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Memoirs of John W Bartleson

As Transcribed and Edited by Tweed Ross

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. In some cases additional information is provided with brackets and some unreadable words followed by a "sic" notation. In addition, some infolinks are provided to sites with additional information about specific locations.


Chapter One

Chapter Two: Part One - Youth

Chapter Two: Part Two - Battle!

Chapter Two: Part Three - Freedom and Home!

Chapter Three, Part One: Farming, Mules and Loss

J.W. BartlesonAfter returning from the war, I went to make my home [Caladonia or Caledonia, Ill.] on the old homestead with my sister, Mary Bristow. After visiting for a few weeks I tired of loafing and secured a job at Brother Gus’s. He was getting out timbers for a large frame barn to be 40 x 50 feet. Heavy hewn square timbers were needed for two stories.

G. W. Bristow had charge of framing the timers and my part was to assist in cutting and scoring the oak trees for he hewers with broad axes to square them, the afterwards I assisted in mortising so all could be framed together. After all was ready, I was put on a horse to ride over the country and invite all men within four or five miles to come and help raise the barn.

It took most of three days. We young folks always had a jolly time at the barn raisings or log rollings. Usually at night there was a dance.

After the barn was up I helped Bristow with the construction of a frame house for my brother, Captain Robert Bartleson. We took lumber rough from the mill, making it smooth by hand planing. He also made his own panel doors and windows with moulding planes.

In November, I went back to Brother Gus’s and started to school. At this time I was just past 19 and had been doing for myself since I was 14. The five years had given me plenty of experience but I needed more book learning.

Gus’s sister-in-law, Sarah Wilson, a maiden lady and a splendid teacher, had charge of our school, called Old Swan Lake School, in an old log house. I was the only scholar of much size. Miss Wilson took great interest in my instruction. I got along fine. In four months I finished Ray’s Third Part Arithmetic, Grammar, Geography and other subjects;---not that I mastered them, or even tried to make the most of what I learned, but it was the only schooling that gave me the fundamentals of an education.

I worked hard for my board, taking the logs from the trees, cutting and hauling logs with oxen on Saturdays. I would cut wood in lengths and keep up two fireplaces and stoves. I studied my lessons until ten o’clock each night.

As the spring of 1866 came on and I was without money I thought I must go to work and make some, so rented land from Gus and worked part time by day. Cotton being a good price we planted quite a little cotton. We had ex-slave Negroes to do the hoeing. Each received $1 per day. In addition there were quite a few poor white tenants on the farm who worked on the shares and by the day.

That summer Gus had erected a rough cotton press gin room and added a large room to the large barn to accommodate ginning operations. I was placed in charge of the gin and friend of mine ran the horse-power threshing machine for the gin. Everything was going fine until one morning my brother came out when we were filling up the press and a little after sun-up and jumped on us rough shod as to why we were so late. He turned the driver off. The more I thought it over the more I disliked what he had done. It was near Christmas. As he was watching the gin hum, four days before Christmas, I said; “Gus I guess I will quit Saturday." He said, “Very well,’ —not many words. During the summer of 1886 [sic] I had run his threshing machine for him, and as he was buying stock in Massac, Johnson and Pope counties, driving them to Mound City and Cairo for sales, I had assisted in driving and hauling produce.

Well, here it was Christmas and I was without a job. There were two rival dances in the neighborhood, —one at Bill Cane’s and one at Ab Youngblood’s. I went to Youngblood’s. After about one o’clock three of my chums and I got on our horses and went to Cane’s dance. There was one particular girl I wanted to dance with, and after three successful round we returned to our formed dance. Those country dances always lasted until morning. The next morning a few chums gathered at our little saloon towns to extend congratulations and during the day a few friends from Massac county came too. Pizarro Copeland, one of my chums, had a cousin, Lawrence Copeland, from Massac county and he had three friends, Milt Smith and Ran Jones with him. The Massac county boys through they knew of a dance in the neighborhood. It was very cold and we had to cross the swamp where there was plenty of ice.

We rode up in that country six or seven miles. We did not find the dance but we found a county saloon up in the swamps. We were all very sorry that we had found it. But we paid the price. Toward morning after our wild night right I went home with Lawrence Copeland. His father, J S Copeland, was a fine man and did not approve of our conduct at all, but he with Terry Smith, a brother of Milt Smith, one of our boys, were to try to straightened up our night’s mistakes. They fairly patched it up, though, for myself, I was heartily ashamed of what we had done.

Judge J S Copeland, father of Lawrence, was living with his second wife, Caroline. She had several small children. Mr Copeland had one daughter at home, the child of his first wife. Her name was Melissa; she was about 18 years old. I had long know her and desired to keep company with her, but his home was across the swamp, not in our immediate neighborhood, and I was quite timid, so I seldom met her. As I was at her father’s the first week of January, 1867, we got well acquainted. One night Lawrence’s girl, Miss Hitchcock, stayed with Melissa. There was a little show, a sleight-of-hand performance at a small school house and we four went to see it. Before we got back I learned that Melissa was as much in love with me as I was with her. No courtship was necessary. Melissa’s father, Joshua S Copeland, after giving me a long lecture telling me I had been a wild boy but that he had known my family for more than twenty years, that my brothers had all married and made good citizens, and he hoped I would do as well.

He said; “John, you are breaking up my family. Melissa is the only one who can help with the house work, and now my wife Caroline has twin babies two or three weeks old. What shall we do?” He gave his consent and his blessing and we were married February 28, 1867. It was a rainy day. I believe I was never more scared in my life. I tried to make good. Judge Copeland and Aunt Caroline love me as one of their own children, and until their deaths, on every one of my visits to Illinois, I never failed to give them a good visit.

In after years, when I re-married, they[still] treated me and my family as their own people. Even today the Copeland descendants,—children, and grand children, are very near to me, especially the children of Lawrence Copeland and his wife, Laura, of Metropolis, Illinois, and Mrs May Chapman of Vienna, Illinois, a noble woman. They love to have “Uncle John” visit them.

I had not thought of settling down until I married. I was twenty and one-half years old. Four companions rode horseback with me to the wedding, seven miles in the rain. I was a sight to behold, muddy and wet,.

The next day was the infare dinner at my mother’s old log house and homestead where we were to live. All the preparations were by my mother and sister, Mary Bristow. I should have said sooner that my niece, Amanda Smith, whom my sister had raised, had gone to her father at the beginning of the war when my mother quit housekeeping, and she remained there until the war was over, when she married Levi H Mangold. She is still living and visited me this spring [spring 1930]. She is now past 80 years.

Well, at this time on arriving at the old place I virtually had nothing; owned about $100 worth of property, partly in a yearling cold and I owed $100. I was stout and healthy and my sporting days for the time being were over. The house and farm were badly run down. I had no team. Mr Copeland loaned me a blind mare and Bristow a wild colt.

I leased 20 acres of land to be cleared by Woolfolk, a Negro, a good family, and rented him some more. We put in corn and cotton. There were some old red clover fields on the farm. Briers and sprouts had grown all over the fields with deep washed gullies in the clay, fences rotten and tangled with brush, no roof on the barn, palings all gone from around the garden and yard. It had been rented a number of years and no one cared.

Mother made me a deed to the farm, 150 acres, with that understanding that if I was ever able I should pay the other children $100, which was 11 shares of $1100. It was a hard pull and would make a long story, but at the end of three years I had good fences all around the farm with a driveway on the outside, fence rows all clean. I had mauled some rails and fenced seven acres of new land and had cleared the same, beside many more new railes. New roof on the bar with entry way and two good sheds attached, all day a good fence around the garden and yards, had put out a large apple orchard, had good cows, sheep, hogs, clover pasture, and seemed to be doing fine. But alas! September 1, 1868, our first son was born, Willie. He lived only one day. We buried the babe in the old burying ground at Grand Chain.

My mother, Mary Wilson Bartleson, had made her home much of time at our house. She was afflicted with a cankerous sore mouth caused by decayed teeth and part of the time had lived with my sister, Mary Bristow, in the village of Grand Chain. From the hardships she had endured and from this affliction, she passed to her well deserved home in January, 1868.

She was a noble Christian mother, beloved by all who knew her. She lived to see her children all married and doing well in a small way. There never lived a more Christian mother. She was only 58 when she died but she seemed a dear old lady. Now should were appear only a young woman. She had spent and active life and her influence was felt throughout her who neighborhood. It was sad for us all.

My wife and I were strong, and worked hard. In the summer of 1868 a railroad was building from Cairo, Illinois, to Vincennes, Indiana. In December I built a small pole shack about seven miles from my house and camped, taking my feed and provisions on Sunday evening to camp, and working with my team all week, getting home on Sunday night. I would out $75 which we badly needed. My niece, brother Robert’s girl, stayed with my wife. Robert lived near me and helped in many ways.

On August 31, 1869, our second babe was born, Albert. He was a bright babe. In November we drove up to Vienna to visit my wife’s sister, Carline Wright. There came a snow storm and rain. Melissa caught cold. We put the baby on bottle feeding. Her trouble seemed to be loss of blood from the nose and generally debilitated condition. I had four doctors for her, but nothing did her any good. She grew weaker. The house was full of company and hired help, with winter to make everything harder. She lingered along and passed away on the 19th of March, 1870. She is buried beside her infant son, a true loving wife. I have often thought if she were living she would not look old to me.

Mrs Caroline Copeland, Melissa’s step-mother, had a small babe and she took Albert to care for him. A crop was coming on. My nephew, James Esque, agreed to help me and we batched. We got along pretty well. In August, Mrs. Wright, my wife’s sister, came down to her step-mother’s on a visit and Mrs. Copeland let her take Albert up to Vienna to keep him awhile. He was hearty and nursed on a bottle. He was there only a few days when he became sick from brain fever and lived one day. We buried him beside his mother; one babe on either side. The date of Albert’s death was August 21, 1870.

My brother, William Bartleson moved down from Duquoin, Illinois and I let him moved into my home, with his family. This did not add to my comfort. He was poor and had quite a family. I sold part of my stock and household good and some surplus stuff, trading my horses to different ones on the payment for the farm to the heirs. I sold Robert Bartleson ten acres of farm and rented the farm to James Bartleson for two years and in all the deals and property sold and traded, I settled with the heirs and owned the 140 acre farm clear.

I had my corn in the field and quite a bunch of hogs to feed cord to them and besides all these assets I had a little money, with all debts paid. My brother-in-law, Lawrence Copeland, persuaded me and another fellow, John Evers, to buy a two-thirds interest in a small trading boat on the Ohio River, together with a small stock of goods: then we three were to load it well, also filling the hull of the boat with pottery ware,—jugs, jars, churns, fruit jars and similar wares and go down the Mississippi river, selling along the way.

We loaded and started. We ran into a snag at New Madrid and sang [sank] the boat. We then sold what we could of the cabin, raised the hull, patched the bottom, made a shade out of lumber and went on down the Mississippi to Helena. From there we started up the St. Francis river, sold out of an old fellow and the two other boys left me to run the boat on up the St Francis and to collect what I could. After a few days I became alarmed. The old man would get into a tantrum and I felt it would be not trick at all for him to make way with me.

I traded our interest to him for a worthless /title to a piece of land in Indiana, on the Ohio river. We lost it all. I was 75 miles up the St Francis river but only nine miles from the Mississippi river. I paid a Negro to all to allow me to ride behind him on a horse through that dark nine miles of bottom land after dark, and on reaching the river, hailed a boat bound for Cairo.

On reaching Cairo, I went aboard the Cairo and Paducah packet bound for Grand Chain, poorer, but wiser, my first venture as a widower.

At home I found the hogs doing well, feeding themselves on corn. About this time I received a letter from George W Bristow, then living at Reynoldsburg in Johnson county, above Vienna, Illinois. He was practicing medicine, having studied medicine during the time that he was teaching school and carpentering when I first knew him. He was a young preacher and continued occasionally to preach. Later in life he became a fine physician. He was the best fitted, all round bright, social man I ever knew, although not always doing the best for himself.

He wrote me he had brothers and a sister living in southwestern Missouri, Jasper county, said he was going to have a sale and move to Missouri. He wanted me to come along. I was past 24, and was almost footloose. I remembered that my brother Gus had said that was no place for a young man and why didn’t I get out. I replied I was taking after the rest of the boys, but I decided I would accept Bristow’s offer, and that after reaching Missouri I would drift on west into Kansas and be a 'cowboy’.

My wild inclinations were returning. I finished fattening my hogs, told the folks of my plans and invited several in, as Brother William were living at the old home. I particularly invited my brothers Gus and Warren, who were living in Grand Chain, both stock men. I put up my hogs for sale at auction. There was a rivalry in the bidding between Gus and Warren. Gus, loving me more, outbid Warren and bought the hogs.

I then went to Bristow’s at Reynoldsburg. He was not quite ready for departure and I made the acquaintance of young folks of the time and spent a very pleasant time while Bristow was about his preparations. His sale took place, then he had to make a trip down to Allen Springs in Pope county. They were iron mineral springs and had been much patronized before the war. There was a one and one-half story log house with large porches, several sleeping cabins of six or eight rooms each, a beautiful place in the rocky hills but badly run down.

Bristow was persuaded to move in and take care of the summer resort, which was owned by John Sigenfelter of Paducah, Kentucky, a saloon keeper, rich, often visited the springs, had spent lost of money on them and wanted the hotel business revived. Bristow finally prevailed on me to take care of the farming and its many tasks of rail splitting, building fences, making gates and cleaning up the place. We would pay the rent in this way. We hired my nephew, James W Esque, four and one half years young than I, a good Indian—and we went to work.

It was rather a backwoods place. There were some bright people but most of the older ones had little education. One of the most intelligent families was that of Captain James Anderson. He was Postmaster of Allen Springs post office, lived near the Springs, on the Vienna and Golconda public road.

The Methodist and Christian churches provided practically all the entertainment of the place. Jim Esque and I soon organized the young people into parties and partners; no dancing-carousing, real plays and all accompaniments. We worked hard but had plenty of time for fun. Wood chopping and clearing parties and young folks’ plays at night. I got as partner a mighty nice girl but soon found out there was another girl I wanted to go with, and nearly decided I had waited too long and it would be hard for me to get in.

She was very independent and I would have to exert diplomacy to succeed. At one of the neighborhood wood choppings, I went at noon time to ask her company to the play that night. We were well acquainted. She had been weaving and sitting at the loom. She hesitated, but said “Yes”. I was relieved. She was Captain James Anderson’s daughter, Mary L Anderson.

We went to the party. On our return to her home I expected from her the promise that should she would never reject me publicly but would tell me quietly if my company was no longer wanted. I could tell a great deal about all this, but will just say that I quietly eased away from the “other nice girl” of the story and Miss Anderson and I became engaged. Courtship on my part was only to win the girl’s affections, for my own mind was made up. But as to the girl, my activities as a young widower were too presumptuous, and having read her mind, I acted accordingly.

All this gave me much to think about. The summer of 1871 sped quickly and pleasantly. In the fall I went down to the old farm, sowed some wheat, re-shingled a part of the house which had become badly dilapidated.

We were married February 8, 1872, immediately went to my old home on Pulaski county about 30 miles west of Allen Springs to Grand Chain. My former father-in-law, Joshua Copland, had ridden all day with me in a snow storm to help me borrow $100 as I needed it to buy my wedding clothes.

At the time of my second marriage, I had the farm but was in debt about $100, without team or wagon. Well, I went to my brother, Gus, as usual when I got in trouble, though I could not always expect sympathy. He had quite a bunch of coming two year old mules which he was fitting for sale. I was riding them for him and they bumped me so hard I was laid up for a while. I also got a wagon, giving my note for $300. I could not hitch the mules except when my wife came along to drive while I led. They kicked me nearly to pieces, more times than I could tell.

I got my ground plowed, harrowed and furrowed out one way, then I furrowed out the other way, my wife dropping corn and Frank Cooper, who followed, covering the grains with a hoe. I could get no young man to help me. They were afraid of the mules.

James M Copland, an older man that I, at this time single, came along. I asked him if he could plow with one of the mules,—he could have his choice, both of them were kickers. He said he wasn’t afraid, and he wasn’t,—not afraid of anything. We got along fine and afterward he helped my buy some stock, with harvesting, and he was general good worker. I seemed to be getting along fairly well. My little mules were very unsatisfactory, through,. One afternoon I dragged my plow to Grand Chain to have it sharpened. In hitching up the mules to return home about sundown, he kicked me squarely on my nose. I had the nose dressed and started home with the plow and mules. When I reached hom [sic] and found a young fellow there, said he would work for me the next day as he liked to work with wild mules. I called him out to help me unhitch, gave him the lines, with instructions to hold on good and tight. I put some chains from the plow, hung the chains on the hames. I then took the hitch rein off the hames, bringing them over his head so I could him to the stable. I inadvertently touch the mule’s nose. I knew it was very sensitive. He reared squarely on his hind feet, turning around, shoot me loose from the bridle rein and started down the lane. I told the young man to hold onto the lines but he soon dropped them. The mule went nearly a quarter-mile to the woods, then stopped. We followed. I started to catch the reins. The rattle of the chains made him plunge and share me loose; I caught him the third time. I then unhooked the chains, took h old of the bridle rein with both hands, never again to be shaken loose. I led the mule quietly to the barn. On entering the house, I found my wife very much alarmed. My note continued to swell and bleed until I was a sight, but all came out right.

A few days after this, Roscoe Rany Rang, Brother Robert’s nephew, whom he had raised, came over and bartered me a trade for the mules. He had a fine two year old colt, broke to work and a very fine large yearling mule. Roscoe, or Dot, as we called him, was not afraid of anything and we soon made a trade. My father-in-law, Mr Anderson, had given my wife a very fine two year old buckskin mare, pretty wild, lots of read in her eye, a natural pacer. I afterwards sold her to Dot Rany.

Well, Jim Copland and I thought we would hitch the gentle bay colt up with the buckskin mare. Robert had his wagon in the field among the wheat shocks where had been stacking wheat on Saturday. I hitched Buckskin on off side and took hold of her bits. Jim stood on the ground on the left side holding the lines. I said “Come On.” The team started, then stopped, then jumped forward and stopped, then started in a full run. I was holding on to the buckskin, Jim shouted he would have let go. We were headed straight for a high rail fence. I could not let go. I thought What a jam we would make, —the wagon, horses and I—when we strike the fence! My good fortune was with me, though. When Jim let go of the strong leather lines they swung high in the air and in coming down caught in the wheel of the wagon and instantly checked the team within four of five feet of the fence.

We both decided we had had enough of Sunday work. I afterwards traded the nice bay colt off to a preacher, one Sunday, for what he said was a 12 year old mare. She was surely 17 years old, though not a bad trade, as the mare sold afterwards for $100.

Some time early in the spring, Brother Robert and Levi Mangold, my nephew by marriage,—husband of Amanda Smith,—had been to Kansas and taken homesteads in Mitchell county. They were praising the charming qualities of Kansa land,—said there we no poor yellow hills, washed-out gullied, sassafras or persimmons sprouts in old fields, —just take it as a gift. I caught the fever, all the more violently I suppose, because I was in debt with little chance to better my condition, as my house had grown ramshackle and beyond repair. I came in from work one day about the last of August. It was raining hard, water pouring in through the kitchen and porch roofs. Before this I had marketed chickens, vegetables, eggs, fruit and such stuff in the Cairo market, camping out, and was doing pretty well, but on the day in question I was blue.

Mad, I told my wife everything was wrong. She asked me what I was going to do about it. I told her I was going to Kansas, where I would have no more troubles. She wanted to know what I would do with our farm. I said, “I am going to sell it to Gus.” She asked: “Does he want to buy it?” I said, “He will before I get through with him.” Then she asked, “When will you go?” and I replied: “With Brother Robert in October.” Her next question was: “What about me?” Then I told her: “I will have your brother Lum come down with his wagon and take you, the bedding and yearling mule to your father’s. I will go to Kansas, take a homestead, break it out next spring, plant it to corn and then come back for you.” She always agreed with my plans, even though I was not always right.

I calmed myself after making the decision and the next morning went over to Gus’s.

He wanted me to go over his corn fields. I had worked so many times overall his land. We went over field after field and away down at the east end of the farm, the pond field, because it was near to what had been in the early day, a Swan Pond, we climbed up on a rail fence to rest.

We had all the time been talking but had not mentioned my farm. Finally, as calmly as I could, I said: “Gus, I would like to sell you my farm.” He said; “I don’t want to buy.” “Well,” I answered, “you did once want to buy it and offered my $1400.” He said, “I don’t want it. What do you want to do?” I told him I want to go to Kansas with Bob-Robert. “Well”, he said, “I don’t want it, but what do you want for it?” I said: $1400.” He repeated, “I don’t want it”, then he thought for a few minutes and said, “I will give you $1300.” I jumped down from the fence and said; “You have bought it.” He said, “I don’t want it.” I repeated: “It’s sold!” adding, “I already have received $300 toward payment, that being the amount I am owing your for the mules and wagon.”

Gut might not have intended buying the farm but he never went back on his word. I had lived with him so long that I knew in advance just how he would act and what he would do and say. I went back home, asking home only $100 cash. He then went to Brother Robert and sold him 25 acres for $300 and I made a deed for 115 acres to Gus and 25 acres to Robert. I then went to the contractor on the railroad only three miles from my place. His name was Green B Raum, an ex-U S Senator, who had charge of all the construction. He was well acquainted with my older brothers so I introduced myself and told him I had a lot of stuff I could sell to his teamsters and cook if he would stand good for the pay. I told him I had a small flock of sheep, oats, corn ripening in the field, fruit and vegetables. He told me he would see that I got my pay and helped me out very much.

I advertised the household goods and the other stuff and sold it at auction. My wife’s brother came down the day of the sale and took her, with some belongings and the young mule, to her father’s.

I bade all farewell and on the 6th of October, 1872, started with my brother, Robert, and a team,—for Kansas.

Next: Kansas!

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Last Updated April 22, 2015
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