, in the fall of 1855, Parson Whipple, an old Texas pioneer, being the chief priest. The hungry, both spiritually and physically, were freely fed at these meetings, the preachers dispensing the stronger spiritual meat of fire and brimstone first and tapering off the feast with milk and honey, while outside at every camp long tables were spread, provided with comfort for the physical man, where all were welcomed, an invitation to that effect being extended from the pulpit in the name of the campers whose hospitality was grossly abused in consequence. As other denominations took up the work, a regular chain of camp meetings every fall, with the incidental dispensation of free grub, induced many not overthrifty people to become regular camp followers, and most of them being quite forehanded with children, they became a heavy tax on the good brethren. The meetings, however, were not then drawn out indefinitely, five days being the usual limit. There finally sprung up a sect in Backbone valley that discounted all others in spiritual manifestations. Protestant Methodists they styled themselves, though just what the name implied I never learned. They had meetings every night, singing, shouting and going into trances, during which they spoke with tongues and prayed on imaginary harps, and, as a grand finale, springing to their feet and running as if pursued by the emissaries of Satan. Crowds of curious sightseers flocked to see the performance as though it were a circus.
On one occasion a stalwart, honest son of Ham, who, though a stanch Methodist, looked with profound contempt upon the performances of this latest addition to the good old family, was standing just outside the door while the meeting was going on. "If any of them try to run away, you must catch them, Jo," some one said to him. Jo waited till the spirit moved one of the entranced to rise running, making a straight line for the door, where Jo was supposed to be on guard, but instead of catching him, the disgusted and skeptical darkey stepped aside and let him go.
"Why didn't you catch him, Jo?" they asked.
"If God A'mighty make 'em run I ain't got no right to stop 'em," was the philosophical reply.
The men of the sect all felt themselves called to preach, and as the emoluments of office were not sufficient to support the whole neighborhood, they had to make up the deficit by hook and by crook. A whole batch of them were once summoned as jurors. One after another they arose and pleaded the statutes in their favor as ministers of the gospel. The judge finally arose and blandly inquired if there were any men in their neighborhood who were not ministers of the gospel. Shiftless at best, their hallucinations rendered them even more so; they had worked credit for all it was worth and were almost on the verge of starvation. They had gotten into me for various amounts of breadstuffs and I decided to shut down on them, the more especially as crops were short that year and mill stuffs commanded cash.
One old fellow who had a large family had been particularly troublesome. Seeing him coming, I told the miller not to let him have anything more. With an empty bag in one hand and leading a thin, ill-fed looking little boy by the other, he assaulted my fortress with the usual request for a bushel of meal on credit, reciting the failure of his crop, which, by the way, he had neglected to plant, and the destitute condition of his family in consequence. Without daring to look at the child, I put on a severe look and replied: "I can sell every dust in the mill for cash, Mr. ---- It is therefore impossible to accommodate you." The poor creature turned away, and taking the little boy by the hand, said in tremulous tones: "Well, son, we might as well go." I involuntarily glanced at the child, whose appealing eyes were raised to my face; tears stood in the blue baby eyes, tears of hunger. "Here, John, give Mr. ---- a bushel of meal," I said to the miller. I never got a cent for the meal, but the joy that lit up that little wan, pinched face and sparkled through the tears in those little eyes amply repaid me. I knew that the father was improvident, but the child was not to blame for that. Verily, "the sins of the fathers," etc. That same man denounced me as an "infidel." "Well," said one of his neighbors, "he's better than you are anyway, for the Bible says, 'He that provideth not for his household is wuss'n an infidel.'"
Had it not been for the large number of cattle that were being pastured in the country, many of the poor people would have certainly suffered; but milk will sustain life, and milch cows were to be had for the asking. My old-time friend, Peter Carr, who had obtained large landed possessions in Burnet and moved his immense herd of cattle thither, was certainly a great benefactor in allowing the poor people to milk his cows.
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