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~ Kathy M.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tin Pot Valley, Chapter X: Where The Dandelions Grew

 Source: Fine Books

This post is an excerpt from Tin Pot Valley, a collection of true stories written by my distant cousin Wilfred Brown.  Wilfred's Grandmother Aurilla is also my Great-Great Aunt.  Horace Greeley Putnam, Aunt Aurilla's husband, was just a youngster on his grandparents' farm when the circus came to Oakland, Oregon.

 Source: Mail
Posters were plastered about town several days before the circus arrived. from Ashland Railroad Museum.  Ashland Railroad Museum
 Source: Mail
The circus brought exotic people and animals to the Rogue Valley beginning in the late 1800s. This circus parade made its way down Medford’'s Main Street, complete with a cavalry of camels.  Southern Oregon Historical Society.


Tin Pot Valley, Chapter X: 

Where The Dandelions Grew


Wilfred H. Brown

"Where The Dandelions Grew"

The Putnam children grew in stature and in strength -- in the knowledge to be found in books, as well as in the skills needed in making a living from the soil, and in home-making -- during the years they spent at the Applegate Ranch.

At 16, Little Charlie was large enough to be accepted as a volunteer for the Union Army, where two of his Applegate uncles already were in uniform, in the closing months of the Civil War.  Charlie also saw service during the Indian troubles that followed, and never returned to live at his father's home at Tin Pot.

Horace Putnam grew tall for his years, at the Applegate Ranch, a handsome, brown-haired boy with a tolerant, easy-going nature that was to endure throughout his life.  He was seldom angered, easily amused, and had a droll twist of mind and speech that also was enduring.  At the Applegate Ranch, where food was always plentiful, Grandmother Cynthia and the other women-folk took pride in another of Horace Putnam's traits that would last him through life -- his enjoyment of food, and the amount of it he could put away.   In time, he grew very broad of shoulders and large around the hips and in girth, as well as in height.  And with strength to match his size.

By the time he was 12, Horace was tall and strong enough to drive a plow team, in the tilling of the several hundred acres of once virgin land Jesse Applegate and his trip had brought under cultivation.  And he turned a furrow good enough to satisfy his perfectionist grandfather -- walking barefoot in the damp, newly-cut notch in the stubble behind the share and the moldboard -- guiding the horses by twisting his body against the lines tied tightly around his waist -- lifting the plow's left handle so that the share would cut exactly as much sod as the moldboard would turn -- lifting and lowering the right handle to control the depth of the furrow.  Those were skills of a  good plowman -- and the barefoot Horace became one of the best.

Except that he made frequent stops to rest the always-ready horses, so that he could take closer looks at things he encountered.  Like a flower, and where it grew -- a snake or a scrambling field mouse turned up by the plow -- a squirrel, a rabbit or a bird.

And as he drove plow teams and worked at other outdoor tasks at the Applegate Ranch, there grew in Horace a lasting love of the soil, and a feeling that he could managed what needed to be done.

He was plowing a corn field early in a bright afternoon, on orders from Jesse, just before he left on a surveying trip.  He made it clear that Horace's job was urgent.  He wanted the field plowed and worked down smooth enough for planting right after the first of May.

An old formula set the best time for planting at "when the oak leaves are as big as squirrels' ears."  It wasn't always easy to come by a squirrel for comparison.  Some old-timers believed that corn, and all vegetables grown for above-ground fruits, should be planted in the light of the moon, while those grown for their roots or tubers should be planted in the moon's dark phase.

To Jesse Applegate, such notions were nonsense.  For him, May Day was a good-enough arbitrary time for planting corn, beans, squashes and other frost-tender crops -- and he wanted the ground ready for planting.

Horace was making pretty good progress -- even with a few stops to rest the horses and look for birds' nests a-building, when he saw two small figures crossing the field toward him, Ed and Pete.

"Guess what?" said Pete, as Horace stopped the horses.  His young uncle could hardly talk from excitement.  "There's a circus in Oakland!"

"We heard if from the stage-driver," said Ed.

Oakland was a town of a few hundred people some 15 miles south.

"Bet they haven't got an elephant they'd let us ride," said Horace.

"No, but they got a lion," said Pete.

"And dogs that ride horses," Ed added.

"And we thought," said Pete, "we'd go down and take a look."


"We could ride the horses, and get there before it closed, if we hurried."

"They'd want money to let us in."

"Well, we could see something."

"Gramp would raise Cain,"  Horace objected.

"He's gone," said Pete.  "We'll be back before dark, and he'll never know." 

Ed now had some second thought: "Gramp'd really give us a lickin'.  He'd skin us alive!"

It was Horace who made the decision with characteristic confidence:  "We'll manage it."

It is said that General Israel Putnam left a plow in mid-field on his Connecticut farm and rode off to help lead the Army of the Revolution against the British.  Some 90 years later and the breadth of the continent away, his young cousin several time removed repeated, to a degree, part of Israel's performance.

Horace unhooked the tugs from the single-trees, and the horses happy turned toward the barn, in belief that their day's work was done.  Horace drove them, instead, across the filed and far distant from the house.  At the zigzag rail fence the boys hastily removed the harness, except for the bridles, dumped it on a fence corner in grass growing taller and ranker by the hour, and moved rails for the horses to pass through.  A minute or so later, the rails back in place, the horses and boys were on an unfamiliar route, south toward Oakland.  Horace took the lead on one horse.  Ed and Pete followed, riding tandem.

The plow-horses accustomed to traveling at a fairly leisurely pace now found themselves switched into a trot, then a gallop, as Horace, Ed and Pete undertook to beat the sun to Oakland and back.  Horse-sweat soon soaked through the boys' pants, to which adhered horse-hair shed in the spring moulting, until the young riders appeared clad in chaps like those worn by cowboys.

The circus tent was there, sure enough, they found, when they looked down into Oakland, and surrounded by wagons, hacks, buggies and other rigs, and tied-up horses.  It was pretty small as circus tents go, but it looked pretty big to the boys from the Applegate Ranch.  The sound of music from inside set their hearts to thumping a little faster as they clambered off the sweat-drenched plow horses and tied bridle reins to a tree.

The tent entrance was barred by a formidable looking man with a mustache, a cigar and a frown, who sat at a small counter above sign which read:  "ADMISSION $1 -- KIDS 50c".  He didn't look like he'd be easy to make friends with, and the boys didn't try.  
They walked around the tent.  It was held up by guy lines to center and corner poles, and anchored to the ground by stakes that failed to complete a tight fit.  In between, the tent's edges flapped in the afternoon breeze.  The boys paused to listen to the music beside a particularly wide gap, where the tent's skirt spanned a low place in the field.  A that moment a hand from inside caught the edge of the tent and pulled it higher, and a voice called in a hoarse whisper:  "Hey kids, under here!  Quick!"

Inside, Horace and Ed and Pete found their benefactor was Hank Bender, who always found time for fishing or hunting or such an affair as a circus but not much time for working on his claim in the hills near the Yoncalla Valley.  He helped the boys climb up the back of a tier of rough board seats, and they stared wide-eyed at what they saw.

A man in tattered clothes and a hat set at a rakish angle, with face painted a chalky white and red, cranked a barrel organ with one hand.  With one foot he pushed a pedal that thumped against a booming bass drum, and with the other foot a pedal that changed a pair of cymbals.  And with the other hand he cracked a whip as a scrawny looking pony trotted around the center pole, with a small mongrel dog riding serenely on its back.

The music stopped, and so did the pony.  The dog stood on its haunches on the pony's back, bowed, then jumped to the ground.  Everyone applauded -- Horace and Ed and Pete, perhaps the loudest of all.

"Clever, eh?" said the clown.  "And some people in this town think they're pretty clever, too!"

And with that he walked out of the center ring and up the creaking tier of seats -- and right to Horace, Ed and Pete.

"I seen you," he told them.  "I seen how you come in, an' you know what that is, that's burglary!  I can have you put in jail!"

Horace stumbled over words, trying to say something.  Ed started to cry.

"You come with me,"  the clown ordered.  "We're goin' to the manager!"

Hank Bender interrupted:  "Now, wait a minute."

"You keep outa this," the clown told him, "unless you're goin' to pay for these young criminals.  I seen what you done, and I can put you in the hoosgow, too!"

Hank dropped the subject, and the boys fearfully followed the clown outside.

"They snuck in under the back," he told the man with the cigar, who looked even less friendly than when the boys first saw him.

"Robbers!" he shouted.  "Tryin' to cheat us!  We got ways a handlin' peoplelike you.  We can likc y' to a incha your wuthless lives -- or put y' in jail -- or both."  He paused, "Or maybe y'd rather work it out?"

Horace, by this time close to tears himself was quick to answer:  "We'll work it out."

"All right.  Start with waterin' an' curryin' our horses."

It was unfamiliar but interesting work for the boys from the Applegate Ranch.  They helped the three men of the circus staff -- the clown now in work clothes and his face wiped clean, or cleaner -- as they took down and folded the sections of the tent, looped the guy-lines, tied poles and stakes in bundles, tore down the seats, and loaded the gear in three wagons.  The three men were even quite genial as they worked with the boys they recently were threatening with jail.  Horace was given the privilege of cautiously pushing a pan of meat scraps into the cage of the mangy-looking lion, on a trailer hitched behind one wagon.

As they finished, the manager told the boys:  "You're good workers, but don't never try to cheat show people again."  And he handed each a dime.

It was now getting dark, and it was far into the night when the boys rode the plow horses into the Applegate barn.   Horace still, wondered as they walked up the path to the lighted kitchen, what kind of story to tell Grandma Cynthia.  The truth, he decided, at the last moment, and her switching wouldn't be too hard.    

Cynthia looked fearfully at the boys herself, as they entered the kitchen.  For seated beside the flickering lamp, a book open before him, was Grandfather Jesse, back unexpectedly from his trip.  The licking the boys got, after brief inquisition and confession of sin, was one to be remembered.    

The next morning another crisis delayed further plowing of the corn field.  The boys couldn't recall just where they took the horses through the rail fence, or in which zigzag corner they dumped the harness in the tall, thick grass.  They finally found it the next spring, the leather stiff and rotted by a winter's rains and snows, and golden dandelions blooming gaily through the hame rings.   

And they never forgot -- or really regretted - the trip they made to the circus.
(Pages  74 - 81)

Here are some of the pictures that I took at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas in 2010.  There was as special circus display when we were there.  Please "CLICK HERE" to read a bit more about the museum.

So, there you are, my friends.  If you enjoyed this story, please visit my Sepia Saturday friends by "CLICKING HERE" to find other neat photos and stories.  To read more about my family and other stories featuring old photos, memories and more, please look for this picture of me and my dad on the left-hand sidebar and read whatever else catches your fancy.  Also, there is a list of my Sepia Saturday friends blogs below the football stuff, if you want to find some more like-minded and wonderful people.  Thanks so much for visiting!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy ~ Kathy Matthews

At Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy, if you miss a day, you miss a lot!  All material on this post is copyrighted and not for use without my permission ...Please click here to go to my home page and see what is happening in Mayberry today.
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Arkansas Patti said...

Wilfred was quite the writer. I really felt part of that day and enjoyed the look into that time period. Thanks for the excerpt.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thank you, Patti. I just love his stories.

Little Nell said...

Another wonderfully told story, but it's reinforced my mistrust of clowns I'm afraid.

Karen S. said...

You so ventured into some of my own neck of the woods...places I've been, and it's funny the Forepaughs circus is something that I kept running into research wise while I was digging up information on the famous Forepaughs family of St. Paul. I just really enjoyed the heads down first photo...such rich colors too! This was just an amazing post, and I have to check out the Witte museum more too! Thanks! Enjoy your weekend!

Food Smarts said...

Love the upside down people. I wonder how they did it?

Mike Brubaker said...

A wonderful story and great pictures to illustrate it. The circus must have been a real attraction to people (and especially young boys) who lived lives of hard work in relative isolation from entertainment.

Bob Scotney said...

I've only ever been to one circus that I can remember. Now I know what I've missed. Walking upside down - that I'd like to have seen.

Sharon said...

Another interesting story, which I enjoyed. Thank you for sharing :)

barbara and nancy said...

What a fun story. And the photos from the museum are fabulous. Would love to see that exhibit.

Wendy said...

That card with the human flies creeped me out. But the story was SENSATIONAL! I'm not surprised that the boys were given the opportunity to work off their debt, but to get a dime too was the cherry on top. I bet they didn't even mind the switching.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the story. Tanks!

Alan Burnett said...

Another fascinating excerpt from "Tin Pot" - and I agree with everyone else, what wonderful illustrations.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Thanks, everybody! I'll get another one ready soon.

Kathy M.


A most colorful post, and I still hate clowns!! Used to cry when I was them parading here, when I was a kid.
Oh well!!

Queen Bee said...

Another great post Kathy - enjoyed reading the excerpt from the "Tin Pot". The Witte museum looks like a fun place to visit - great pics. I'm intrigued by the human flies poster - would love to know how they did it.

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