Memories of Rev. Will Walker
Submitted by Nancy Paine, Typed by Eileen Tims and Annotated by Joyce M. Tice
See next chapter for present day photo of same
MEMORIES OF THE NILES FAMILY
I can’t say as my penmanship is improving very much, but how much easier I am able to write. The control seems to be much improved. I sincerely hope I may regain the "pen writing art". My hand no longer cramps, which is encouraging. Now, for the fun of writing …
I am thinking of writing in this chapter about a family by the name of "Niles". Russel Niles was the Father’s name. There were six boys in this family. Talk about showmen, "Pin" and Fred Niles, could mimic the best of them. "Pin, had an art, and still possess it, of being able to talk like a noted character of those parts. This particular character’s name was Henry Gould, who was a good-for-nothing-lout, with a family. I intend to include a "Henry Gould" chapter if my grit holds out.
Down at "Painter Run", a cross road in Tioga Co. Pa., about 5 miles from my home, was free Methodists, I believe ran second to the "Sweely Wild West Shows", in attracting great crowds. They sure put on great exhibitions also. They also did a lot a yelling howling. The only things they lacked were racing ponies and fighting red men. Now let me tell you, it was no mean show, for when Lucinda Johns and old Mrs. Jones, Lawrence and George Wood got what was termed "the Power", well, there was something doing. How such things could go on in the name of Religion, is a mystery to me. I have heard a blood curdling yell proceed from the throat of many of them there, that would do justice to any wild Indian that ever roamed the western plains in search of a white man’s scalp. Adam Rarrick, what a striking speciman he was. I wish you could have heard the testimony that he would invariably give at every meeting. It was always the same. The words never varied. I will set it down here.
He was a man, (Lea Rarrick’s Grandfather), about 45 years old. About 6 feet 4 inches tall; and as straight as a ramrod; black hair long and straight; eyes black as coal and piercing as two daggers. He always wore a big black slouch hat, long square cut Prince Albert coat, to make himself appear like a Preacher. He also wore leather boots. I think his "Amens" were the most pronounced I have ever heard. His voice, well it is hard to describe; with the power of a steam boiler behind it. Had the quality of a man’s voice, yet sharp like some shrill talking woman you may have heard. Here is his usual testimony; Rising to his full towering height, he would turn and survey the audience, for he always occupied a front seat. How those piercing black gimlet eyes would seem to pinion the last person in the room. He would be about the 5th or 6th one to give in their testimony, and when he would stand up, OH!, what an awful silence. He would seem each time to have risen while being horribly bored by the common place testimonies which he had been obliged to listen to from those proceeding him. When he had risen, and had given as long a pause before speaking as seemed necessary to him, He would say,
"My People" (a long drawn out pause)
"When a man is alive he’s alive!" (pauses and surveys audience)
"And when he dies, he dies!"
"And when he’s buried, he’s buried!" (long drawn out pause)
"And when he stinks, he stinks!"
The above is the identical speech, ADAM RARRICK, always gave as his testimony. Sure striking, you must admit. No doubt there were some sincere Christian people there in that church, but many just put on a good show and people would come for miles to be amused.
It was here at this Church, where PIN and FRED NILES would often come disguised as strangers, and talk about "Amens", well the faithful there had there hands full keeping their end up. The Church had old oil lamps and was never very well lighted. These two boys, were as large as grown men. They would come with long false beards. In fact most of the men those days wore beards, so the boys beards did not attract unnecessary attention. Although, there were always many in the audience who knew the NILES boys were pulling off something and would thoroughly enjoy it. Many a time, after the meeting was closed, some of the faithful would shake hands with them, enquire how long they were going to be in the vicinity and invite them to attend next Sunday evening services.
One old fellow, (Willard Brace), in fact he was my Brother-in-law’s Uncle, (Nelson Brace,), received a call from two distinguished looking strangers one evening. He was very religious, but in a sincere way, he invited them in the sitting room, while Eliza, his wife, played on the organ and the two strangers sang hymns very devoutly. They were almost persuaded to take up residence there in that community by the kindly urging of their hosts. It was with great reluctance when their host parted with them at the end of a "very pleasant evening".
One incident, rather a humorous incident indeed, in regard to a boyhood happing of "Pin". I think of "Pin, " as a second "Huckle berry Finn". If you had been in Pennsylvania thirty or thirty five years ago, you would have witnessed real "lumbering". Today, 1932 finds that industry a thing of the past, at least in Pennsylvania. During log driving time, or bark pealing, Lumbermen or "lumberjacks" were coming and going all the time. Three of "Pin’s" older brothers were lumbermen. At Christmas time many of them would be returning home for the holidays. Those who lived in our section usually worked in the Potter County Woods, and sometimes there were as many as fifty men who left the New York Central train at Tioga, woodsmen, all from our section. The station was situated about a half mile from town and when that bunch of woodsmen would alight from the train, a better natured, jollier crowd you never saw. In fact the true woodsman is a unique character. Free hearted and a friend. I always enjoyed being among them. They would come home, some with nearly $1000 they had saved out of a year’s wages. There was good money in the woods while it was real strenuous work, it was the healthiest.
"Pin’s" older brothers were to return home from the woods the day before X-mas. Tioga was eight miles from our section and usually the men’s families would drive teams down to Tioga, and put the horses in the hotel barn and wait the arrival of the afternoon train.
"Pin" had looked forward to this and had planned accordingly. He was about thirteen or fourteen years of age, and a very good hunter for his years. That particular winter he had been very successful. He had three or four wild cat pelts, a half dozen or more of red foxes, in fact if there was a fur bearing animal anywhere in the near by mountains, it was not safe with "Pin" around.
"A Merry Christmas To You", was heard on every side. It was the habit of the woodsmen to walk in the middle of the street, or where there was no stone sidewalk. Part of their dress equipment, as you may know, were a pair of "Calk shoes", the calks were long pointed steel contraptions, a double row in the soles and eight in each heel. They projected about an inch and were not very convenient to walk with on flagstones, so the crowd of woodsmen kept to the middle of the road leading from the station over to the town of Tioga.
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, there appeared in the road a strange and interesting person. If the date had been two hundred years earlier, this person would not have attracted so much attention with his mode of dress. Squirrel cap with tail attached; buck skin shirt, trousers and leggins, shoes of moccasin type; and carrying a "flint lock", rifle. Had you been in the habit of meeting "Daniel Boon," or the old Kentucky riflemen, this individual would not have unnecessarily attracted your attention, say for two things. At his belt there hung, two wild cat pelts and two fox pelts. He had a very surprising nimbleness and was soon the center of attraction as he headed the crowd of woodsmen as they approached town. Crowds of the home coming woodsmen, friends and families were walking along with them in the street or on the sidewalks. There was a holiday spirit about the crowd. The joy of getting back home, the joy of welcoming dad or brother, and it was a crowd ready to laugh at any practical joke or joker.
There were two members of the homecoming woodsmen who had discovered that the typically dressed, nimble hunter of the sixteenth century, was no other than their younger brother "Pin". They kept their discovery a secret and enjoyed it all. "Pin" was having the time of his life. He had borrowed the most of his outfit, including the old "flint lock rifle", the pelts strung at his belt, were trophies of his own skill.
Now there happened to be a very enterprising, holiday spirited German butcher, whose shop was on the street this crowd was traveling. He had gone out upon the mountain and secured a large Christmas tree, possibly 35 feet in height, and had fastened it to the corner of his meat market on the outside. Its branches overhung the sidewalk. On the tree, above the reach of passers by, he had tied dressed turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens on the branches, for a novel display.
Possibly the incident from the whole occasion put an impish idea into "Pin’s" mind. He halted before the well loaded Christmas tree. The crowds from all sides closed in. He handed his "old trusty flint lock" to a man standing near him; the crowd sensed something unusual about to happen. With the nimbleness of a red squirrel, "Pin " a shout and roar of mirth. The commotion soon told the German butcher that things were happening outside. Going out on the sidewalk, his attention was drawn towards this Christmas tree of dressed fowls, and the object of the crowd’s interest. "Pin" was perched on a branch high up. The scene immediately became ludicrous, the German began activities with an explosion. He near went up in smoke. Indeed it was an outrage and "Pin" should have been taught a lesson for invading the property rights of another, but the crowd of woodsmen and others were willing to be amused.
Now when a German butcher, who has not the best command of the American language, becomes enraged, the result may be very amusing. After the first explosion, the crowd gave a good hearty laugh and cheered, this, by no means discouraged "Pin", neither did it act to sooth the mounting wrath of the German butcher. He bellowed like a bull, and by the use of much broken English he ordered "Pin" to "come down!" This request, "Pin" seemed not to understand. The butcher waved his arms about wildly, and made astride towards the tree saying "I’ll bring ‘em down!" At this moment, "Pin" called out, "wait a minute Mister, I’ll get him for you! Did you say that one right up there?" and reaching up for a limb above his head, on which there hung a dressed turkey weighing nearly 20 pounds, he gave the limb a violent shake and down came the turkey. It barely missed the German butcher below, who had started towards the tree. It struck the walk with a thud, where it lay. The butcher had been excited before, but now, well, use your imagination. With another howl of rage he made another dive for the tree. Pin, watching from above, called, "Don't that one suit you? Wait, I'll get you another," and the charging enraged butcher was obliged to retreat; to escape the veritable rain of fowls shaken from their moorings.
This indeed was a comedy unheard of before and thoroughly enjoyed by the onlookers, especially the woodsmen. Fred and Ed, Pin's brothers were great favorites among the Lumber Jacks, and they had become a little worried over the outcome of "Pin's prank, and had their younger brother "Pin".
By this time seven or eight fowls of various makes were down on the snow-covered ground and sidewalk. With a last determined charge, the butcher reached the trunk of the Christmas tree. He was not a small man by any means, possibly weighing 225 pounds. He grasped the branches and began to pull himself up into the tree. 'Tis was a signal for "Pin" to go higher. The crowd, by this time, had grown considerably and was thoroughly enjoying the situation.
The Butcher had hardly placed his weight into the tree when the tree gave a lurch. The crowd pushed each other back, and with a cry of "Timber!", coming from the throats of many lumberjacks, the tree came toppling over into the street. "Pin" and the German butcher, extracted themselves unhurt. As soon as the butcher saw the object of his wrath, his tormentor before him on the ground, he gave a howl like an enraged animal and charged headfirst. He was stopped by a husky woodsman, who directed him to calm himself and tell them what the damage was. "Damage!," said the butcher. "All my fowls, and my Christmas Tree spoiled!"
The woodsmen quickly assured him that the fowls were by no means spoiled. When they figured them all up, they agreed to use them all in their homes for their Christmas dinner. The enraged German butcher began immediately to change his attitude towards the whole situation. In fact, he not only sold the fowls that were on the tree, the crowd of woodsmen bought every dressed fowl he had in his market. There were more than they needed. This is the way disposed of some of them; that night, at near midnight, there came a loud knocking at our door, and when Father opened the door, there stood Curt Sweely, with a big package in his arms. This is what he said, "Here Hughey! is a Christmas dinner for Mrs. Walker and all the Walker tribe; Don't ask me anything about it now; I can't tell you anything about it for laughing; I'll be over in the morning and tell you all about it." Did our family enjoy that feast? It was the first Christmas Goose I recall.
To return to the German butcher at Tioga; After buying out the stock of dressed fowls, a twenty-dollar bill was placed in the hand of the butcher for damage to his Christmas and for general principles.
As the woodsmen were about to leave, with their many large packages, the German butcher, whose face wore a smile instead of a frown, turn to Pin and said,---"Youse rascal devil of a boy, if dot dree hadn't vall up, I voud hev coudt you! Come zee mee som dimes, Goo Bye!."