Memoirs of John W Bartleson: Boyhood
Editor's note: The text has been rendered as near to the original as possible. Minor text errors have been retained, inasmuch as they do not create significant syntax issues, but, in many cases, add to the story.
Chapter One: Boyhood
Pulaski County, today
I, John W Bartleson, was born August 16, 1846 in Pulaski county, Illinois, two miles north of the Ohio river, near Grand Chain. My father, John Bartleson and my mother, Mary (Wilson) emigrated from Ohio in about the year 1843. They floated out of the Sengamon (Muskenquin) river and down the Ohio river in a small flat boat, bringing their two (ten) children and a neighbor by the name of Davis. Prior to this time Father and the neighbor, Davis, had been to Iowa and had selected land, and it had been their intention to make their way to Iowa up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, but their means became exhausted and they stopped in Illinois for the summer, claiming a tract after the “squatter” fashion.
The woods were not cleared and in the wooded hills and swamps were abundance of fruit, plums, grapes, berries and other fruits being plentiful, with deer, turkeys, squirrels and other animals for game. Themen [sic] and boys all were well supplied with firearms. Deer would feed on wheat fields near their house.
Father built a house of small logs to shelter his family, began to clear the land and hired out some of the boys to help make a living. Father was a journeyman tailor by trade and he worked at the county seat, Caledonia, most of the time, but he also carried on in the timber business, shipping staves, hoopoles, and ship timber on flat boats down the Mississippi river to New Orleans, which business was very extensive up and down the Ohio river from states as far up as Ohio and Indiana. Steamboats were always in sight, —regular lines from Louisville, Cincinnati, and other points to Memphis and New Orleans,—packets from Indiana and Kentucky cities to Cairo, Illinois and return each day. Many trading boats anchored or beached at the farm landings up and down the river. There were high bluffs as this landing and in summer time the beech was flat and sandy. This was an attraction to excursions and many parties came, especially on Saturday evenings, after the week’s work was done.
Father planted an orchard of peach and apple trees and we soon had fruit. With that and hog meat, hominy and dried pumpkins we fared very well in winter and the summer provided all kinds of vegetables.
In May, 1846, the Mexican War began. The two older boys, Edwin and Augustus, enlisted as Volunteers in the 2nd Illinois Infantry regiment. Their company was ordered to Alton, Illinois to be mustered into service. As I have said, Father was a tailor, and was persuaded to accompany the boys to Alter in order to fit their uniforms. There he was persuaded to join the company as its Lieutenant, and he was well on his way to Mexico before my mother knew of his enlistment. Father, and all the officers of his company, were killed by Mexican Lancers on February 22, 1847 (at the battle of Buena Vista, Mex). I had been born August 16, 1846. I never had the privilege of seeing my father.
After his death, Mother was very poor, a widow with twelve children. The two older boys at home, Robert and William, twins, sixteen years old, had carried on the farming, cut and hewed logs for a new house. On the home coming from the war of Edwin and Augustus the house was completed and when I was about one year old we moved into ot[sic]. The house was a rather low one, a one and one-half story building, 18 x 22, with inside brick chimney and a small stairway making the interior dimensions only about 18 x 18.
Mother had a large family, with many comings and goings. She was loved by all who knew her and so many boys and girls naturally attracted company. Space was limited and not an inch was wasted. On the first floor were two cord, high posted bedsteads, and underneath them were two trundle beds which at night could be pulled out and slept on, then shoved back under the large beds during the day. On the second floor were four bedsteads. If we had extra company, the smaller boys slept on pallets. Later on, a room 14 x 16 was added to the house. It was of logs, with entry between the two structures and a porch on the side, giving plenty of room. After the war was over, Mother put Father’s land warrant on this land and received a patent right to it. Land was watered only by a wet weather spring that nearly always dried up in summer time. Then we would carry water in buckets or haul water from a well three quarters of a mile away. Neighbors were fairly numerous, but were uneducated and very poor. Farms were merely patches that had been cleared of timber. There were no school houses or churches. The Christian church organized early in the region, preachers coming 75 miles on horseback to hold meetings. The congregation met in Mother’s house, it being one of the larger houses, together with George Boyd’s dwelling about three miles distant. So the people met alternately at this [sic] places. The members erected a large brush and pole shed in the woods for the summer preaching services. Split logs were used as benches and it all answered very well in dry weather.
I had to walk three miles to my first school, a log school house, with stick and mud chinking, puncheon floor, split logs for benches with pole legs. Scholars were from five to twenty-five years old and there were a variety of books and classes. The teacher was rather ignorant, and the boys were rough, vying with each other in their skills of squirting long green juice with a knot hole as a target. When Harding Godman discovered this rivalry, eight to ten boys were well trimmed with a hickory stick.
I would have to start to school before sunrise and it was dark when I reached home in the evening. About 1856 or 1857 the school districts were divided, some teachers drifted in from Ohio, and then we fared better. But there was too much work to do, and we had to enter school so late in the fall, and quit so early in the spring, that we made slow progress, and up to the time of my enlistment in the Civil War, I had advanced only as far as Fractions in the Arithemetic [sic]. However, we had Spelling [sic] schools, Mental Arithmetic [sic] tests and school exhibitions on Friday evenings and we thought we were doing fairly well, both in pleasure and learning.
My mother’s maiden name was Mary Wilson Chapman. She was the only daughter of Ambrose Chapman, a widower, merchant of Massilon, Ohio. She was married to John Bartleson at the age of sixteen, against her father’s will. Father’s business as journeyman tailor led him from place to place, farther and farther west. She soon lost of trace of her family connection and nothing was known by me of her other relations. Mother always was a very religious woman, was cheerful and hopeful and was respected and loved by all who knew her. She was loyal to the core, as will be shown. She took much pleasure when I was small, visiting her neighbors, going on horseback, but always taking me along. I recall Mrs Metcalf, Mrs Kitchell, Mrs Cooper and Mrs Vanderbilt, because we often stayed all night and even longer, when the distance was great. Mother also attended to her own business and to her trading the county seat, Caledonia. She drew a pension of eight dollars per month from the government after Father’s death.
When I was nine, the old boys and girls had married and the only ones left at home were my widowed sister, Eliza, Eque and her two children, James W and Edwin. There was also a niece, Amanda Smith, whose mother had died at the birth of a child and my bother Alonzo, three years my senior. He and I took charge of the farm, clearing up some more land and doing the best we could.
Farming was very crude. We plowed and harrowed the land, then furrowed it out both ways with a shovel plow, dropped the corn in the checks and covered it with a hoe. Corn required about four plowings, with a single plow, which meant four times in each row four times over, a slow process, but the only way. Our wheat was harvested with a hand cradle, laid in swaths and bound in sheaves by hand. Grass was cut with hand scythes and raked with hand, all other work was accomplished with as meager instruments, as cutting, mauling and splitting rails from timber, enclosing our field with the old time worn fence.
Next: Youth and War