Friday, February 3, 2017

A Barn Burner

I was about eight years old (which meant it was about 1946) and growing up on a dairy farm in northern New York when my mother sent me out to burn some trash in a barrel.  The barrel was away from all of the buildings on the farm, and there was very little danger to them or anything else in the surrounding area.  I lit the barrel and as it flamed away I lost interest in it.
Remembering that I had a new comic book in my hideout it seemed like a good time to look it over.  My hideout was underneath a piece of machinery stored in the hay mow of the barn.  It had been placed in there on the ground floor of what was known as a bay mow or one that went from ground level to roof.  This kept it in out of the weather for the part of the year it was not in use.  The piece of machinery was a corn planter, and only used to plant the spring crop.
After the corn planter was placed in the mow it was completely covered with hay clear to the roof of the barn.  This was before the days of balers as far as we were concerned so the hay was put in loose as we called it.  All winter long we would feed it to the cattle and by the following spring the corn planter would be uncovered and ready for use again.
As this was in the later summer the barn was full of hay, and I found I could crawl back under the corn planter in a small space for a place of my own that no one else knew about.  I kept a small stash of comic books in there with a flashlight so I could read them at my leisure.  On this day my flashlight burned only dimly, and only for a short time before dying leaving me in the dark.  I was unafraid of being in the dark.  We had no electricity at the time so I was used to darkness any and all nights there was no moon.
After I was left in darkness it occurred to me that I yet had some matches in my pocket left from lighting the barrel afire.  These were the matches of the time which would light from any surface you could scratch them on.  I pulled one from my pocket, scratched it on a corn planter surface, and continued to read my comic.  In only a few seconds it burned down to my fingers.  This, of course, was not good as it hurt so I dropped the match.  Instantly the dry hay flamed up in my face.  As luck would have it, at least on that day, I managed to beat the flames out with my hands before they got completely out of control.  I lay under the old planter for a few minutes scared that the flames would reappear, but they did not so ultimately I crawled out into civilization again.

I burned my hands in the process and my mother questioned how I had done that.  I told her that when I lit the barrel it flared up, but it only hurt just a little bit so she put some salve on the small burns, and I went off to play some more.  The old barn remained there for many more years before it was torn down and replaced by a new one, but it almost needed replacement on that day when I was eight years old.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Leo Lawton

Expository Writing

Mr. Rose

Section 008

December 5, 1997

            Although many people think of  "Custer's Last Stand" as a massacre of United States Army troops by savage Indians, in reality it was a defense of Native American lives, land, and culture.  The Sioux Nation had been there long before the white man's quest for gold brought him to the region, and the ultimate debacle that this brought on

            Gold had been discovered in the Black Hills only four years after the 1868 Treaty of Laramie whereby the United States Government, considering the land worthless, had ceded it to the Sioux Nation forever.  This treaty stated that "No white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the territory, or without the consent of the Indians to pass through the same"  (Brown 273).  By 1874 white men, in their incessant search for riches, were illegally invading the Black Hills in such numbers that the Army was ordered to make a reconnaissance.  This was in direct violation of the treaty, only six years old, that strictly prohibited such intervention.  The Indians felt the Army was protecting the miners.
            Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, commanding the United States Army's Seventh Cavalry, was ordered to make this sojourn through Indian Country.   As the Indians had no warning of the Army coming, and therefore no preparation, they could do little more than sit back and watch this armed invasion of their territory.  The major results of this incursion were that Custer reported the Black Hills were indeed filled with gold.  The trail Custer's supply wagons cut through the heart of the country became known as Thieves Road (Brown 277).

            Early in 1875 hundreds of potential miners came up the Missouri River and thence onto  Thieves Road in search of the elusive gold of the Black Hills that Custer had reported.  The Army sent in troops to stop this onslaught and removed a few, but as no action was taken against them they simply returned to their claims.  General George Crook made a reconnaissance of the Hills and noting more than a thousand miners ensconced there notified each that they were illegally on Indian land, but took no action to remove them (Brown 278-79).
            Red Cloud, Chief of the Oglala Sioux, being on a reservation, appealed to President Ulysses Grant that the Black Hills were being overrun with gold miners and the Army did nothing.  President Grant's answer was to send envoys to rewrite the Laramie Treaty of 1868.  Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas and Crazy Horse, a War Chief of the Oglalas, neither having ever lived on a reservation, refused to attend a meeting with a Presidential Commission, made up of Senator Allison, Reverend Hinman, General Alfred H. Terry, and John Collins.  Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse selected Little Big Man as an observer for the "free" Sioux.  In September 1875 the Commission met with any Indian Chiefs who would appear.   The Commission, deciding that buying the Black Hills was impossible, then made an offer for the mineral rights to them.  This was turned down flatly by all Indians involved in negotiations (Brown 279-284).

            In December of that year, Edward Smith, United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs, sent out runners to all off-reservation Indians notifying them that they must report to a reservation by January 31, 1876.  This amounted to a declaration of war against all Black Hills Indians as it was nearly impossible for them to comply at that time of year had they been so inclined (Capps, Indians 210).
            In January 1876, a mixed band of Northern Cheyenne and Oglala Sioux left their reservation to go hunting buffalo and antelope as they were starving on the meager government rations provided.  In March they joined with some nonagency Indians camped near the Powder River.  Here General Crook's advance column, under General Joseph J. Reynolds, attacked this peaceful village, driving the Indians from their camp.  The Army then destroyed it, burning all of the Indians' food, saddles, and clothing, and driving off their pony herd.  That night the Indians stole back their horses, and on a three day march in below zero temperatures they made their way to Crazy Horse's village.

            When spring arrived and the ponies were strong from better forage, Crazy Horse broke camp and led his Oglala Sioux and the Cheyennes north to where Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapas had lived through the winter.  Not long after that, Lame Deer arrived with a band of Minneconjous and asked permission to camp nearby.  All had heard of soldiers coming and realized they had strength in numbers.  As the weather warmed, they moved north in search of wild game and fresh grass for the horses.  Along the way they were joined by bands of Brulés, Sans Arcs, Blackfoot Sioux, and additional Cheyennes.  Many younger Indian Braves were spoiling for a fight, but the Chiefs and older men urged them to avoid the white men.  As they slowly moved north, many hunting parties off the reservations joined them, and some of these told of large Army concentrations moving in from three directions (Brown 287-88).

            In fact, General Crook was coming from the south, Colonel John Gibbon from the west, while Terry, with Custer and his Seventh Cavalry, was moving from the east.  A Cheyenne hunting party happened on General Crook's command along the Rosebud River, and a thousand well-mounted Indians went to do battle with this intruder.  After a pitched battle lasting all day, fighting ceased at nightfall.  In the morning the Indians could see General Crook's men in the far distance retreating.  Crazy Horse had fought Crook to a standstill and forced him back to his camp for supplies (Brady 201).
              After this battle, the Indians again moved northward searching for new game herds and greener pastures.  They made their next major camp in the valley of the Little Bighorn River.  In this camp were at least ten thousand Indians including four thousand warriors (Brown 290).  At the south end of the valley were the Hunkpapas with the Blackfoot Sioux nearby.  Next came the Sans Arcs, Minneconjous, Oglalas, and the Brulés.  At the north end were the Cheyennes.  All Tribal Chiefs were considered equal except Sitting Bull whom they recognized as the old man Chief of all camps.  This was undoubtedly the greatest concentration of Indians ever assembled on the Great Plains (Edwards 614).  Most were spoiling for a fight with any white man that should happen along.

            General Terry left Fort Lincoln on May 17, 1876 in charge of a column that included Custer and 600 troopers of the Seventh Cavalry.  On June 22 Custer and his Seventh Cavalry were dispatched to scout for Indians on the Rosebud River.  They expected that he would find the ford where a large body of Indians had crossed the river.  He was not to follow this trail, but was then to turn southward and scout the headwaters of the Tongue River.  On June 24, Custer indeed found where hundreds of Indians had passed moving west toward the Little Bighorn.  He chose to go west also and made a 10-mile night march in that direction.  An Indian who had discovered them certainly would have reported the presence of the soldiers.

            This led Custer to believe that the Indians would attack him, and his premise was that he should attack first.  Custer split his forces into three battalions giving Major Reno command of three troops and Captain Benteen three more.   Custer retained personal command of Troops C, E, F, I, and L.  Captain McDougall with B Troop was ordered to bring up the pack train and stay in charge of it.  Such were the preparations for battle on this beautiful June day (Brady 232-33).

            Major Reno's troops crossed the Little Bighorn and attacked toward the southern end of the Indian encampment.  Captain Benteen's men proceeded south and west of the village to prevent Indians escaping in those directions.  Custer himself stayed on the east side of the river and proceeded north, before turning west toward the river, to strike the Indian village at the midpoint (Connell 274-78).

            By attacking from the south Reno's men first made contact with Sitting Bull and his Hunkpapas, the strongest force of the entire encampment.  Within minutes Reno's men were routed and falling back trying to return across the Little Bighorn (Capps Chiefs 206).  This freed hundreds of Indians for a frontal assault against Custer and his troops, while Crazy Horse and Two Moons with a large contingent of Cheyennes attacked him from the flank and rear.  "‘In about the time it takes a white man to eat his dinner' Custer and 225 troopers were wiped out" (Edwards 614).

            In summary, by long term usage and by treaty of 1868, Indians owned the Black Hills.  There is little doubt greedy white gold miners were largely responsible for the severe battles that took place in that area.  The battle known as Custer's Last Stand was forced on the Indians by the Army.  Although the Indians won the battle, they could not win the war over the superior armed might of the United States Army.  It was a day of infamy in a time of infamy.

Works Cited              
Brady, Cyrus Townsend.  Indian Fights and Fighters.  Lincoln: Bison, 1971.
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Holt, 1991.  
            Capps, Benjamin, The Great Chiefs.  Alexandria: Time-Life, 1977.
---. The Indians. Alexandria: Time-Life, 1979.
Connell, Evan S.  Son of the Morning Star. San Francisco: North Point, 1984.

            Edwards, Mike W.  "Should they build a fence around Montana?" National Geographic.  May 1976: 614.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Things Just Happen Sometimes
I was out and about on my aging Kawasaki ATV yesterday moving along in its lowest forward speed through some tall grass and weeds.  As luck would have it, I chanced upon an ant hill I didn’t know existed, much less at that spot.  By the time I discovered its presence I was sitting high and dry on top of it with wheels spinning.  The foot operated transmission shifting lever pushes downward to change directions from forward to reverse.  When I attempted this maneuver the lever would not move due to the ant hill underneath the frame.  So, there I sat.  It would not go forward, and I could not put it in reverse.
As I pondered the situation a similar event came to mind from when I was about ten or twelve years old.  Several members of our family were working in the woods cutting, blocking, and splitting firewood for home heating.  I was driving an Allis Chalmers C model farm tractor with an attached trailer loaded with wood headed to the house for unloading.  That model tractor had what was known as a narrow front end, with its two front wheels in very close proximity as opposed to a wide front end where the wheels are spaced several feet apart.  As I traversed the woods trail with my outfit I started past a tree on the left side of the roadway.  At that point the tractor slid sideways down a small incline to the left.  The tractor’s left side came up against the tree at the front of the rear axle.  I attempted to push the clutch to put the transmission in neutral, but the foot clutch lever was tight against the tree.  One rear wheel continued to slowly turn on the somewhat icy surface.  In a few seconds I shut off the engine to stop the wheels turning.
I walked back to where the others were yet working, to tell them of my misfortune.  Another tractor was brought to the scene, and after much laughter at my expense, it pulled my rig backwards until it was free to move on its own again.

This brings me back to the present.  Yesterday, I recalled an old snowmobiling trick.  By standing up on the machine it could be rocked back and forth sideways.  This allowed first one side, and then the other to gain a moment of traction.  In a few seconds it had freed itself and I was on my way again.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Amish Youth

I spent a part of the afternoon with my brother-in-law, Ron.  He is in the midst of making maple syrup.  It is only for his family’s personal consumption, and done in a very primitive way.  He has about twenty taps installed in maybe a dozen trees.  They will produce possibly 2 or 3 gallons of syrup in a month long season.  We used his Polaris Ranger to go into the woods to gather the available sap from buckets attached to the spouts.  After returning to his home we poured the sap into a stainless steel flat pan about 16” X 24” placed on top of a small wood stove set up in his back yard.  It wasn’t long after we had a good fire burning in the stove that the sap began a slow boil.  The rising steam gave evidence the sap was beginning to thicken into the future remaining syrup.  Between 30 and 40 gallons of sap will boil down into a gallon of syrup.  We needed to tend the fire under the syrup pan every 15 to 20 minutes to insure a proper boil, but in between we played several games of pool on the table he has set up in an old converted garage.  All in all it was a fine afternoon.
Later, on my way home I came to a fork in the road.  The road I live on split off the road I was driving on, in a wye.   Very near the intersection I spotted an Amish wagon with an attached team of horses.  They didn’t appear to be moving.  I started onto my road and traveled several hundred feet, all the time watching the Amish wagon in my rear view mirror.  The wagon never moved although I could see an Amish man near the horses’ heads trying to encourage them on.  I stopped and backed up to where they were.  Then it dawned on me that these were more children than men.  The oldest was about 14, while with him were two boys of maybe 10 and 8 years old.  I asked if they had troubles.  The older boy told me the team just couldn’t pull the wagon loaded with logs onto the road.  He had come out of a wooded area and attempted to enter the roadway at an angle.  Two wheels on one side were on the asphalt, but the other two wheels had sunk in the roadside wet sand.

I asked if the somewhat small team of horses would allow me to attach my pickup ahead of them without panicking.  The elder Amish boy was unsure, but offered to unhook them if I thought my truck would pull the load.  He asked if my truck was a four-wheel-drive, which surprised me as I didn’t realize he would know anything at all about trucks.  I assured him it was, so he pulled a pin, allowing the horses to be driven away from the load.  I then backed my truck up to near the end of the wagon tongue.  The Amish lad produced a chain, hooked it to the tongue, and I attached it to a trailer ball on the back of my truck.  With the transfer case in four-wheel-low, and the transmission in 1st gear I slowly tightened the chain, and kept right on moving until all four wagon wheels were on the asphalt.  We unhooked the chain and he hooked the light team of horses to the wagon again.  He offered to pay me, but I assured him I wanted nothing for my help.  He was a fellow human needing a little assistance, and I was lucky enough to be able to help when it was needed.  We waved to each other as I drove away.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A CJ 2A Jeep

During WW II the military was searching for a small vehicle that had no specific purpose, but could and would be used for anything and everything short of flying.  After design work and testing a ¼ ton four-wheel-drive vehicle was selected for manufacture by the Willys Company.  As it was an improved model from the original concept it was labeled MB for Military B model.  Well over half a million of these were produced and used during the war.
After WW II came to a close Willys decided to build a model for the general public.  They thought of it as a general use farm vehicle, and it thus was outfitted with various extras, such as a power take off shaft, for that purpose.  As opposed to the MB military version this one was labeled CJ for Civilian Jeep, starting with model CJ 1, and progressing from there.
In 1968 searching for a vehicle, in my price range, suitable for rabbit hunting, I located a 1949 model CJ 2A that was more or less all together.  It started and ran fine but the front differential had stripped gears and an axle was broken.  In two wheel drive it was fine.  Not being a real perfectionist, yet wanting to get full usage from my Jeep, I located a 1950 Jeep with an intact differential, but with no axles in it.  Not to worry, the gentleman I purchased it from threw in a 1951 front end with a no-good differential, but the axles were just like new.
So, like Johnny Cash and his “one piece at a time Cadillac,” I built me a 1949, 1950, 1951 Jeep.  Well, as I recall forty plus years later, the differential gears fit right in fine, but when it came to the axles that was a different matter.  Now I’m sort of mechanically inclined, but in a crude way.  No matter how I tried I couldn’t seem to fit that right front axle in where it belonged.  Ultimately I got it about 99 % in place, and then drove it in the final bit with a 12 pound sledge hammer.  Then it fit, sort of.  When I threw the proper levers it went into four-wheel-drive okay, and with another lever movement it would shift from low to high range, but was it ever a bear to steer that thing.  Obviously it didn’t have power steering, but it could have used it.  It must have been something to do with that axle installation method because it was fine prior to that, but never again did it steer normally thereafter.

I drove that thing for two more years that way though, and then sold it to a fellow rabbit hunter who was aware of its peculiar characteristics as we had hunted together on many occasions.  I moved several states away from Mississippi so never heard of it again, but maybe it’s still in use.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Leo Lawton
When we are born, our clock starts. When we die, it shatters to be used by no other. The only thing given to us at birth is a certain amount of time on this earth. It is a reducing debit account with an unknown balance.
When we are very young we have little say in how our time is spent. Our parents nurture us in every way, acceding to our needs, yet our time account diminishes. With good parents, this varying amount of time is well spent in the formation of our bodies and our minds.
As we age, with a depleting time balance, less of our time is spent in the dictations of our parents, teachers, and other mentors, and more in the pursuit of our own desires.
The constitution of the United States guarantees us the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No person, no group, or no government can guarantee you those things. Your only guarantee is your remaining amount of time.  It’s all you ever had.
Since the beginning of the human race we have tried to divide time into recognizable segments so that we might structure our lives in an orderly fashion. It is time to eat. It is time to sleep. It is time to whatever. This is a misnomer. What we are really thinking is, beginning at this time I will use a portion of my allotted time on earth to eat, sleep, or whatever.
As most of us think of time, we associate it with our planetary system. It takes one year for our planet to go around the sun. Our planet rotates once each day. Our day is split into twenty-four one-hour segments, and our hour is divided into sixty minutes for no apparent reason. Why they are called this I do not know, but they have nothing to do with the passing of time. They only designate our perceived idea of it. Time continues to pass, no matter what we call it, or how we divide it. Time has nothing to do with our planetary system. It is merely a method that humans have devised to identify blocks of it. Time is forever. It never began. It will never end. It goes on incessantly. Only things change. Time is infinity.
When we have used up our allotted segment of time, our account is empty, our balance is zero, and our requests for more go unanswered.

Because we have a finite amount of time most people place a value on it.  Value in this sense means how much of our time should we, or must we, allocate for an equivalent amount of something else?  It thus becomes imperative for us to trade our time wisely for those products more easily obtained from someone else than manufactured by ourselves.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Hopping Adventure

During the early 1970s as I recall four of us went hunting on a fine, bright, sunny, yet crisp, frosty, Sunday morning.  There was my wife’s sister’s husband Ronnie, my wife’s brother Wendell, my brother Bob, and myself.  There may have been others, but I don’t recall them.
We opened the gate to my beagle pen, and let them run around the yard for a minute or two as they tuned their voices for what they knew was to come.  Soon we climbed into my old Jeep and headed for the cedar swamp back of the hay field.  The beagles trailed along behind, with a few side trips to investigate odors that took their fancy.
Soon the hounds were in the swamp locating that first varying hare, or as we called ‘em, snowshoes.  It was but a matter of minutes before my Sue opened with a yelp to let us know she had one moving.
As the chase moved away we heard the other beagles chime in, one at a time, bugles ringing in the clear frosty winter air.  The sound always made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  It is why I hunted.  I didn’t need rabbit stew more than a couple of times a year, but I needed to hear them beagles in full pursuit of their elusive long eared prey.
Soon from a distance we could hear the beagles make a swing and start the return circle back in the general direction whence they started.  As they got nearer we took up our favorite stands, hoping the snowshoe would go by us rather than dip a bit to run in front of one of the others.  Shotguns were loaded and at the ready, as we awaited the hard running rabbit.  We knew it was well ahead of the baying hounds so it must have been near.
Suddenly, bang, bang,…bang, bang,…bang, over in Wendy’s direction.  “Damn, Wendy, how many of ‘em did you get?”
“Uh, none, he was really running!”
“For Christ’s sake, how could you miss five times in that little bit of a time?”
“I was practicing my speed!  I’m going to work on my accuracy later!”

I miss you Wendell Compo.  1944-1985  RIP