Union War, Part One


West Terre Haute was a union town.  The clay workers, railroaders and miners all had unions.  The United Mine Workers of America was the largest and, many thought, the strongest of the unions.  My grandfather, and his father and brothers, were members of UMW local 414 in West Terre Haute.  So was a man named Joseph Claypool.

Founded in 1890 The UMW had led the fight for better wages and working conditions for miners across the country (though it could do little in the universally anti-union South).  Figures like Mother Jones and the bushy-browed, stentorian  John L. Lewis pushed for worker’s rights and humane conditions in the mines.

The union’s greatest successes came during good times when work was steady and demand for coal was great.  Then, the threat of a strike was a weapon feared by mine owners who knew a prolonged work stoppage would siphon their profits.  But by the late 1920s the good times were long gone.  They had ended with the armistice that ended WWI.  UMW membership had dropped from a half million miners to just over 100,000 by 1930.  Worse yet for miners, their wages had dropped by 23% since the war as the industry was buffeted by competition from cheaper fuels and non-union mines.

Those numbers left the UMW and its leader John L. Lewis in a perilous state.  Some members began to feel Lewis, once respected and feared as their firebrand leader, was making too many concessions and becoming too close to mine owners.  Additionally, Lewis had spent the decade trying to cement his own power by consolidating control of the union in his central office.  This was contrary to much of the union’s past when the locals had a strong voice in their own areas. 

Lewis was also a paranoid, a man who saw enemies and conspiracies lurking everywhere.  He had purged (the Stalinist image seems apt) many union officials, particularly those he saw as standing on the left.  So by 1930, Lewis’s enemies were real and present.  And some wanted to wrest control of miners’ union from him.

That is where the lives of John L. Lewis and Joseph Claypool intersected.  One district that Lewis did not control was District 12 in Illinois.  The district was home to many of Lewis’ most potent adversaries.  Feeling that Lewis had sold union members down the river, the leaders of District 12 formed what became known as the Reorganized United Mine Workers, hoping that it would become the “official” miners union.  They appointed about a dozen organizers to seek support for the new union.  The organizers were to go into the coal fields of the Midwest and East and explain what the new union was attempting and gain their support (and union dues).  The organizers were well aware that they must be careful, for the pro-Lewis forces were well known for their penchant to use violence, intimidation and bribery in their cause.

Joseph Claypool was one of those organizers.  Claypool was born in my “other hometown,” Marshall, Illinois.  Born in 1896, he worked as a farm laborer and was described as tall with brown eyes and dark brown hair.  He appears to have lied about his age to join the Army in 1911.  Perhaps he found the army more than he bargained for because he was arrested for desertion in 1912 and placed in the stockade at Columbus Barracks in Ohio.  He served his time and remained in the Army, becoming a printer.  He was invalided out with a honorable discharge in 1916 and seems to have received a pension for a damaged index finger on his right hand.

He returned to Clark County and by 1920 was married and working as a pumper in the oil fields that were scattered around the area.   By 1925 he had moved to West Terre Haute and was working in the mines.  He and his family (he and wife Stella had had a son and two daughters) lived in several rented houses around town.  At one point the family lived only a few blocks over from my grandparents.

Claypool became disenchanted with what he saw as John L. Lewis’ lack of leadership.  He was one of the “renegade” miners who attended an alternate miner’s union “rump convention” in Springfield, Illinois in 1930.  For this he was kicked out of Local 414 in West Terre Haute.  Soon after the convention he began work as an organizer for the Reorganized United Mine Workers (RUMR).  It was dangerous work and the organizers were warned to keep their heads down, lest they excite the wrath of the Lewis organization.

Claypool was committed to the work.  He visited several mining camps and locals around the area trying to gauge the feelings of other miners about Lewis.  He claimed to find many dissident miners who were interested in joining the RUMW, but were fearful of what might happen to them. 

One of the areas he thought showed promise were the coal fields in Sullivan County, Indiana.  He temporarily moved to Shelburn to recruit others.  His activities were noticed. Claypool increasingly looked over his shoulder.  On July 29th, he wrote to the RUMW Secretary-Treasurer that he had learned that two of  Lewis’s strongest supporters in the area, Frank Barnhart and Dale Stapleton  had been issued gun permits.  Fearful, Claypool went to see Sullivan Sheriff Williams.  Williams advised him to seek a grand jury investigation.

Claypool was walking near Shelburn on the night of July 30, 1930.  He was grabbed and forced into a car by several men (later reports indicated the number was five).  They grilled him about his efforts on behalf of the RUMW.  They accused him of meeting with powerful mine owner John Templeton in order to negotiate a contact with the new union.  When Claypool denied meeting with Templeton, his abductors menacingly discussed what they might do with him.

Finally, they started the car and headed west toward Illinois.  When they reached Clark County they pulled the car over in a deserted area.  Tar and feathers were produced from the trunk.  Holding Claypool down, they poured tar over his head and chest.  Then the feathers came floating down with their grim laughter and a piece of advice.  They warned Claypool to never return to Indiana.

Claypool made it to the Miller farm and Clark County Sheriff Henry Colbrim was called and took Claypool to Marshall, where he checked into the National Dixie Hotel, frightened but alive.

Many others would have ceased their union activities then and there.  But not Joseph Claypool. 

In Part Two I will discuss the aftermath of the story, and what happened next.

Image courtesy Illinois History and Lincoln Collection, University of Illinois Library

Stolen by Gypsies?


Gypsies and Bank Mules.  Yes, Gypsies and bank mules.  To my surprise this blog has had over 8,500 unique visits to the site, and those are the two most accessed of my posts. 

Bank mules, I guess, because people are looking for the definition of the term.  As for “gypsies,” I assume it is because so many are still fascinated by them and their lifestyles.  And beguiled by the tales, myths, and fears associated with them.  In the opening to blog series I did on the Demetro John murders (October 2011) I mentioned the paranoia and warnings that swept through Consolidated School with the arrival in the early 1960s of a group of gypsies with a carnival in West Terre Haute.  That fear of Gypsies and what they might do or steal was a long standing one in America.

The earliest mention I have yet found of Gypsies in the West Terre Haute area is an article from the March 3, 1859 (Terre Haute) Wabash Express.  It noted that a band of Gypsies was camped just north of the town. It appears that even at this early time negative views of Gypsies were firmly in place.  They are “fortune tellers, of course” said the article and “laboring under the strange hallucination that whatever they see, they have the right to appropriate for their own use.”  It was not quite lock up your women and children and hide your possessions, but the warning was implicit.  And shows that antipathy towards the Rom was inherent, even though few Gypsies were then in the United States.

This band was most likely part of the Romnichel, aka English Gypsies.  According to the Smithsonian English Gypsies began migrating to America around 1850.  Various reasons have been offered.  Many were fleeing from the Enclosure Acts that were “privatizing: common lands in England that had been temporary homes to Gypsies.  Gypsies were horse experts and horse traders and their skills and stock were important in an American economy that relied on draft horse both on the farm and in the city (think of the Budweiser Clydesdales).  Various Gypsy groups from Eastern Europe did not start to migrate to the United States in any numbers until the 1870s.

But many Americans had long standing views on Gypsies based on folklore and 19th-century versions of urban myths.  The reputation of these travelers preceded them and were not good.  In 1885, Charles Godfrey Leland, a writer and early folklorist with long knowledge of Gypsies, tried to set the record straight.  He was featured in an article that was syndicated across the country and appeared in several Indiana newspapers.  Called America’s leading expert on Gypsies, Leland stated that the Gypsies’ reputation as petty thieves and horse thieves was simply not deserved.  If something was stolen within five miles of a Gypsy, he said, the travelers would be automatically blamed.  It was unfair,  Besides he noted, “all Gypsies are rich” and had no reason to steal. They were actually more honest than “many Christian folks of superior standing and higher culture.” He pointed out that their “avocations” were horse-trading and fortune-telling.  Interestingly, Leland declared their culture was an example of “pure atheism.”

Leland’s article did little to change people’s views, and an incident that began in Macksville (West Terre Haute) only confirmed the worst about Gypsies to many.

J.T Brentlinger was a brick mason from Terre Haute.  In the summer of 1892 he was part of the crew building the new school in Macksville.  He occasionally allowed his 14 year old son Albert to accompany him to work.  Albert, pole in hand, would spend the day fishing while his father was on the job.   Near the pond was the camp of a small band of Gypsies.  Albert became acquainted with them.

As he was quitting work and packing up his tools on Saturday, Mr. Brentlinger kept an eye out for Albert.  The boy was usually pretty good about returning to the worksite before his dad was ready to leave.  Brentlinger headed toward the pond, calling Albert’s name.  It is unclear if registered in the back of his mind that the Gypsy camp was gone.  The anxious father headed back along Paris Avenue asking after his son.  Storekeeper Webb Bayless told Brentlinger that the last time he had seen Albert he was with a Gypsy named Sharp.  Brentlinger returned to the camp site.  The Gypsies were gone.  So was his boy.

Brentlinger informed the Terre Haute police about the “abduction.”  Word went out and they thought they might have the band in Brazil, but they got away.  Brentlinger began placing ads in newspapers throughout Indiana, and Ohio seeking information about Albert’s whereabouts.  He described Albert and the clothes he was wearing when last seen, blue cottonade pants, calico shirt and straw hat with a calico band.  In September word reached him of a possible sighting in Bedford, Indiana, but again the band was gone by the time authorities arrived.

There was no further trace of Albert until a letter arrived from Ohio in December.  It was from Albert.  He said he needed money to come home, that he had been very ill, and “blind in one eye and very nearly so in another.”  Mr Brentlinger thought the letter looked forced, scattered and wondered if it was an attempt at extortion or ransom.

He and Albert’s older brother set off for Ohio.  They found Albert living with a kindly farmer named Pierce near Circleville, Ohio.  Albert told his tale.

Albert’s Story 

Albert said he was fishing near the Gypsy camp when they grabbed him, tied him up, and forced him into their wagon.  They covered him in blankets so no one would see him.  They did not untie him and let him up until they were in Illinois.  They warned him they would kill him if he tried to escape.  Giving him a comb and brush they ordered him to clean their horses.  They were quick to strike him with a whip if they thought he was shirking.  His job became to clean and brush the horses each day from dawn until noon.

He said he was only fed a slice of bread and a cold potato twice a day.  He was never given meat during the entire ordeal.  In each town they visited he was sent to the streets to scavenge cigar butts, which were taken to camp, washed and dried to provide pipe tobacco.  One of the women acted as his guards during these forays.  While on his knees retrieving butts in Louisville his leg was run over by a fire wagon on a run.  He was taken to the hospital, but the Gypsies kept a tight guard on him so he could not tell his story or escape.

After his release from the hospital, the band moved on into Ohio.  Near Circleville, he said, two of the men (there were four men and three women in the group) got into a fight over him.  One, named Gypsy Mike, cracked the other over the head with a whip handle and took Albert into Circleville, where he “released” him.  After staying in Circleville for several days, nearly starving, Albert went off into the countryside.  There Pierce found him, looking destitute and with bruises on his face and body that appeared to be from whip cuts.  It was then he wrote his father.

Albert was home by Christmas.

So what to make of Albert’s story?  Many historians who have studied the history of Gypsies claim there has never been a documented case of child-napping.  So was this a case?  Or was it an example of a young man seeking a bit of adventure that spun out of his control?  Was it Albert’s version of running away to join the circus?  And, if it was so bad why did he not seize opportunities (as when he was in the hospital) to runaway, or ask for help?  We now know much more about the psychology of captives and captors (think Patty Hearst) and that it is not always physical constraints that keep people in such situations.  But if he truly wanted to get away, did he try?  And what do we make of the two Gypsies “fighting over him?”  It was only then that Albert was “released.”

Anyone no more of the Albert story?  Or similar ones?  Let me know.

Hop, Skip and Jump to Toad Hop

toad hop bachelors0001

In the summer of 1960 we moved to Larimer Hill, a little sprawl of houses located on a bluff just west of West Terre Haute.  It was named after a Mr. Larimer who had once owned a coal mine near there where he attempted to wrest a living from the coal-packed bluff.

I don’t remember hating the move, possibly for two reasons.  One was we were moving from Terre Haute, which to my 6 year old mind mainly served as memory-host of the most desolate moment of my life.  With the arrival of my stepfather we had moved to a house on north Center (aka Central) Street.  I suppose one of the reasons were located there was that it was only a few blocks from Union Hospital and was walking distance for my mom to go to work.  That was the desolate moment.  I still remember with aching clarity one particular Saturday afternoon.  Mom was working the 3-11 shift then.  So I had all morning to dread her leaving.  My sister was barely a toddler and my brother was simply not an interesting enough 3 year-old to play with.  Communication with my stepfather was not something I sought.  Thus the sight of my mom walking away toward her shift at the hospital, not to be seen again til morning, left me with a sense of total desolation.  It was just me now.  I carry that feeling still.  I remember huddling in a grassy patch just off the back porch.  No sole survivor of an arctic exploration could have felt more alone than I.  Had my six-year old vocabulary contained the word “bereft” I would have described myself so.  But anyway…..

The other reason for accepting the move was the Columbia bicycle.  It was possibly given me as a reward for making it through my eye surgery, which removed both my lens and left me blind in my left eye.  The bike was used, purchased from a second hand store at 4th and Ohio.  It had dents and dings, but had been given a glossy coat of dark blue paint to cover them.  I think my Uncle Danny had some part in procuring this marvel for me.  I loved that bike. 

We moved into a small house atop a hill.  If I remember it had two rooms plus a caboose-like kitchen.  Across the road was Granny Cooley, a kindly ancient woman who still tended her garden wearing a dress to her ankles, a daycap and bonnet and talking softly to her cat.  She was a continuing source of smiles, lemonade (which was too bitter for my taste) and hard cookies.  Behind us was a family my mom did not approve of as the mother was prone to lock her kids out of the house in the morning, only to let them return briefly for lunch and after the father came home.  I remember them always asking for drinks around the neighborhood.  Mom often sent me out with plastic cups of Kool-Aid for them.

The best destination to ride my bike was to Zelma’s.  Zelma was this happy woman who ran sort of a sandwich shop cum ice cream parlor.  Unlike the couple who ran a small grocery store down the hill from her (my interaction with them stemmed from being gullible enough to saunter into the store at the behest of the Harmon boys and ask for a Kotex), she liked kids.  She often treated us or said she would collect from our moms later.  Riding your Columbia bike to Zelma’s on a hot day, knowing what awaited there, was a sublime journey.

So my bike and I made our various journeys of exploration.  One place I was forbidden to go was Toad Hop!

Toad Hop was a scattering of houses down the hill.  It was located hard against Sugar Creek on the east, US 40 on the north, Dresser Road on the west and a long hill to the south.  Of course, like the name Hoosier, there are many thoughts about the origin of area’s name.  General consensus is that because it was bounded by Sugar Creek, whenever there was a heavy rain it was inundated by frogs.  Thus Toad Hop.

Among many, especially one surmises, my mom, Toad Hop had an unsavory reputation.  It was viewed as an inbred little place, filled with ne’er-do-wells, scofflaws, and the generally bad.  A place filled with hard people, not to be trifled with.  Granted, it was not a scenic spot.  Most of the houses were dilapidated, every other one seemed to offer itself as part junk yard, part second hand furniture store.  I vaguely remember what can best be described as a saloon there, with some western sounding name like Blazing Stump, Long Branch or Ponderosa (anyone remember?) that had reputation as a place one might lose and ear or nose should one venture an ill-advised opinion.

I went to school with a raft of kids from Toad Hop at Consolidated School.  They did seem a rough sort.  The type to be avoided in the playground if possible.  There was one large family that totaled about 10 or 11 kids.  I got along well enough with the boy in my grade.  He seemed a bit jumpy and sad, but nice enough to play baseball with.  Later, I learned from another classmate that the boy’s father was the follower of a fundamentalist minister who had a Sunday morning ranting program on the radio.  Each evening the father would return to Toad Hop from work and after dinner would line all the children up, no matter age or gender, and give them five strong whacks with his belt.  It was done, he said, to punish them for whatever sins they had committed that day while he was away.

I also remember my  Uncle Wayne and his family living there for a while, but my Uncle Wayne was the strong, silent, Clint Eastwood type who kept his nose out of other’s business and could handle himself if pushed to do so.

There is some dispute as to whether Toad Hop was actually platted as a community or not.  One source says it was, in 1907.  Another that it just kind of grew up around the mines and clay plant located near there.  Whether because its comical name or the because the people who lived there were looked down upon, Toad Hop was often the object of derision. 

In 1914 there appeared a photo that was carried in newspapers around the state that purported to be seeking brides for the lonely bachelors of the village.  The photo showed a ragtag group of old men, scalawags, and hard cases.  Calling Toad Hop an “historic and unique village,” the caption averred that Toad Hop had a larger percentage of bachelors than any town in the state.  The photo provided ample proof of why that might be.  It was almost certainly a joke.  One of the pranks that some, like West Terre Hautean turned-Hollywood screenwriter Grover Jones (see previous blog entries for more about Jones), like to pull was to see if they could get phony photographs inserted into the papers.  To test the idea I did a census search and found that only 3 of the men in the picture could be found to have lived in or near Toad Hop, according to census records.

Grover Jones later wrote several short stories published in Collier’s and other magazines set in Toad Hop, including one titled The Amazon of Toad Hop.  More on that in part two of this blog coming soon.

The 1936 WPA Federal Writers’ Project guide entry on Toad Hop was succinct:

“There have never been any distinguished persons or families residing in Toad Hop.

The architecture is of a general nature and has no unusual features.

There are no parks or monuments here.

The place has never been noted because of foreign groups that have resided here.

There are three groceries there, and a combination garage and soft drink parlor.

There are no churches there.  There is one school known as the Toad Hop School.  It has the first five grades with one teacher and 19 pupils.”

There may have still been a garage and soft drink parlor there when I was a kid, but I do not remember a grocery store, but then again I was never allowed to venture in to see.

I am currently gathering as many of the Toad Hop stories by Grover Jones as I can find.  Most contemporaries who read them assured others that Jones’ basically only changed the names and slightly caricatured some of the protagonists.  And they knew exactly who the character was based upon.  I will blog about them soon.

The Inventive Sort


While working on another project involving inventors, I decided to see how many West Terre Hauteans had patented inventions. I found more than twenty. Below I look at a few. Not surprisingly, the inventions were related to four of the biggest “industries” related to West Terre Haute in the early 20th century: farming, clay manufacturing, mining, and railroading.

Be it known that I, JAMES LORD, a citizen of the United States, residing at West Terre Haute, in the county of Vigo and State of Indiana, have invented new and useful Improvements in Blast-Chargers, of which the following is a specification.
My invention relates to improvements in ammunition and explosive devices, and particularly relates to the subclass blasting; and the object is to provide an improved and novel blast-charging implement for inserting’ the charge of powder into the holes made in the material to be blasted.
It will be stated prefatory to the description that coal in the mines, especially the bituminous variety, is impregnated with more or less sulfur and that when the vein is struck by the drill and the point encounters sulfur spots or streaks it will strike fire, the same result sometimes occurring in the use of the common iron charging-tube, and in these instances the powder charged is ignited with more or less disaster. Ordinarily the blastholes are charged with powder from a metal tube fixed at its closed end to a rod or stick. The charging-tube is filled with the powder and inserted in the blast-hole, and by vigorous reciprocation and shaking the powder is forced out of the tube into the blast-hole, and then by means of a scraper the powder is worked back to the end of the hole. Each movement 0f the charger or scraper is liable to and frequently does strike fire, and thus causes premature ignition of the blast. It is the design of my present invention to avoid all these defective and dangerous results and to provide a charging tool or implement which is simple in construction, effective and expeditious in the deposition of the charge, and safe in its uses.

James Kirkham was a farmer and concrete laborer, who came with this idea for a new and improved Hen’s Nest in 1908.
hens nest kirkham

To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, JAMES KIRKHAM, a citizen of the United States, residing at est Terre Haute, in the county of Vigo and State of Indiana, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Hens Nests, of which the following is a specification.
This invention relates to a novel arrangement for suspending a hens nest within an inclosure wherein as the hen occupies the nest the opening through which she entered the inclosure will be automatically closed; and the object of the invention is to provide a hens nest wherein as the hen is occupying the nest she will not be disturbed by other hens attempting to share the nest with her.
I accomplish the object of my invention by means of the hens nest and its inclosure illustrated in the accompanying drawings forming a part hereof, in which Figure 1 is a perspective view of my invention. Fig. 2 is a cross section of the construction shown

Vise and Denham, both miners and neighbors on South Third Street in West Terre Haute invented this, Planoaraph, or coal distributor.

Patented Sept. 10, 1912.
Application filed March 23, 1912. Serial’No. 685,775.
To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that we, ELMER L. Vrsn and CHARLES DENHAM, citizens of the United States, residing at West Terre Haute, in the county of Vigo and State of Indiana, have invented an Improved Goal-Distributer, of which the following is a specification.
Our invention relates to an apparatus whereby coal is discharged from a primary distributer-upon another which is in the nature of a chute adapted to deliver diiferent grades of coal to different receptacles, especially cars for transportation.
The details of construction, arrangement, and operation of parts are as hereinafter described, and illustrated in the accompanying drawings, in which- Figure 1 is a side elevation of the entire apparatus. Fig. 2 is a perspective view of the first or primary distributing chute. Fig. 3 is a plan view of the main coal distributing chute, as viewed in perspective. Fig. 4 is a perspective view of one of the pivoted gates arranged and locked in alinement with one of the fixed sectional partitions- Fig. 5 is a diagrammatic plan view of a portion of the distributing chute or platform showing the arrangement of the fixed angular and longitudinal sectional partitions.

Brickworker Ross A. Clem came up with this handy device
brick embosser
Patented Apr. 16, 1935 UNl-TEm STATES BRICK EMBOSSING DEVICE RossA. Clem, .West Terre Haute,.Ind., assignorto. Joseph Entwistlc, Terre ,Haute, Ind,
Application October. 16, 1933, ‘SerialNo. 693,807
9 Claims.
This invention relatesto the art of brick makingmachines and particularly to means for embossing or-forming-.patterns or designs on-the bricks as they. may becut from’the column’of clay. ‘The invention is intendedtobe applied-to that type of abrick cutter wherein a movable carriagereceives acolumn of clay and a revolvingreel is car’ried byj’the carriage to cutthroug’h the column’by’ a multiple number of wires spaced apart to define :the thicknesses of the bricks,
such machinebeing wellknown-to those versed in’ the art and the details of whichdo nOt specifically ‘ent’er into my invention.
important ‘object ofthe invention is toprovide an attachment which-maybe applied to the type of machine above indicated so that each brick as cutmay be’embossed or intended to produce the desired face. thereon simultaneously’with the cutting of “thebrickifromthe column of clay. Itis a=further objectef the invention to provide such a devicezthat may be applied to themaChine Without interference-of other parts thereof {and which will-work automaticallytherewith.
2A further important-object of the invention is to provide means for retaining each individual brick rigidly inplace on=’the platen-as the cutting wires :move through the claycol’umn whereby the cuts throughthe1-column are in planes perpendicular-to” the axis of the column and do not curve as would’be the case-should thecolumn’acciden tally be shifted while the cuttingis taking place.
“These and other objects and advantages will becomeapparent to those versed in-the art by the following description of one particular form of the invention” as-illustrated’by the 7 accompanying drawings, in’which Fig. l is -a fragmentary perspective view of a brick cutter with a single embossing device in position;

Thorp, a farmer on the Paris Road, had finally had enough of his hay scattering all over.
hay retainer

Patented Oct. 10, 1916.
Application filed March 30, 1915. Serial No. 18,154.
To all whom it may concern Be it known that I, JOSEPH W. THORP, a citizen of the United States, residing at West Terre Haute, in the county of Vigo, State of Indiana, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Hay-Retainers; and I do hereby declare the following to be a full, clear, and exact description of the in vention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it appertains to make and use the same. o
This invention relates to improvements in binders and particularly to devices for binding loads of hay.
The principal object of the invention is to provide a suitable locking device for the free end of the hay retaining pole of the hay wagon.
Another object is to provide a simple and eificient device of this character which can be quickly and easily moved into and out of operative position.
Other objects and advantages will be apparent from the following description when taken in connection with the accompanying drawing.
In the drawing: Figure 1 is a side elevation of my improved device, Fig. 2 is a rear elevation, Fig. 3 is an enlarged vertical section on the line 33 of Fig. 1, and Fig. 4L is an enlarged horizontal section on the line 4.-4 of Fig. 2.
Referring particularly to the accompanying drawing, 10 represents a portion of the hay retaining pole and 11 the rear portion of the hay wagon. Secured on the end of the pole and straddling the same is a metal member 12, the portions 13 which depend from the sides of the pole having channels therethrough, as clearly shown in the sectlons.
Mounted between the channel members are two spring pawls 14: to the inner ends of which is secured a cord or rope 15. Mounted on the rear of the wagon are two vertical parallel toothed bars 16 so spaced apart that each will enter one of the channel members 13 to permit of the engagement of’the pawls with the teeth thereof.
What is claimed is:
A releasable connecting device comprising a pair of vertical parallel ratchet toothed bars, a pair of parallel tubular members arranged to receive the bars slidably therein, the inner portions of the tubular members being formed with longitudinal openings, substantially V-shaped springs secured at one end to the tubular members below the openings and extending through the openings in position to engage the teeth of the bars, the remaining ends of the springs extending toward each other and between the tubular members, and a flexible releasing element connected to the last-named ends of the springs for flexing the springs into and ]gut of engagement with the teeth of the ars.
In testimony whereof, I aflix my signa ture, in the presence. of two witnesses.

Albert G. Godwin was a railroad telegrapher who had time to think when the keys were not clattering.
train order device
Specification of Letters Patent.
Patented Aug. 15, 1911.
To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, ALBERT G. GoowrN, a citizen of the United States, residing .at West Terre Haute, in the county of Vigo and State of Indiana, have inventeda new and useful Improvement in Duplicate- Train-Order Devices, of which the following is a full specification. I Y
My invention relates to that class of devices, whereby means is provided for delivering train-orders from the station to the crew of a fast moving train; and the objects of the invention are; first, to provide means whereby paper or other light material bearing train-orders or messages, may be safely handed and delivered to the engineer and conductor of a fast moving train, the two orders being delivered by a single device and handled by but one hand of the messenger, leaving the other hand free to hold alantern or other signal; second, to provide such a device, whereby the order may Joe delivered to the train crew and the device retained by the messenger; third, to provide such a device, which will be effective, durable, light in weight, convenient to use and economical in structure. These objects I attain by means of the mechanism illustrated in the accompanying drawings, in which the figure illustrates the device, holding duplicate train-orders ready for delivery.

And finally, my favorite, butcher Samuel Hudson of N. 6th Street, had a remedy for those damn squeaky hammocks.

My invention pertains to wall hooks and particularly to that class of hooks which are employed in the hanging of hammocks and swings.
Hammocks and swings are usually subjected to heavy loads and their constant oscillation grinds together the constantly contacting metal surfaces of the hooks by which they are supported; for this reason it is only a matter of a short time before a nerve-torturing screech develops, which 1 greatly lessens, if it does not wholly destroy, the pleasurable and soothing sensations produced by the gentle to and fro motion of the hammock or swing.
The principal object of my invention is the production of a hook for hanging hammocks and swintgs which is nonsqueaking and silently efiicien Of course my hook is useful and appropriate wherever any other style of hook can be used; but it is especially adapted for use in those places where an object supported by the hook has a swinging or oscillating motion which, sooner or later, causes an annoying squeak.
To illustrate the best method of practicing the invention now known to me, I have filed a sheet of drawings as a part of this specification, in which the reference numbers wherever used in the several figures denote the same elements.

Does anyone know anything more about these inventors or their creations?

Who Was James Furlong?


A shack on a crooked bluff on the eastern fringe of a small town.  A shambling thing, barely defying gravity.  Looking as if the punishing January winds might sunder it, send it reeling over the bluff into the vaporous bottom lands below.  Iced fingers seeping, no stabbing, through the cracks in the wall, surging through broken panes stuffed with rags and paper.

Let no one kid you.  January can be a wicked month.  Even the warmest fires fall in battle to January.  The month comes to bite the face, make fingers rigid, curl the body until it longs for the womb.  The worst of Januaries can wither a soul.

A shack above the bottoms at West Terre Haute on a January day is not a place to be with ebbing strength, all fortitude gone, hope lost somewhere along the path behind him.  But that is where James Furlong found himself on January 19, 1914. 

He had been there but a few days.  Somehow his life had led him to West Terre Haute.  Somehow he had met two men squatting in the shack who had let him join them.  The shack was just a few hundred feet from a “hobo jungle” enlivened by many passers-through during warmer months (West Terre Haute was known as a good place for a handout or a day’s paid work).

Furlong’s companions went out that Monday morning, likely to scrounge for food, clothing or wood for the fire.  James Furlong was alone.  Did he look around and see nothing but his misery?  Was his vision clouded or did the restless night and frigid morning bring him clarity? Why this day as the day of decision?  Why this place? What interior vein opened to let his last drop of hope trickle out?

Who knows? 

What we do know is that he dug into his poke.  In it was his razor of silvered steel.  Did he see it as an instrument of peace when he opened the blade?  Even with a sharp razor it must take determination to use it.  There must be some strength left in a man to impel the needed force.  James Furlong used what strength remained in him, willed the blade to cut across his neck, felt it bite deep.  He lay back, letting the warm blood bathe his chest.

It was then his “friends” returned to the shack, saw James in a red pool.  One grabbed a rag to place on Furling’s throat, hoping to dam the flow of blood.  The other ran out and down Paris Avenue looking for help.  Dr. R.J. Danner was found and hurried to the shack.  “Doc’ had seen a lot of blood in his life (and within ten years would see his own spilled by his lover’s enraged husband) and knew there was little to be done.  He asked Furlong his name.  James told him.  With time fleeing he also told him he had only been in town a few days and that he was 65 years old.  Danner then asked the golden question, “Why?”  James Furlong gave him the quintessential answer: He “was tired of living.”

Though he knew there was nothing left to save him, Danner had Furlong sent to Union Hospital on the north side of Terre Haute.   Too late.

James Furlong may have been surprised to learn that he made the front page of the Terre Haute Tribune the next day.  A short paragraph down the page told his meager story.  The last line said, “No arrangements have been made for the disposal of the body as he was unknown here.”  One wonders how many papers in other places where James Furlong lived would have ended the story the same way.



So who was James Furlong?  I wondered if I could find out, so I began a search for him, some glimpse that might tell me how or why he came to die in West Terre Haute.  The only clues I had were his name and his age.  I checked census records, military files, city directories, all the usual suspects of the historian’s craft.  I found several James Furlongs, but none that could be said to be our James.  Even eliminating those who were born at around the same time, but appeared in records after 1914 was of little help.

He was likely not in the area because he had family there.  There were no Furlongs listed in any of the Vigo County records until the 1970s.  I was left to surmise.  Furlong is a name often associated with the Irish.  His age was right for the Hungry Time of the Irish Famine.  Were he and his family, victims of the famine, forced to leave their home for America.  Were they of the haunted Skalpeen class, the itinerant farm laborers so effected by the terrible want brought on by the famine?

Did he once have a family, a job, a life?  Was he a farmer, a craftsman, or merely a man forced to take on whatever job was at hand?  Did losing them slowly diminish him?  What road brought him the West Terre Haute?  What happened in those two or three days in town that forever forestalled his next step?

Who knows?

As for James Furlong’s body.  I could find no record of how or where he was buried.  Most likely, the unknown man was buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown place.

Just this morning I did my annual presentation on being a historian and the uses of history for an AP History class from Carmel High School.  Of course I quoted Santayana, talked about the importance of knowing history, and how history is used.  I talked of primary sources, external and internal criticism, of the changeover to social and minority history, etc.  But I also told them that no matter what rather high sounding rhetoric we historians may use, the very essence is to remember.  And I am a professional rememberer.  And everyone who has ever lived deserves to be remembered.

We only know James Furlong from his death, but he is remembered.

Then I saw black, And my face splashed in the sky




He wasn’t really sure what it meant on that hot day of July 8, 1863 when the draft registration man came by and wrote his name in the book with the other Vigo County men:  Sugar Creek, Arthur, David M., 32, white, Farmer, married, Tennessee.  In the days after that visit all everyone talked about was that Reb John Morgan had invaded Indiana.  But soon the wily Confederate was run out of the state and all seemed as normal as could be with a war going on.

He had not joined the war.  He was a man in his thirties, with a wife, two children, a good farm to run.  Perhaps he never gave it much thought. But a year later another man with papers came and David was drafted.  On October 4, 1864 he assigned to Company I of the 57th Indiana.  The 57 was mainly made up from Hamilton and Wayne Counties.  Soon he was on a train for Indianapolis.  Luckily his neighbor Wyley Black was also now in the unit.

Things were a muddle.  Many men hanging around, little or no equipment for the draftees.  He thought it was all a bit of a mess.  He was a farmer.  He had no real training or skills for war.  Nor was he to get them now. 

It had been a long time since he had been back in Tennessee.  But the troop train had chugged across the border a while back.  Now they were in Pulaski.  He had been born about 200 miles west in Knox County in 1831. But he had moved  to better land in Indiana with his family when he was a teenager.  He had a good wife, good land, a good life.

It was cold.  Like the others he had no blanket or tent to ward off the November cold and rain.  He huddled with Wyley and the others.  His thoughts careened between his family and fear, and back again.  Over and over and over.

The Union Army had thought it finally had a pretty good hold on Tennessee.  But it seemed that Confederate John Bell Hood was going to move his army from Alabama to try to recapture Tennessee. By late November, 1864 it seemed clear that Hood’s force were moving to relieve Nashville and force out the Union Army.

David Arthur and the rest of the 57th were ordered to the Columbia area.  David began days with the sound and sight of shot.  Life seemed a long tremble.  Finally they marched to Spring Hill.  That day and night of November 29 would be the dividing line of his life,

In a December letter written to his family back in Terre Haute in December William Black, Wyley’s nephew, reported brother had seen “uncle wiley and david arthur running from the rebels.”  Written by a young man not as close to the battle as Wyley and David it almost seemed if he was decrying them as cowards.  What he did not know is that both had been injured.  Artillery fire had blinded David Arthur.  He was literally running blind to escape.

Eventually taken to an aid station, David’s day as a “fighting soldier” were over.  They lasted all of seven weeks.  Eventually, he was moved to a hospital in Washington, DC and assigned to the Veterans Reserve Corp, groups made up of invalided soldiers who acted as guards or performed other menial duties.  The highlight of his time was meeting Lincoln.

David was mustered out in October, 1865 in Lincoln’s city of Springfield and took a train back to Macksville and his family.  He resumed his life as best he could.  He fathered six more children, farmed and had homes built for his family along the National Road.  He received a pension of $24.00 a month as government compensation for losing his vision (actually a goodly sum for the times). Despite his blindness he remained an active, kind man.  He was a founder of the Congregational Church.

He lost his much loved wife, Nancy Kelly Arthur in 1892.  Seven years later he married a younger woman, alternatively named Amanda Collier or McCullough, according to various documents.  David Arthur’s pension and landholdings may have added to his attractions for Amanda.  The marriage was not a happy one.  In 1900 David filed for divorce on the grounds of cruel treatment.  He stated that he had been long time blind and his spouse knew that.  Also not only that she “took no care of him whatever, but on the contrary treated him cruelly and finally under the threat of violence he was compelled to leave his home.”

In 1899 his second youngest child Lulu married William Morgan Hants.  In 1901 the couple’s first child, Hilda, was born.  Hilda became devoted to her grandfather, assisting him with many small tasks made difficult by his blindness.

David Marion Arthur died in 1914.

He was my great-great grandfather.    

A [Hard] Day in the Life



On my last research trip to Terre Haute I had the great pleasure of conducting an oral history with my aunt Eileen [Chrisman] Ellingsworth.  We discussed many things but some of the vignettes struck a chord.  In particular she discussed how hard my grandparents work.  Among them were several that described their daily lives.  It struck me that they spoke evocatively of what daily life was like in West Terre Haute, and in many other towns in the 1920s and 1930s.

As most of you have likely perceived, my family, like most in West Terre Haute, were not exactly middle class.  Looking back upon things I think that if we fit into any social demographic, my family was best described as residing solidly among the working poor.  Some in town were of higher status, some lower, but most shared that neighborhood where one  took a deep breath and sported a furrowed brow on the day or two before payday dawned.  Who relied on a tab at the local grocery store (like Tex Day’s Market) to put dinner on the table.  Or were forced to borrow from family on occasion.

Eileen has never forgotten “how hard your Grandma and Grandpa worked for us.”  “Oh. Tim, they both worked so, so hard.”  She talked about laundry day.  My Grandpa Ray would get up at 5:00 in the morning, pull on his overalls and go out to start a fire.  By the time dawn arrived he would have placed two large zinc tubs on the grate above the seething fire and carried bucket by bucket from the pump to fill them.  It was laundry day.

Only then would he head back into the house where Grandma would have breakfast ready for him and the kids.  While Grandma would feed, change and dress my aunts and uncles, Gramps, on hot days, would go back out and soak burlap bags in cold water.  He would hang these over the windows and front door of the house. The wind would blow through the sopping burlap providing a sort of primitive air conditioning.

He would then walk up McIlroy Avenue to catch the interurban to his job in Terre Haute.  He worked for Western Indiana Gravel (later Terre Haute Concrete Supply).  He started as a driver and eventually became a stationary engineer. After years in the mines he traded coal dust for gravel and concrete dust.  Over forty years of his lungs being assaulted.

Once the kids would were settled Grandma went outside to start a long, backbending laundry day.  Gramps had already set up her laundry rack.  In the middle was a hand-cranked ringer.  She would gather her supplies together.  Laundry detergent did not become common until the 1920s so like most others she used a hard cake of lye soap.  On one side of the laundry table she would fill another tub with the boiling water, place her washboard.  Then would begin the toil of scrubbing diapers, bed linen, and clothes, her knuckles scraping the hard ridges of the board.  As each load was washed she would turn the hand-cranked wringer and pull the laundry into a tub with rinse water.  After plunging them into rinse tub she put them into another rinse tub.  Then, it was to the clothes line.  Bending down each piece was lifted onto the line and pinned in place.  This sequence was repeated many, many times, in between feeding and checking upon the kids. 

As she grew older Aunt Eileen would help.  This happen once or twice a week, even during Granma’s many pregnancies (Grandma was pregnant 99 months of her life).  If she was lucky, she would be done in time to begin dinner.  If she did not have time, Grampa would empty all the tubs when he came home and maybe bring in the last of the dried clothes from the line.

The next day would include sorting and ironing.  There was no electric iron to help with this tiresome chore for years.  She used a “sad iron,) an 8 t0 12 pound hunk of iron that had to be heated on the coal stove.  As the girls, my mom and aunts Eileen and Doris, would take over some of this chore (none particularly cherishing this job).

As with many during this era Monday was Grandma’s laundry day.  But sometimes the weather did not cooperate and had to be done later in the week.  If the laundry had to wait til Thursday or Friday, when it was done Grandma went to her part time job.  The Bon Ton was a famous bakery/deli in Terre Haute.  Her sister-in-law worked there.  Two nights a week Grandma worked there.  She did not work for money.  She was paid in day-old bread or other grocery items to help feed the family.  Her 13 or 14 hour day would end with her lugging sacks of food home on the interurban.

Grandma did not get an “automatic” washing machine until about 1940.  My oldest uncle Art bought her one from his earnings working for a grocery store as a teenager.  It may have been the same one I remember, a reliable Maytag wringer washer.  When I was young I was fascinated by the wringer.  She would let pull the clothes through the wringer.  I really felt I was helping.  And always remember her standard admonition: “Now, watch your fingers, I am reversing the wringer. I don’t want you to get hurt”

Plats and Plots: The Fastest Growing Town in America


Believe it or not, West Terre Haute was once the fastest growing town in America.  According to the 1910 Census Bureau report the town had grown from about 500 in 1895 to 4,380 in 1910, making it percentage-wise the nation’s biggest population gainer

I’ve mentioned the reasons for this surge before.  It was built on and around land that yielded wealth to those who knew how to extract it.  The coal, clay and gravel deposits made it a boomtown, just as gold, silver and lead had and would make towns flourish for a while in the west.  As with many boomtowns, West Terre Haute would fade and suffer.  It would not quite lead to sage brush blowing across Paris Avenue, but decline it would.

But for a decade or so, hope was something West Terre Haute’s citizens could breathe in on a daily basis.  They believed that their scraggly spot along the National Road would become a vibrant, cultured, ideal small town.  And they had their reasons for this sanguine outlook.  They had seen just how far they had come, and they could foresee the bright decades to come.

West Terre Haute, 1895.

The townspeople, including my family, lived along dusted streets in a town that had changed only a bit since the Civil War.  It was home to truck farmers, a few miners, and scattered tradesmen.  Pigs, cattle and chickens were a feature of many yards in town.  Saloons outnumbered churches and the town had a reputation of backwardness and more than a bit of sloth.  Vaudeville comedians knew West Terre Haute was an easy mark guaranteed to make Terre Haute audiences laugh. 

Outside of the new mines that were beginning open, “industry” consisted of a few stores, a lumber yard, cigar factory, shinglemaking, and blacksmiths and wheelrights.  But the next 15 years were ones of rapid “progress.”  Outsiders opened mines and clay plants.  one of the elements that doomed many a town was that capital investment was seldom centered in the town.  Instead, it was the province of outsiders who came in, extracted all they could and then looked away. (ah, the socialist, lefty historian in me came out)   The railroad expanded.  The interurban system opened up new opportunities as cheap mass transportation allowed workers and customers freer movement.

A new bridge and improvements to the “grade” between the towns made access to Terre Haute, and vice versa possible.  Electricity came to most of the town.  The telephone closed distance to the outside.  By 1910 some of the main streets were paved (though it would be the 1920s before most neighborhood streets were paved and as late as the 1950s some of the streets in the far south of town were still dirt and gravel).  Two newspapers were founded.

The town began to advertise itself.  In 1905 issues of the two main Terre Haute newspapers featured paeans and features about West Terre Haute (no doubt paid for by the special ads featuring the town’s businesses).  A year later a special supplement about the town was printed and circulated to boost the growing “wide awake” town of West Terre Haute. 

The town awaited its future.


Of course, noting the physical growth of a town , and who lived there, is an important way of looking at things


This 1874 plat basically shows the town as it was laid out by Samuel McQuilkin in 1836.  The town runs four blocks north and south of the National Road, and from present-day McIlroy Avenue to Fourth Street..  Not all of the neat plots were filled.  There were only about 250 people living in town.  It was a homogeneous population.  They were mainly settlers who came from the upland South (like my forebearers, the Arthurs and Kelleys who were from Tennessee).  There were likely no blacks, and most of the foreign born were from the British Isles and Germany.  Coal mining was just taking hold, so most of the people were truck farmers, mechanics (blacksmiths, etc) or those who serviced the farmers.


The above 1895 plat shows the first growth spurt.  The population had doubled to 500 and subdivisions were added to the eastern, northern and southern fringes of town.  By this time, mining was becoming well established and it began the demographic change of West Terre Haute.  Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were the new citizens.  Italians, Belgians, and Hungarians increasingly came to the area to work on the mines, bringing with them different languages and customs that clashed with some of the old stock.  The terms bohunks, hunkies and wops were still being used to describe them when I was growing up.

The ad below (I had to combine four newspaper printouts to show the entire ad, thus its uneven look) shows how fast the town was growing.  More and more ethnics were coming to the area and needed housing.  Another factor in the growth was West Terre Haute becoming a “bedroom community” for Terre Haute.  The new Wabash River bridge, which opened in 1903, the railroad and interurban service allowed an easy commute.  That combined with a housing shortage in Terre Haute, especially for those who needed affordable housing, sparked an exodus from Terre Haute to “over the river.”

West Terre Haute land developers began constructing two and three storey buildings for businesses.  This advertisement from 1905 shows a new subdivision being added to the plat.  It would expand West Terre Haute closer to its present outline, pushing the northern half of the city to Ninth Street.  Note the affordable pricing.  It gave newcomers the chance to move to town and build their American dream.  The “middle class” were to build substantial homes, but many of the mine or clay workers had to settle for less expansive housing, settling on 3 or 4 room houses or shotgun houses.  I still recall 3 shotgun houses (and the thin, wiry people who lived there) in the 1960s that stood on the present site of the Post Office on Market Street.



Then and now

I have been been hoping to do  some photo essays about West Terre Haute.  I am working with lifelong resident Jim Plew who discovered a cache of photos from the 1940s.  Those are still in the digitization process and we will bring them to you soon.  Until then this modest beginning with a few graphics I have collected.

Again, if any of my readers have photos from West T., particularly those showing street scenes or buildings prior to 1950, and wish to share them, please contact me.

 machouseRemnant of first building in Macksville (West Terre Haute).  Inside this frame building is the remnants of the log cabin that town founder Samuel McQuilkin built in 1833.  It was common practice to build frame houses or building around the original log cabins.  The house stood along National Avenue between current Third and Fourth Streets.  This photo was taken around 1916.  Of course the building is long gone now.

cigarfactoryCigar making was a hand craft that required only skill, a few tools and a place to work.  Like many other small towns, Macksville had a cigar “factory” employing a few men and women.  From old records it seems that both my Hants and Chrisman ancestors rolled cigars as their living for a few years.


Paris Avenue, ca. 1911. looking east from Market and Paris Avenue.  Paris Avenue was the center of West Terre Haute life until the 1930s.  Then National Avenue (US40) began to gain ground.  Paris Avenue was home to the bank, a theater, the mining company store and the telephone company.  its array of bars and restaurants were filled with miners and others.


Corner of Paris and McIlroy.  Ca. 1911


Nearly the same view as above, but taken from a 1905 newspaper supplement promoting West Terre Haute.  Note that the town was electrified, but this was before Paris Avenue was paved and two years before the interurban tracks were laid.  It is a view of town just before its “boom.”


McIlroy Store, 1905, looking east (see below)


Mcilroy Store looking west.  Paris Avenue, June 18, 2013

pavetoday2Longer view

firedepy First Fire Department Building, 1905

metchurchMethodist Church, 1905

pc-wagonbridgeThis was the second wagon bridge across the Wabash River that connected West Terre Haute and Terre Haute.  It was used  from 1865 to 1903.  It was preceded by an earlier wooden bridge built that opened on Christmas Day, 1846.  Prior to that bridge one needed a boat or ferry to travel between the towns.




My first fulltime job was working as an orderly at the Vigo County Home.  The Home was the successor to the Poor Farm.  Most counties had a poor farm where the indigent, aged without family who wished to care for them, and, sometimes, the lunatic or disabled were “taken care of” out of sight of the community. I remember two patients (inmates?) in particular.  One was Jake Umble.  Jake was a tiny man in his 60s or 70s when I met him.  His head was permanently bent downward hiding his opaque eyes and he invariably carried a mouth harp on which he would continually twang.   He had spent most of his life at the Home.  Ever since his demon obsessed mother had thrown acid into his eyes when he was four.

The other was Ike Smith.  There was nothing straight about Ike.  From his birth all about him was crooked.  His arms, his legs, his body were all were twisted.  His face was reminiscent of Edgar Bergen’s Mortimer Snerd.  He had just enough dexterity is his right arm to feed himself.  He had a raucous laugh that would echo through the halls and common room.  I spent many days lifting his bent body in and out of bed.  He was the sort that census takers marked as “imbecile” when toting up the population every ten years.

I had been on the job several months before I found that Ike and I had encountered each other before.  He was from a family of ragpickers.

Ragpickers were a common sight in many towns up to the 1960s.  They were the bedraggled lot who roamed streets and alleys picking up whatever they could find that might be sold to junk dealers.  The proceeds went to feed themselves and their families, or booze to balm some pain.    They would roam through the streets shouting a singsong  “Any bones today, any rags, and bottles?”  They would haunt the alleys behind stores and businesses snatching up anything that might sell, living off the flotsam of others.

In the West Terre Haute and Terre Haute area most of the ragpickers came from Taylorville.  Taylorville was viewed by most as a neighborhood made up of human flotsam.  Hard on the west bank of the Wabash between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute it was a narrow strip of the poorest.  They lived in houseboats or hovels built from wood and tin salvaged from the river.  It was once cited as the most unhealthy and degraded place in Indiana.  It was clannish, closed in, incestuous.  In my youth (and still today, I think) you were warned not to set a trembling foot into Taylorville.  It was well known that even the police were reluctant to enter that enclave of the damned without backup.

According to a  1910 Terre Haute Tribune article  there was a distinct hierarchy among this salvaging subset.  At the top were the ragpickers who plied their trade in a horse and wagon.  They were the elite who could range the farthest into the better neighborhoods and carry the most goods back to the junk dealers strung along the western edge of Terre Haute.  Next came the cartmen who pushed their rickety wooden carts. It was hard work.  At least two of the cartmen harnessed their “old woman” to pull their wagons, turning their wives into beasts of burden.  On the lower rungs of this human ladder were the bagmen who shoved their acquired treasures into bags slung over their faltering shoulders.

Paper, pasteboard and rags usually brought a fair price as they could be pulped to make paper (not unlike modern recycling).  As today, metals like brass or zinc were valued.  Old clothes could be sold to second hand shops.  But the best apparel was reserved to clothe the ragpicker and his family.  Scraps of food sometimes became their meal.

The ragpickers were of a varied sort.  There was the “hot tamale man,” whose raucous, bawdy banter would have gotten him arrested in gentler society had he been heard above the din of other pickers.  One spoke in a Falstaffian voice.  One was a ragpicker-preacher who picked during the day and preached the gospel evenings and weekends.  There were the scoundrels who stole as well as picked.  Pickers who picked just long enough to allow themselves enough money to buy booze and then slunk back to the alleys they slept, only to rise again to traverse the same alley in search of more discarded wealth.  These were often the same men that the junk dealers kept a weather eye upon because after they sold a load they might try to snatch goods from the dealer’s pile and re-sell to him.

So, Ike was from a ragpicker family.  They may have lived in both Taylorville and west Terre Haute.  When I mentioned Jake to my grandmother she knew immediately who I was talking about.  She remembered him riding on his dad’s mule-drawn wagon, his voice bawling out, his laughter echoing.  Her family usually had something to give them.  My very vague memory of  Ike is seeing him and his father drive up the Riggy Avenue hill behind my grandparent’s house sometime in the early 60s.  Though then they were riding in a jangling flatbed truck that likely was from the 1930s, the sort of truck the Joads loaded their belongings onto to carry them out of the dust bowl.  Grandma had set something oot along the road for them to pick.

We have, sadly, always had those who lived their lives on the discards of others.  Somehow they found their way.  Equally sadly, we have them today.  The Third World is full with pickers, emaciated adults and children picking at piles.  Their lives are not much different than Ike’s. 

In the past pickers were looked down upon.  Now, picking is essentially recycling to many.  Or viewed as a fun occupation.  After all, how do you think American Pickers got its name?


When I asked Ike about ragpicking once, he gave me a huge laugh and happiness washed across his face.  Memories.  Happy ones for Ike.  Good for him.


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