02-01-2018 Tri-City Area History Page

The Paw Paw River Journal


Brother against brother On a cold day in 1863, my great-grandfather, Jeremiah M.H. Davis, kissed his wife goodbye, told his son to take care of his mom and stay on the farm until he could get back. And he went off to fight in the bloodiest war we have ever been in! Their farm was near Malone, NY, and I don’t know if he was drafted, or if he enlisted. Anyway he went to war with the 98th New York Volunteers. The worst kind of fight is when family members turn on each other. And that is just what we did back in the middle 1800s… 1861 to be exact. We call it the Civil War (it really wasn’t very civil!), but people down south call it The War Between the States. To perhaps over simplify, the quarrel was about two things: states’ rights and freeing the slaves. In the South, cotton was king, and it was harvested by free labor… black slaves who had been shipped over from Africa. The Southern Sates believed it was their right to decide their own future, and if they wanted to keep slaves, they could do it! They also had other quarrels with our federal government, but that is beside the point here. Was Jeremiah cruel to his family? Or was it something he could not avoid? We’ll never know now. The war was going badly for the North, and as one of my friends put it, we seemed to lose most of the battles until we finally won the war! He worked hard and rose through the ranks. Our troops marched into battle with drums and flags flying. It was a game to shoot at the color sergeant and see the flag fall! As men were shot carrying the flag, others were promoted, and thus Jeremiah finally became Color Sergeant. Yes, he was wounded, but he recovered and went back into battle. He was given a battlefield promotion to 2nd lieutenant at the end of the war, and I have his commission framed. While this was going on, his son, my grandfather Silas, who was 14 and big for his age, worked the farm. But his heart wasn’t in it. One day he took the team and wagon into town for supplies. He tied up at the rail in front of the general store, and slipped around the corner where there was an enlistment office. He stood before the recruiting sergeant and said, “I want to enlist!” “How old are you, son?” “Eighteen.” “Well,” the sergeant said, “You’re just the kind of a strong young man we’re looking for!” And he shoved the enlistment form across the desk… then he asked for the young man’s name. When Silas told him, the sergeant snatched the paper back and said, “Son, your mother came in here the other day, and told me that you would try to enlist… If I took you, she would come back and skin me alive! So you’d better go and take care of the farm!” Silas did that, and happy the day when they saw coming down the road their husband and father. Limping, but free to head the family once more! And Silas grew up there and married a beautiful dark-eyed girl. We believe she was part Native American, but cannot confirm that. Her folks paid for painting lessons when she was a girl, and bought her a melodeon… a sort of piano that had to be pumped like an organ. We still have that in our family. I don’t know why, but my grandpa Silas sold the farm and brought the whole family and their belongings to Wisconsin, where they settled in a little cross-roads frontier town called Rush Lake. Silas went into business with a general store, and my dad (the youngest of three boys) told me many stories of the days of his childhood. He was born in 1886, the year our greatest woman poet, Emily Dickinson, died. It was just ten years after the Battle of the Little Big Horn Mountains where Custer got his everlastings. It was also just five years after Wyatt Earp and his deputies shot it out with the bad guys at The OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. So really my generation is just one past the frontier days of America. My dad said that oil lamps were a new thing, and one girl he walked to school with said, “My folks got some of those new-fangled oil lamps, and how they do make the rafters shine!” Guess they had been using candles before that. And the kids used to hang around the store evenings. What else was there to do? He helped unpack supplies as they came in… He said one time a tobacco company shipped them a wooden box of plug tobacco. Inside was a nice mantle clock… a gift from the company. It was here in Rush Lake that Jeremiah and his wife lived out their years. I have a picture of them. He is sitting in his Grand Army of the Republic uniform, and she is standing beside him with one arm missing. She got infection from a cut and it turned into blood poisoning. So she lost the arm. Winters were cold up there in Wisconsin. My dad’s bedroom was upstairs, and the house was heated by one Round Oak stove in the living room. When he woke up on a winter’s morning, there would be a ring of frost on the quilt he had tucked around his head. The railroad had just come through Rush Lake, so they would go down to the station just to see the big locomotives. He said one day a local salesman stepped off the train. He had been on a selling trip, and he said to the small group of onlookers, “Well, boys, I just came through Ohio, and now I know where all the Smiths come from! We went by a factory, and on the side in big letters, it said Smith Manufacturing Company.” And that was the way life was in the little storybook frontier town of Rush Lake, Wisconsin, back in pioneer days.

Gray School 1954


Watervliet District Library News In Stitches Knitting Group Friday, Feb 9, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m. Second Friday of every month… sit & sip, chat & knit. Limited supplies are available for beginners, too! Third Monday Book Club Monday, Feb. 19, 7-8 p.m. Little Bee by Chris Cleave Adult Reading Program thru March 3 This year’s theme is: Solve it@Your Library. Anyone 18 years and older is invited to warm up those brain cells with winter reading. Teen Table Projects: February Blind date with a book: Take a chance on book-romance and