An Autobiography

1853    -    J.P. Martin    -    1930

(Part 2)

Emigrating To Indiana:

About a year later, 1854, having procured an eighty-acre timber lot in Hamilton county, Indiana, they went forth full of the hope of the young and the confidence of the brave to their newly acquired possessions and found them slightly better than those which they had recently relinquished. A little hovel made of large round poles and hidden away underneath the dense overhanging canopy of forest foliage afforded their almost primitive shelter, and was awaiting them.

Here in this wilderness for four years was our uncouth abiding place, and here my parents heroically played the game of backwoods pioneers. Felling the huge forest trees, making and burning log and brush heaps, cutting and splitting rails, making rail fences, ploughing and ditching stumppy and rooty new land, planting and hoeing corn, beans and potatoes, harvesting, housing and consuming their simple necessities, occupied their time and strength and became their vocation. They thus found themselves yoked to a humble and engrossing job, and they both made good at it, too.

I Began To Notice Life:

It was here at this time that I began to pick up the little fragments of material which began indistinctly to shape themselves into the patchwork of my young life subsequently to become a part of its patchwork quilt. Here first of the outlines of its variegated designs began dimly to develop in the bath of human experiences. Among the earliest of these incipient impressions was, as my mind began to attach to my environments and the vocation of my parents, was my delight to watch them burn huge brush piles at night in the inevitable “new ground.”

My Childish Escapades And the Birth of My Brother:

It was here that I grew large enough to make trouble some of which was to slip away from my parents and run away to our closest neighbors a half a mile away through the woods. It was a common thing for me to do this, and frequently I would be returned by some member of our neighbor's family before being missed by my parents.

My brother, Alvin Lesslie, was born here. Whereas I was a huskey young roughneck and he was a delicate, imperious, little runt a condition was afforded between us which we both used and abused. Because of this pronounced difference in our physical makeup I imagined sometimes that my parents were unduly on his side and against me, the little interloper, but such was not the case, our parents were unusually impartial in such matters. However in his comparative diminuativeness lay his power over me, and he soon learned it, too, and how to use it against me. But he being a fairly reasonable little despot and I being a fairly easy going big rebel enabled us to get along fairly well both as children and as brothers. I was five years old when my parents sold this farm.

Migrating To Howard County:

Having sold our farm my father went up into Howard county, Indiana, and bought another eighty-acre timber lot located twelve miles west of Kokomo on Wild Cat creek and near Burlington. It was a somewhat broken tract lying between Wild Cat and Pete's Run creeks, and consisting of rolling lands, hills, ravines and bottom lands and densly covered with heavy timber growth, oak, walnut, poplar and beech chiefly. Here he at once erected a substantial, little, hewed-log house consisting of two rooms and a large loft overhead under the rafters and roof. As soon as it was sufficiently finished to afford shelter he brought his little family to this new home. This new house though crude was a decided improvement over the old pole cabin of one room just vacated. In this new house eventually its roomy loft fell to us boys for sleeping quarters, and we hilariously shared its space with legions of wasps with whom we waged continuous warfare for possession in which wounds were wrathfully inflicted on both sides. We moved into this home early in 1859.

A Repetition Of Experiences:

Again it was chopping down trees large and small; rolling and piling together huge log heaps and slowly and patiently burning them; piling great heaps of brush and burning them, mostly at night; picking up the larger chips and soring them for kitchen fuel; cutting the trunks of the larger trees into rail and saw log cuts, splitting the rail cuts into rails for fense making and hauling the saw logs to the saw-mill to be made into various kinds of building and fence lumber; making rail fences eight rails high and stake ridering them; ploughing and ditching stumppy and rooty new land and draining the ponds; planting and hoeing corn, potatoes and beans; harvesting, housing and consuming the meager crops of these simple necessities; such was life in the backwoods.

This time I became a more or less busy, though not efficient, member of the working crew. I could pick up chips, pile brush, carry water and help to look after brother, but I wanted to wait till I was big enough to chop down trees and split rails, not me doing a woman's job, but with a little beech-limb persuasion father generally got me out of that attitude into my proper sphere.

The Births of Three Sisters And The Deaths Of Two of Them:

It was here that my sisters Mary Ellen, Ida May and Ethe Linda, were born in the order here named. Mary Ellen lived one short year and her sweet little life was cruelly snuffed out by relentless death. Ida May's sojourn in this vale of tears was so brief that she did not have time to cry ere her little life flame was whiffed out by the same common enemy, death. Their little graves were made under a spreading beech tree in the neighborhood graveyard on the bank of Pete's Run creek. And at last accounts, but that was years ago, the beech tree was still there protection from sun and storm.

Here My and My Brothers's School Days Began:

Here my and my brother's school days began, mine began a year prior to his, and he stole a march on me by beginning his at five instead of six years. Our school house was an old round log, dilapidated hovel almost in ruins. Long crude home made benches without backs or desks served as seats, and rough planks placed on huge wooden pins driven into the log wall answered for desks for those pupils sufficiently advanced to be able to write. Spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic and geography was the prescribed and enforced curriculum maintained.

A Little Fighting Dominic Rooster:

An elderly gentleman named Hiram Reddick taught both terms of school which I attended in this house, being the last held therein. He was a good old time teacher and his pupilage was good, bad and indifferent, enough, however to try his patience and godliness. My school record for those two terms was marred because the teacher was honestly compelled to dub me his “little, fighting, Dominic rooster.” There were frequent occasions during those two terms when I received as many as three whippings on the same day -- the boy I fought with would whip me, and of course the teacher would whip me, and then on hearing of it my father would whip me. These tri-whippings occurred in my second term when my brother began going to school. Before that in my first term there was no one to report me to father and therefore I then escaped the third whipping. The sad part of it, however, is that I deserved every lick I got. But, notwithstanding these serious drawbacks, I learned a little faster than many of the pupils. My brother registered with the few whose conduct recorded examplary. About forty pupils whose ages ranged from five to twenty-one years attended school here more or less regularly, and some of these were better behaved than I and some worse, but not many of the latter I am forced to record.

Moving Into The New School House An Event:

In the fall of 1860 our school family moved into its new home -- a neat, white, frame school house -- and began housekeeping more pretentiously than heretofore. It was in this nice new school house that Cupid began to flop his winglets and to promiscuously and otherwise shoot and aim his little bow-gun arrows. Here a number of boys my age began to learn that girls were more than mearly another kind of boys, and not a very good kind either. We found that they could smile at us in such a manner as to fill us with a brand new kind of happiness. And, on the other hand, when occasion suited, they could stick their pointy little tongues out under their impudent upturned little snoots at us and make us feel like we had forty new kinds of misery -- the knowing little flirts. After all a school family is mearly a miniature of society on a larger scale and swayed by the same passions and powers which prevail and control the great outside world. In fact the foundation for the design or pattern of our life quilt is laid during our school days and much of its patchwork material is gathered therefrom, to be shaped and joined in later years

Became Modernized And Sophisticated:

In our new home our school family readily became more modernized and sophisticated, not up to our present day mark, however, but we were heading this way mildly. It was here that we began more definitely to learn the hard, practical ways of the grim old world, and how to meet them, under the variegated tutelage of the following teachers for the next five years, Samuel Jones, John Jones and William Everman. Under the influence of his new environments the writer began gradually to lose some of the former belligerencies having them displaced by more tractable qualities. Doubtless this state of affairs was owing largely to the advent of Cupid and the influence of those new found and desirable girls. However, if we had been a head taller and have been borne a few years earlier, with the fighting qualities still in our possession, we might have militated into a soldier boy and have marched off to fight in Dixie-land. Many school boys so did in 1863, but we were too young.

Civil War In The United States:

I can not refrain here from inserting into this narrative a few thoughts on the civil war fought in the United States between the North and the South in 1861 to 1865. Some noted historian, referring to this war, said that it had its incipiency in the conduct of our English forebears in England in the days of King Charles and Cromwell; the descendants of the King Charles faction emigrating and settling in the South, and those of the Cromwell faction emigrating and settling in the North of what subsequently became the United States; and that this hurtful family rumpus of ours was but the aftermath of sectional seeds of social animosities sown in partisan hatred by our ancestors long ago and in other lands. And the more we think of it the more we are inclined to favor this far fetched but plausible view. What man has thought he will so think again, what he has said he will repeat, and what he has done he will do again.

At the very outbreak of this war, at a time when Senators and Congressmen in Washington were insinuatingly dubbing it a “breakfast job”, a Representative from the third Congressional district of Ohio, replied to their outflung taunts: Gentlemen, remember that this war will not be fought by professional, hireling soldiers but by free born citizens of these United States; and do not forget that these warriors on both sides, however they may differ, are independent, free born Americans, and are fighting for principle and home and not for hire, honor or place; this war, therefore, will be cruelly and relentlessly waging when the term of this present Administration will have expired, and a new Administration will be called upon to finish it. This Congressman clearly saw the issue and its probable outcome because he looked at it from a broad viewpoint and not from that of the narrow minded partisan and bigot.

At the close of this war a prominent General transfered a division of the Federal army from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. Enroute at one time his army encamped in the plantation of a Southern Bishop, the General making his quarters on the lawn surrounding the mansion. This indignant Bishop then and there took occasion to selfrighteously and emphatically inform this obtrusive General just what he thought of the war, and of Northern soldiers in particular. This General patiently listened to the tirade of this irate Bishop, and when he had finished, tersely replied: True, my dear Doctor, war is hell and soldiers who are compelled to wage it must necessarily more or less play hell. But, sir, if you Southern preachers and your Northern brethren had done your whole duty and have preached the Gospel of Christ half as zealously as you prated your partisan animosities there would have been no occasion for war and we soldiers would be following more desirable and profitable vocations. It has ever been so, hypocricy, ambition and greed have ever been the incubator in which wars have been hatched by ambitious religious, political and industrial leaders.

The “War President”, a short while before he was assassinated, said in public that he saw on the not remote horizon of our nation a menace not larger than a man's hand which threatens the future welfare of our free institutions more seriously than even the war we were then fighting. He feared that organized wealth, though at the time a public necessity to aid in successfully prosecuting the war, would, when such necessity ceased, continue to exert in various forms and to grow and prosper until it became stronger than the government fostering it, and our republic with its democratic institutions would exist in name only. His attitude was prophetic and his words the utterance of a Seer. Summing up the wisdom of these observant men confirms our conviction that the school family is truly a miniature of the world of mankind at large, and that war makes a bloody, crazy, patchwork quilt.

Emigrating To Illinois

In the autumn of 1865, having sold their Wild Cat farm, my parents with their little family emigrated to Crawford county, Illinois, this time not to locate in the woods but on a beautiful little prairie on the west bank of the Wabash river midway between Terre Haute and Vincennes near the village called Palestine, this was our Post Office town. This time our domicile was an old hewed log cabin with one room, a large fireplace, a loft overhead and a leanto shack at the north end of it. There were gimpson weeds in profusion in both the house yard and the stable lot intersected with the necessary paths, and as tall as the top of our emigrant wagon.

Mother stood uncertainly with drooping mein and took one square look, almost despairingly, at the squalor of the unkept premises and dejectedly got up into the wagon and took a real heart broken little cry. And, then, gritty little girl-woman that she was, she suddenly straightened up like an Indian, got down out of the wagon into father's arms like a soldier, and from her stronghold like a general proclaimed war on the surrounding squalor and discord, and at once marshalled brother and I into hostile activity against our common foe. Chaos began gradually to give way before our combined onslaught of order making. And simultaneously father and his trusty team were just as busy on a much larger scale on the outside bringing the broad acres of his loamy, prairie farm into subjection to his idea of successful farming. Everybody worked, even father.

Sister Was Born And Father Died:

School facilities were so abominable that father kept brother and I at home, we did not attend school that winter, but spent much of our time chasing rabbits, stirring up covies of prairie chickens and watching the large and numerous flocks of wild geese and ducks coming and going overhead. That winter my youngest sister, Laura Alice, was born. On the first day of April, 1866, just six months after landing in our present home, father died of typhoid fever after an illness of four long weeks.

A Widowed Mother Buries Her Hopes And Returns to Ohio:

Numbed with cold, gripping grief, sorrow and despair we buried father in Oak Grove grave yard. And a plain little head-stone marks the last resting place of John Henry Martin, aged thirty-four years. There he has been sleeping now for sixty-six years awaiting the resurrection of the Dead.

That fall, after a lonely, trying summer of trying to farm with her boys, mother made disposal of her farm stock and much of her personal effects, rented her farm to a reliable man, and took her little brood and returned to Ohio, and her nativity. Much of the high hopes shared by her and her husband more than a decade before as they set forth on the inviting journey of life was now manteled in sorrow and disapointment by the crushing loneliness of widowhood and its double responsibilities. To the end of her busy and useful life she proved herself a worthy mother, companion and guide.