Jacksonian Miscellanies, #71

October 26, 1998

East Meets West

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Hopatcong, NJ 1998. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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[Editor's note: My apologies for the several quiet weeks, but I've just moved into the first actual owned house - with a beautiful view of trees and a lake, from a cramped apartment in Secaucus. In this respect - homeowning - my midlife madness is making me act normal for a change. Though it's Nov. 9, I'll start with a nominal 10/26 issue and catch up -- just because having no October issues seems like too much.]

The following may be an actual account of a night spent in a western tavern, or it may be pure fiction, or something in-between. Certainly it is a window into eastern perceptions of the "wild west" circa 1834.

Buckhorn Tavern

Excerpt from
The Knickerbocker, vol III
January, 1834




Even were the name of the author of this amusing article not a sufficient guarantee for the correctness of the description, those acquainted with western character and manners, will at once acknowledge the fidelity of the picture it presents.-Ed. K.

IT was during the latter part of September, in the year -, that it was my fortune to be travelling through the western district of Tennessee, and along the main road which now leads on from Bolivar to Paris.

The close of a pleasant day found me fatigued and weary, jogging along through a wild and thinly settled country, on the qui vive for a resting place ; the few clearings which I had passed, indicated contentment rather than wealth, or even comfort, and the hooting of owls, the long howl of some famished beast, the rapid passage of birds on their way to roost together with the recollection of many stories of hair breadth escape and desperate conflict, which had taken place in the country through which I was passing, caused me to feel much solicitude as to where I should sleep, and made me think of home, and happiness, and the busy crowd of Atlantic cities-- and when I contrasted all this with the fact, that I was a stranger in a strange land, and beheld the quiet, yet wild appearance of the dense and dark forest around me I involuntarily tightened my reins, and urged my horse onward.

It was in this mood, that, upon turning an angle of the road, I discovered a horseman coming toward me in a sweeping trot-he was rather badly mounted ; but his dress and appearance were of rather a better order, and bespoke him a genuine backwoods-man of some note.

Seeing that he was about to pass me, with a common salutation I hailed him to stop.

' Halt Billy,'-said he, and Billy halted so suddenly, I thought his rider would have gone over his head- An now stranger what is it you want with me, you must talk fast, for the way that I'm in a hurry is curious.'

I shall be obliged to you,' said I, 'if you will tell me where I can sleep to night.

'An is that all !-well here's Buck Horn just a head of you, tho' its right rough the--an about eight miles further there is an excellent house-an if you don't like either of them, spose you turn back with me, I've got but one cabin, and its full of young ones, but I'll make you a pallet and take care. of your horse.'

' I thank you, sir, but my horse is tired, and I am anxious to get on.'
-No thanks, no thanks, stop at Buck Horn, you can make out there for the night.'

'But I think you said it was right rough-can I stand it "

Oh ! stand it-yes-we stand any thing here-I only said so cause you seemed to be a stranger in these parts, an I thought you might'n like their ways.'

'Will they give me and my horse something to eat?

'Oh ! yes-stuff you both as full as tics.

'And a bed.'

'Yes-they'll give you a bed-you don't; mind sleeping thick-do you!'

'How thick !?

'Oh ! sorter thick, an not so very thick neither-they'll only put you in spoon fashion, an you must lie awful still, or all turn over together. if you don't the outside ones will fall out, an if they do, they'll be right apt to hurt themselves.'

'Well, is this all I have to fear at Buck Horn !'

Fear-you have nothing to fear-Buck Horn is considered by many as a very clever, nice place-an don't they have musters there !-an don't they try warrants! an don't they have shootin matches ! So you see Buck Horn is not so course-an if any of 'em should try to use you up, you'll find more who'll fight for you, than agin you -a stranger never wants for friends in these parts.

Well I must go now-good bye-if ever you come my way, gim me a call, you hear-jist ask for Little River Jack, they all know me.-Go along Billy,'-and he gouged his old horse, who wriggled, shot forward, and curled it so rapidly, that all which remained visible of him was a dark streak.

Contrasting western with eastern manners, and thinking of Buck Horn and its inhabitants, I pursued my way, until, from well known signals I knew a house was near-and in a few moments after, situated in a small clearing, immediately on the road, appeared a large rude double logged cabin, with a Buck's Horn nailed over the door, which means, in the west, entertainment for man and horse, and this I identified as the tavern to which I had been recommended.

It was now the dusk of evening, and although its appearance was uninviting, it seemed to me a welcome spot-it was quiet-and as I rode up, nothing was to be seen but the cattle lying about the yard chewing their cud, and the fowls arranged in close order, on the limbs of an oak which grew near the door-my arrival, however, seemed entirely to change the scene, for the dogs came whisking and barking about me, as if they wished to know who and what I was, and what was my business -- the cows eyed me--the turkeys clucked-and I thought an old gobbler would have twisted his neck off, in his solicitude to get his head in such a position, that he might take a fair squint at me. Turkeys, when they examine any thing closely, only use one eye. and my old gobbler would first try one, and then the other. and then he would put his head under his wing, as if for the purpose of brightening his vision, and drawing it out. would take a long searching look-and then he examined his roost, and said something to the turkeys around him, which I could not understand-but they all clucked, and adjusted themselves, concluding. I thought, with, he's a stranger in these parts, and I don't much like his looks'-- ard they would have liked them much less, had they known the state of my appetite

While all this was passing an old lady came to the door to see what was the cause of so much commotion, looked out for an instant, and then disappeared-next came a flock of children of all sizes. barefooted, with short cotton shirts, who scarcely saw me, before away they scampered, tumbling over each other, into one of the side doors-and finally there came with stately stride, the landlord of the house-he was without a coat, rough in appearance, large and portly in his form, with a good humored jolly looking face, and while he approached, a pair of eyes might be seen peeping out through every crevice in the house. -Come, friend, won't you 'light'?

'Thank you, sir, I wish to spend the evening with you.'

Git down-git down-I'll take your horse, and fix you as snug as a bear in a hollow.'

Having dismounted, he stripped my horse, and giving me my saddle-bags, and saddle- now take 'em in, an put 'em under the bed-an make yourself at home chillen clear the way, and let this gentleman come.'-I did as I was directed, but observed that the old gobbler rose up, and turned his head towards the door I entered, in order that he might keep a sharp look out-it was nobly done, he seemed resolved never to turn his back to an enemy.

Having examined the apartment, I drew a chair before a large blazing fire, and contented with appearances, sat a silent spectator of the group before me-the house contained but two rooms, and a garret, or loft as it is there called, running the whole extent of the building, and yet I had seen children enough about the establishment to have filled up at least four good rooms, and still, every moment I saw a new face-there were many girls among the group, all pretty, yet barefooted, and when they would catch me looking at their feet-I love pretty feet-they would Stoop so as to make their dress entirely conceal them-modesty must be innate, thought I.

The return of the landlord thinned the little group around me-he sent off all the small fry into the next room, and drawing some whiskey made me drink-then seating himself, began to inquire after his kin in the old country, all of whom he fancied I must know, merely because I came from the same State-discussing this, and sundry other topics, we whiled away some time-I learned from him, that lie, with his wife, had that morning returned from a visit to Alabama, and that some of the neighbors would drop in presently to hear the news-I could hear the crowd gathering in the adjoining room, and was soon after called to supper.

The supper though plentiful and inviting, had been prepared in the room where the largest part of the company was assembled-and there every face was joyous and happy, save that of the good dame, whose duty it had been to prepare the evening meal-she looked rather crabbed, and slung about the pots and pans, seemingly entirely careless of the shins of her neighbors. But she received my thanks, for news-- other things there was a large quantity of sweet potatoes. sliced and fried, which I had ordered for my own use. We crowded around the table, cracked jokes, and began to eat. There was a stranger at my elbow. who dipped into my sweet potatoes so often. that I began to, take quite a dislike to him--for it was dish of which I was very fond, which I had ordered, and consequently considered as my own property-besides this, I was as keen set as a hawk.

Stranger,'-said 1-1 you are fond of potatoes

-No-I can't say, as how I am-but the way that aunt Pat there cooks 'em is a caution, and I think these are quite sufflunk, jest stick me up a few-will you ?'

'You mean to say they will soon be defunct, I suppose ?'

'No sir-sufflunk is the idea, and, if you don't know what sufflunk is, I would advise you to abschize, for it's quite unpossible for you to semprone here.'

Having supped, we arose in order to make room for another table, and I adjourned to the room which had been allotted me-thither I was followed by my potatoe opponent, who accosted me, with 'Come, stranger, you musn't mind what I say--we are all free and easy here-I woul'nt hurt a hair of your head, to save my life--the old man just come home to-day, and we drapped in merely to have a little spree -come, 'spose you join us ?'

I thanked him, but was so fatigued from my ride, that I wished to retire early.

Considering a moment --- 'did you notice them gals?' said he.


'Well I've a notion of Jinny-she's a real ticlur, and when she dances she slings a nasty foot-I tell you.'

'Does she?'
'Yes, she does so ; 'twould do you good to see her dance.'

The company now began to get more noisy, and the landlord after telling me several times not to mind the boys went about his business-the chief gathering was in the supper room, which echoed with loud and noisy glee, leaving me comparatively alone. But unfortunately the whiskey barrel was near my bed, and as regular as an hourglass, but at much shorter intervals, did the landlord approach it, with a mug, draw out the spile, fill it, and then drive in the peg with a hammer--saying, don't let me disturb you, there's your bed, tumble in when you like it- and so there was, a very nice bed-but it was packed, from the wall to about the middle, with two rows of children, fitted to each other in the same manner as shoes are done up for exportation, and besides this, there were many persons around the fire, and among them several girls just grown. Under these circumstances, I felt loth to undress for bed-but upon being told again that my bed was ready, and seeing that nobody was about to leave the room, I conceived that all was right, and stripped, retaining my shirt and drawers, with a tolerable degree of composure.

Having been accustomed to sleep alone, I was as afraid of being touched by a child, as I would have been of an eel, and consequently courted sleep to little purpose.

Soon after getting into bed I heard a scuffle, and a general rush to the entry, saying 'you strike him again'-wishing to see all the fun, I slipped out of bed. and crept to the door, where there was such an eternal clatter of tongues, that it was sometime before, I could ascertain the cause of the disturbance-which turned out to be this-a servant belonging to one of the neighbors had come over, as it seemed was his usual custom,
to buy a pint of whiskey, and while waiting at the door for the landlord, was accosted by a large bony, crabbed man, named Wolfe, who, from some cause which did not appear, thought proper to strike him-this was perceived by a small, sharp, thin looking man, called Aaron, who having a good share of artificial stimulus, added to much natural firmness, bristled up, and strutted about with huge consequence.

There were many persons about the house who appeared perfectly unmoved by the passing scene, and it was principally the younger persons who surrounded the expected combatants, girls and men formed the ring promiscuously. the girls chock full of fun and life, holding aloft large light wood torches, determined to see all that was to be seen-- conceive myself undressed, peeping over the crowd, and you have the scene as I saw it when Aaron cried out, 'who struck that niggur ?'

'I struck him, a damn black wampire, an he that takes his part, is no better than a niggur.'

Aaron, making towards him-'now don't you call me a niggur, Wolfe, don't you call me a niggur; if you do, damn me if I don't walk right into you, I'll go entirely through you.,

'Come on then; I'll lick you-an the way I'll lick you, will be a caution to the balance of your family, if it don't damn me.' ' Part 'em-part 'em,' was the cry from many, and again I heard Aaron's voice rising above the others - saying,
'Did the niggur mislist you?'

No-but I intruded my conversation upon him, and he could gimme no answer.

Well I say 'twas damn mean, to beat a neighbor's niggur merely because he come to git a drink-now you know Wolfe when you was in the army, sarvin under General Jackson, you would steal out to git a drink, an why not 'low poor niggur same privilege.'

'Damn the niggur, I've a great mind to use him right up, and you too for taking his part.'

'Now, use me up, just as soon as you choose-you know Wolfe you is a bigger man than me-but I tell you, I'm all gristle-an God never made a man who could walk over me, or hurt faster when he begins-I weigh just one hundred and twenty-five pounds!

'I don't care what the devil you weigh, nor any thing about you-all I say, is, I can lick you - if you take the niggur's part you is no better than a niggur-I say this and stand in my own shoes.'

'Now, you need'nt talk 'bout your shoes, kase you see I'm barefooted, I haint got no shoes, tis true, but I stand flat-footed and damn the man who can move me one inch-do you hear that Wolfe?'

'Yes-I hear it-and Aaron, I can lick you.'

'Well, Wolfe, I'll fight you, but you've never had a better friend than I've been. I'se friended you, when no other man would.'

'How has you friended me, Aaron, an what has you done for me?'

'Didn't I keep them steers of yourn, better than two months-and did'nt I turn that pied heifer of yourn into my pea patch.'

'An 'sposen you did, didn't I call up your hogs-but that's nothing to do with it Aaron you took that niggur's part. and you must fight me.'

Aaron could stand this no longer but made at him. 'Part 'em-part 'em' was again the cry ; but now the girls interfered, crying out 'let 'em fight, let 'em fight, you s'pose we gwine to stand here all night holding the light-and at the same time I discovered a hearty, buxom, lively looking girl, whom they called Poll, rolling her sleeves up, and swearing at the same time, that both were cowards, and that she believed she could cool 'em both out-this added fresh stimulus, and at it they went-the first concussion was like the meeting of two locomotives at full speed-the jar was so great, that both were thrown into the yard, where clinching, they rolled over like a couple of cats, squalling and using the most horrible exertions-the crowd still pressed upon them, the girls holding the torches-Hurrah for Wolfe- Well done Aaron--now gouge him-oh! you missed a chance-now give it to him-why don't you bite him ?' -these, and similar expressions, were constantly vociferated by the partizans of each, and seeing the affair was about drawing to a focus, I slipped off, and went to bed. Every thing was now comparatively quiet, and but a few moments elapsed, before Poll, with a crowd at her heels, came in, almost convulsed with laughter.

'What is the matter !' said I.

'Oh! the prettiest fight,' said Poll, 'they were both cowards, but you ought to have seen it-I knew they were sturbin you, standin there quarrelling, so I made 'em fight, merely to have it over-I tell you what, there's 'no mistake' in Aaron, when he does begin. At this moment Aaron came in, walking carelessly along with his face much scratched and a handkerchief over one of his eyes.

Poll,- 'Well Aaron you is a root, I didn't know 'twas in the little man.'

'Poll, you know I always told you, I was all gristle.'

'Well, I didn't think so, but I tell you, you was all over him, I didn't see the licks, but I heard 'em, and they seemed to me to fall just as fast as if I was shakin down 'simmons.'

How much longer this dialogue would have lasted heaven knows, but being uncomfortably situated, I called to Miss Poll, whose face I really liked, and asked her to be good enough to arrange the children, for if she did not, I should soon be kicked out of bed-my wish was hardly expressed, before Poll stripped down the covering and began slapping every child which was out of its place, without paying the least regard to the fact whether it was asleep or awake-this had the desired effect with the children, they were soon packed away, with a strict injunction from Poll, to ' keep quiet, or they'd git it agin,'-and I cannot say that I felt more sleepy, after Poll had leaned over me to arrange the children, and was kind enough to wish me a good night's rest.

The house now soon became very still, so much so, that one would hardly even have suspected it of having been the scene of such a commotion as the one described.

The stairs which led to the loft, ran up from my room, and while I was endeavoring to sleep, Poll quietly tripped in again, bearing a child in her arms, with several small ones following her- hush now-don't make a noise-'O the devil!' said I, you don't mean to put them in my bed?'

'No sir-these belong up in the loft'-and she marched them gently up stairs, disposed of them, and again returning, disappeared-scarcely a minute passed, before she tripped up with another-and then another, and another, until she began to labor up, and I heard her say, I well I never seed so many childen in my life,-and so I thought-speaking within the bounds of moderation, I think she carried into the loft, from twelve to fifteen children, then coming down puffing with fatigue, she disappeared, and all was quiet.

Well the scene is over for the night, said I-not so, however, for I again heard Poll's voice in the entry, amid a small bustle, saying, 'now take your shoes off, and march up easy, don't you disturb that gentleman.' The door opened, and Poll appeared with a light, and as she did, she turned about, and whispered in a low voice, 'now march'-then led the way up stairs, followed by I will not say how many of the crowd who had gathered, all marching silently after her in single file-they formed a long line which was several minutes in passing, and I witnessed what I fear I shall never see again.

I must confess with the whole scene I was struck dumb, utterly amazed, and confounded- good heavens, thought I, what a packing touch they'll have up stairs-and yet there was no bustle-I heard something which sounded like the rustling of shucks, and in a few minutes after every thing was as quiet as the wild woods-this silence reigned unbroken, save an occasional jar which shook the house, resembling the slight shock of an earthquake, or the moving of some heavy body above me with a handspike-this was occasioned, by the joint turning over of the phalanx in the loft -when this ceased all was quiet, and I went to sleep.


[This was part of the original - not added by me --J.M. Editor]

To 'heat one's self,' means to get in a violent passion.

To 'gouge a horse,' is to spur him.

'Sling a nasty foot,' means to dance exceedingly well.

She is a nasty looking gal,' implies she is a splendid woman. I know not by what singular change this meaning has been given to the word nasty, but certain it is, that expressed above, it is considered among the class to which it has reference, as highly complimentary.

'Sick,' to beat, to whip.

'Shucks,' the husk of corn.

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