Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa

I don't have any photos or paintings of my great grandfather but I do have some excerpts from his memoirs, starting with this account of his early childhood in Wisconsin. He married Carlyle Goodrich's daughter in 1902 and her reminiscences of life on the Great Plains also survive, in addition to quite a few of her paintings, including one of her father which hangs in my house.

Charles Alva Hoyt (1874 – 1944)

"I was six years old in 1880 and after school stopped in at the shop ostensibly to be with dad but really to slip across to Hilgert's side yard where from a perch on the fence I could look inside and see the fights in the barroom. This fence was apparently built on purpose for us small boys. It was a tight board affair six feet high. It ran along the street and enclosed the side yard.

Jake used the yard for drunks too far gone to walk. He threw them out a side door to lie out in the weather and sleep off their drinks. Well, as to the fence - - it was had a two by four running along just far enough down so small boys could stand on it, hang on to the top of the fence and see comfortably over it. To our right we could see in the window of the barroom. Back of us were the fascinating drunks snoring and wallowing in the dirt. Out in front was the street with all the interesting things that happened. If it chanced to be a fight with flying rocks we ducked down out of harm's way and watched through the cracks with delighted cries. We could pop up after the rocks stopped and see the gladiators led to the village pump, their wounds and bruises soused with cold water. It was a most delightful fence.

Sunday the whole country-side came to church. Carts, buggies and wagons poured in from every side. After church the women and children went to a grove just outside town and prepared lunch while the men did their week's trading. Stores ran wide open all day. The saloons were wide open too and in the afternoon fights took place - - Norwegians and Swedes against German and Irish, Germans against Irish, and Irish against Irish.

They were not panty-waists, those hard two-fisted men of sixty years ago in northern Wisconsin. They fought with their fists and feet -- they fought with rocks - - with first one boot and then the other. They fought with socks with a stone in the toe and in the end with their teeth and claws. They fought until they were completely down and out, their clothes almost torn off. They were then carried to the pump and laid face up under the spout and deluged. Only then would they admit they were licked. But look out for next Sunday.

My folks tried to hold me at home. Have you ever tried to hold an eel even with both hands? It was just as easy to hold any boy in town when the screaming and swearing started over in the street. Only by tying us could it be done and they hardly cared to do that. My folks looked around them and saw very clearly they had not gone far enough."

Mattie Phebe Goodrich (1873 - 1949)

"The first summer [1882] we lived in a house with a Mrs. Dimick [in Dixon, Illinois]. Our house hold goods didn't come till fall as papa had made an immense big box, and put them all in. You can imagine how the men enjoyed lifting it.

In the fall we moved to the house that belonged to another cousin, Ellen Goodrich Smith. Mrs. Carpenter and her daughter Alice lived upstairs. My father got a place to work, in a Mr. Judkins' gallery. After a bit he sent for us. We went to visit Burt Colby on the way [their cousin, who had inspired the move]. I was eight years old and supposed to pay half fare. But it seemed to be they style to get a young one through free, if possible. So my mother gave pap's cousin, Walter Colby, most of her money, and when the conductor came around she showed him her purse. Of course he felt sorry for the poor thing and said all right. Walter Colby by the way, being a mere man, couldn't stand it and went into the smoker till the play was over. Mother Hoyt, when they went out, simply said her boy was a couple of years younger than he was. Needless to say, Father Hoyt wasn't along.

My father took up land in the spring of 1884, "Township 134, Range 75, So. E. quarter of section 22.” My mother and I staid down there in the summers, and in Bismark in the winter. So I never went to a district school. Papa put up a 10 x 12 shack and sodded it way up to the roof. It had a door on the north and south sides and two little windows.

The storms were terrible: we could see the rain coming so heavy it looked like a wall of white coming across the prairie. Mrs. Carpenter and her daughter Alice took the claim next to us. A Fanny Crawford from Dixon Illinois took a farm near. After one heavy storm, I went up on the roof to see if I could see Fanny's shack. (I had steps cut in the sod at one corner so I could get up and look off). It wasn't in sight so I knew it had been blown down.

So we started over there. the women wore long dresses of course and the "wild oats" collected around the bottom of their dresses solid for two or three inches. "Wild oats" look like tame oats, with a long tail on them. They dry by the last of summer, and stick to whatever comes in contact with them. We found Fanny's things strewn all over the prairie. She put them together till she could get a roof fixed over them.

We had an old cat whom I named Topsy Tinkle. She would go back and forth with us on the load spring in the fall. She usually had a kitten in a box so she didn't have to be shut up. She got so she was an expert at catching gophers. She would crouch way down beside the hole and before the gopher put his head out, her paw darted out and dragged him forth. The big gray ones were so large that she would roll over on her back and have a regular fight before she had him killed. She used to take her kittens and train them in the art.

There were no neighbors except a family by the name of Walker. She was the postmistress. They were not very desirable folks.

No one knows how lonesome it is for a child. I welcomed even a tramp if any came. We were 40 miles from Bismark -- took two days to go with a load. I don't know what I did to amuse myself -- I had a flower bed -- my dolls of course. But it taught me to rely on myself."

- excerpts from an unpublished manuscript by Charles Hoyt

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