A TYPICAL BACKWOODSMAN
A personal sketch by Dr. H. Rutherford, Oakland, Ill.
Looking backward is the office and duty of history. Its labors are to mark the milestones of time as they pass, and to grave upon them the record of days, of years and of ages, in their successive chronology. Looking backward, recalling a youthful epoch, the reminiscenses of a past generation, is the pleasing task of old age, and it is in that line I would ask attention to a few incidents connected with the life and character of a noted man in the early history of Douglas county.
It was back in February, 1841, that a settler on Brush Creek, three miles southeast of Oakland, had a sale. He had had hard luck as he termed it. He had followed the rainbow to Illinois, but now the bow of promise was in Missouri, resting over the new Platte Purchase. There was snow on the ground, and taking a seat in a friend's sleigh, we made our way through the jack-oak brush to the place of sale.
Being a new comer myself, my object was to make acquaintance. But few people were present and a few more from various points kept dropping in; notably two from the head of the timber, one of whom was Captain James Bagley. The sale of old barrels and other trumpery went slowly on. People cared more to group and gossip. A man in one of the groups near me, looking up the road, enquired, "Who's that?" No one knew the strange looking person approaching. Captain Bagley being appealed to, said: "That's old John Richman."
Mr. Richman was a man of sixty years, six feet high, strongly built and in vigorous health. He carried a long rifle-a deer gun-with a leather guard over the lock. His rig and costume was unique and picturesque even for that day; a full hunter's outfit. He wore no hat, but instead a knitted woolen cap of white, red and green bands, with a white tassel at the top. His hunting shirt was of walnut jeans fringed along the seams and skirts, and around the neck and cape. His pants, of the same material, were held up by a draw string and secured at the ankles by deer leather leggins, bound by cross thongs fastened to his moccasins. He wore a leather belt in which was stuck a small tomahawk. To his shoulder strap was attached a pouch, a powder horn and a small butcher knife in a sheath. His moccasins had sole leather bottoms fastened by thongs. He was clean shaved, and his shirt and clothing were bright and clean; a cleanly man by the way, and I never saw him in any other condition.
After greeting, he stated that one of his pet deer had escaped from his park three weeks ago. He had expected it to return, but, instead, found it had gone down the timber. He was sure it would come back in four weeks time, but fearing somebody might shoot the "critter," he had started out to find it and bring it back if alive. He had staid last night with his friend, Andrew Gwinn, and hearing of this sale, he had come by, hoping to hear of it. It was a doe with a red flannel band on its neck and with a small brass bell held by a leather strap. He added "If I could only hear one tinkle of that bell, Ild know it."
No one had seen or heard of it, but all assured him that nobody would kill it, knowing from the band that it was a pet. Some one suggested that as the truant was going down the river, she might still be on the tramp, and by this time be in Jasper county. He shook his head with a decisive "No! She will not go more than two miles below here." He gave no reason for the opinion, but he no doubt knew what we did not know, that the range limit for the deer was twenty miles from the place of birth anti breeding. I would remark here in parenthesis that all animals--man escepted--have their range limits. Naturalists tell us that the deer and antelope species have twenty miles, the lion and tiger ten, the horse five, the wolf four, the cow three, the hog two, the dog one, the cat a half, and the rabbit, like the hen and the quail, spend their lives on forty acres.
Some one else inquired, "How will you find that deer among the brush, the thickets, and the long grass?" Holding up a turkey call-bone he said, "Every daly when I brought her her feed, I called her up with that bone; if ever she hears it again she will know it and come to me. She will know me, too, and let me lead her home. If she is alive I will find her and find her down there." Pointing to the southwest. I had read with the ardor of youth "Gertrude of Wyoming' 'and the Leather Stocking Tales.
I had heard of Mr. Richman before and now realized that there stood before me a type of a mountain hunter, more perfect perhaps than any that fiction had ever made. Shouldering his gun, he went on his way. We watched him with interest till he disappeared among the trees in his loving search for the lost doe. It subsequently transpired that he made his way to the neighborhood of St. Omar, two miles north of Ashmore. Here, he decided, was the deer's boundary limits, here he began his search, as I was told afterwards by several of the residents. He staid two days roaming over the barrens and river bluffs, sounding his call-bone as he went, but no doe ever came to him. He became convinced that some one had killed it, and the wretch who had done it lived near by. In his anger he told several people what he thought and that if he ever found out who did it, he would put a bullet through him if it was seven years afterwards.
He made and repeated this savage declaration in the house of David Golliday, Sr., unaware of the fact that at that time the band and bell of his doe was then hidden within a few feet of him. A few days previous one of the Golliday boys had brought in the dead body of the truant doe, with the red band and bell on it; knowing how mean and dirty the act was, the family kept it secret. The old man's threats terrified them so much that the bell was kept in hiding for several years, till it was known that the ferocious old hunter was dead.
In the summer of 1842 I happened to pass by the house of Mr, Richman. His son David and his voung wife were living there. The old man, being a widower, lived with them. I was called in to minister to a sick child.
The house was a rudely constructed affair. It had a puncheon floor, an outside stick chimney, and the house corners were untrimmed. It stood by the calamus patch in the fair grounds.
Richman, the elder, at that time, was particularly busy. As was his habit, he sat upon the floor with a deer skin under him, tanned with the hair on, and the neck, tail and legs clipped off. In his hand he held a piece of chair rung, to the end of which was attached a piece of sole leather, forming a convenient paddle. With this deadly weapon he slaughtered every fly he could reach adding at each successful blow a suitable curse adjective. A pair of short boards, leaning together at top and smeared with honey, stood on a shelf as a fly trap. Every few minutes he would rise from the Aloor and bring the trap together with a bang, supplemented with a furious "There, damn ye i" by way of comment. This is the opposite of romance, Fenimore Cooper never degraded his hunters and warriors to such small game; but all the same, such is life, such is reality. It was said of Mr. Kichman that he would sit for hours at a time by his bee hives killing drones.
The Oriental practice of sitting on the floor, as a comfortable any easy posture, has ever been a puzzle to us of the west. In the course of his fly campaign, he sat down and rose up many times; and what is singular he did it with ease and grace, such as long practice alone can give. I had seen him once before sit for hours on that deer skin, and what is more had seen him sleep on it, too, his head and shoulders lightly leaning against a table.
One day in November, 1844, Mr Richman appeared
at my house, telling me he had a job for me. Stripping up his sleeve, he exhibited a wen on his upper arm, as large
as a turkey egg. He said he had tried two faith doctors on it, but did no good, adding, "The sign wasn't right
or sumthin.' Could I cut it out for him?" To my inquiry as to when he wished it removed, he said in his decided
way. "It must be done today or tomorrow, because the sign today is in the legs and tomorrow it'll be in the
feet. After that it'll be in the head again and you know it wouldn't do then at all; it'ud be dangerous."
The wen therefore was removed at once. As the wound bled slightly he became uneasy, remarking that he had the power
to "stop blood" on other people but could not on himself. He could "learn a woman," however,
to do it, and if I would permit my wife to go into the back yard with him, he would learn her to stop the flow.
Nodding assent, they retired--it would ruin the charm for me to see or hear the process-- and he had her place
her fingers over the wound, repeating after him a pow-wow iormula commanding the f'low to stop in the name of God
and his holy angels. As there was no apparent result and he seemed anxious, I did what I should have done at first,
put on another and tighter bandage. But MIr. Ri'chman was satisfied, nevertheless, that the "words" had
done the business.
He staid with me two days and told me a hundred of his hunting, mining and ghost stories. Brim full of superstitions, he was what the scriptures call a "natural man." Without moral or religious training, he did not know one letter from another, and to him the reading of a printed page was a mystery. His youth and manhood had been spent in the mountains of Virginia, living a wild and savage life. He told me he had never worn a shoe or a boot nor never had an overcoat on his back. Roaming over the country in search of game, in those days when the prairie was a wilderness and the settler was found only at distant points of timber, it was his habit when night was coming down, to make his way to the nearest cabin in sight, sans ceremony.
Without a knock, he lifted the latch, walked in and made himself at home. To the lonely settler he was always a welcome guest, a God-send in fact. In his dialectic vernacular he repeated to his eager listeners his old time adventures-a light sleeper, he literally "sat by the fire and talked the night away." From the late Andrew Gwinn I learned that his father was a woodsman by profession, what the French term a Courier de Bois. As a scout he served under Lord Dunmore and fought the Indians under Cornstalk at the battle of Point Pleasant. John was his eldest son, and had the good fortune to marry a woman of exceptional wisdom and patience. It was said of her that no other woman could control his passionate fits.
They were energetic, industrious and prosperous. Deciding to live in the Wabash country, they spent a year in preparation. Two great poplar trees, made two large canoes. These dug-outs were launched on New river, placed catamaran fashion, a deck was built over them, and pitching his tent on top, with his family inside, the craft floated down the river. Down the Kanawha. down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash.
In the low water of summer he and his sons pushed that flotilla up stream, day after day, till they reached Eugene. They staid here a couple of years, as I have understood, living in the tent, and in the spring of 1829, moved to the Ambraw. Mr. Richman has ever since carried the distinction of being the first settler in Douglas county. The exact date is to me unknown. It may be stated here as an item of county history, that Captain Samuel Ashmore, in that same year located in Sargent township on what is known as the Sargent farm.
His son, Omer, living in Iowa, writes me that they came to a halt on the 15th day of May. His father had two wagons, five yoke of cattle and a pair of horses. They immediately broke up twenty acres, planted and fenced it, housing themselves in the covered wagon. The next thing in order was a house. The late Geo. Ashmore told me that his father sent him up to Richman's for help, and the next day Mr. Richman and four of his sons came down to assist in the raising. In that year but these two "families were in the county, and it is quite certain that this was the first house in the county.
House building items of an early date have an interest for every locality. The late Young E. Winkler stated that his mother and his brother, Edmund, came to Brushy Fork in 1830. They built the first house at what is known as the north end of the Hopkins bridge. The little clearing is there yet, and the house to my recollection stood there tenantless for many years. Ed moved from there to the Albin farm.
In the fall of that year Mr. Winkle came to Brushy on a visit; from there he rode over to Richman's. They were still living in the big tent. Old John, as he was called, had at that time six bee trees marked in the woods. Mr. Winkler tried to buy one, but could not. Mr. Richman had scruples, thought it would be an act of betrayal, which the bees might avenge by a spell on him, rendering it impossible to ever find another hive.
The Richman boys were quite peaceable men, much like their mother in disposition. John and David had her dark hair and personally resembled her. All had more or less of their father's disposition. When David lay in his last illness, he told me he wished to sell out; hoped to get six dollars per acre for his little farm, hoped to get well, to go to Oregon, to the Rocky Mountains to hunt the bear, the elk and the black-tailed deer. Of his five sons, I thought Lewis, the youngest, resembled his father the most. Discussing this point once with the late James Hammet, he disagreed with me, but to me, the resemblance, if not striking, was considerable. Alike in size and build, both had sandy hair, the same piping voice and the same wild staring look.
As a sequel to my sketch of this wild man 'o the woods, permit me to close with an ancedote told me long years ago by the Rev. John Steel, of Grandview, Edgar county.
Mr. Steel was born on the Greenbrier river in
Virginia, near the Richman's and knew the family well, especially the younger members of it. He stated that a new
church had been built in the neighborhood, seated in pew style, finished and dedicated. On a summer's Sabbath day
services had been opened, the preacher had started into his sermon, when a strange man in hunter's garb was seen
standing in the doorway, eying the preacher with intense earnestness. He was recognized as Bill Richman, a brother
to John. After a long pause, he stretched forth his long arm and grasped the pew railing, drawing one foot forward
followed by the other. Then another reach with one foot at a time, never moving his eyes from the preacher for
a moment. Arriving at a vacant pew, he raised one moccasined foot, passed it over the door to the inside floor.
then the other and sat down. He remained seated about ten minutes, then rose, passing one foot over the door outside,
then the other as he stood in the aisle, all the time keeping his alert eyes upon the preacher as danger point.
He then moved backward by reaches, along the railing as he had advanced, till he stood on the door-sill. Then with
one last wild, staring look at the preacher, he sprang backward and out several feet, turned hastily and disappeared
in the adjoining forest.
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